Back in 1949 the Sheyeen River below the dam in Lisbon looked intirely different that it does today.
First of all the water level, except for the spring runoff each year, was much lower that it is today. The lower water level obviously provided more shoreline, especially on the east side riverbank, where people could actually fish from shore. And they did.
There were days that the shoreline just below the dam building, some called it the hatchery building, was almost clogged with anglers. Most of those anglers spent more time yanking their lines and lures out of the few trees that were along the bank or…breaking their lines trying to retrieve a lure that got caught on a submerged and water logged tree trunk or branch. Very few succeeded in reeling in a fish of any size or worth to show off to the surrounding masses. When a lucky angler actually caught a fish and displayed to the envious crowd, it reinvigorated the drooling tribe of fish "hunters" to "bait-up and cast".
My buddies and I watched this circus on many occassions over the years as we learned the river between the two dams in town. We would perch ourselves on the riverbank just down stream from the base of the dam…this is where the river takes its first bend to the south…to afford ourselves a midday chuckle.
One thing we learned about the river very early on is that you probably have a 100 to 1 better chance of hooking a submerged log than a fish if…you fish within 75 feet of the base of the north dam. The one basic exception to this rule is that if you waded in to the "boil" of water immediately below the spillway ( this water was between two and three feet deep back then ) you could bend over, put your hands into the water a foot or so and…as a sucker or carp swam between your hands…throw the fish up on the bank. The catch is…you gotta want a sucker or a carp because there were no game fish in the"boil". My gang of 6 year olds used to do this for fun when we were bored with actually catching fish and wanted some silly fun. One day the hatchery guy caught us throwing carp and suckers on to the bank.
To our suprise and relief he said…"go ahead boys. They’re rough fish and there’s too many in the river as it is. The birds will eat the ones you guys don’t want".
WE didn’t want any!
This particular dam location was was also special to us boys for a second reason. One financially and the other…for "giggles".
Several summer days would find two or three of Lisbons business elite standing on the riverbank below the dam talking the lunch hour away and trying to finese a fish to their lines. Mainly they lost lures. Lots of lures. On most occassions the trio of moguls would pack up after losing their personal quota of lures and head back to their offices.
We waited in the wings.
Once the skunked men disappeared over the river bank and we heard their cars drive away along the dam road, we slipped into the river and began diving in the spot where the men had lost several lures. Very carefully we explored the sunken logs with our fingers. Softly we touched along the length of the logs until we bumped "something" with our hand. It was a recently lost lure. Holding on to the log with one hand (remember, we are doing all this while we are submerged and, obviously, holding our breaths) we gently find the lures hook and ease it out of the log. Then, we burst to the top of the water to inspect our new treasure. It was usually a lure in the dollar to dollar and a half bracket…far out of reach of our economic position.
After we had located and retrieved all or most of the lures we watch businessmen lose, we would take them back to our own tackle boxes, divide them up and salt them away. We rarely ever used lures. We fished with worms and minnows. And, we caught fish…all the time. You see, you don’t have to teach youngsters who grow up along rivers or lakes how to fish. They figure it out. And, while ther are figuring out the best method to catch fish they are also learning just where to fish for what kind of fish.
Back to our angling trio of Lisbon businessmen. One was an insurance man, one was a store owner and one was a banker. I point this out because one of these men actually…and on a regular basis…was able to show off a fish to the other two after on days the two businessmen had retreated from the shorline in advance of the third man. I’ll come back to this mans secret mastery of fishing in a moment.
I mentioned the spot just down river from where most people fished below the dam. Well, this bend in the river was also quite shallow with a sandy bottom that was shaped like a bowl. It wasn’t very deep. Us kids would seine for minnows in this spot. We would open up gunny sacks, stitch the ends together with baling twine, tie to tree branches on the ends and pull the home-made net through the water and over to the shore where we would empty the minnows into our minnow bucket. After we had scooped up enough minnows, we would roll up our net, throw it into the deep weeds back away from the river and hop on our river rafts and go down river and fish (where there were actually fish). This was a repeated routine countless times during our summers on the Sheyenne. It was nothing special, it just WAS.
Enter our successful businessman angler.
This observant adult had witnessed us boys down river seining minnows many times…as had his riverbank cohorts. However, this one particular member of Lisbon’s upper echelon had been careful to observe a bit more than his angling friends. He apparently made mental notes about what he had seen and stored them away for recall at a more oportune time when he could put the mental information into action. Those times…two or three times each summer over a few years…could be considered a coup, for him and for us.
There has to be trust in business. Trust between the parties directly involved in a transaction. This trust may have to take on the form of a "pact of silence" in some cases. This was the case between this particular Lisbon businessman and my gang of four. We made a deal. We swore ourselves to solemn silence…which is why you have not seen this businessmans name or which profession he was in, pointed out.
You see, what this crafty icon of mainstreet had observed that his friends had overlooked is that on many occassions as my buddies and I nursed our minnow laden gunny-sack net to the shore, the net also carried a suprise. From that sandy pool of water there would frequently be a nice sized walleye in the net. We would usually toss it back into the river because we preferred catching fish on our lines versus schlepping them to shore in a net. I mean, where’s the challenge in that.
Well, on this one particular day this solitaire business man strolled the bank to where our minnow bucket was sitting waiting for the next onslaught of shiners. When we pulled our net to the bank and the man saw a walleye in the net he calmly said…"why don’t you throw that fish up here on the bank?". We had no objection. And he was an adult. And, (I know this is next line is going to be hard for many adults and youngsters to believe) kids actually obeyed and respected the words of their elders…"back in the day". So, we threw the walleye on the bank and turned back into the river for another swing through the water with our net. When we returned to the shore, the businessman and the walleye had gone. In their place was two shiny quarters on top of our minnow bucket.
Fifty cents…1949…four boys…"Sodas Around"!!!!!!!
Now none of us boys were around when the businessman with his trophy walleye decsended on Lisbon’s mainstreet on these infrequent occassions, but, we heard stories.
Apparently he would stride into his angling buddies offices holding the "catch" on a stringer and proclaiming in a loud and proud voice…"would ya look at this baby"! You can imagine the saucer sized eyes that stared at the dangling river prize. We also heard that one of the mans fishing friends asked one time…"How’d you you it"? To which the unabashed boaster reportedly replied….
"You gotta know where to find ‘em"!