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The Man Scout: My humbling encounter with a 3-inch bluegill — which I think I caught twice in 10 minutes


By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

I grew up in Newport, a softscrabble kid of the 1980s, acquiring early on a number of impressive, if not important, life skills. I learned the art of the wheelie, how to master Pac-Man by dividing the board into quarters, how many recycled soda bottles it took to buy a Flying Glider at the corner grocery store and the trick to owning the sky with a cheap Styrofoam fighter plane.

At a recent trip to a local sporting goods store, however, I was forced to accept a grim reality. I don’t remember the last time I popped a wheelie, played Pac-Man or sailed a Glider.

It’s possible for a non-Boy Scout to catch the same bluegill twice in 10 minutes, as Chris Cole proved during a recent fishing trip at A.J. Jolly Park. (Photo provided)

And while I loved my childhood and wouldn’t trade it for anyone’s, I didn’t grow up to be what you would call “handy” or even “useful” when it comes to my day-to-day struggles with home improvement, car maintenance or broken…well, anything.

Given enough time, I can change a flat tire. But you could give me a week and I still wouldn’t be able to change my oil. Most of the projects around our home result in only moderate improvement and as often as not, end up even worse than when I started.

The sales rep at that sporting goods store probably said it best.

You see, I’d gone to buy fishing gear. I turned 44 recently, and got to talking with my younger brother Tyler about taking up a hobby. We decided it might be fun to give fishing a try. So here I was, looking for the requisite equipment.

The conversation went something like this:

Sales Rep: What kind of fishing are you going to be doing?

Me: Um…like, with a fishing pole.

Sales Rep: OK. Well what kind of fish are you trying to catch?

Me: I…uh…I have no idea.

Sales Rep: You weren’t no Boy Scout, were ya?

I weren’t no Boy Scout, indeed. And if you need evidence – though no one who’s ever met me needs evidence – before we went fishing, I spent two hours on YouTube learning how to tie a hook onto a line and what the difference is between a sinker and a bobber.

A bluegill. (Artwork courtesy of Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

As we pulled into A.J. Jolly Park the next day, I had another “weren’t no Boy Scout” moment when the ranger asked what kind of worms I wanted to buy.

The silence was awkward and excruciating. Just as I was about to phone-a-friend, Tyler – who was by no means a Boy Scout himself – leaned over and mercifully guessed, “Uh…nightcrawlers?”

We spent four glorious hours casting and reeling, replacing lost hooks and untangling our lines. Eventually, I caught and released what might generously be called a fish. It was a bluegill (I’m told) smaller than my iPhone. Ten minutes later, I swear I caught the same little fella again. Tyler got a kick out of that.

I’d caught my first fish (twice), and it was a pretty satisfying day. But the words of that sales rep stuck with me – I weren’t no Boy Scout. So I made a decision then and there. I hopped on eBay and found a copy of the 1952 Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys listed for $5.20.

I’m not sure what to expect. Having never been a Boy Scout, I don’t know exactly what is covered in the official handbook. In my mind, I suspect I’ll learn how to survive on my own in the wilderness. Or at least at A.J. Jolly. And I hope to learn how to make fire using sticks. That always seems like a pretty important skill on TV.

Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. This is one of those situations where I don’t know what I don’t know. I will probably never be an expert in life-craft, but I’m going to study this handbook cover-to-cover and hopefully I will learn some important life skills I wish I had learned years ago.

From time to time I’ll report back and let you know how it’s going. In the meantime, remember to Do a Good Turn Daily!

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.


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7 Comments

  1. Brenda Melahn says:

    Absolutely love this story and have personal knowledge of the truths Mr. Cole speaks.

  2. Chris Cole says:

    I’m really looking forward to writing this series. Did anyone reading this go through the Scouts? If so, what was your favorite memory?

  3. Peggy Henn says:

    This is great, I grew up in Newport as well. Our fishing trips were climbing the Flood Walls behind the Housing Projects of which I was raised in and going down the other side to Fish in the Licking River with my Father. Boy the memories this has open up.

    THANKS Chris.

    • Chris Cole says:

      I know where you’re talking about, Peggy. I grew up on the East End. We didn’t sneak to fish, but my brother and I used to play under the 471 bridge all the time.

      I’m looking forward to sharing more stories as the series progresses.

  4. Pat Moynahan says:

    I went through the scouts in the 1950s. My favorite memories were making kites from sticks and “butcher paper” for the annual regional kite flying contest. One year, my kite and several others went so high and so far you could no longer see them. The judges drove downwind with binoculars to find them and pick the winners. I finished second … but what I remember most were the nasty string cuts in my fingers from trying to wrestle that thing down by hand in a strong wind.

    … also, put my first little bluegill in a jar of water to keep him alive. Despite putting holes in the top of the jar, he (or she) perished in less than 24 hours.

    • Chris Cole says:

      Thanks for sharing, Pat. Would you believe I’ve never flown a kite in my life? Maybe they will change – stay tuned!

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