Stoopid Went Fishing
by Ellis Parker Butler
Jibby Jones and the rest of us were loafing on the grass out by my barn because it was one of those red-hot days when it was too hot to do anything but loaf around and talk. Most of us were sprawled out on the grass, but Jibby was sitting with his back against an apple tree and his long legs stuck out in front of him, and this fat boy we called Stoopid was standing up. He was too interested in what we were saying to sit down.
"What is a pelican, Jibby?" Tad Willing asked.
"I know," this Willie Telker, the fat boy we called Stoopid, said; "it's a bird that catches fish."
"But, say," Skippy asked, "how do you use a pelican to fish with?"
"I don't know about pelicans," Jibby said, "but a pelican is trained to return to its owner to be fed, just as a dog comes to its owner to receive its food. The fisherman fastens a ring around the pelican's neck so that it cannot swallow the fish completely, and then sends the pelican out to catch fish."
"Jibby --" Stoopid began.
"Yes? What is it, William?" Jibby asked him.
"Are there any pelicans around here?" Stoopid asked.
"Yes; I am afraid so, William," Jibby said.
"Are they real pelicans?"
"Why, yes, William," Jibby said, and we all knew what Stoopid had in his mind, because he had never had any fishing on the farm where he was born, and he was crazy about fishing. "Yes, there are some pelicans in the Mississippi River Valley. Occasionally one flies over Riverbank, they tell me."
"Could I fish with a pelican with a ring around its neck?" Stoopid asked.
"I don't see why not, William," Jibby said. "Of course, it is several thousand times harder, here on this river, to catch a pelican than to catch a fish, but I think that with patience -- if you could catch a pelican -- you could train it to catch fish even with a ring around its neck."
"How do you catch pelicans?" Stoopid asked.
"You put salt on their tails," Wampus said. "You get a salt shaker with good dry salt in it, and when you see a pelican you make a noise like a fish and sneak up behind old Mr. Pelican and sprinkle" the salt on his tail."
"Yeh!" Skippy Root said. "They're crazy for salt, those pelicans. And when the pelican turns its head around to lap up the salt you put on its tail, its neck bends around like the handle of a jug, and you grab it by the handle. That," he said grinning at Jibby Jones, "is how my father caught all his pelicans when he was in South Australia."
"William, you can't --" Jibby began, for he was going to tell Stoopid he couldn't catch pelicans in any such way, but Stoopid was already on his way to his house to get a salt shaker with dry salt in it, and before Stoopid came back with the salt shaker in his pocket Jibby had gone home and we had talked about forty ways of catching fish. I was saying that I had had some pretty good fun catching carp with grains of green corn.
"Yes, so have I. Green corn and dough balls -- either is very good," Skippy Root said; "but the most fun I ever had was fishing through the ice."
"Yes," I agreed, "that's great sport, that is. You get big ones fishing through the ice. The biggest fish I ever caught was one I caught that way."
"Black bass?" Tad asked.
"Pickerel," I told him. "You tell them, Skippy; you were along that time."
"Well, all there was to it," Skippy said, "was we made a hole in the ice to put our lines through, and the first pop out of the box, George here said, 'I've got one!' and up he pulled this old whale of a pickerel. Twenty-eight inches long. A jim-dandy! Well, we got eight that day."
"Seven or eight," I said. "All big ones they were, too."
"What did --" Stoopid began to ask, but Skippy said, "I've got to mosey along home; you coming, Wampus?" The gang broke up and I went into the house and Stoopid went home. When I looked back he had the salt shaker in his hand and was practicing shooting salt out of it onto the weeds in our back yard. I laughed to myself, because just about one pelican a year flies over Riverbank, and when one does it is about half a mile high and it goes by at about forty miles an hour. You can't get near enough to one to hit it with a rifle bullet. And everyone in the world, except Stoopid, I guess, knew that putting salt on a bird's tail is just a joke.
Well, along about then we had some of the hottest weather we ever had in Iowa, I guess. The air came drifting up from Texas and it was like air out of an oven, and nobody thought of fishing. Nobody but Stoopid. We lolled around on the grass in the shade, because it was too hot to do anything else, but Stoopid kept asking, "Are you going fishing tomorrow. Are you going fishing day after tomorrow?" The only time he wasn't pestering us to go fishing was when a chicken came near. Then he would pull the salt shaker out of his pocket and try to sneak up behind the chicken close enough to give it a dose of salt on the tail.
He got pretty discouraged. Jibby, just to show Stoopid what a pelican looked like, brought over a picture of one. Stoopid took it with an eager look, but the minute he looked at it his face went glum. In that picture the pelican's tail did not look to be any bigger than your thumb, and some of the roosters Stoopid had been trying to salt on the tail had mighty big tails. Jibby saw how glum Stoopid looked.
"What is the matter, William?" he asked.
"I'm just never going to catch a pelican," Stoopid said in a discouraged voice. "Look at its tail. It hasn't hardly any tail."
"And I bet it keeps wagging it about five hundred wags a minute, too," Wampus said. "I don't think you'll ever catch a pelican, if you ask me, Stoopid. -- He wants to catch a pelican by putting salt on its tail, Jibby."
"I hardly think that is worth attempting, William," Jibby said. "Let us say that one pelican a year flies over Riverbank; the chance is that it will fly over at night. The chance that you see it is about one in a million. The chance that the pelican will alight within five miles of where you happen to be is about one in ten million. That gives you one chance in ten million million. And the chance of catching anything by putting salt on its tail is about one in ten million million. I think your chance of catching a pelican is about one in a good many trillion quadrillions, William. If I were you I would begin with a duck."
"Can I catch a duck by putting salt on its tail?" Stoopid asked.
"No, William," Jibby said, "but you can buy a duck. You could begin by buying a duck and learning how to train it to catch minnows; and then, later on -- if you save up your money -- you may be able to buy a pelican, and you will at least know how to train it to catch fish."
I guess that seemed good sense to Stoopid, and he did buy a duck. Old Mrs. Granzy, whose yard ran down into Mud Creek, kept ducks, and Stoopid went over there and bought a duck from her. He paid her six cents for it, but that was because it was a very small duck. It was just a little fluffy ball, the way a duck is a day or two after it comes out of the egg. And it looked like good sense to buy a young duck like that, because the sooner you begin to train a bird or an animal the better chance you have.
So Stoopid took the duckling home and fed it and began its education by putting a thin wire ring around its neck, and in a week or two the duckling got to be quite a young duck. It began to have feathers, and when Stoopid called, "Here, ducky, ducky, ducky!" it would come running to him calling out, "Qua-a-ack, wack, wack, wack!" because when he called it he fed it. It got to be about as big as a broiler chicken, which is about the unhandsomest time of a duck's life, and Stoopid begged us to take him and the duck down to Riverbank Slough to let it have its first try at catching minnows.
By that time the weather had got so you could step into the sun without thinking somebody hit you with a red-hot stove, so we went down to the slough with Stoopid and his duck. We got into Elmer Corrigan's old boat and poled out beyond the water moss to the edge of the pickerel weed. I was in the boat, and Wampus, because that was all the old tub would hold, besides Stoopid. So Stupid put the duck over the side of the boat into the water.
"Nice little ducky," he said. "Go and get a fish, good little ducky. Get a little fish and bring it to Willie."
For a second or two, when it found itself in the water, the duck looked surprised and pleased. It said something like "quack-quack" and dipped its yellow bill in the water, and then turned its head to one side and the other, looking to see where it would go first. It made a couple of kicks with its feet and then, "Whish! Plop!" There was a rush of something through the water and a big pickerel grabbed the duck and swished again as it dived, and that was the last of that duck.
For a moment or two we were all too surprised to say a word. Then Wampus spoke up.
"Whoo!" he said. "Did you see that? Some pickerel!"
"That's one gone duck!" I said.
"You ought to have had a hook on that duck," Wampus said. "If you had had a hook and a line on it you'd have got the biggest pickerel I ever saw in this slough. Yes, sir!"
Stoopid just sat and looked at the water for about a minute, looking at the place where the pickerel had grabbed the duck.
"It was too big," he said then.
"What was too big?" Wampus asked.
"That fish," Stoopid said. "It was too big for my duck. I guess my duck is drowned now."
"Drowned!" Wampus said. "It's eaten. That pickerel was so big he made just one bite of that duck."
"No," Stoopid said. "I trained my duck to catch fish, and it caught that fish, but the fish was too big for it. But my duck didn't let go; it held on."
"No; listen, Stoopid --" I said. "Listen a minute. A pickerel of that size would swallow a duck of that size in one gulp. What happened!"
"My duck caught the fish, but the fish was too big for it, and pulled my duck under," Stoopid said. "Did you see the fish catch my duck?"
Well, if you've ever seen a pickerel make one of those dashes -- like a streak of lightning -- when you are not expecting to see anything, you know you don't really see what happens. So I told the truth. I told Stoopid I didn't exactly see what did happen.
"Well, that proves it!" Stoopid said triumphantly. "My duck was a fish-catcher and he wouldn't let a fish catch him. So he caught that fish."
And nothing would convince him that his duck hadn't caught that pickerel. Even Jibby couldn't convince him.
"My duck caught that fish; the only trouble was that my duck wasn't big enough for that fish; the next time I'm going to have a bigger duck."
Well, the result was that Stoopid went over to Mrs. Granzy's and bought six more ducks and kept them in his back yard, and he treated them fine and taught them to have wire rings around their necks and to come to him when he called them, and presently it got along to August and we had a spell of cooler weather, and we decided we would go fishing.
Wampus wanted to go down to the slough and try to get that big old pickerel, but they were having good luck catching bass and big white perch below the third dam on the river above town, so we decided to try there first.
"Can I come along, Jibby?" Stoopid asked Jibby Jones, and Jibby said he could.
Wampus gave me a wink.
"Ducks!" he whispered to me. "You wait -- he'll come with a bunch of those fish-catching ducks, and we'll have some fun with him."
So we planned for an all-day fishing trip, and each of us was to bring lunch and supper for himself, but old Jibby said he would attend to drinks for the crowd. We talked over what drinks we wanted, because you get mighty thirsty sitting in a boat, and the river water is so dirty and hot in August. Some of us wanted soda pop, lemon or cherry, and some wanted ginger ale, so Jibby said he would get a whole case of mixed, and he did. He had it delivered at the boat-renting dock, and we were all there when Stoopid came down the bank, pulling a little cart by its handle. He had something biggish and square in the cart, covered over with a gunnysack, and Wampus laughed.
"His cage of trained ducks," Wampus laughed, and Jibby turned to him, rather angry.
"Now, Wampus, I will not have you making sport of William," Jibby said. "We are going for a day's fun and you must not annoy William, or I shall return home immediately."
"I won't say a word!" Wampus laughed, throwing up his hands. "He can fish with a flock of canaries for all I care. Where shall I put this case of drinks?"
"Put it in the bow of my boat," Jibby said, and Wampus put it there, and Stoopid came dragging his cart onto the dock.
"Hello, everybody; we've got a fine day for fishing, haven't we?" Stoopid said.
"Yes, indeed!" Jibby answered. "This is a splendid day for angling. A little overcast and wind in the south. 'Wind in the south, blows the bait into the fish's mouth,' as the saying is. What have you there, William?"
We all expected he would say "Ducks." What he said was "Ice." Jibby looked at the cart.
"That's nice, William," he said. "You have brought a fine large piece, too. It will not only keep our case of drinks cool but if we catch any fish --"
"It isn't to keep the drinks cool," Stoopid said. "I brought it to fish through."
Jibby just stood and stared at him.
"Remember, Jibby!" Wampus said. "We are going for a day's fun. You must not annoy William, or I shall return home immediately."
But staring at Stoopid never annoyed him much. He lifted the chunk of ice -- fifty pounds at least, I guess -- out of his cart and carried it to Jibby's boat.
He was a good deal excited because he was always so crazy about going fishing with us.
"I got a good piece of ice," he said. "I bored a good hole through it, too. I didn't bring my ducks because I haven't got them trained enough to catch big fish with, and I want to catch a big fish today, so I thought I'd fish through the ice. That's how George got that big one."
Jibby coughed a little.
"That was in the winter, William," he said gently. "George meant winter ice."
"Well, this is winter ice," Stoopid said. "I asked Smitz if it was artificial ice, because I didn't know if artificial ice would do, and he said it wasn't. He cut it on the river last winter. It is winter ice."
"And if you annoy William about it I shall return home immediately," Wampus said, grinning. "Remember that, Jibby."
"Put the ice in the bow of my boat," Jibby said.
Four of us went out in Jibby's boat -- Jibby, Wampus, Stoopid, and I -- and the rest went with Tad Willing.
What took Stoopid so long was getting his cake of ice ready to fish through. His hook was too big to go through the hole he had made in the cake of ice, so he had to take the hooks off and push the line through the hole in the ice and then tie the hook on again, and put a sinker on the line. But he got it ready at last, and the hook baited, and Jibby helped him put the cake of ice over the side of the boat.
The pole Stoopid had was a bamboo pole. The eddy below the dam slowly swirled the cake of ice around in a circle, and each time the cake of ice made the circle it got nearer and nearer to the middle of the eddy, until Stoopid had just the end of his pole to hold onto.
"Jibby," he said then, "can't we move the boat over so I can --" when -- whang! -- out of his hand went the pole. He had hooked onto a fish and such a big fish that it jerked the pole out of his hand and yanked its far end up against the ice, and the cake of ice dipped down into the water and went out of sight, pole and all.
"A whale! He's got a whale of a fish!" I shouted, and just then the cake of ice bobbed to the surface a moment and went down again. Jibby was already untying the boat from the dam, and the cake of ice -- when it came up from time to time -- was making for the middle of the river. It would go under and disappear and then come up farther out. So we set out after it in the boat
He's got a whale! He's got a whopper!" Wampus kept shouting, and Jibby kept pulling at the oars, and -- when the ice came to the surface for a moment -- I shouted: "Left oar, Jibby! Now to the right! Left! Left again!"
It was easy to guess that Stoopid had a big fish -- if he had it. It was easy to see that if Stoopid hadn't been fishing through the ice that fish would have got away with his rod, line, hook and sinker. But the question was, "How long will that cake of ice last in the hottish water of the river?" If the ice did not melt, the fish would be tired out with dragging it as a float, but every minute the cake of ice was getting smaller and smaller. We were pretty well out toward the middle of the river before we caught up with the ice, and by that time not more than twenty-five pounds of it was left, but the fish was tired and the rod was floating, and Stoopid reached over the side of the boat and grabbed the pole. Then Jibby rowed us slowly toward the sand bar below Oak Island and we beached there and pulled the fish ashore.
It was a thirty-eight pound channel catfish, the biggest that had been caught near Riverbank in ten years, and one of the biggest that had ever been caught with pole and line. Jibby stood looking down at it and was going to say something, but Wampus said:
"Don't say it, Jibby; I won't say anything to annoy William!" and William looked at Jibby.
"You can say it, Jibby," Stoopid said. "I won't be annoyed; I know what you were going to say. You were going to say you wished I had brought more pieces of ice, weren't you?"