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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The "Oh The Memories ... Fishing The Elk River In The 1950s" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Casting my line into the Elk River from a small dock platform held afloat by 55 gallon drums under it.  For years my parents would take myself and my brother on vacation to my Aunt's summer cottage along the Elk River in Maryland.  I can still remember the great times we spent swimming in the river as well as fishing off the dock.  Always stopped on the way to the cottage at Sarge's store along Route 213S to pick up a container of worms to use as bait while fishing.  
My dad watching me fish along the Elk River.  Circa mid-1950s.
My dad would sit with me for hours on that dock as I caught just about any type of fish that could survive the dirty water of the Elk River.  I do remember the big channel catfish which had those ugly whiskers and were terrible to get off my hook when I would catch one; and the bellowing noises they emitted from deep within.  But, the one item that scared the crap out of me were the American eels that grabbed hold of my hook and began to take it with them.  Still remember the first one I ever caught; thought it was a snake.  What a battle they put up as I wound the line back onto my reel.  They can grow to about four feet in length and weigh up to 17 pounds, and they would wrap themselves around the end of the fishing line.  When I got them to the dock it was a chore to raise them out of the water as they flailed in every direction.  Talk about ugly!  And the slime you would get on your hands as well as all over the dock's surface was amazing.  
The American Eel.
Years later, Carol and I took our three children to the same cottage and duplicated all the fun I had experienced as a child.  And yes, it included catching those slimy eels.  One day, after one of the kids landed an eel, Carol told the kids the story about her father catching an eel in the creek in Southern Lancaster County next to where they lived in Martic Forge.  Brought it back to the house and her mom decided she would make it for supper.  Thing was dead by the time it hit the frying pan, but it still squirmed around in the hot frying pan.  Naturally they wanted to know if she ate any of it.  She replied, "No way.  It was really gross."  Haven't been fishing in the rivers that lead into the Chesapeake Bay for years, so I'm not sure if they still inhabit the Elk River as they did years ago.  I did read recently that the American eel has nearly disappeared from the nearby Susquehanna River.  
The snake-like American Eel.
Seems that there is a new effort to restore eels to the rivers and streams of Lancaster County.  It was reported that the eel serves as the prime host for a freshwater mussel that is an important filter for removing nutrients and sediment from river systems.  And, the little eastern elliptio mussel could be a help in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  About 17,000 juvenile eels have been stocked in the local Conestoga River in the last ten years, but recently they have all disappeared.  Since they are such a help in cleaning the Susquehanna, the effort to once again stock them will continue.  I believe my fishing days are behind me along the Elk, but I can still recall catching eels in August in the Elk River.  Funny how some things you never forget.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

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