South St. Louis Fisherman: "They're Ruining This Lake"

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click to enlarge Willmore Park Lake 1
Willmore Park Lake 1
The fisherman says he served in the Army. Says he was an Army Ranger, in fact. He mentions that little detail when telling the story of a guy he confronted a few weeks earlier at the lake.

"He and his kid caught an eight-inch bass and started walking off with it," says the fisherman. "There are signs all over around here that any bass has to be twelve inches to keep. I told him he better watch out for the conservation officer, and he starts cussing me out in front of his kid. Like I was the one who did something wrong! So I called the conservation department right then and there. I'm not risking my Army pension on him. I just retired  -- 30 years as an Army Ranger. But I guarantee you. Had he kept going, it would not have been pretty."

We first came across the fisherman a few minutes earlier, right after my kid and I arrived from the bait shop on Chippewa. I was attempting to hook a red wiggler onto the boy's line when the fisherman walked by and nodded approvingly.

"Keep him off the MTV as long as you can," he told me.

Now he has returned from the other side of the lake and tossed his line into the water next to us. "See that over there?" he asks, pointing toward some sticks and fast-food wrappers floating along the concrete lip of the lake.

"There's a dead snapping turtle over there. These guy come out here to catch catfish and leave their bait sitting on the bottom of the lake. A turtle swallows it and they tear its throat out trying to get the hook. And for what? A 10 cent hook? They're ruining this lake."

He's perhaps in his mid-50s, though it's hard to tell. He wears a sleeveless t-shirt, shorts, sandals and a pair of those wrap-around sunglasses that the fishing pros wear on TV. In one hand he carries three fishing poles. In the other a small cooler from which he takes out a can of Milwaukee's Best and pours its yellow contents into an old Gatorade bottle full of ice. "Beer smoothie," he calls it.

It's not just the catfish guys ruining the lake, he continues.

"I caught a Vietnamese woman here the other day with a net full of bluegill. She's emptying this lake by the bucketload."

He says he never takes fish out of the lake. He doesn't want to kill the females with eggs.

"You know when a male fish reaches a certain size it becomes a female, don't you? I don't know if they even teach that in school anymore. They just teach them to wear their pants down low."

By now my son is walking down to where the bloated dead turtle is bobbing up and down like an inflatable raft -- its tail, legs and head ballooning out from the shell.

"Yep," says the fisherman, following behind us. "It's a damn shame."

Soon it is time to head back to the car. The fish aren't biting and the boy is growing restless.

"See you around," I say as we walk off.

"Yep," replies the fisherman, working his lure along the shore. "Stay in school."

Then ten seconds later: "Oh, and buy American, too!"

My kids is three. He hasn't even begun school. He's not going to be buying a Chevrolet anytime, either. But I'll be sure to pass along the fisherman's wisdom when the time is right. I'll also instruct him to cut the line should he ever reel in a snapping turtle.

As for the lesson about fish being hermaphrodites, I'm not so sure about that one. Perhaps my kid will come home from school someday to confirm that tale. That is, if they still teach such things.

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