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Shrinking, acrobatic, liver-smelling fish stories

If you’re the kind of person who gets hooked on a creel full of fish stories, this column won’t put any slack in your line.

Now, just in case you don’t like wading in a cold mountain stream, don’t fish, and were about ready to turn the page — hang for a moment. The only fishy smell you’re about to get today is from the 1909 mouths of local anglers, who would rather snag you with their story about the “one that got away,” than clean their latest catch.

For the uninitiated, fish stories tend to be long-winded tales that stretch believability far beyond any line of reason.

You can forget about Jeff Heard’s story about losing his footing and being dragged down the Rogue River for at least a quarter mile by a salmon on his hook. Jeff had just lost his trained trout.

He had raised the trout from infancy after finding it orphaned because its parents had swallowed a fly with a hook attached. Jeff brought it home and put it in his backyard pond.

He taught that trout all kinds of neat tricks — multiple flip-flops, how to swim on its back, and to wag its tail when Jeff blew a whistle. It was its high-jumping skill that took the little fella’s life. It had trained until it could leap 15 feet in the air. Unfortunately, that last jump struck a limb on Jeff’s walnut tree. Jeff tried everything to save it, but its back was broken and nothing could be done. It peacefully passed away.

Bill “Pug” Isaacs gushed with pride telling how he caught a string of 28 trout from Little Butte Creek, none smaller than 15 inches in length.

“Learned from a trustworthy authority,” Pug said, “that a number of fine trout had been placed in the creek about four years ago. Although the stream had been fished repeatedly, and by careful experts, few of the trout were caught. It was feared that the fish had all died.”

Frustrated after seeing those same fish still in the water, and without success casting his line into the creek all morning, Pug sat down on the bank, started a fire, and began to cook lunch.

“I proceeded to fry some liver and bacon,” he said, “when a commotion in the water attracted my attention.” The creek was boiling in lively trout. He threw his line in and finally understood. “Those trout had been raised on liver and they recognized the odor,” he said. “I used my fried liver for bait and here is the result.”

Bob Dow claimed to have caught the largest rainbow trout ever seen in the valley. “Far be it for me to appear in a boastful light,” Bob said, “but there are those present who will recall the huge fish I hooked, up in Big Butte.”

The trout had been seen for 15 years and nobody could land it. “It kept getting puffed up with pride,” Bob said, “until competent judges declared he was three feet long. He broke every line that held him and he delighted in crushing hooks.”

Naturally, Bob had no problem hooking the monster fish; however, that is when his fight began. Minute after minute after minute after minute, the fish leaped into the air, twisted, turned over and around, and “fought like a crazy man.”

Finally, Bob believed the fish became embarrassed. “He lost all pride,” Bob said. “He began to feel small and he commenced to fade away.” Apparently, the trout never stopped shrinking. “He grew smaller and smaller,” Bob said, “and by the time I landed him on the bank he was only 26 inches long. Pity, wasn’t it?”

Pity, indeed. Shrinking, acrobatic, liver-smelling fish. Who needs to go fishing after stories like that?

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.