A Mepps Man to the Core

It is the twenty-third day of our quarantine and I thought I would go fishing. I am using an old Mepps spinner on a junky fishing rod.

So far, I haven’t caught anything but a sunburn and a 7UP bottle. About a hundred yards from me, I see an older man fishing alongside a little boy. I wave at them. They wave back.

And I am catapulted backward a hundred years.

I was a kid. I was sitting between my old man and my grandfather. There was a lake before us. Dark green water. Lots of frogs.

My grandfather was country people, just like everyone’s grandfather was. We held fishing rods. Mine was an el-cheapo from Kmart. My grandfather’s was bamboo, with Dacron fishing line.

Granddaddy sat on a rock, holding his rod. He was a stoic. War makes men that way. He was tying a spinner onto the end of his line. I remember this with startling clarity because his hands were so old. I marveled at how those fingers could be so articulate.

Daddy whispered into my ear, “Guess he’s done with worms, he means business, by dog, that’s a Mepps spinner.”

By dog. We really talked like that. We also said things like, “I’ll be dogged,” and the ever popular “Doggone it.” These were beautiful words. Like cuss words, only you could use them around company.

It’s funny what you remember. His fishing rod was made of reddish bamboo, his reel looked older than an Egyptian sarcophagus. There was no telling how old it was. It didn’t look like the crummy kid-rods all my friends all had.

My Pocket Fisherman rod, for instance, was basically a piece of refuse. If you caught anything over ten ounces the rod snapped in two, you fell in the water, got bit by a water moccasin, and you died right there.

He wore one of those hats that looked like it had been sitting in the sun for a millenium. A fedora, floppy brim. He wore horn rimmed glasses like he’d just stepped off the Lawrence Welk Show stage.

He handed me the rod.

I could hardly believe it. His rod? What was happening?

My father was big-eyed, watching in mock amazement.

Granddaddy said, “Now hold the rod all the way back at ten o’clock, then release it at two o’clock.

Do what? What was this strange language? Ten and two o’clock? What did clocks have to do with anything?

“Ten and two o’clock,” my granddaddy said again.

I have never been good with numbers or clocks. The truth is, I didn’t learn how to tell time on a mechanical clock until I was in my mid-twenties. I never got the hang of it. Throughout my adult life, whenever people have asked me the time, I simply faked a massive coronary and flopped on the floor before they figured out I was clock-illiterate.

Kid-me finally understood what Granddaddy meant. Ten and two o’clock is how you execute a cast. The spinner hit the water and made ripples that circled outward to the shore.

“Work it,” he said.

“Work it?”

“Work the LURE,” he said, taking the rod. He showed me how to “work it” by yanking, then reeling, then yanking, then reeling.

When the spinner got back to us, it was dripping wet and covered in moss. We repeated this sequence.

“You sure this can catch fish?” I asked. Until that day, I had always used nightcrawlers or raw hotdogs. Never spinners.

“It’ll work,” he said.

I tugged, I reeled, I tugged again, and reeled some more. I held my mouth just right.

It was glorious. I felt so grown up. I will never forget this little moment as long as I live. He was talking with the gentle cadence of a man who knew children well. He’d raised five. He’d raised his siblings, too.

I don’t know everything about him, but I know he grew up during the hardest time in American history, when farmers were raising nothing but dirt and sand spurs from harsh ground.

I know he was the responsible one in his family when his father died from bee stings. I know he took over being a tenant farmer for his old man when he was still a boy. And after he joined Uncle Sam, he would send a check home to his mother until she died.

And somehow, in this busy life, he had the time and wherewithal to learn to play accordion, guitar, piano, and mandolin. My mother tells me that when he was a young man, he went to a little radio station and sang gospel tunes into a microphone that looked like a snuff tin. If he did this, he never talked about it.

We sat on the shore, elder and boy. The fish finally took the lure and I was over the moon. The reel made a zipping noise that bounced across the woods.

He inspected the fish and said, “Not bad, not bad at all,” which is the highest compliment an old fisherman can give to a kid. Then he removed the spinner from the fish, he let the fish go, since we had already caught our limit. And he handed the rod and tackle to me.

“It’s yours now,” he said.

“Mine?” I said.

But he was already walking toward the truck. The stoic man. He knew he would not live forever, but he knew that this moment surely would. And he wanted me to have something to remember it by.

I still use Mepps spinners, by dog. I just wish I knew what time it was.


  1. Sandi. - April 10, 2020 6:56 am

    Hi Sean, I’m so touched by your heartwarming fishing story. No wonder you love to fish even now. It’s in your DNA!
    God bless your grandfather for giving you his nice fishing rod,and better yet, for giving you that special moment in time that’s still fresh in your memory.

  2. Nell Thomas - April 10, 2020 9:50 am

    So special. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cathi Russell - April 10, 2020 9:51 am

    But like Chicago sang all those years ago “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” My granddaddy taught me to fish too & we had the best conversations/times there. The most memorable time is when a goose bit his tallywhacker because he didn’t know it was there & he peed on it. Geese do not appreciate urine baptisms! My GrandZollie definitely was much more careful about watching where he was peeing the next time. Thanks for prompting that memory, Sean. I needed that laugh this morning!

  4. Lita - April 10, 2020 10:00 am

    Thank you for this, Sean. You’re posts are one of my daily inspirations. Stay safe and well. Where we live it’s Friday, 11am. 🙂

  5. Becky Flack - April 10, 2020 10:28 am

    I grew up going fishing with my family on the Causeway in Guntersville, AL. It was hotter the Hatdes and they would give us cane poles. We got our bait out of those brown containers with holes in the lids filled with dirt and worms. We didn’t have bottle water back then and I am not sure we even had a cooler, I really don’t remember me ever catching a fish, but my mom maw, dad and grandpaw always seemed too. I remember most that if we had to go to the bathroom our mom would open the front car door and the back car door so to hide us on the side of the road so we could go. That same grandpaw would watch Bill Dance and I can remember sitting in the living room thinking, really you are watching fishing, on TV?! Well I grew up and I married a fisherman. He’s fished semi-pro, won boats and trucks and as I type this our grown son meet him here this morning after working all night so they can fish a Good Friday tournament on Smith Lake. I as an adult now know why my grandpaw watched fishing and I’m thankful I marred a fisherman. Heck, I’ve even won a tournament or two with my husband and we have meet and made some of the best lifelong friends from just fishing. Now our son and his wife fish tournament trails together. Thanks for your memory Sean, it triggered my memories of fishing with my people.

  6. Nell Thomas - April 10, 2020 10:51 am

    Great story. Thank you.

  7. Stephen - April 10, 2020 11:09 am

    Simply AWESOME!!

  8. Tim Fisher - April 10, 2020 11:16 am

    Thanks. Brings back memories of fishing with my dad. He has Alzheimer’s now and can’t remember anything. But his memory lives on in me.

  9. turtlekid - April 10, 2020 11:53 am

    Beautiful memory.

  10. Lisa Stapleton Weldon - April 10, 2020 11:55 am

    I just found my father’s old metal tackle box. He was the one who taught me how to fish.

  11. Roger - April 10, 2020 11:59 am

    I swear, we must be related.

  12. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - April 10, 2020 12:00 pm

    I am more of a Panther Martin man myself, but Mepps make fine lures and I have several in my tackle box. Grandpa taught me how to fish. First from the shore of a state reservoir in Kansas with a bamboo pole and a fixed line with worms. I was four. Grandpa, like your Grandpa, was awe-inspiring. He was also “thrifty”. He was not a respecter of brand names for fishing gear. He had a variety of rods and reels, most of them manufactured back when the earth’s crust was still cooling. We lived with my grandparents for brief periods when I was young, because of disruptions caused by my Dad’s transfers and overseas assignments in the Marine Corps. We visited my grandparents for a couple of weeks during summers every two or three years as I was growing up.

    When I was really young I was a little afraid of grandpa. He brooked little nonsense. “Go cut me a switch” was not a sentence I wanted to hear more than once. But he loved me. He didn’t have to tell me. I knew it by the way he held my hands while showing me how to cast with a cheap old Zebco rod and reel. I knew it by the way he carefully made our lunches and packed them in old metal lunchboxes with domed lids and chipped green enamel paint. I knew it by the way he dusted my pants with sulphur powder and put a little inside the elastic band on my tighty-whities. He always wore a canvas or straw fedora. I wore a baseball cap and my ears got sunburned.

    Mostly, we’d go fishing in a creek not far from his rural home during the week, after he got home from work. Sometimes we’d go on longer expeditions to fishing spots in adjacent counties where he’d gone as a young boy himself. He knew about some pretty good holes. Sometimes we’d get skunked. He’d be a little peeved by that. I didn’t care that much. I just loved being with him out in the wild country places.

    When Grandpa died at age 89, I was enlisted to go back to Kansas and move Grandma out to California to live with my parents. I had to pack the contents of their tiny house for the move. When I got around to Grandpa’s fishing gear I was amazed to find a nice bamboo rod with a good quality fly reel. The man had secrets.

  13. Tammy S. - April 10, 2020 12:39 pm

    Love this!!

  14. Tom - April 10, 2020 12:42 pm

    Ain’t nothing like spending time with your Pop- especially fishing and hunting.

  15. Sara Howland - April 10, 2020 12:43 pm

    This just makes my day, in these lonesome times.Thank you Sean.

  16. Ann - April 10, 2020 1:02 pm

    This is so visual and sweet….it feels calm in an upended world..

  17. Teresa Tindle - April 10, 2020 1:19 pm

    Sean this takes me back to times I spent fishing with my Dad. He was the best. I’m a girl but I love fishing. My Dad was kind, generous and the strongest man I ever knew. I miss him terribly. He was so good to my son. My sons father shot and killed himself when he was 8. My daddy took over. He loved and raised him. Taught him to fish, hunt, fix a leak, build a deck. All the manly things. He taught him to be a good man. The biggest lesson he taught him was to never give up on his dreams. My dad didn’t. He was sick all his life. He had diabetes. He had heart surgery, 2 strokes that left him paralyzed, and he had his good leg amputated. But he never gave up. He was one of a kind. They don’t make em like him anymore.

  18. Delphia Smith - April 10, 2020 1:27 pm

    Good morning Sean,
    My mother was raised a lot like your grandfather in Slasham, Al. They were farmers and had a hard time. I never met any of my grandparents because they died so young. One of them died from blood poisoning, after getting stuck with a safety pen.
    After my grandmother died it was left to my mother and her sisters to cook and take care of the house.
    They had a wood stove and every time they cooked
    the house caught fire. It was my moms job to get on
    the roof and put out the fire, while my aunt cooked.
    Every time my Aunt Elsie told this story my sister and I would laugh because she always cried. We would get her to tell it just to watch her cry. I know that sounds mean but at the time we were young and really didn’t realize what a hard time they had back in the depression. Another time when they were planting the fields it was hot and they decided to pour the beans in a tree stump so they could get finished. My Aunts swore her daddy picked her up by her ear and whipped her and she said it messed up her hearing. I always enjoy your stories because it brings back memories of my mother telling us about her childhood! Have a blessed Good Friday!

  19. Robert Chiles - April 10, 2020 1:30 pm


  20. Sharon Brock - April 10, 2020 1:37 pm

    We called my paternal grandfather Gramps. He lived thru the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression, and raising my father. He had 9 grandchildren, 5 of them girls. He took my next oldest sister and I fishing once. Becky, aged 5, caught a decent sized fish. We were both so upset that the hook was hurting the “fishy’s” mouth that we begged him to let it go. He removed the hook and released the fish. He loved that story and told it often. He thought we were cute and we just flat out loved him. Grandfathers are special, at least mine was.

  21. gclifton1@charter.net - April 10, 2020 2:12 pm

    Youl’re quite a writer yourself, Curtis Lee. Enjoyed both of these fishing pieces.

  22. Glenda Hinkle - April 10, 2020 2:32 pm

    doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl……grandpas that take their grands fishing make lifetime memories. My grandpa took me fishing, too. Only difference is little girls squeal and yell EEEWWWwwwww. LOVE THIS!!

  23. Ellie galko - April 10, 2020 3:32 pm

    Loved this. Grew up on a creek by my grandparents, part time. Best childhood a child can have! Living by the seasons and visiting with relatives after Sunday worship for family dinners. God bless you!

  24. Sharon Lawson - April 10, 2020 3:35 pm


  25. Linda Moon - April 10, 2020 4:40 pm

    Waves are very welcome in this time of quarantine, whether from a bay or a boy and his grandfather. Your grandfather didn’t pass his numerical ability to you, but I’ve heard you sing and play accordion, guitar, and piano. That’s his gift to you! Thank you, Sean, for these words that found space to wander in my brain. On behalf of another gingerhead young man and his grandfather who passed down ‘clock- and- numbers’, I thank you again!

  26. Melissa Williams - April 10, 2020 4:47 pm

    My father-in-law fished. He took my son fishing. My son takes my grandsons fishing. I wish my FIL had passed fishing to my husband, but that was during his gambling years so my husband never learned to love it. But what my FIL short changed as a father, he paid in full as a grandfather. We miss you Curly/Papa.

  27. Martha - April 10, 2020 4:59 pm

    Just Love It !

  28. Sandi. - April 10, 2020 5:37 pm

    Curtis Lee, your fishing memories are delightful, too. Perhaps you could share more. Such splendid, vivid details!
    I noticed another person also commented on what you wrote. It’s evident you’re a gifted writer.

  29. sassylibbycat - April 10, 2020 7:58 pm

    Every morning is Groundhog Day. One of the things that keeps me getting up again each day is the thought of an ice cold Diet Coke and your blog post in my inbox. Thanks so much “Sweetie”. Bless Your Heart.

  30. Ray Wallace - April 10, 2020 9:53 pm

    Made me remember my grandfather. Brought a test to my eye ! Thanks .

  31. Sammie Robinson - April 10, 2020 10:43 pm

    I really enjoyed your post…I even read it aloud to my husband…I learned to tell time on a regular clock..I guess that makes me way younger than you…but I learned to fish with a bamboo pole when I was 8 years old and it was my grandfather who took me…I’ll be back to see what you write about and now that I found you may read some older posts.
    Mama Bear

  32. Dru Brown - April 11, 2020 2:14 am

    I can tell time, but I can’t keep track of it. A lifelong problem. After retirement it doesn’t cause as much trouble, though. I like your grandfather, Sean. You hit the grandfather jackpot.

  33. Max Horton - April 11, 2020 2:13 pm

    My Granddaddy was a pork rind black eel sort of man. Slow and steady bumping off the bottom. I didn’t have that much patience. This shutdown has taught me patience. I think I will go fishing with rubber worms now.

  34. Cindy B. Stevens - April 19, 2020 7:26 pm

    I love your stories. Thanks.

  35. Brian Gorski. - May 23, 2020 12:33 pm

    Sean, this one really brought back some memories.
    My grandpa, even though he’s been gone 30 years he still crosses my mind almost daily.
    He made brakes for the railroad industry. Only had an 8th grade education, lived above his mother in law on the Southside of Chicago, raised my dad and aunt in the worlds smallest apartment and loved to fish and rabbit hunt.
    In 1972, him and my grandma bought a house, first one he ever owned on a small lake in Southeastern Wisconsin. I was either still in the warming oven or just born.
    When me and my brother hit a certain age we both got a tackle box for our birthday. It even had our name on it spelled out with the little block letters you get from a hardware store you stick on.
    Inside were bobbers, hooks, and one Mepps spinner or maybe two. I had a Mepps black fury.
    That house has been sold for a few years now, but I still got some of the greatest memories of my grandpa.


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