This particular darter was one my dad bought when I was about ten years old. We were headed out the old Tamiami Trail – US 41 – to fish for bass, and for some reason he stopped at the little tackle shop located in Frog City. Yes, it was really named Frog City. A number of everglades commercial frog giggers kept their airboats tied there, hence the name. It was close to Cooper City - another dip in the road along the trail.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The lure display was a glass-cased, moving marvel. Each lure sat in its own tray as row upon row made its way up and around, almost like a Ferris wheel. I watched them as my dad asked the owner which lure the bass were hitting.
That was in 1955. He plunked out about $4.50 that day – a lot of money at the time – for just one Creek Chub Darter in a baby bass pattern. This was the one that was supposed to really be catching the fish. I was so impressed that my father would up and spend that much money for a fishing lure at a time when I knew we lived from paycheck to paycheck. I remember the lure – but strangely I don’t remember whether I caught any fish on it that particular day.
So, here I sat, holding the now weathered wooden lure. How I managed to hang on to it for this long is beyond me. I had forgotten about it years ago. There are a few paint chips, and the hooks, while not rusty, are not shiny either. But it’s really in good shape other than that!
Then it hit me… Wouldn’t it be great to catch a fish on this lure again, after 57 years? I only thought about losing the lure for a fraction of a second before closing the old tackle box and taking the Darter to the boat. I can do this!
I rigged a bait caster to use with the darter, and tied a good fluorocarbon leader to the 15 pound test line. I was all set for the next day.
I fished with a party out of St Augustine the next day. We left the dock about 8 in the morning for a six hour trip. The tide was perfect, and I expected to get onto some seatrout on the now outgoing tide.
I headed north toward the Pine Island area of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to begin our day. The first stop was a deep area on the outside bend in large feeder creek. Water comes off the grass and mud flats into this creek, and the trout like to hang in this hole.
We fished and caught just a couple of fish there, but I did not pull the Darter out. Something told me to wait. I think the fear of losing it was creeping into my thoughts.
I moved to several locations – part of my fishing plan – and we caught a few fish in each location. We were following the outgoing tide, and moving where we thought the fish would be moving.
As the day went on, we continued to catch trout. And as the fishing day began coming to a close, I figured I better make good on the promise to myself to catch a fish on my old lure!
I told my party the story about this lure, and they were happy to allow me to try it. I normally won’t fish during the day, unless the party just does not know how to fish at all. In those cases, I hook a fish and hand the rod to one of them to fight. Today all I did was ride and point out the casting locations.
I moved to the bow, turned the trolling motor, and made a cast to the edge of the grass. It was mid-day, hot and sunny. No self-respecting fish would dare strike a topwater lure under these conditions. I really think my subconscious was thinking that all day – I would be safe and not lose the lure if I just waited! I might not catch anything, but I would still have the lure.
It took about four casts with some friendly dialog in between. The water erupted around the lure and my heart jumped. But, it was not what you think. I had brought the Darter through a small school of mullet, and the lure action spooked them. I was almost relieved once again, but that relief was short lived.
Suddenly, a fish came out of the water with the Darter firmly attached to its face. Two of the three sets of trebles had managed to hold onto a three pound jack crevalle. He and his friends were following and attacking that school of mullet. The Darter made an ideal target, and I was hooked up.
It was at that point that the fear of losing my lure really hit me! I began saying things like, “Oh, no!” My fishing party was cheering, and I was frowning and complaining. I was bowing my rod with every run of the jack, fearing that a fray in the line would surely separate me from my Darter.
I finally landed the jack and got my Darter back, and after releasing the fish, I immediately cut the Darter off my line and put it away. I was so stressed I didn’t even get a picture!
But, I did take a picture of the lure for you. And after washing the salt off of it, I have it hanging right here on my desk top! A lot of memories are hanging around this desk, and now one more has been added!