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Edition #44, December 15, 2006

Catch of the Day

Photographer: Keith Clouse

                                                    Photo © 2006 by Keith Clouse

Catch of the Day

I had a lot to do on Sunday, but it was early and I had a photo location in mind. My friend Kevin had sent me a photo from the fishing dock near the now closed Western Penitentiary. I liked the angle it gave to shoot the Ohio Connecting Bridge, a massive structure that spanned the Ohio River from hillside to hillside. This day had dawned with a dense fog covering the river valleys; I wanted to see what the bridge looked like in the mist.

I parked on a side street and wandered over to the Duquesne Light Co. ramp. Several fishermen were scattered along the shore, some alone, others in groups. I overheard snips of conversation, most of it concerning the Steelers. I looked over a couple of locations on the bike path that wandered along the shore, using trees to frame the bridge.

C28, the local freight from Conway, arrived in Allegheny yard and my scanner began picking up the crew’s chatter as they made the setouts and pick-ups. The fog was not as dense here as it had been in the Allegheny River Valley; the sun was quickly burning through it.

I saw a fisherman walking down the ramp toward me; his old dirty Playmate cooler in one hand and two fishing rods in the other. We nodded hello.  He sat down by river’s edge and set up his rig. I walked back and forth at the top of the ramp; my knee doesn’t tolerate standing in one place for a long time. C28 continued to switch cars, the crew talking continuously to each other and the Conway Terminal dispatcher.

The man walked up to me and glanced at my camera, “Whatcha takin’ pictures of?”

“Trains,” I answered. “I’m waiting for a train to cross that bridge.”

He looked at me as if to say you’re kiddin’ me but said instead, “Thought you was takin’ pictures of the damn geese, dirty things ya know, leave their crap all over the place.”

We stood there quietly for a few minutes watching a flock of Canadian geese glide silently by. I asked how fishing was. He replied with the old joke about fishing was great, catching was lousy. We talked longer, kids, grandkids, work, of course the Steelers. He seemed to enjoy the conversation. I learned about how to dismantle a lathe, that he was a retired machinist, best place for a fish sandwich, Tom’s Bar, how he lost his wife a few years ago, his grandson the ballplayer.

The scanner boomed out a northbound freight approaching Esplen. The low-pitched sound of hard working power reached across the river. He silently walked back to this lunchbox and began laboriously attaching another worm to the hook on one of the rods. I thought of my father, like this man in his 80s, struggling to make stiff fingers do the simple tasks he had always done so easily. I focused on the train, a pair of SD40s pulling the Shire Oaks/Mingo Junction local freight. The still air vibrated with the sound of laboring diesel locomotives and the hollow sound of rolling freight on the bridge.

I stood as the train passed, watching the man cast the line out into the river. He looked up at me as he reached into his lunchbox and took out a bottle of Ibuprofen. He shook out a couple of tablets, muttered “damn arthritis” then swallowed them dry. His rods were swaying in the river’s current; the small bells tied to the tips were silent. “Ya got yer picture, so now yer goin.”

“No, not yet, maybe another one coming along soon,” I replied.

We stood and watched, me looking at the bridge, him at the rods. A faint tinkling sound and one of the rods began to dip.

“One on the line,” he said, hobbling over to the rod.

25Z began to cross the bridge and the man set the hook on his fish. He pulled in a 12-inch brown trout as I shot a pair of black “catfish” GE’s pulling double stacks.

He worked the fish to shore and pulled it from the water. In a couple of swift moves he removed the hook from the fish and then turned toward me with the gasping fish in his hand.

“Nice trout,” I said.  He nodded.

“Catch of the day”.

He moved back to the river and gently placed the trout back into the water. The stunned fish began to wiggle. The man released it and watched it swim out into the murky waters.

Keith Clouse

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