The Writings of LaVarr B Webb

Reading about powder monkeys dynamiting fish on the Price River reminded me of a couple of fish stories. Some years ago, I took my wife and the younger members of my family to Hawaii. We visited the botanical gardens in Honolulu. There we found a large tree that was called the Kill Fish Tree. There were conical seed pods, about four inches across, hanging from the limbs of the tree.

According to the legend in our printed guidebook, Polynesians on the various islands would cut the pod into pieces and drop them into a lagoon or pool. Poisons from the pod pieces would kill the fish and bring them to the surface where they could be collected by the "fishermen."

I put one of the pods from the tree in my pocket, and hauled it all of the way back to our home in Leeds, Utah. For curiosity's sake, I wanted to see if that Kill Fish pod would work in a Black Canyon pool as well as it did in some lagoon in a tropical paradise.

But, do you know, I never did use it. I never have had the desire to catch fish just for the sake of catching fish. Even when I was meat hungry and a meat fisherman and hunter, I wanted to use a pole, even if it was a willow pole, and a line, even if it was a short length of string, and a hook, even if it was nothing more than a bent pin. I have always thrilled to a bite, or a strike and the bucking surge of a hooked fish.

The other day, though, a man let me in on another way to catch fish. When he was a kid, he said, he and his buddies became tired of trying to catch trout with rods and reels. So, when they wanted fish, they would scrounge up some gallon jugs, fill them half full of water, drop in a few chunks of carbide, hurriedly screw the lid on tight, float the jug into a pool of their favorite stream, and then stand on the bank worriedly waiting for the jug to go boom. After it blew up, the fish, as with the poisons from the Kill Fish pods, would float to the surface, and could easily be gathered up.

He said he only had one mishap. One day, the jug went boom, the fish came to the surface, and he stepped out into the water to retrieve them. The jug hadn't completely shattered, and he stepped on a large chunk of glass. His foot bled profusely, and he said he was very glad that there were just trout in the stream and not piranhas.

Just a few years ago, he went back to his old hometown for a high school class reunion. He and his old fishing buddies started talking about catching fish with carbide bombs. They wondered if they still remembered the technique. They found some carbide and a gallon jug, filled the jug half full with water, screwed the lid on tight, and floated the jug down to a large pool under a bridge. He said the jug went boom, and sixteen watermelons were plastered all over the bridge and the banks of the stream. He laughed as he cried, "The local Elks club was having an outing. Those watermelons belonged to the high and mighty of the town, so we had to spend the rest of the afternoon in town shopping for cold melons."

He said he and his family had established a tradition. As his children reached a certain age, he took them to a commercial fish pond. There, on their birthday, he would let them catch a few fish. When the last child, a girl, reached the required age, true to tradition, he took her to the pond. There he found that inflation had invaded the fish market. The owners were charging almost $3.00 a pound for every fish caught. "Well," he said, "I thought, what the heck, it's a once in a life time experience. I'll just cut down on the number of fish she can catch."

She was given her gear. On the first cast, there was a swirl in the water that looked like a shark had taken her lure. The father said, "We all yelled, 'Set the hook. Set the hook." Then, he went on to say, the little girl jerked, the fish jerked, and he had to grab her to keep her from being pulled into the water. He held on to her for about twenty minutes while she fought that fish.

During the battle, the man's wife and the fish pond operator were cheering the girl on, giving her advice, and telling her to, "Reel it in. Reel it in." But he sat there thinking, "Fish, break the line, or throw the hook. Fish, I hope you get away. You're going to cost me a lot of money."

When the man told me the story, he said, "You know, I was only going to let her catch two or three small fish, because the pond owners had raised their prices to almost $3.00 a pound. When I got to thinking about that, I wanted to cut the line, but my wife and the pond operator wouldn't let me.

"I was really shook up, because my little girl was tired, and was crying when she finally brought that fish to the net, and, you know, that old moss back trout weighed over 16 pounds, and cost me almost $50.00."