A chance meeting at the Kansas City Sports Show back in the 1960's taught me lessons about meeting celebrities and changing my fishing line.
My buddy Bob and I both loved to fish in those simple days when dad and mom still paid the bills and school grades were our biggest worry.
The fishing bug bit us during our formative years when girls were still little more than an idle curiosity. We earned money by mowing lawns or shoveling snow to buy fishing tackle.
The local sports show in January was one of our favorite times for fighting spring fever and the expected “sick of school” flu. We loved to explore each booth, including lure companies that were still privately owned.
Magazine articles had taught us names like Heddon, Shakespeare and Arbogast Lures who always had booths at the show, free brochures and occasionally real treasures like key rings. The gods of fishing picked this righteous night for me to find the Arbogast stand.
Fred Arbogast, inventor of two of the world's best top water lures — the Jitterbug and The Hula Popper — died in 1947, six years before I was born.
My father and grandfather had always caught bass with his Hula Poppers on our farm pond, so I paid close attention to outdoor stories about Arbogast's president, Dick Kotis who continued to manage the company.
The older, well-tanned gentleman was featured in magazine articles and Arbogast advertisements. He rated up there with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, at least in my mind.
So, it was a complete shock to see the legendary Kotis standing in his booth on that winter night in Kansas City, being ignored by the passing Sport's Show crowd.
I remember the conversation as if it happened yesterday.
“Uh, Mr. Kotis,” I stammered, not used to meeting famous people.
“Yes, son, what can I do for you?” he answered in a very professional, deep voice.
“Well, I, uh, just wanted to say I like your lures and have read about you in magazines.”
“So, you like to fish?” he asked.
“Well, yes sir, I do, mostly with worms under a bobber. But my buddy Bob and I catch a lot of bluegill and an occasional catfish.”
“Yes, bluegill and catfish are fun to catch,” he answered, no doubt amused. “Have you ever caught a largemouth bass?”
“Only small one on worms I dug up in my mother's garden.”
“Well, I'll tell you what I'll do,” he said. “My boss told me to give a couple of our best lures to a special fisherman and I think you may be the one. Here are three for you to try and then let me know if they work better than your mother's earth worms.”
I stood there in the middle of a passing crowd and admired the items of beauty in my hands while not realizing that he actually was the boss at Arbogast.
This legend of fishing had given me a Hula Popper, a Jitterbug and a Hawaiian Wiggler. Each reflected absolute beauty under plastic confines and packaging that I wish he had autographed-but who knew about that at age 12.
“Uh, thank you sir,” I stammered, still in shock. “I can't wait to try them.”
“Just don't ever stop fishing kid,” he said.
Months later, on an early Saturday morning, I walked to the shoreline of my father's farm pond where the surface was smooth as glass. The moment of truth I had envisioned over and over again during most school lectures had come.
It was time for me to launch my brand new Jitterbug into a pond of hungry largemouth bass. My Zebco 33 and matching rod strained to cast the lure that was considerably heavier than a bobber, hook and worm.
The heavy lure splashed down beside a stump. I reeled once and a big bass hit the lure, made a solid run that made my Zebco 202's drag make a sickening kind of grinding noise before — twang — my line broke.
I watched in horror while a heavy “V” split the surface as the bass stole my treasure.
The Hula Popper lasted longer, two casts, before another good bass ripped up the surface with a ferocious attack. I managed to hang on for four good runs until “POW,” my line broke again.
A tear streamed down my cheek as I tied on the Hawaiian Wiggler, sort of an early type of spinnerbait and my last prized lure.
I quickly wiped off the unwanted moisture from my cheek and cast out toward an old log. I managed to reel the lure several feet, feeling the satisfying vibration it made.
The next strike was much lighter and I managed to land a bass that probably weighed about a pound. I quickly secured the flopping fish on my stringer and cast out again with hopes of catching one of the big bass that no doubt still had my lure in its mouth.
I felt the vibration one last time just before the next bass hit and — ping — the line broke. I lost my three treasured lures in less than 30 minutes.
I had waited four months for a devastating lesson that would haunt me until the end of time — change your fishing line.
I have lost hundreds of lures since that day and have forgotten about most, except for the three that were given to me many years ago by a legendary gentleman.
Mr. Kotis faded into history and his lures I possessed a short time are gone, but 43 years later I still remember his parting words to me,
“Just don't ever stop fishing kid.”