Reverend McDonald and the Bristol "Hex" Adjustable Rod
I don't have much history on the subject of today's advertisement from the June 1932 issue of Outdoor Life. It is the introductory ad for the common telescoping Bristol “Hex Adjustable steel rod that was seen advertised in “outdoor” magazines for many years. I remember them being for sale in the local Hardware store into the 1950s. I have one that sits on a shelf in my “Man Cave.” It's really there to remind me of one particular fisherman. His name was Reverend McDonald. He was in his eighties when I entered high school in 1958. He lived in Ada, Ohio and was a simple and kind individual. He looked a little like Barry Fitzgerald, who played the old priest in the movie “Going My Way” and wore the same old fashioned spectacles. My earliest memory of him was from age five when a neighbor boy and I decided to play George Washington and proceeded to mangle the good Reverend's cherry tree with the only thing we could find that resembled a hatchet, in this case a tack hammer. My mother marched us over to his front door where we were made to apologize. He talked to us both in a gentle manner and allowed as he thought the Cheery tree would recover. During one of my last conversations with him, when I was 18, I learned he was a retired preacher. We were sitting at the time beside a limestone quarry full of water, and while he fished I told him I was about to leave for college. He allowed as he had gone to “Bible College” to train for his life's calling.
I became aware of him as a fisherman at the age of six or seven while staying at my grandfather's cottage on the shore of Indian Lake in Ohio. He would come by and always make pleasant conversation as well as offer to sell produce from his garden to my grandmother. Looking back on it, I realize the man was poor by most monetary standards. He rented a special boat at O'Connor's Landing for $1. Later they gave him use of the boat for free for some kindness he had performed. It was an old flat-bottomed wooden rowboat that was pointed at both ends. This suited him just fine as he never owned or used a motor. He always rowed in the same direction he faced with that 'old time' circular motion in which only one oar touches the water at a time.
The car he drove was a late 1930s economy model. Affording gasoline was a problem for him to as it was a 35 mile drive to the Lake. He supplemented this cost with the sale of his vegetables and freshly caught fish to folks that lived along the shore. As he rowed along, sitting absolutely upright, he would occasionally move in to shore and pick up something while still seated in his boat. I was fascinated by this and finally asked him what he was doing. He explained that he could only make the trip to the lake once or twice a week due to the cost of gasoline and that he gathered discarded tin foil from the lunches that shore fishermen left behind and rolled it into a large ball which after many trips eventually got big and heavy enough to take to the local junk yard and receive a few cents toward affording another trip to the Lake. Talk about frugal.
There were periods of time when I could catch plenty of fish from my grandfather's dock using a cane pole and bobber. There were also times when the fish just did not bite. It did not matter if the fish were biting or not, when Rev. McDonald came rowing by, his rope stringer was “full up” with crappies, bluegills, bass, catfish and perch; and they always seemed to be bigger than the ones I was used to catching. I finally asked him how he caught all those fish. He suggested that I walk along the shore and and watch him fish and he would explain what he was doing as we went along. His equipment was as basic as it gets. A Bristol “Hex” Adjustable steel rod with a cheap, raised pillar reel that had seen long service. His line was heavy, black braided casting line with a plain hook on the end. No sinker, no Bobber, no leader, just a hook. After putting a worm on the hook (which I am sure he dug up in his garden) he would quietly approach an overhanging tree, a piling, a dock or any other object in the lake then slowly lower the worm down and move it gently up and down. There was no snap of the wrist or “heave ho,” he simply lifted the fish out of the water and quietly put it on the stringer then lowered the worm back down next to whatever object he had just taken a fish from. I learned that day that patience and slow, quiet movement caught fish when excitement didn't. If the object of his attention was just beyond his reach, he would simply pull out the old Bristol telescoping rod to whatever length (up to 8 feet) was necessary to reach to desired spot.
I have grown to appreciate the versatility of his simple tackle and method. More importantly I've grown to appreciate his kindness toward children and how an act of kindness can stick with them for the rest of their lives.
I think I'll just let that old Bristol Adjustable steel rod stay right there where I can see it.
-- Bill Sonnett