School had finally let out and the early morning breeze of June’s summer winds was rushing past my face as I glided down the hill on my bike before my grandparents’ home. In my backpack, I carried a collapsible fishing pole and a small tackle box. My grandfather was already waiting in the driveway in his truck. I could hear his diesel engine knock away over the valley.
When I pulled into the driveway, my grandmother was out pruning her peonies wearing her sun hat and today, instead of stopping her work, she stood up, straightened her back, turned and gave us a wave as I climbed into Grandfather’s truck. As we pulled out of the driveway, I could not resist the temptation to open a tin sitting on the front seat. As I did, the smooth smell of chocolate rose to the air of the truck cabin. It was Grandma’s trail mix with chocolate morsels. The smell was amazing and within no time at all, I was eating it by the handful. My grandfather smiled at me as he reached in the tin to grab a handful for himself.
We drove for a good 20 minutes until the road became a dead-end and there, beyond the closed road sign, a bridge had once crossed a ravine. Below the remaining pillars, a kill rippled along and babbled over moss-covered rocks. When I went to get my tackle out of the truck, my grandfather slapped his hand on his leg and said, “Shoot, I forgot something.” So we packed the truck up and headed down the road.
During our travels, we passed along some old ruins where a mill once stood by what appeared to be a dry river bed. I looked on in interest at the cobblestone foundation of the remaining building. On the outer wall, an unusual sign stood out: “Don’t forget to visit the bait shop,” it said. Baffled at the words as the creek was clearly no more, I asked my grandfather just what that sign meant. He grabbed another handful of trail mix and began to tell a tale.
Donbridge was famous for its various creeks, ponds and lakes and so it was well known for its fishing. Now it was no secret that a drought had killed off many of the fish in Donbridge, but as the town’s records indicated, it was a baker, Magnus Blum, along with the help of Reverend Connelly, who helped bring fish back to Donbridge. So from that day forward generations of bass, pickerel, perch and walleye flourished in Donbridge waterways.
Traditionally, most fishermen used horsehair and bamboo rods, along with a standard gaff hook and pretty much any kind of bait they could get hold of. The process was tedious at best and many fishermen just went to get out for the day and rarely expected to actually catch a fish. But that was about to change as the fish of Donbridge would soon be the only protein source in the valley.
In the dead of summer, a disease swept through the livestock of Donbridge. Foot and Mouth Disease ran rampant through Donbridge and most of the cows, sheep and pigs were put down as a precaution. The loss was devastating because much of Donbridge relied on the farms to produce meat not just for the town, but for the entire Hudson Valley. So when the great cattle purge was finished, food supplies were falling to critical levels.
Months went by and a traveler by the name of Laurence Gillen entered the valley of Donbridge. He was a rugged man, bald at the top, with a laugh that filled a room. He traveled with a donkey and cart and along the sides of his cart read the words “Live Bait.” As he entered Donbridge, he saw signs about “Beef Shortage,” “Lamb not available,” and “Pork on back order” upon the shops and general store window fronts. He was taken back when he saw the signs but thought little of it.
As he traveled on through the town, he saw a man carrying a fishing rod. The man was walking toward a pond near the cemetery. “Hello, sir,” the man said to Gillen. Gillen nodded and looked at the man’s pole. “You have a bamboo rod there, son, but what is that string you’re using? And that hook ya got. What typa hook is that? Here, try this rig and set up,” Gillen said, handing a new rod and string to man. “By the way, use this bait here. These ponds are full of bass, so this will work, I guarantee it,” Gillen added as he slapped the reins of his donkey. The man thanked him profusely and headed on his way to the pond.
By mid-afternoon, Gillen parked his wagon at the side of Blum’s Bakery and went inside for a brownie and glass of milk. As he sat there, the man whom he had helped earlier burst into the door of the bakery. “Mister, mister, lookie here,” he said. Three people looked up from their tables when the man held up twenty fish. “I will give you 10 dollars for those beauties,” said Prissy Sharp of the general store. “Lord knows we need something to replace the lost beef, pork and lamb in this town.” The young man smiled and Sharp walked him over to the store and handed him the money. Soon word spread through the town of Donbridge and no sooner did Gillen hitch his wagon then nearly every fisherman in Donbridge who merely did the sport for relaxation was now seeking his advice. Soon after that Gillen settled down in Donbridge and made a small shop under his house. Folks from miles around would come visit him and talk the local fish tales, because they knew that if they were going to catch fish, the bait shop and Gillen were where folks would begin their journey.
When my grandfather finished, we arrived at a house that had a driveway which led down to a garage door which had a side entrance. My grandfather knocked on the door once and soon a rugged bald man answered the door. “We need to get some bait!” my grandfather said to the man. As we entered, a small bait shop opened up into a larger room and there minnow tanks, fishing rods and bait galore hung all about the shop. “You boys working the kill today?” the man asked as my grandfather grabbed some hellgrammites and worms. “You betcha,” he said as he reached into his wallet. As my grandfather paid his bill, I looked up and saw pictures all about the room and there amongst the pictures of fish and the folks who caught them was a picture tattered and old. A man stood with another man holding a large group of fish and in the background a cart had a sign that said “Live Bait.” My grandfather noticed my gaze and winked at me. As we left, my grandfather said, “Thank you, Laurence. If we catch a big one, we’ll send you a picture.” All I could do was smile at the fact that I had just met the man who owned the Bait Shop of Donbridge.
Fishermen’s Trail Mix
2 cups halved pecans
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup walnuts
1 cup natural almonds
1 cup cashews
1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon into a jar or bag. Make sure it is left in a cool, dry spot. Eat anytime.