"Neal and the Mouse"

This story starts with our purchase (in 1976) of 3 small cabins on Ely Island in Lake Vermilion. Our three youngest kids spent most of their summers fishing, swimming and hiking this pristine wilderness spot.
Our three older kids (in the work force and college) visited at every opportunity. It became a family obsession ... and treasure. Oldest daughter, Patti (along with husband, Jim) set up shop in the Orange Rock cabin for a couple of weeks each summer thereafter. Patti seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet of Orange Rock since her kids were playing in the lake - or paddling around in the boats supervised by Grandma and Grandpa who lived in the main cabin.
Patti's husband, Jim, seemed to enjoy the screened porch at Rock-n-Pine and the comfort of an old rocker sitting at one end. Jim would rock back and forth passing the time of day until I'd ask if he wanted to go fishing. Then, of course, he would jump up and head for the boat.
Communication between the two cabins was with CB radios. On the 4th of July in 1979 we received a call on the CB from the folks at the store on the far shore. It seemed that someone named Neal wanted us to come over and get him. I didn't know anyone named Neal - but wife, Shirley, remembered that her maiden name was Neal and that her dad always referred to himself by his last name. His presence came as quite a surprise since he lived in Florida - had left Shirley's mother and her two girls when they were quite young - and had only been in touch with Shirley once or twice since 1950. I couldn't recall what he looked like since I had seen him but once in over 25 years.
I got into my aluminum Starcraft - fired up the engine and headed across the lake. As I approached the pier I saw this tall, rather handsome guy standing at the end of the pier - it had to be Neal (his first name was Lawrence). I hailed him and he responded - so I knew I had found Neal.
His first words were; Boy, the people up here are sure crazy! On the road from town I nearly ran over a bunch of idiots running in their underwear...but I scattered 'em all over the place.
Neal had arrived during the running of the annual July 4th Lake Vermilion 10K run.
He had driven an old pickup with a camper shell all the way from Florida. This was no great feat since Neal had been a long-haul trucker for many years before retirement. We found him to be quite self-sufficient - and an independent old guy who loved to talk about his life experiences.
I explained that both of our cabins were full of Payne kids - but he could bed down in a little one-room cabin down on the landing. This suited him just fine!
Neal made himself right at home! He especially liked Shirley's home cooking and never missed a meal the three weeks he was with us. Yep, he stayed a full three weeks - and made no mention of his intentions of leaving.
I told Neal he could have the use of an old strip cedar fishing boat and 10 HP Johnson. He journeyed out daily though he experienced little success the first few tries. Neal was, in his words, an avid fisherman. He lived on a lake (Istopoga?) in Florida where he caught specs (crappies) and had a 10 lb. plus bass mounted in his trailer home (now displayed in my den at home).
Neal didn�t hit it off too well with our kids. In the first place, he hadn't been around small, active children...ever. He'd always been his own boss - and certainly didn't relate to the modern age attitudes of young people.
I remember the day he offered to go for gas, a five mile trip up Pike Bay to the marina. I readily accepted his invitation - but recommended that our Joe (age 8) go along just to make sure he didn't get lost. Neal assured me that he knew the way (though he'd never been there before) - and didn't need Joe along....but I insisted.
Imagine my horror as I watched them pull out and head directly toward Birch Point - 6 miles across Big Bay. I saw Joe gesturing - I waved and yelled but Neal never looked back.
When they finally returned (4 hours later) I asked Joe why he let Grandpa Neal go to Birch Point and Joe replied; I told him 3 times but he said he knew the way so I just shut up and let him go. There was a wry smile on Joe's face as he answered.
Jim, you've got to come down here and get rid of this damned mouse! the radio crackled with panic as daughter, Patti, paged her husband. Jim, all 260 pounds of him, reluctantly rose from his rocker on the porch and headed out the door mumbling she wanted to set the trap - and now she won't touch the critter.
About 10 minutes later Jim returned with a strange look on his face.
Damnedest thing, he proclaimed. I carried that dead mouse by the tail out to the edge of the cliff, (the cabin sits on top of a cliff) and flung it out as far as I could. When it hit the water CABOOM! Had to be one of the biggest fish in the lake came up and swallowed that little mouse whole! Do you suppose these fish eat mice?
Neal put down his pipe and answered, Sure they will. We fish with them all the time down in Florida.
That evening, Neal didn't show up for supper. We were finishing our meal when we heard his boat come in to the landing. As he walked up the steps to the cabin we saw he was holding a stringer full of fish. Neal had his limit of 6 small mouth bass!
What were you usin' for bait? someone shouted!
Oh, I used a mouse bait that I went to town and got before I went fishin', he proclaimed.
Gonna have to get me another one, though, he said. Derned fish almost tore this one up. He held up the ugliest looking bait I'd ever seen. I had to admit it did look like a mouse. Had a round, felt-like gray body - two treble hooks, little beady eyes with a silver lip which I presumed would give it some wobble when retrieved beneath the surface. The tail was gone because, as Neal explained, the derned fish ripped it off.
Big Jim (son-in-law) and I turned to our wives (who were goin to Ely next day) and ordered them to find us some mouse baits.
Turned out, Neal had bought the last one. With all the outfitters, tackle shops and stores in Ely there wasn't a single mouse bait to be found.
They didn't come back empty handed, though.
My wife had found the closest thing to a mouse bait...a bee moth fly. Funny looking thing. Couldn't weigh over 1/4 ounce. A round piece of cork - treble hook, two little beady eyes with a small stiff brush on its rear end.
Not wantin to hurt the wife's feelings - I graciously accepted her version of a mouse, packed it away in the top of my tackle box, and promptly forgot about mouse fishing.
Now that summer was a dry one. The lake got so low that the mail boat stopped coming to our pier and instead, dropped our mail off at the nearest neighbors...'bout a half mile down lake in the next bay. Derned inconvenient because we had to either hike through the woods - or fire up the old boat just to get our mail.
Our neighbor, Feeney, had built himself a house a good 300 yards away from the lake back in the woods. It was a tough uphill hike from Fenney's pier to the house...almost as tough on my old legs as the more level trip through the woods. And so it was, one evening, that when I realized we hadn't yet picked up our mail, I said to youngest son, Joe (with young legs); Come on Joe, let's take the boat around to Feeney's and YOU can run up the hill to pick up our mail!
When I pulled in to Feeney�s nice, new dock, the lake was slick as glass. Joe jumped out and headed up the hill. I sat there in the boat and looking down saw that little "bee moth" bait sitting all by itself in the top of the open tackle box. Don't know what possessed me - but I hooked it on to the swivel of one of my poles and gave a mighty heave.
Well, the bait was so light - it didn�t go over 20 feet before it landed. Hardly made any circles. To make matters worse, the weight of the swivel pulled it's nose and beady little eyes under the water so that all you could see was that crazy brush of a tail sticking straight up in the air. I sure hadn't ever seen anything like it - and I'll guarantee you no fish had either.
I let out a grunt - and started to reel the little thing in - when a huge mouth rose out of the water and literally inhaled that bee moth. I swear the water from the splash reached my boat. Down went bee moth and fish and as any self-respective fisherman would do, I tried to set the hook. Nothing gave...that fish had his way from the gitgo. I couldn't move him even a little. He had just grabbed that bait - and then swam down to the bottom (about 10 feet) so he could examine what the heck he was tryin' to eat!
Broke my line tryin' to move that rascal!
By the time little Joe returned with my mail, I was throwing everything I had in my tackle box hoping that the monster would hit again - but he never did.
Got my bee moth back, though. After about a minute, it floated up to the surface. Evidently I hadn't set the hook after all.
Next Christmas, both my wife and Patty gave me a Heddon Meadow Mouse bait! Packed them with my Minnesota stuff and forgot about them until the following summer.
To make a long story short, I tried them out the next summer and began catching BIG bass, not the little runts I had been getting. Even landed a couple of nice Muskies and several good-sized Northern. Seemed like I got strikes wherever I went (you only land about half of your strikes - you've got to wait for the fish to run with the bait before setting the hook). It made for exciting fishing - and I've continued to use that bait and catch BIG bass ever since. Grandson, Scott, even caught a 5 pound walleye on his mouse one evening.
One nice thing about that mouse bait...it's a floater - and even the little kids can use it and not get into too much trouble. Just toss it out - let it sit for 10-20 seconds - then jiggle it a little. If you don't get a hit, reel it in about 6 feet (slowly) and jiggle it again. A true do nothing bait that seems to infuriate fish! It's heavier than most baits - and casts a mile.
Hard to find 'em though. Only one place around here in Indiana carries them - and no one up north has them. All I can say is, if you ever see one in a tackle shop, don't be afraid to give it a try. If you don't like it - or don't catch anything, just send it to me...I'll be glad to take it off your hands!

(Jack Payne,- May,1997 Rushville, IN)