Oh, the things we remember growing up, our first squirrel, the first whitetail we harvested, or maybe it was fishing the small stream with Grandpa. These memories are often very precious to us. In fact, it well may be the happy place we go to in our mind when problems or illnesses get us down. I often have time to reflect on my memories when in the boat trolling for muskies or when I’m in the deer stand enjoying a warm fall afternoon. One that really stands out is my time spent with my father fishing Dixon Lakes. A lot of people think I learned the art of competitive fishing and battling big fish because I was not taught by other anglers with big money rigs or that the big boats and other equipment that were handed down to me. Well, I am here to tell you I learned to fish watching my father and uncles battle big carp and catfish at Dixon Lakes. I knew my wife was a keeper when she would sit by my side during the evening hours catching big carp during one of the evening fishing tournaments of which we won a few.
Dixon lakes were a series of 3 ponds stocked for fee fishing in East Peoria, Illinois. Many of you probably have driven past them coming out of East Peoria on the main drag. I still drive by them all the time and whenever I do, my eyes swell up with yet another remember when story. Like the time my father and I were bottom fishing on the main lake and we hooked a big carp. Dad let me fight the 20 lb. brute all the way to the shore. On closer examination, we found the big carp to have a tag on it. I was not much taller than the garbage cans but managed to carry the brute back to the headquarters where I was greeted by an elderly man with a big grin on his face. He said tagged fish were put in the lake so when caught, the tag could be presented to him and exchanged for a prize. My excitement was overwhelming as I ran back to my Dad with the news. It was getting hot and my Dad could see I was about to burst with anticipation at what I had won.
We walked back to the parking lot and loaded our gear in the old Country Squire station wagon. We then headed to the headquarters where I presented the tag to the older gentleman. The shop was full of fishing rods, homemade dough baits for carp, along with other assorted fishing tackle, as well as cold drinks and snacks. The older gentleman looked at the tag and pointed to an assortment of tackle and rods and reels on the shelf. He then signaled to me pick one of them. I could not believe my eyes. This was better than Christmas. I looked at my Dad for some help. He told me to just pick one. It was my fish that wore the tag.
My eyes scanned back and forth over the newfound treasure. After about 10 minutes, I felt a nudge on my back signaling that it was time to get home to Sunday dinner. No! I had not made up my mind yet. Just a few more minutes was all I needed. This could not be just another fishing rod or reel. This was the one I was going to win the Bass Masters Classic or the Pro Walleye Tournaments within a few years. I remembered the fishermen I had seen in the magazine with their brightly colored patches sewn on their jackets and vests. I had decided I needed a good reel instead of a rod or fish basket because dad had all of them. I scanned over the shelf one more time, and it hit me. Sitting on the far end of the shelf was a silver reel. It shined in the afternoon sun like something out of a treasure chest. I tried to remember the photo I had seen in the magazine. The men were all holding shiny rods and reels. That one. Yes, sir, the shiny one in the back. The old man looked at my dad with a puzzled expression. Again, I pointed. “The one on the end,” I exclaimed with excitement. Again, he looked at my Dad. The old man went over to the shelf and grabbed the reel and flipped it over. Yes, sir. That’s the one. He looked at the red tag that was on the bottom of the reel, and again looked at my Dad. He said that reel had a red tag on it but my fish had a yellow tag on it. Not knowing what that meant, I looked at my dad. The old fella’ walked back over to the shelf and was about to put the reel back. He then turned back and asked me if I had landed that big fish all by myself. I told him, “yes, sir, I did, and I drug it all the way up here by myself too to be weighed.” He looked out the window with a blank stare at the kids and other fee fishermen, and then turned back and said, “Now, you come back and see me again after you win that big fishing tournament. This here reel is a Zebco 33, one of the finest closed faced fishing reels made. Now, this ain’t no plastic one,” he said. It was all medal and loaded with 12 lb. test. It would be able to drag a tree trunk out of the lake. He placed the reel back in its box and handed it to me. I felt like I could catch a shark with that reel. I jumped down from the counter and showed Dad. He said that one is just like his good one. I struggled with the big steel door. Soon, I was outside and could see a reflection of my smile in the shell of the new reel. I just stared at it for what seemed like an hour. I was brought out of my trance by Dad’s voice telling me to get in the car. I opened the door and then ran back to the headquarters. I struggled with the door, but once I had it opened I looked up at the old fella’ behind the counter. With a smile, I told him I would be back and when I did come back, I would bring the trophy with me. He just smiled and told me to get, your dad is waiting.
That was the last time I saw the old fella’. Time flew by and I never got a chance to show him the trophies I had won on the tournament circuit or even how many state and national titles I had won, or the fact that my fishing had gotten me a sponsorship form Bass Pro Shops. The lakes sat idle for a number of years. Each time I passed, I could remember the old man’s face. He maybe had a hand in giving me my start as a Professional Fisherman and Guide! I recently found out the lakes were again open under the name of HOOKED ON FISHING.
The park was set up to help children, seniors, and special needs groups to appreciate the JOYS OF FISHING!! It is ran strictly by volunteers and provides all the equipment, bait, and education needed to enjoy the sport. The lakes are fully stocked with bluegill, bass, crappie, catfish, and, of course, my old favorite, the carp. The park is open May through October and is closed on Mondays. Sunday is open fishing days for families 12:00 to 4:00. To contact them to donate or volunteer your time, group reservations, or check out their event schedule see their website www.hookedonfishingpark.org or stop in at HOOKED ON FISHING PARK, 1807 N. MAIN ST., EAST PEORIA, ILLINOIS.
WHO KNOWS, YOU MAY BE TYING ON A HOOK FOR THE NEXT BASS MASTER CLASSIC WINNER!
SEE ‘YA IN THE REFLECTION OF A YOUNG KIDS’ EYES!