Many of you know Terry Palm as a watercolor artist, born and raised in Billings. He now lives in Minnesota and his annual art show in Billings draws hundreds of admirers, but it is less known that for several years Terry has been writing short stories based on his early adventures along the Yellowstone River in what is now Josephine Park. Today’s installment, Any Fish was a Good Fish, is the third of six short stories in a series he’s titled, “Always a River”
Any Fish was a Good Fish
The Yellowstone River skirts around Billings and was about two miles from our house on the south side of Billings. The mile between the Old South Bridge, which had been dismantled leaving only the cement abutments and the New South Bridge was paradise for a junior high kid. The river bottom land between the two bridges was pretty rough with tangled brush and backwater but there were good trails throughout the area.
In those days, we didn’t have all the electronic entertainment stuff–we had to create our own entertainment and fun. One of my favorite things to do was to load my red wagon full of the gear I would need for a full day on the river bottom: food, extra clothes, fishing stuff, bow and arrows, slingshot, bait, matches, canteened water, knife, hatchet, frying pan, salt, etc. etc. The wagon, so full I used rope to hold the load in place, was hooked to the back of my bike and away I went, usually before light at about 4:30 a.m. First stop, about an hour later, was at the Chub Ditch. I would get set up on a small wooden bridge that a farmer used to use to access a field. The Chub Ditch was a constructed drainage ditch that ran for miles through Billings and dumped into the Yellowstone River about a half mile below my “fishing bridge”. It was about eight feet wide and 3-4 feet deep with a gentle current. You could throw a bobber, small sinker and bait upstream and it would stay. Some pretty good fish worked their way up the Chub Ditch and made their way into the frying pan at “fishing bridge.”
Any fish was a good fish and I made meals and snacks out of suckers, carp, shad, bullheads, red-horse and chubs, which were nothing more than oversized minnows. There must have been more chubs than the other kinds of fish because of the name, Chub Ditch, which had the name before I got there.
There were no trees for shade at the bridge so by about 9, the sun hit directly and it was too hot to fish. Pack up the wagon and head for the big trees of the river bottom. It always seemed 20 degrees cooler down by the river and the hiking, exploring and just being there was great, so great that I didn’t want the day to end which it did at nightfall. The mile of river bottom between the old south bridge and the new south bridge had much to offer an exploring young lad. There were great trails through the brush and trees. Some of the big cottonwood trees were bent over and made good climbing trees and good places to hide from wild animals, imaginary or not.
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