It Didn’t Take Rocket Science to fish

by Bill Sargent

 

I can remember the early Sunday afternoon like it was yesterday. Two big black cars

rolled into the fishing camp, and half-dozen German men, some of them in white dress

shirts, got out.

 

“We want to go fishing for the big-mouth bass,” one of them said in broken English. It

was Wernher von Braun and some of his fellow German engineers. Getting the chance to

take the father of German rocketry fishing meant little to a 13-year-old boy in the early

1950s.

 

All we knew in those days was that some German Scientists were shooting rockets from

“that base up north of Cocoa Beach,” as we knew the Cape Canaveral area. Only in later

years did the Sunday afternoon with the six Germans have any significance for me.

As a kid growing up in Melbourne, I spent my weekends cleaning boats and waiting on

customers at the Sweetwater Fishing Camp on the St. Johns River on U.S. 192, west of

Melbourne. A Mr. Peters owned the camp at the time. I never knew his first name. He

always let me use one of the wooden camp boats, and I fished every chance I got.

 

“You take ’em out,” Peters told me. I loaned the Germans some of my tackle, and we

got into three of the camp boats, each powered by a smal1 Evinrude outboard. It was too

late in the day to go all the way to Lake Hell ‘n Blazes, almost an hour’s run, so we

headed for Lake Sawgrass. It was the first lake south of U.S. 192, known then as the

Kissimmee Highway. The St. Johns ran fresh and clean in those years. You could drink

the water out of the river with no concerns. And the bass fishing was exceptional.

 

I showed Von Braun and his friends how to cast their Shakespear Wonder Reels. They

were closed-faced spinning reels that wouldn’t backlash. But then I made the mistake of

loaning one of them a rod rigged with a Pflueger Supreme conventional reel. He forgot to

“thumb” the spool, and the result was a massive backlash. We used surface plugs called

Dalton Specials and Nippi-Diddees and worked them around the clumps of lily pads that

spread out across the lake. It wasn’t long before Von Braun caught a 3-pounder. You

would have thought it was a giant. I’ll never know what they all shouted about, in

German.

 

Between bass catches, I spent most of my time digging their plugs out of the lily pads. I

showed them the small worm that bores into the stems of lily pads, and a couple of the

men were more interested in looking for lily pads with the tell-tale worm holes at the top

of the stem than fishing.

 

The group caught more than a dozen bass that afternoon before they said they had to head

back to “the base.” They said they’d come back. But I never saw them again.

 

Bill Sargent’s story is from a Florida Today

special insert “The Bumper Project”

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