Five Unconventional Ways to Fish

Dynamite—The Loud and Violent Way

Many Iowa farmers had a number of “not so” legal options for those difficult days of fishing the “old fashioned way.”

On one occasion when a pole and a line yielded no results, Dad headed to our garage and opened a padlocked wooden box and removed two eight-inch long sticks about the diameter of a garden hose. This box had always intrigued me! And, now we learned its content. Dad said, “We will catch some fish now. I promise.” A thick layer of paraffin covered the beige sticks, but I chilled when I read the words dynamite and danger. He also pulled out a couple of caps from another cardboard box and cut two-three foot lengths of fuse wire. Off we would go to one of several isolated deep holes along the creeks of our farm. We didn’t know it, but our escape to deep into the farm was to avoid any chance of a game warden hearing the dynamite and suspect illegal fishing. I was edgy and excited. I knew dynamite was an explosive and worried that we could be blown to kingdom come should it accidentally explode. But, I put two and two together and realized that we were about to create such an explosion underwater that some fish would be killed. I wondered how many and what kind? Would they be edible after such a horrific end?


Dad carved a small hole in the stick of dynamite, pinched a cap tightly around one end of the fuse wire with pliers and shoved the cap as deeply as possible into the hole in the dynamite. Dad issued a warning, “You kids get behind that big oak tree and stay there until I get back!” I worried frantically Dad would hold on too long to the stick and it would blow him into the next county. Yet, I was so hoping we would find some really big fish, the likes of which we had never seen.

He went to the edge of the creek, carefully lite the fuse, and threw it into the deepest point of the creek hole. The length of the fuse wire allowed about 30 seconds before the burning fuse reached the nitroglycerin. After the explosion and the sight of the water rising toward the sky, we rushed with long sticks to the edge of the creek and collected the stunned and dead fish. There was a five-pound carp, several bullheads, numerous small perch, and two turtles.

Gigging—Harvesting the Stranded

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Floods often covered portions of river bottoms following heavy spring rains near our house. Farmers couldn’t enter their fields until the rivers or creeks could empty into the larger rivers and the sun gradually dried the land. No one could hurry the process. Most years the drying would occur in time for the farmers to plant a late crop in the worse areas. A lot of large fish were trapped in shallow pools on the land. People would put on boots and wade into these pools to gig the fish. This was one more way that Dad had to make fishing a certainty rather than a hope.

The Magneto—A Shocking Strategy

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We also fished with a telephone magneto. The magneto produced an electric shock when two copper wires were attached to the positive and negative poles on the magneto. Then, we just dropped one wire on each side of the boat and an electric charge rushed out trying to find an object upon which to discharge. This method was rather selective since it sent an electric charge primarily to the bottom-dwelling catfish. They were stunned and paralyzed, and slowly floated to the surface where we could catch them in a fish net. The difference between the using a gig and using the magneto was the gig was legal and the magneto could have resulted in a huge fine.

Seining—More for Your Money

Seine fishing is a method of fishing that employs a seine or dragnet. A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.


We periodically used a seine on some of the larger creeks when the water was high. This method required two strong people to pull the seine from each side of the creek until they reached a point shallow enough to cross the creek and then gather the net and remove the trapped fish.

Bottle Fishing—Multiple Large Bobbers

Lakes and river coves provided the quiet location to enter right before dark with a boat and individually pitch ten to fifteen-gallon plastic bottles that had been tightly sealed. Each bottle had a ten to fifteen-foot length of forty pound fishing line attached to the handles of the bottles. Each line had a lead sinker and a baited hook dangled in the water below the “bobber” bottle that was usually painted a conspicuous color.


Two options remained. The fisherman or fisherwomen could then leave the bottles overnight and return the next morning to collect the bottles and the fish that had taken the bait. Or, if it was moonlit night, the people could remain in the boat with a lantern and wait for the bottles to begin to “bob” up and down or begin to move wildly wherever the fish pulled. Regardless, over a period of several hours, fish would eat the bait, get a hook stuck in their mouth, and be on the last swim of their lives.

These different fishing strategies practically guaranteed to catch fish. We did speak frequently about the legality of using dynamite or a magneto; maybe that is why we talked about it much more than actually doing it. Obviously, these options are not recommended today in our mobile world, but they brought a lot of fun to kids and adults that liked to flirt with the one game warden allotted to every few counties.



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