Fish Story (2017)

When she was a girl, my mother (Dolores) lived on the family farm adjacent to the falls of the San Antonio River in a town called Falls City, which is about 60 miles downstream from the Alamo City.

I grew up hearing a story of how my Grandfather Nick would, on occasion, dive into the falls of the San Antonio River and pull out monster catfish, big Blue catfish that were four feet long and weighed over 100 pounds. He would swim under the falls and catch with his bare hands, or perhaps using a gaff.  Up they would come, wrestling with each other, roiling over in the stream, until Nick prevailed and brought the beast to shore, where the assembled crowd would fry it up, and all would have dinner. 

The property passed on to mom’s cousin Michael, who still lives there. Oddly, although we went to Falls City at least once a year (to attend the great picnics, sponsored by the Church) I never was taken to see the falls themselves.  I heard they were big, and fairly turbulent, maybe an eight or nine foot drop.  And, although I heard the story of Grandpa catching fish there, I realized that the only photos I saw of him with a fish, the critter is more in the 18” variety.  So I began pushing on my visits to go down and see the Falls themselves.  After all, the property was still in the family.  This is when I began to get suspicious, as Mom would offer excuses as to why we couldn’t go. 

Eventually, about 5 years ago, I wore her down.  She called up Michael, and he met us at the gate and showed us around.  They were having a good time talking, and gave me directions on what trail to walk down to see the falls.  After a few moments, I got there. 

They were about 6 inches tall.

And I realized that I had only one person tell that story: My mother. You might be aware that Burger King had to get a license from Dolores, as her house was the first to be called the “Home of the Whopper.”

And so I wrote the story off as a child’s recollection of her father pulling in a trot line.

And then, this week, I had to re-assess my conclusion.

My Aunt Janice, Mom’s youngest sister was visiting from Texas, and I took her down to the coast to see the Pacific Ocean.  Along the way, we passed within a few miles of a town called “Falls City” and decided to make the detour to see it. 

Janice at signi saying Falls City Community Library

It is a small place, and like its Texas name-sake, there are no falls to be seen.  We drove up a woman walking her dog, and Janice said “Our family is from a place called Falls City in Texas, and we want to know where your falls are.”  The woman stopped in her tracks and her jaw dropped.  “You are from Falls City Texas?  The home of the legendary ‘Nick the K?’”  Together we said “He was my dad/grandpa!” Then she got real excited, and told us how to go see them.  As we drove away, we saw her whip out her phone.

The Falls are big, about a 20 foot drop with a big pool at the bottom. As we looked at it, a sheriff’s car pulled up.  “Are you the family of Nick the K?  We’ve heard about him for years.” He too was excited, and then he told us why.

The pool at the foot of the falls had recently become the home of a great sturgeon, ancient of years, and enormous in size.  A fish so big that small dogs taking a swim had been swallowed whole and mothers no longer let their children swim in the pool.  As a matter of fact, the town festival and picnic, held at the park with the falls was scheduled for the next day, but they were thinking of cancelling it because of the danger. Could we, as the blood line of the great Nick, perhaps help?

Janice, recently retired, begged off, but the poor man’s voice was breaking, and I said I would give it a try.  I looked over the top of the falls down into the pool, where there did seem to be a long shadow.  So in I jumped.  The current took me over the top in a flash, and down I went into the pool.  Sure enough, the great giant bumped against me, and the battle was on.  The town gathered on the banks, and Janice led them in a recitation of “The Angelus.” I can tell you one thing:  It might work on a shark, but punching a sturgeon in the nose only makes him mad.

After 20 minutes, he was exhausted, and I was barely alive myself.  One of the men came down to tie a rope to him, and the crowd helped pull the beast ashore.

GIant Sturgeon, man with hand inside mouth.

After I rested, we continued our drive to the coast, as we had reservations.  We returned  two days later, the day following the picnic, and learned that, in honor of the catch, the town picnic was changed to a fish fry.  We missed that, but do have evidence of the feed.

Man with hands on hip, standing amid dried whale bones

Here’s hoping you have a monstrously good road trip in the near future.

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