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River Rat Kids, A recollection by Hunter Grimes III

These days, there does not seem to be much to distinguish young river rat types. Times have changed and young people have, for the most part, morphed into a homogenous and bewildering subculture. Yet, years ago, there was frequent debate on who qualified for the “River Rat “ moniker. I’m now old enough to know it is a personal and spiritual thing and a matter of degree….like,” are you a good Christian”.

It occurred to me that the faithful followers of these pages would enjoy some insights on how there used to be temporary and permanent river rat kids and what the differences were. The temporary river rat kid couldn’t do much about this status because, invariably, they were “Summer Kids “. Many did grow up to be fine, fully qualified adult permanent river rats. Still, when they were kids they were easy to spot even when they were hanging around with us less worldly, less traveled full time river rats.

These summer kids were usually to be seen in their parent’s boats, or in a boat designated as their own which glistened to excess with paint and varnish and had a motor that was too shiny and ran too well. They made do with what they had. I suppose their parents wouldn’t have allowed them to have a proper leaky, plank bottom sharpie sealed with roofing tar just so they could fit in better. To understand the big differences between these river rat factions would require an extended study of what they did rather than appearances.

Permanent river rat kids fished at every opportunity, starting as early as possible in the spring with bullheads. In fact, we often started when it was not possible….lured by an early thaw in Otter Creek and a mild day, we would set out before dark armed with long cane poles with hand carved wood bobbers. The temperatures would plummet at night. A kid could not swing a line and bobber out hard enough to break the forming ice ! We would endure the cold and indignities as long as we could and break ice to get home. Obviously, the summer kids missed all this.

When we caught fish, we cleaned them and they became part of the family larder. Most of us were like wolves at feeding time, so we got increasingly passionate and innovative about catching fish as we grew older. Bullheads were such a staple that we learned to imitate the creative procurement practices of adult river rats. We fashioned elaborate fish traps with purloined chicken wire and put them in well known bullhead travel corridors. This was probably our earliest not-legal river rat practice. The temporary river rat kids did not engage in such illegal procurement techniques.

By the early teen years, we had been subject to the tutorials of big river rats to the extent that we were capable of serious mayhem. Our forays on the river had to be adventures. Derricking in spring time bullheads with cane poles wasn’t enough anymore. Spear fishing, for example was sufficiently exciting. Underwater lights were concocted from sealed beam headlights and old car batteries. Anything other than an underwater light could be spotted and get you caught which would not be good. I suspect the local game warden would love to make an example out of any river rat, young or old, if he could catch them in the midst of these classical activities. Spear fishing at night was always exciting since one never knew what target would be revealed as we skulked the shallows. We took turns standing with spear poised, ready to be plunged into whatever hapless fish was transfixed by the light.

In the spirit of adventure, we regularly speared things for the fun of it. Carp were typical and we had no interest in eating them. They were big, powerful fish which struggled mightily and could wreck an inferior spear. One malicious practice we had was to keep a few of the prehistoric looking monster carp and deposit them in a boat of someone we didn’t like at the time. A few days of ripening would turn these things into a disgusting mess with a lingering smell. I shall assume that the summer kids never experienced the diabolical pleasure of such dastardly deeds.

Long Before the Light of Day

Long before the light of day

down the River, we were underway


Bumping along in a boat too small

to be out in the middle of a pre-dawn squall.


The old River Rat heard us drawing nigh,

He would want to see who was passing by.


There came a silhouette of him in his door,

The lantern within showed nothing more.


He could only guess who we were.


If we didn’t stop , he would never be sure.


The glow of his cigar would come and go

As the the door of his shack closed ever so slow…

Did he want us to stop and say hello ?


Time has passed ,and we’ll never know.


Now he has been gone for many years,

And I’m the old River Rat, or so it appears.

Posted in: Nature, People, Sports
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Sara Mecomber Meeks
Comment by: Sara Mecomber Meeks ( )
Left at: 11:57 AM Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Hello Hunter:
How well I remember those fishing days--although I didn't partake in much of it, my brothers sure did.
What I remember about Otter Creek (which the Summer Kids would not) was shoveling off the snow to go ice skating in the winter. In those days, we had to make our own "rinks."
And skating up into Otter Creek was quite an adventure when there was not too much snow.
Thanks for your memories.
Sara Mecomber Meeks
David fowler
Comment by: David fowler ( )
Left at: 10:20 PM Sunday, November 10, 2013
We lived across the road from Hunter's parents for a while. I had all the experiences he talks about in the story above. I know longer live on the St. Lawrence, but I do live on lake St.Clair in Windsor Canada. I was once told you can take the boy out of the bay, but the bay never leaves the boy. It's so true. I tell many stories of my childhood. I still On my way! property in the area and always will.
suzanne phillips
Comment by: suzanne phillips
Left at: 4:13 AM Monday, September 7, 2015
With much sadness, I just read Hunter's Obit in Newzjunky. I may have met him at some point years ago. (or maybe his Dad???) ..first when I waited on table, during college, at the TI Club during the summers of 1960 and '61, and at Edgewood during the summer of '62, or maybe in later years of Sat. evening dinners at The Ship or Cavallario's. Coupled with growing up in Watertown, I have always had fond memories of the River and its wonderful locals. :-) Hunter was a true River Treasurer, and he will be missed by many. My condolences and sympathy to his loved ones and many friends. I did not see a place (funeral parlor obit) to leave a message for his family, so hope this location will serve that purpose.