In Memoriam: Herbert Michael Ohley – Wampus Cats

(Note: This was originally posted on my Facebook page on August 27, 2016.)

I took my dad’s Jon boat out last weekend for a short trial run.  For anyone interested it’s an 18/60 Sea Ark with a 50hp 4-stroke Merc.  It really is a nice boat.

I can’t lie, I wept a little.  The last time the motor was started, he turned the key.  The last time someone tiller steered that craft through the water it was my father on the mighty Mississippi – the river I grew up on with him.

I spent a good amount of time on the water with my father.  Stripers, White Bass, Sauger, Crappie, Catfish…  whatever was biting during that season, that’s what we were fishing for.  In the last few years it became solely Blue Cats – and anyone who has caught that fever can understand why.

He taught me a lot about fishing and boating; sometimes explicitly, more often by example.

One of the lessons he was adamant about teaching me was a respect for the water.  On several occasions someone would be flying down the river wide open and he’d say, “Look at that fool, he’s not even in the channel.”  He’d tell me, “The river is deceiving son, just because it’s wide doesn’t mean it’s deep.  If you don’t know where the channel is you better take it easy or you’ll lose a prop or worse.”

I used that lesson as I took the boat out last weekend.  I went by myself and spent a little time getting familiar with the waters I’ll be navigating before I took the precious cargo of my wife and kids.

Those are the thoughts that have been surfacing in my mind as of late, the invaluable life lessons he taught me.  As I’ve pondered it recently, so much of “what I do” and “why I do it that way” can be attributed to my father.

But before I run off course here into something too sappy I have to share one of the greatest lessons bestowed upon me by my father concerning boating: Wampus Cats.

If I recall correctly this lesson was first taught in the middle of Beaver Dam Lake while night fishing.  Now, if you’ve never been on a boat in the middle of the water, in the middle of the night, you’re going to have a hard time imagining the scene.  I don’t care who you are, it can be a little eerie.

Something gave off a blood curling screech, probably a Screech Owl, and I turned to my father with a look on my face of, “Good Lawd, what on earth was that?!”  He didn’t miss a beat.

“Did you hear that?” he said, knowing damn well I did.

“Yeah dad, what was it?!”

“A Wampus Cat”

*A young Matt stares in a mixture of fear and wonder while his father anxiously awaits the question*

“What’s a Wampus Cat?”  I asked.

“It’s like a mountain lion, or a cougar.”  He says, pausing a moment for affect. “Except they have webbed feet and can run on water.”

*Another pause*

“And they eat children”

I can still feel the sense of dread that came over me in that moment.  It probably only lasted 15 seconds before my dad burst out into one of his red-in-the-face belly laughs but it felt like an hour.

Of course, that’s what happened: after scaring the living daylights out of me for a moment he laughed at himself until he about fell out of the boat.

I don’t recall finding it nearly as funny.

My dad used it over and over through the years, sometimes when I was getting too loud in the boat and scaring off the fish.  “You better quite down son, the Wampus Cat will hear you.”  Of course, by then I was pretty sure it was b.s., but that didn’t stop him from entertaining himself with it repeatedly.

And to this day the legend of the Wampus Cat lives on.

Ask my kids about wampus cats… they know.

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