A loud “SPLAT!” startled me as I typed catalog copy that day in the mid-1970s in my office “The Swamp” in Grayling, Michigan. As I swung around to see what the noise was all about, I immediately tried to claw my way through the wall of the small 75-year-old railroad house in which my office was located. Something resembling a huge rat stared back at me from my desk, looking for all the world like he was ready to lunge.
My first thought was, “Where the hell did he come from? He’s the biggest damn rat I’ve ever seen!”
Then I heard the soft chuckle from just outside my office door and I knew I had “been had” again. Papa Bear stuck his head in with a huge grin and shake of his shoulders and said, “You take care of this one, and I’ll go get another!” With that he hurried out of my office. By the time I could recover and realized that it was a huge opossum on my desk, Fred was climbing into his small yellow Cougar to drive the 50 yards over to the main Bear Archery plant.
That was just a typical day in my more than two decades as Fred Bear’s advertising/public relations man, confidant and bumbling bowhunting and flyfishing companion. He loved practical jokes and had come upon the opossum in the middle of the road as he had driven back from our Grousehaven bowhunting camp that morning. Just one thing to do with a startled opossum, he thought, and that was to startle Lattimer even more with it.
POGO THE OPOSSUM
I didn’t know what the heck to do with this opossum. They’re really kind of cute once you get over the shock of them looking like giant rats. And I remembered the old comic strip, “Pogo,” that had an opossum as its main character. So I took the critter home and let him loose in a huge brush pile that I had behind my home in the woods in Sherwood Forest. And I told Fred that is where I had put “Pogo.”
A few days later Fred left town to return to Florida with Mrs. B where they were spending the winter, and I soon received a note in the mail from him responding to one that I sent him:
You speak kindly of Pogo. I feel much better. Sweet, innocent, intelligent and speedy animals are in short supply. You lighten my mental load in writing in detail of his (?) happy life with your fine family. Please check the question mark problem. Hold by handle and look down.
If he (?) is still recognizing you as his leader when Bert McWilliams (one of our local barbers) gets back from vacation, put the little fellow in a box and take him to Al Seawert (loan only). He will slip him (?) in Bert’s barber chair when Bert is having his coffee. This will be great fun, after which you may deposit him (?) back in your brush pile, and I will take over when I return in May.
If the little fellow (?) is frisky and you can’t run him (?) down, there is a live trap overhead in my back storage room. Put meat in the center with both ends open. To get trap, turn ceiling hook 1/4 turn.
Hope your cold is about cured. I’ll get you a coon this spring.
I sent Fred the following reply a day or two later:
We have a serious problem. Not only am I not a very successful killer, now I find I am also not even a mediocre trapper. How can I grab Pogo by his/her question mark IF I cannot trap him/her in your Haveaheart Trap? For five days now I have had it set (that’s trapper talk) next to my brush pile with succulent chunks of T-bone steak in it. For five days now we have not even seen Pogo. Is it possible he does not care for the menu, or is it more likely he is just taking a winter snooze? I will keep trying.
Why you even put up with my incompetence is beyond me. Oh, and yes, the doors to the trap are open, not closed. Even I figured that out.
Fred’s reply on 3-19-76 was:
- How stupid. Opossums are way down the intelligence scale. Bait too exotic, try beef tenderloin.
FISHING WITH FRED
Fred and I also flyfished often for brown trout together on both the Manistee and Au Sable rivers there in the Grayling area, especially when the caddis hatch was on each summer. Indicative of his attention to detail, he even carried a small piece of carpet in his trunk on which we stood as we took off our street shoes and climbed into our waders. And the fat stub of a candle was always in his pocket just in case we got caught out in the woods during a rainstorm. He’d pile up a small handful of pine needles and twigs over the candle, light it, and we had an instant fire-starter.
I hesitate to talk about the evening we were out flyfishing a strange, to me, part of the South Branch of the Au Sable River, and Fred told me to go ahead of him as we neared a sweeping bend. He knew that there was a strong undercurrent at that location. So did I, once I suddenly found myself trying to walk on my tippy-toes as I struggled to hold onto my dignity and my flyrod at the same time with a tall lanky “bear” laughing behind me. Needless to say, it is very difficult to swim with one’s waders full of water, while trying to paddle to shore with a flyrod in one’s hand. Just another “gotcha” from Papa Bear. We laughed all the way home, just as soon as my breath returned. The next morning I found this note on my desk:
From the Desk of
FRED B. BEARTo: Dick Lattimer:
Went fishing last evening.
Some character swimming in my fishing hole.
After another evening of fishing a week or so later, I dropped this note onto his desk one day before he arrived at work:
Date: June 24, 1975
To: Fred Bear
From: Dick Lattimer
Subject: Marine Biology ResearchOur Honeywell Computer has thoroughly sifted and analyzed the input from our marine biology research in the field Monday evening last.
The results of that empirical data indicate that some of the fish, as well as some of the fishermen, were aided with what we in the marine biology trade refer to as a “short rise.” This evidenced itself in the fact that the seasoned veteran of the silent stream once again outgunned the eager greenhorn by a two-to-one tally. In some circles this is known as “Executive Fly.”
Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that of three legal-sized creel coolers, yours were 38.10 centimeters and 30.48 centimeters in length. Mine was 34.29 centimeters long. Translated into the more traditional system of weights and measures, yours were 15″ and 12,” and mine was 13-1/2.”
While interesting to contemplate, this data is far from inclusive, and a rematch is called for next week upon your return to town.
Until then, THINK RAIN!
Fred returned my memo with this note:
I realize that this was not a fair match on the basis that you have not yet gained full confidence in threading your way through dark water since your recent immersion.
A rematch is in order, but please, in stating results, use the metric system exclusively. I have so much fun in making the conversion.
I should have told you that rain does not prevent hatches, it only keeps fishermen from catching the fish.
Fred Bear, Executive Fly
I couldn’t let that alone, and stumbled across a mention of Fred in Bert Stoll’s “Northern Trails” column:
Fred Bear, Grayling big game archer and ardent trout fisherman, has been trying for several weeks to catch a big brown trout that he has heard rising at night from a deep hole on the Au Sable main stream, several miles downstream from Grayling.
One evening last week Fred fished with dry flies up past the deep hole with no action. On his way back downstream he decided to make one more cast over the hole and he hooked solid.
He called to another trout fisherman just below him on the stream that he was coming through with a big fish, and the man got out of the stream on a small island.
Seeing the difficulty Fred was having, the other angler offered to net the fish for him. But Fred said, “No, if I can’t handle him myself, I’d rather lose him.”
But, after battling with the fish for 15 minutes, light rod and light leader, Fred gave in and asked for help. He unhooked a flashlight from his fishing jacket and tossed it to the other fisherman. When the flashlight was aimed at the end of his line, Fred found that he had hooked a muskrat through the mouth.
Naturally, I had to leave the following note on his desk before he got into the office the next morning:
Mr. F. Bear:Somehow or other our past always catches up with us. How can I ever explain adequately to my sons that the man who taught me how to fish for flys had this embarrassing thing happen to him? I suspect a fish yarn here for ink???
To which I got the following reply:
Sometime when I’m in the mood, and the moon is in first quarter, I’ll tell you the story, and I might add, when you can get a muskrat to rise to the fly, you are a fisherman, wet or dry.
Several fishing seasons later I received the following letter on Fred’s Bear Archery stationary:
Mr. Richard Lattimer
Bear Archery Company
Dear Mr. Lattimer:Stockholders have asked me to see what could be done to stop the annual profit decline in late June and early July.
It is well known what the problem is. The Caddis hatch.
Nine years ago I invented the Caddisometer as described on the attached sheet. For nine years I have been trying to sell the idea with only negative results and to further promote the project I submit the prototype herewith.
As the purest of the unpure, I have selected you to cast the first stone. To do your utmost to have the idea adopted to save the Bear Archery Company from extinction.
As you know, the problem areas are sales, customer service, advertising, and purchasing. I cannot make suggestions as to your approach other than after the usual obstacles are cleared to turn to purchasing for the necessary equipment.
In the meantime, manufacturing should be alerted to have a crew standing by to rush installation on a number one priority basis.
When the system is in operation, anyone mentioning fish or caddis during working hours shall be immediately fired.
I trust that you will carry out this assignment with great vigor.
FRED BEAR, Chairman
Attached to Fred’s above memo was the following that he had written:
The CADDISOMETER, a product of BEAR ARCHERY COMPANY, DIVISION OF VICTOR COMPTOMETER CORPORATION, has been designed to improve the morale of our employees, help the quality of our products, prevent air and water pollution, but most of all, to contribute to peace and harmony in the homes of our employees.
Before this great invention, of all the problems that confront and sometimes include management here at Bear Archery, the caddis fly has been the greatest.
During June and part of July, when the big hatch is on, our good employees race home at the 3:30 bell and are immediately hard put to tie enough caddis flies for the night coming. At about 7:30, having kicked all of the kids and cowed the wife, they sally forth at high speed, polluting our air, to a spot selected only after a great many hurdles throughout the day with the horde of experts here at Bear Archery.
Our good people flail the water, leave their flies in trees, stir up and pollute the streams to return home late at night and hopefully rise sleepily next morning. At least those who have not become lost in the woods at night.
The CADDISOMETER eliminates this confusion. It pinpoints the hot spot for the evening. It is relatively simple.
A radio transmitter is mounted on a stake driven into the stream bed. From this stake an arm extends on which there is the best imitation of a seductive female caddis fly that can be produced by our best fly tyers.
The stage is set.
Under cover of the evening darkness, usually about 10 o’clock, the male flies begin their mad flight in search of female company and zero right in on our decoy.
Alighting nearby in their coy approach to rapid compatibility, our hero fluffs his feathers, blinks a shameless eye and wiggles his tail with a “Hi-Ya” nod of his head.
Naturally, there is no response from our dummy. This sets him in a frenzy and body temperature begins to rise as our instrument takes over. When a reading of 212 degrees is reached, the transmitter is triggered to tell the world that the hatch is on.
These CADDISOMETERS are placed at strategic spots on all rivers of the county. Each one is a different wavelength. Fishermen spend their evenings at home where they should be while waiting for the beep from their receivers that will tell them where the hungry 5-pound trout are eagerly awaiting their flies.
The sheriff’s department is equipped with receivers also, and when the unit spills out the message, deputies are dispatched in fast cars to handle traffic at strategic spots. On their return they do a search and rescue for those lost in the woods.
One day Fred called me on the phone as he did many times during the day when he wasn’t popping into my office to chat and asked me to come down to his office. His voice had that serious tone to it, not his usual self.
“Oh, boy,” I thought, “now what?” As are many creative people, I have always been insecure to an extreme and all during my 45-year business career was waiting to be fired. Getting fired in the advertising business is fairly common, especially when new management comes into a company. And I served under many people during my years at Bear Archery with Fred-seven executive vice presidents or presidents (after Fred gave up that title), and seven different marketing directors. Needless to say, I always felt during my 22 years at Bear Archery that I constantly had to prove myself to a new boss. The only constant in the equation was Fred. But I always feared that one of these fellows, knowing of my close friendship with Fred, would someday tell him that he had to let me go for one reason or another.
So when Fred called me down to his office that day, I was really apprehensive at the tone in his voice. His brows had that furrowed-up look, and he motioned me to a chair across the desk from him. He gave me a grave look and then rose one buttock off his seat and let out what sounded like a tremendous release of gas. I damn near fell off the chair and then he started laughing.
“What’d you think about that?” he laughed, his bony shoulders jumping up and down as he chuckled, that mischievous twinkle in his eye as he saw my startled look.
I can’t remember replying anything, other than a nervous laugh. Then he reached to his chair pulled out a wire and cardboard device that he had made and wound up tightly with a huge rubber band. He rewound it and replaced it on his chair and did it again. By then I was giggling and knew I’d been had. When one sat on the tightly wound piece of cardboard attached to the wire frame everything was OK, but once pressure was taken off of it, it unwound and due to the muffled effect of someone sitting on it, sounded just like you-know-what.
“Here,” he said, tossing it across his desk to me. “Have some fun with it!” Somewhere in all my junk, I think I still have that doggoned thing.