‘Lessons Learned’: Reminiscing on childhood adventures of fishing with friends

By Ron Weber | June 6, 2024

  • In Kenosha County, the Kilbourn Road Ditch merges into the Des Plaines River. (Photo by Dan Witte of "The Des Plaines River: Its Story Is Chicago's Story")

In Kenosha County, the Kilbourn Road Ditch merges into the Des Plaines River. (Photo by Dan Witte of "The Des Plaines River: Its Story Is Chicago's Story")

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It’s hard to forget those first tastes of independence as a child, when you embark on adventures with your friends that turn out to be life-altering rites of passage. Writer Ron Weber looks back on one quest he took with his friends in the summer of 1976 in southeast Wisconsin when they were 12-years-old.


On a Kenosha County map, it is known as the Kilbourn Road Ditch. But in my youth, it was the Yukon, the Colorado or many other storied waters. Its muddy water coursed south through the farm fields and woods near my house in Somers, ultimately joining forces with the Des Plaines River. In a world bounded by how far my legs could carry me, it thrilled me when I learned water in this creek would eventually meet the mighty Mississippi and then the sea. Out of a childhood full of adventures, it is one trip there that stands out.

We had planned the trip for the last day of school.  My best friend Mike and I were the instigators of the adventure. We had invited a couple others, John and Tommy, who lived close enough in our rural world to be considered neighbors and therefore invitees to all our games.

This would not be just a fishing trip, but an expedition. Like Magellan, DeSoto and other great explorers we had learned of in school, we were going to explore sections of the creek that lied in the uncharted territory beyond Meyer’s fields.

The excitement on the bus ride home was palpable. Once off the bus, it took only minutes for us to grab our fishing poles and bait and stuff some food and pop into a knapsack.  Our grub included bologna and cheese sandwiches on Wonder bread, an assortment of Hostess treats as well as Coke in 12 ounce glass bottles.

We hurried through the first mile or so. Navigation was entirely by fence line.  We knew we had to go west to find the creek so we turned at the first fence.  Another half mile or so of scattered trees brought us to the end of the fence and Meyer’s field. The fence now turned north and we had a decision to make: follow the relative safety of the fence or break out and go west cross country.

West it was at which we entered a brave new world.  We were 12-year-olds who for the first time were not sure where we were heading.  Each step, each new view expanded our world though soon we would come to realize the world went far beyond the other side of Meyer’s fields. Suddenly through a screen of trees and brush there lay the creek below us. It was no longer the creek I had known and fished for years. Everything about it seemed different, mysterious.

The rest of the trip was somewhat anticlimactic but memorable. We pushed further north pulling an occasional bullhead or carp out of deeper holes. We took a break long enough to sit and eat our food, our conversation turning to baseball, the nuns at school and of course girls.

The setting sun on our backs guided us home.  I would argue we were not the same 12-year-olds that began this journey.  We were growing, pushing boundaries and expanding our horizons. That is what this trip was really all about. There would be many lessons to learn and decisions to make in the next few years. By the start of 7th grade that August John would be plucked from our world forever, his family moving to Michigan. Loss, like change is inevitable. Just one of life’s lessons.

In quiet moments I sometimes find myself thinking of the journey and what lesson learned was most important.  Looking back through the prism of time one thing has become crystal clear. It may take a great deal of money and possessions to be considered wealthy but any 12 year old with a fishing pole, a few friends and a creek or pond on the dawn of summer vacation can know what it means to be rich.  I consider that one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned, much too valuable to ever forget.

Ron Weber

Ron Weber

Ron Weber is a Wisconsin DNR Forester living in Weyerhaeuser. He writes outdoor essays for several Wisconsin publications.

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