Through the years, I’ve had people ask me how I got started in fishing and learned how to fish.
The obvious answer is that my dad used to take me fishing when I was a kid. That’s true, but there are always many “advisers” who play a big part in our lives. We all need a little help from our friends. That’s where one of my best friends, a gentle giant of a man and an incredible fisherman, comes into this story.
His name is Perry Parks, 54, of Omaha.
Back in 1982, I graduated from the University of Illinois and hadn’t fished much. Too much studying and socializing kept me from the sport that ultimately would turn into my business.
That’s the year when a college buddy of mine and I headed out to Lake Okoboji, Iowa, where we would buy our bait from a small shack called White Oaks Bait Shop. We met Parks, the guide, at White Oaks.
Parks would take us out fishing, we would catch a bunch of fish and bring them back to the bait shop, take pictures and clean them. After several years of fishing with Parks, we eventually became great friends and have kept in touch.
Parks started fishing at age 4. His dad, Jon, bought White Oaks Bait Shop in 1973 when Parks was in eighth grade. White Oaks was located in Arnolds Park, near the shores of Lake Okoboji, one of the largest natural lakes in Iowa. Parks began his guiding career at 14. His most memorable clients have included George Brett, Fran Tarkenton, Wally Hilgenberg and 1960s pop sensation The Monkees.
It was tough keeping a new bait shop in business in those days. Besides bait and tackle, one of the key revenue generators was cleaning fish for their clients and anyone else who didn’t want to get their hands dirty. Back then, bullheads were 5 cents and perch were 10 cents apiece to clean. Guess who was recruited to clean all of the fish? You guessed it — Parks and his brother, Eric, who was three years younger.
With the records his dad used to keep, Parks figured that they used to clean upward of 30,000 fish a year. He guided and cleaned fish for more than 15 years. That is a lot of fish.
His dad taught the brothers how to clean fish with a hand-operated contraption called the Townsend fish skinner. It was difficult to use and took a lot of effort to clean all of those fish, but it did a great job of taking off the rib bones and skin with no waste of meat. Jon Perry was the kind of man who always was re-inventing the wheel, so he tried to find ways to motorize this fish-skinning device. He died in 2010 without seeing his dream fulfilled.
Perry, Eric and a couple of other friends finally got together this past year to invent the Skinzit, a motorized fish skinner that would make Jon proud. It’s easy to use, fast and wastes no meat.
One of Perry Parks’ favorite species of fish long has been yellow perch. Abundant in many South Dakota lakes, yellow perch is known for its tender, white meat that almost all anglers cherish. They can be difficult to catch at times, though. That’s when Parks pulls a white rabbit out of the hat and uses a secret tactic he calls “greenbacking.”
A key component is a one-eighth ounce, homemade, leadhead jig that hangs horizontally and sits upright when on the bottom. It has some green tinsel floss wrapped on a gold hook just behind the head of the jig. He tips the jig with five or six maggots.
When marking fish but no bites, Parks drops the greenback jig down to the bottom and clips a small, 1-inch round bobber to the line. The key to this technique is to have no slack in the line, but the jig has to be right on the bottom. The bobber should lay sideways when set up correctly. Quickly quiver the rod and watch the bobber. The bobber will roll upward when a perch bites. Slowly lift the rod every few minutes, watch your electronics and set it back down again.
Not only has Parks been a great friend over the years, he has shown me a tremendous trick to have in my bag when the bite is tough.