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Bob Lind, Published September 21 2013

Neighbors: The fish story behind Lisbon’s bent tree

Everybody in Lisbon, N.D., liked Joe Johnson. Especially the kids. One reason: Joe could tell stories. Like how the “bent tree” got that way.

That tree stood along the Sheyenne River that runs through Lisbon, and years ago it provided a perch for Joe’s son Curt and his buddies to sit on when they fished.

Curt, now of Lakeville, Minn., says he and his pals loved to spend a couple of hours doing what they called “lazy fishn,” which, he says, meant “putting a line in the water without great expectations of a lot of action.”

Their favorite place to do this was from what was called the “bent tree,” which went up about 3 feet, then went horizontally over the water for about 4 feet, then straight up again.

One day Curt and two of his pals were “lazy fishn” there when Curt’s dad came along and asked if they knew how the tree came to be bent that way. Curt had heard the story many times, but he kept quiet while his dad told the story again.

It was a long time ago, Joe said, when he was a young guy barely out of school.

“The tree you’re sitting on was about as big around as my arm back then, and I would say at least 20 feet tall,” he said.

“I was fishing by it, trying to catch some supper. There wasn’t anyone else fishing right here that afternoon.

“All of a sudden, my bobber went under faster than a two-pound rock dropped in a bathtub. I grabbed my fishing pole and began cranking on the reel to bring my catch to shore. But it didn’t want to come in, and I couldn’t budge it any closer to the shore.

“I fought that fish for hours. In fact, it was coming on supper time and I was getting hungry, let alone exhausted from battling this monster.

“I only got one quick glance at the size of the fish. That was when it swam downstream to that bend in the river right there (and Joe pointed to a wide bend in the river about a hundred yards from the tree) to turn around.

“Well, sir,” Joe continued, “I tied my line to that tree you’re sitting on and went home for supper. I remember we had chicken soup and dumplings.

“I came down here after supper and found that fish had pulled so hard on my line it bent that tree.”

Call in the Guard

“I know this is going to be hard for you youngsters to understand,” Joe continued, “but I fought that fish all night long. Word got around town of my battle with a monster and townsfolk started filtering down to this location. Many of them brought me food and water to keep my strength up.

“By morning of the next day I was totally exhausted and, to my surprise, the fish had stopped fighting.

“Everyone was amazed at the size of that big catfish,” Joe said. “It was longer than two semi-trucks and taller than a house!

“Needless to say, there was no way I was going to be able to bring that huge fish to the shore by myself.

“Luckily, in the crowd was the commander of the National Guard unit in Lisbon. He said he would call in the troops from around the county, drive a couple of Caterpillar tractors down here and with huge log chains pull that fish up on the bank.

“After the military secured the fish on land, about a hundred of them started up chain saws and filleted that fish.

“That fish fed the whole town all winter long.”

“Dad concluded the story,” Curt says, “by saying, ‘and that’s why that tree is bent the way it is.’ He then climbed up the river bank and drove off.

“Me and my buddies sat for quite a spell before deciding it was time to go home,” Curt remembers. “The three of us packed up our poles and lines and walked silently along the river bank to just behind our homes before climbing up the bank, separating and heading to each of our houses.

“Just before we said goodbye for the night, one of my buddies turned to me with a puzzled look on his face and asked, ‘Do you think there’s another fish that size still in the river?’

“Dad,” Curt concludes, “was a great storyteller.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com