Flashback Friday Rides Again! Russian Tiger Catchers, A Story Not About Fishing, and Then I Get to the Point!

It’s easy to get distracted while thumbing through my old magazines, looking for something in particular. Mixed in with the mundane and everyday aspects of the outdoor life are exciting stories filled with danger and daring, told by those who survived them, offering a glimpse of rugged days gone by. Like these 1950’s Russian tiger catchers, restraining a wild beast with not much more than stout wooden poles!

tiger catchers

Brought to bay by dogs, this tiger was destined for a zoo or a circus and had to be taken alive. One man has a line around a paw and, according to the article, the tiger was in a bag and headed for the truck within minutes. I hope these guys made good money, because I can’t imagine grabbing tigers for fun, although I guess you never know.

This passes no judgement on long-abandoned practices because that’s the way it was. Very few animals are taken from the wild for exhibition these days but many are grabbed or snatched and held up to the cameras for our amusement and gratification. I haven’t seen anyone catching tigers with their bare hands yet, but I’m sure someone will try, and people will watch, if for no other reason than to see if things don’t go wrong.

I have touched tigers myself, though under different circumstances, and one of those occasions is the basis of one more Story Not About Fishing.

Once, long ago, in response to call over our radios, a group of my coworkers and I found ourselves looking down at a large Siberian tiger, pacing furiously at the bottom of a 20 ft deep dry moat. The question we asked ourselves was not, “How’d he get down there?” it was, “How are we going to get him out?”

The moat was narrow enough to prevent a running start that might allow a mighty leap out, in theory, but we still stepped back each time the tiger lunged. A couple of the old-timers among us said that in the old days they would “just get a rope around his neck and hold tight until he passed out” but they had no good answer when asked what they’d do if he came to as they were hoisting him out, so we called for the veterinarian and his trusty tranquilizer darts.

Using his air gun was out of the question because it looked like a rifle and a crowd had gathered on the terrace above the exhibit. Someone would think we were going to shoot the tiger, and we couldn’t have that, so he used a blow gun, which was crowd friendly but might not be as effective. You have to blow pretty hard to penetrate tiger hide from 30 feet away.

The tiger got groggy and eventually went down. The vet looked at us and said, “There you go.”

“Ha-ha,” we replied. “You darted him, you go down first.”

A ladder was lowered and he went down, eventually convincing us to join him by laying on the tiger. With more ladders, some rope, and a big canvas sling, we lifted the tiger out of the moat and carried him into his den, where the vet decided to take advantage of the situation and do as much of an examination as possible before the tiger revived. Each of the five of us with that tiger in that 10′ x 10′ room had a different definition of “revived” but no one dared be the first to leave when the tiger started flicking its tail. Instead, we tried to leave all at once, crowding through the 3 ft high door in a jumble when the vet yelled, “Run!”

Yeah, he stopped laughing pretty quick when we closed the door behind us.

That tiger, by the way, at 3 years old, weighed 475 pounds.

(Another Story Not About Fishing, from the same place, can be found here)

See how easy it is to get distracted around here?

I came across that tiger picture up there while looking for something completely different but I can tie the two together by using an old writer’s trick that I once heard an editor call “moving from point a to point b.”

Speaking of spending time in a tiger den, the second Saturday in February is the day the members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society may begin making reservations for the upcoming season.


It’s a mid-winter rite, starting at 9:00 a.m. and for most of the day I will take their calls, on a first-come first-served basis. A number of policies, rules, and limits are in place to ensure fairness to all, which they attempt to skirt with abandon, crying “Unfair!” when the fairness policies are enforced.

They can call in from anywhere in the world these days, thanks to modern communications technologies, but there was a time when what we consider inconvenient today was one of the best things ever. Not only were phones heavy and possibly attached to the wall, your phone wasn’t yours and the company that owned it was also the only service provider available. The joke used to be, “We’re the phone company. We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

everything ready at the lake

Touted as quick, convenient, and cheap, telephone use was limited, partly because it really wasn’t all that cheap. Just look at those rates! And a 10% federal excise tax? Why, if a person wasn’t careful their phone could end up costing $40, $50, or even more a month! Who in their right mind would fall  for something like that?

Of course, back then you couldn’t take your phone with you when you went, but you didn’t want to. Those arrangements you made by calling ahead were made so you could “get away from it all,” including those irritating, ringing phones.


good fishing ahead

Calling from the city to chat with those mighty helpful folks and land a place to stay was one thing, but how about checking in with the folks back home once you’re there? No problem. Calling home was a personal and satisfying way to keep in touch, share exciting news, or to just rub it in.


Today’s anglers find the old phone in the lodge pretty darn inconvenient and half the fun around here, where cell phone service is spotty at best, is watching their contortions as they search for a signal and listening to them shout as they hold their phones over their heads when they find one. Sometimes the phone noise enough to make a guy want to get away from it all.

509 country

Start dialing, Tiger.

Categories: +The Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society, Flashback Fridays, Fly Fishing, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Flashback Friday Rides Again! Russian Tiger Catchers, A Story Not About Fishing, and Then I Get to the Point!

  1. I always see and hear a lot about fly fishermen casting to old tires and hula hoops as a form of “trout fishing practice.” Does it ever occur to any of them that maybe they should go practice on water somewhere? So it’s not for trout and you can’t impart some great spiritual awakening to the event, but it’s a fish, maybe a bluegill or a bass, and not a dandelion. That’s gotta count for something.

    Hello, HELLO, damn, I think I lost the signal…

    • They even make little tiny practice casters for indoors, but I think some anglers think that when they are seen casting in the yard passers-by will think, “Wow, that person is a fly fisher! Cool!” It never occurs to them that someone might think, “That person is a fly fisher! What a dork!” There used to be a “sport” called skish ( I think) which was fly casting to targets. Joan Wulff was a champion for some time.

      Fly fishing has a history of “experts” saying the place to practice is NOT on the water. Maybe so one can’t accidentally catch a fish and spoil the illusion.

      You should get a fly rod rigged up with a peanut fly made of foam or some other material. You could have a lot of fun in the back yard. Pinch the barb, of course.

      • I’ve actually been playing around with real peanuts. They’re easy to tie on. I’m going to perfect it as soon as things warm up around here and the squirrels have a slightly longer attention span.

        The passers-by around my house tend to giggle and shake their heads.

  2. Too bad we no longer in the “call ahead” era with no irritating cell phones. Good stuff, Quill, vintage ads and reminders of yesteryear always remind me of the “good ol’ days.” Good luck Saturday – be sure to stay hydrated so your voice won’t give out takling all those calls.

    • Call ahead has become call on the way for some. I don’t think modern anglers would have the patience for the old days when you put a letter in the mail and waited for a couple of weeks to hear back.

      My voice and brain held up and Saturday went pretty well even though my usual helper elves were stranded hundreds of miles away by the storm.

      I will be speaking to the bugs and the fishes soon to schedule hatches and rises for the proper times, especially June.

  3. hookandhackle

    Ring, Ring…. How’s the view up there with the blizzard? My grandfather god rest his soul, had an old bake-light black phone with rotary dial. When grandpa passed, my uncle sold the house and we discovered he was still paying a rental fee on the phone from his phone bill. Ma Belle never new it went missing. Darn thing is over 100 years old and it still works.

    • For most of the weekend the view was white but it got better once the sun came out.

      There is an old wall-mount rotary dial phone I’ve been thinking about installing for member use in the lodge but I keep losing my nerve.

  4. Wow…you took me back about 30 or so years with this one. Ah for the good old days. By the way, can I write for a reservation?

    • Only 30 years?

      There was a time when writing for a reservation was the only way to do it. Most people today would say it took FOREVER but it was really only a week or two …

  5. I’m not sure why but there is something attractive about tigers that makes me like them more than other animals. There’s something almost spiritual about them. I’m not sure what it is but I’ve always liked them. Your story about the men chasing the tiger for fun made me think of another story. Actually it’s a movie. It was a documentary done about a man who was killed in Siberia. The reason it was documented differently than other tiger killings is people feel this killing was premeditated. From their invenstigation they found the tiger did hunt this man down and waited until the right moment to kill him. The story was interesting and brought to life so many other fictional stories. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129551459

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