Published December 07, 2009, 09:30 AM

A Great Depression survivor thrives close to the land

WASHBURN, Wis. — When he was a kid, growing up in the Great Depression, Clarence “Simon” Schultz had 19 good reasons to go fishing and hunting.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune, Worthington Daily Globe

WASHBURN, Wis. — When he was a kid, growing up in the Great Depression, Clarence “Simon” Schultz had 19 good reasons to go fishing and hunting.

He was one of 17 children, and when food was running low, his mom would send him out to get more.

“Mom would say, ‘Clarence, we gotta have some chicken,’” Schultz said.

By that she meant for Schultz to go out and shoot some ruffed or sharp-tailed grouse. Some days the order was for fish. Some days, rabbits. Some days, deer.

So, Schultz, now 89, would grab his .22-caliber rifle or his fishing rod and do as his mother told him. And he wasn’t to waste shells.

“He’d go down to the hardware store,” said good friend Jeff Langford of Washburn. “For a nickel, you got 10 .22 shells. If he didn’t come back with 10 rabbits, his mom would give him a whippin’.”

As a result, Schultz got very good at hunting and fishing. He learned to pay attention in the woods, keeping a detailed diary of his exploits. He recorded rainfall so he knew just when the morel mushrooms would appear. He kept counts of spawning trout each year in his favorite streams. He studied the habits of red squirrels so he could gather jackpine cones, which he sold to the U.S. Forest Service for seed.

In short, he learned how to survive.

“He told me once that if he had a nickel for every deer he drug over the Washington Avenue hill, he’d be a millionaire,” Langford said.

Not all of those deer were taken during open season, but in those days, game wardens looked the other way if it was a matter of keeping a family fed.

Now, pushing 90, Schultz is still wiry and fit, living in the same home where he was born. His wife, Alice, died 16 years ago, so Schultz cares for their only child, Lissa, who is 56 and has developmental disabilities.

CHANCE MEETING

A fortuitous event occurred in Schultz’ life in 1937, when he was 17. He had been sent to the Sioux River by his mother to get some trout. There he met O.W. Smith, a minister and a fishing writer for “Outdoor America” magazine. Smith was a fly fisherman, Schultz a bait fisherman.

Smith took to the boy and gave the young Schultz a bamboo fishing rod and enough flies to learn the sport. Schultz quickly took to fly-fishing on his home rivers, and he began tying his own flies.

As we visited, he began pulling one ring binder after another, each filled with carefully catalogued flies tucked in clear plastic sleeves. Each notebook held more than 300 flies, every one a different pattern.

A carefully printed note in Schultz’ writing tallies the flies: 2,264 unique flies in all, 1,170 of his own creation, 1,094 tied by Schultz but originated by other fly-tiers.

“I’m going for the world record [for original flies] tied by one man,” Schultz said.

In a smaller ring binder, in the same careful lettering, he has written down the materials he used to tie each fly.

He pointed to a tiny Size 22 pattern. When trying to tie it, he kept breaking the thread, Schultz said. Then, one day, he saw a horse switching its tail in a pasture. Schultz leaned over the fence and borrowed a couple strands of the horse’s tail, and he finished the fly with no problem.

Schultz taught fly-tying to students at the local Catholic school, Langford said. He intends to donate his fly collection to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward.

HITTING THE RIVERS

Not long after Schultz met O.W. Smith, Schultz joined the Marines and served in the South Pacific.

“I shot ‘expert,’ ” he said. “I knew what a gun was for.”

He came home in 1946, hoping to reconnect with Smith. But Smith had died in 1941, and Schultz was on his own.

He returned to his prewar job at the DuPont plant near Barksdale making explosives for the iron mines. Each winter, Schultz would tie up all the flies he thought he would need for the coming year. Then he would begin tying flies for sale at area bait shops.

He fished everywhere, often walking several miles to his rivers. The Sioux was his favorite.

“There isn’t a ditch, not a rivulet, not a river going along the highway I haven’t fished,” Schultz said. “I’ve fished every river in Bayfield County that’s on a map. Brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and salmon, too.

He served as citizen representative on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

“I fought to protect those streams,” he said.

A KNACK FOR SURVIVING

Schultz had 30 years in at DuPont by 1971, when the plant shut down. At 51, Schultz found himself retired. A businessman offered him a job, but Schultz said he had had enough of taking orders. Instead, with Alice working at a local electric cooperative, Schultz cared for Lissa and ingeniously pieced together a living.

He mined logging camp dumps for artifacts and made thousands selling them at flea markets. He hunted golf balls at area golf courses and sold them. He sold his fishing flies. He gathered and sold jackpine cones. He gathered morel mushrooms and bartered them for services.

He knew how to survive.

He still fishes and hunts when he can. He lost access to land where he used to hunt deer, so friend David Bretting of Ashland invited him to hunt on the former DuPont property near Barksdale.

“He’s the neatest guy,” Bretting said. “He can tell more stories than anybody else alive. He can remember a fish, a creek, a trip, a lure he tied. He knows spots you and I would love to find but will never find.”

Schultz last shot a buck in 2007. The Bretting camp tries to shoot only trophy bucks, but Schultz has permission to shoot a buck of any size. And he doesn’t take his hunting privileges for granted.

“He delivers me morels every spring,” Bretting said.

Perhaps it’s his Depression-era upbringing or just his nature, but Schultz seems to want for nothing. He loved his life in the woods and on streams, fly-fishing for trout. Now he seems to cherish the time he has to care for Lissa.

As Schultz sat at his kitchen table on Monday, talking about his life, Lissa came and stood by his side. He wrapped a lean arm around her and gave her a squeeze.

“I kind of miss the things I used to do,” Schultz said. “But I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this girl.”

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