By Valerie Shelton, Editor
There’s something relaxing about fishing. Quietly and patiently you wait for the bait on the end of your hook to attract a fish swimming by. Finally the fish goes for its piece of prey and boom, he’s hooked and you reel him in and have a nice little addition to your supper.
This is what Bob Clark Sr., 93, experienced the first time he went fishing. At nine years old, he accompanied his mother and older brother on a trip to Monterey and while on the pier he decided to give it a go at fishing for the first time. The year was 1931 and the Great Depression had taken its toll on the divorced piano teacher and her two young boys. The were fortunate to have a vacation, but they did everything the modest way, meaning Bob didn’t have a real fishing pole and instead made do with a stick, some string and a bent pin for a hook. That simple homemade contraption was all it took for Bob to catch a fish and from that point on, he was hooked.
It would be years before Bob would return to the Monterey area for fishing but when he did, he had his wife and kids in tow. It was 1955 and Bobby Jr. was just five years old. Times were good and the father-son duo was able to hitch a ride on a boat out on Capitola and try their luck at fishing with some real poles. It was that day that Bobby fell in love with fishing and from then on he and his dad would go fishing at least once every summer. Now, 60 years later Bob and Bobby still take at least one trip out on the water together each year and they have countless fishing stories to share.
Deep-sea to lake fishing
In one wild story, Bob and Bobby tried to play a joke on a shark—a joke that ended up costing them over 350 feet of line. Bobby tells the story like this: “We were out sanddab fishing and there was a six to eight foot sand shark cruising around and taking chunks out of our fishes as we were reeling them up. We were getting ready to move and I had my rod up and the sinker was right there in the water and the shark came over and bumped it and I said ‘dad, get the paddle out and let’s whack that sucker on the nose.’ Well he couldn’t get the oar out from under the seat because it got stuck and I gave him a hand and we got it out and I didn’t realize I’d dropped the rod. In the meantime, the shark had nosed it again and I had hooked the shark in the nose just as dad came up with the oar and went WACK! In less than three seconds, the shark took out over 350 feet of line it was going so fast.”
For decades, Bob and Bobby continued to have crazy adventures like this out on the sea in Capitola. They would catch buckets full of sanddabs, rock cod, tomcod, blue cod and vermilion and for years Bob’s wife would fry up every fish they caught. With Bob getting older though, deep-sea fishing became too rough and father and son decided to try their hand at lake fishing, something Bobby had done numerous times on his own as a fly fishing enthusiast. It was six years ago that Bobby first took his father to Shaver Lake, where they took a charter with Dick Nichols, and while not the thrill of the ocean, both had a good time catching kokanee and rainbow trout. It was so fun, they have continued to go back each year since.
“Dick treats his clients very well,” Bobby said. “His boat is there and all we have to do is show up and he has everything for us and does everything except reeling in the fish. He has the bait and tackle he makes himself and sells and he baits the hooks and everything and he’ll even net the fish and hand the rod off to whoever is next. He is the only guide I know of who supplies lunch too… Anybody, no matter what level of fishing experience they have will enjoy their time on the lake with Dick. We did it on a whim to see how it would go. I’ve been with other guides before and Dick is the best.”
A musical connection
Fishing is not the only hobby Bob and Bobby share. Both also possess musical talent.
Bob’s experience as a musician dates back to his childhood in Selma, where he would play on the bandstand in Lincoln Park as a horn player for the Selma High School band and the Selma Municipal band. He would later considering a major in music at Fresno State, although he later decided on economics. During his stint in the United States Navy, Bob would spend a majority of his time playing horn with the band.
After the service, while in school or while teaching, Bob would work as a musician on the side to ensure his wife could stay at home with Bobby and his three sisters. In 1948, Bob joined a band and played the second tenor saxophone part on his trombone. There was also a first tenor sax, third tenor sax, piano, drums, bass and a female singer in the band and they would play at the Polynesian Room or El Rancho Motel in Fresno five nights a week, with a live radio broadcast on Saturday nights. Bobby was born while Bob was out playing one of these gigs.
After that band dissolved when one of its members moved, Bob went on to play various gigs on his own. In his later years, Bob participated in the New Wrinkles show—a variety show starring seniors over 55—at Fresno City College. Today, he continues to play and is distinguished as the oldest member of the Sounds of Freedom military band, which rehearses at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.
The funny thing? As a member a member of the Sounds of Freedom band, Bob revisits that old Selma bandstand each year, bringing everything full circle.
“Every fall, the Sounds of Freedom band plays a concert in Selma on the bandstand in Lincoln Park and that is the bandstand I played on when I was in high school when I played in the Selma Municipal band,” Bob said. “After that concert, we go eat at a Mexican restaurant which is right where that car garage I worked at was and that was where I was that Sunday of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. It was there I heard the announcement on the radio.”
Just like his father, Bobby has been enthralled with music since he was a boy and still owns the first drum kit his parents bought for him.
“I still have the drum set that mom and dad bought me in 1964 for Christmas and I still play it,” Bobby said. “I’ve had two different working kits for different variety bands that I was in but I always kept that set. I dusted it off and have been playing the last few years.”
Bobby played drums in a trio during his time at Reedley College and Fresno State. Then later, after Bobby started coaching at Yosemite High School in Merced, he joined a variety band called Music by Gold Country, which he played with for 13 years. A medical issue made it more difficult for Bobby to play and he put his drumsticks away in 1989, but three years ago he decided to pick them back up. He now plays with a group on Monday nights and also serves as a back-up drummer at New Hope Church in Clovis.
Bobby’s wife Bonnie said Bob and Bobby have played together numerous times.
“Bobby and dad have played at retirement homes and assisted living facilities—Bobby on drums and dad on horns and their friend Chuck on piano,” Bonnie said.
A strong work ethic
Bob and Bobby have more than just hobbies in common.
“It isn’t just fishing, it’s a lifestyle, a career and a work ethic they share,” Bonnie said. “Bob has been the energizer bunny his whole life. He’s taught and counseled and just worked, worked, worked. He is a charter member of New Wrinkles and one of the earlier members of the California Retired Teachers Association and is on the board. He plays horn and has done a ton of volunteer work playing at the VA hospital, playing in small groups for nursing homes and playing in the Sounds of Freedom military band. Then there’s Bobby. While Bobby was teaching, he was supporting his family playing in the band at night, working as a medic on the ambulance and a volunteer firefighter medic in Mariposa, all while working at Yosemite High School.”
Father and son each have a list of accolades a mile long.
Bob has worked since he was in high school, doing what he could to save up for college from working at a winery one summer to being hired as an extra hand at the local Chevrolet car garage.
When Bob started attending Reedley College, he initially had his heart set on Pre-Med, but upon transferring to Fresno State changed his major to music realizing it would be difficult to afford medical school. After three years of college—two in Reedley and one at Fresno State—Bob signed up to serve in the United States Navy on Dec. 7, 1942. Men who enlisted on this day, the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, were called avengers. Bob enlisted just 90 hours before he would have been drafted. After some shuffling around—first he was in naval intelligence, then he went to boot camp as a V4, then moved up to V6, then he was transferred to San Pedro and then Pearl Harbor as a Seaman First Class, then he tried to become a yeoman—Bob finally found his niche in the band while on the USS Mexico and was given the rank of Third Class Petty Officer. As a band member, he was transferred to Washington D.C. and later Miami, where he performed with the Admiral’s Band of the 7th Naval District—the band that had been on the Yorktown which was sunk in the Battle of Midway. After a short time, he was relieved of his duties and went back to school under the GI Bill. You would think he would continue the music major, but instead opted for economics.
“I knew that if I had a degree before I went in the Navy I would have been an officer just like that so I saw how important it was to have a degree and I went back for the spring semester of 1946,” Bob said. “I wanted the fastest degree I could get and I had some economics courses already so that’s what it was. In January 1947 when I got my degree, no one knocked on the door and said we have a job for you so I still went to school.”
At the time, the only graduate courses Fresno State offered were in education, so Bob took 12 units of education courses in the spring of 1947 and took an additional six units in the summer. That summer, one of his instructors was principal at Edison High School and he offered Bob his first teaching job.
“It was the first offer I had and I grabbed it because I had a family I had to support. That’s how I got into education,” Bob said. “My first year, my take home pay, was $4 or $6 less than I was making as a student but I had a job and that was my goal.”
Bob continued to take classes at night and in the summer, eventually earning his Master’s in Education Administration. For six years Bob taught everything from 7th grade mathematics to 9th grade English to Driver’s Ed. Then, he became the junior high dean of boys and later vice principal. After 17 years at Edison High School, Bob got a job as a counselor at Reedley College, where he spent 18 years and retired at age 60.
It’s while as a counselor at Reedley College that Bob really instilled his work ethic into his son who initially had no desire to pursue higher education after graduating from McLane High School.
“I had already decided I was not going to continue on in school because I hated school,” Bobby said. “But, I was pretty good at sports and the football coach at the time at Reedley College called and said, ‘we have a spot for you if you want to go to school, you’ll be our starting safety.’ I decided to check it out. We had two weeks of pre-season practice without pads and stuff and we had a team meeting and we’re all sitting around and the coaches are passing out these pieces of paper with the classes I had to take. Dad picked the classes for me. As I went through Reedley College and Fresno State, I had a lot of guidance because he knew the right sequence to minimize my time so I got my degree in four years and that was unusual even then.”
Bobby majored in Physical Education with a minor in Biological Science and he went on to work at Yosemite High School in Merced.
“Merced was the first offer and I took it, just like dad did with his first offer,” Bobby said. “I thought I’d take this until something better came along but 33 years later I retired from there. I really liked the atmosphere and the staff became like family so it was hard to leave that.”
Although he resisted, for Bobby the work ethic was contagious and he’d spend most of his free time volunteering as a firefighter and playing the drums in the variety band.
The only respite for hardworking father and son: fishing, of course.
“Fishing is our getaway,” Bobby said.