Thinking back, I've spent a lot of time in my life fishing. From a homemade dinghy on the upper reaches of the Catawba River to an unbelievable trip off the Yucatan peninsula, I've about tried it all. Running trot lines or jug-fishing in Lakes Hickory and Norman, wading the New River for small-mouth bass, fishing the weed line off Cape Canaveral with my son, Mark, out of Morehead City for kingfish with Larry Hollar, fishing for blues in the Atlantic surf with my old friend, Gil Mayfield, “stump-jumping" for crappie at Santee-Cooper or seining and snaring suckers in Curtis Creek have all turned out, at the best, interesting, rarely successful. In my younger years, I did win a bottle of toilet water while playing the fishing booth at the county fair. It brightened our three-hole outhouse for a couple of weeks.
Fun trips to Santee Cooper immediately come to mind. When the stripers refused to take our bait for three days and the rest of our party headed back to Catawba County, my friend Frank Little and I wound up sitting in the sun on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, knocking back a few and talking sports, when Frank's minnow, now deceased and lying on the bottom, attracted a big catfish. Since all our Baltimore minnows had long ago expired, we starting sending them down and bringing back a nice cat on almost every cast. We skinned out about 20 pounds of beautiful meat and headed home triumphant.
A few years later at Santee, we fished in a steady gale of some 20 miles per hour, causing us to throw our lures on top of boat houses, in trees, in each other's back pocket or “on the noggin," and only half way to the bank when throwing against the wind. One of Tommy Simmon's down-wind casts wound up in someone's yard on a pile of building stone. Simmons assured us that he had decided to go for the elusive rock bass. After three Bud Lites it sounded reasonable to me.
I once went fishing with friends to Little River, S.C. While they enjoyed a hearty breakfast, I secured a boat for our expedition, thinking I had signed up for a boat for only our group and marveling at the low rates. When about 10 other fishermen trooped aboard, I realized I had signed on a “head boat," a craft at the low end of the fishing chain. About 10 minutes down the river, one of our friends announced that he was getting sick and we hadn't even left the smooth confines of the river. Knowing that the captain would never turn back, we told him to go down in the cabin and try to make himself comfortable. When we checked on him later, he was hanging on to a sofa, his face green and covered with huge drops of sweat. The next trip down found him in the same position and condition, but now two fishermen had joined him, sitting on the arms of the sofa, thoroughly enjoying their meal of deviled eggs and sardines, dropping bits of food and cracker crumbs right in his face. Had I been a man of the cloth, I think I would have performed the last rights on our friend, then and there. After getting a good whiff of those eggs and sardines, I almost joined him. When we returned to the still waters of Little River, he recovered quickly and was in A-1 condition when we reached the dock. He decided then that golf and tennis were much closer to his field of expertise.
Another trip to Santee Cooper occurred during a February cold spell and, employing a guide, we dashed all over the impoundments and the connecting canal in a high-speed boat searching for stripers. When we stopped to put our lines in the water, ice formed in the rod guides quickly and we had to keep dipping the rod end in the water to melt the ice, and keep from cutting our lines. When we returned to our rented trailer, I put on everything I could wear that wasn't wet, crawled into bed, pulled all the covers over me, and still thought I was going to die. It was an hour before I got my body heat back. That was about as much fun as a man should enjoy on one weekend. P.S. the only fish we saw that weekend was a plate of flounder fillet with hush puppies at the fish camp, where, cold and still shaking, I even missed that fish twice before spearing a bite.
Now for the things I've learned in 70 years of off and on fishing. One foot on the boat and one on the dock always results in a spectacular dunking and earns a 10 from some smart-alec judges. Jumping into a canvas covered canoe always causes a wet foot and a hole in the canoe, usually belonging to an ex-friend. Likewise, losing a paddle leaves one barely holding his own while paddling frantically with both hands, and is not graceful enough to be considered an Olympic-type event. Fly fishing for trout in a twenty foot, tree-lined stream and using twenty-five feet of line allows you to catch your limit of limbs and quickly expend your supply of expensive flies. Canoeing in a Florida swamp, I learned that if you drift sideways under a log protruding from the bank you're going under and in my case, find out just how much your beautiful daughter-in-law loves canoeing, particularly when we are carrying the lunch. My wife, in a following canoe, thought it was very funny. My daughter-in-law was not blessed with that sense of humor at the time, and considered finding a more functional family.
I learned that there is only one way to hold a cat fish…gingerly, and a six-inch blue fish, waiting to be taken off your hook, can tear your finger up. If you are allowed to drive your car onto the beach for some surf fishing, it's good to remember that the tide always comes in and sand and water up to the oil pan makes the car hard to drive and wrecker service is expensive. I learned that if you fish on a windy day it is much easier to hit a tree or your fellow fisherman in the head than it is to hit a 30-foot wide stream with your cast, and that if you choose to wade in a fast flowing stream like New River, that has an abundance of slick rocks and discarded tires, leave your wallet on the bank cause you're gonna get your waders full of water and your “booty” wet! Tight lines!