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July 21, 2008

On the wall at Dolline’s Restaurant in Clifton is a picture made earlier this year of a 50-pound catfish.  The big fish was snagged at a bend in the Pacolet River between the textile mill communities of Clifton No. 1 and Clifton No. 2.  The young fellow who caught the fish was using a Zebco rod and reel and a crappie spinner.  Those who were with him marveled that he was able to land such a big fish on such a small rig.

Thoughts of a good fishing hole brought back memories of my own youth. I started fishing before monofilament line was invented.  The rig I first used was a black braided line tied to a cane pole outfitted with a single hook, a split shot, and a real cork.  I caught a lot of bream, my share of bass, and a few catfish using a cane pole. Once I caught a snapping turtle.

The lore of fishing abounds with improbable tales.  Every fisherman has a story.  To be sure, some of them are exaggerated.  Embellishment is a part of the craft of weaving a memorable fish tale.

Our daughter-in-law tells about her first fishing trip. She was only five years old. Her daddy and one of his buddies had planned to spend the afternoon on Lake Murray. Her dad decided to take his young daughter along.

The two men had everything they needed for a pleasant trip. The boat was equipped with a fish-finder. A cooler was well supplied. Rods and reels were in good working order. Fresh bait was plentiful. They had neglected one small detail. Neither man had a fishing license.

The beautiful spring afternoon made a perfect day for catching striped bass. The fish were biting. Before long there were five nice stripers in the live well.

One of the men noticed another boat, still some distance away, moving in their direction. There was little doubt. It was the Game Warden!

Sure enough, the officer pulled along side. He could hardly believe his eyes! Two grown men were sitting in the stern enjoying a cold beverage. In the bow sat a five-year-old girl wearing an oversized orange life vest. She was clutching a rod and reel in each hand. A third rig was plopped across her lap!

Though I have enjoyed deep sea trolling, angling on mountain streams, and fishing the deep waters of large lakes, there is nothing more delightful than fishing in a farm pond.  The sounds of crickets and frogs, mockingbirds and crows provide the background music for time well spent.  The biggest largemouth bass I ever caught was in a North Carolina pond.

I’ll never forget the time that I fished into the night, using a fly rod and a wooden orange popper.  Bream were spawning on the bed under a full moon. It took nearly two hours just to clean the bream in our bucket.

My grandfather, Pappy, taught me to fish.  At daylight in summer, nearly every day except Sunday, we went to a fishing hole near Walnut Grove.  We didn’t say much. We fished. I mostly watched him. 

To this day when I fish, I spit on my bait.

“For the fish, it changes the smell and flavor of the bait,” Pappy said.

That is true, especially if the fisherman smokes cigars as he did.  

Pappy taught me not to keep a fish unless it was to become supper. “If you’re not gonna’ eat it, throw it back. That way there’ll always be plenty of fish.”

He taught me to leave the woods and the water cleaner than when I got there. We picked up trash that others had left. 

There was one lesson more important than any other.

When I was ten years old, my grandfather presented me with my first rod and reel.  It was a steel rod.  The reel was loaded with black braided line.  Pappy gave me a few quick lessons on how to cast using a wooden Chub Creek minnow with treble hooks.  With great care, my grandfather demonstrated the technique.  I was sure I could do it.

With rod and reel in hand, I reached back to cast with all my might.  On my very first cast with my new rod and reel, I made the biggest catch of my life.  I hooked my grandfather right in the eyebrow.

As a young man, Pappy spent four years in the Navy. There he learned a new language.  When I set the hook, he used some of his Navy language.  He grabbed the line to create some slack and cut it with his pocketknife, leaving the Chub Creek minnow dangling from his eyebrow and a stream of blood running down his face.  He reached in his tackle box for a pair of needle-nose pliers.  He carefully rolled the hook completely through his eyebrow.  With the pliers, he clipped off the barb and removed the hook from his eyebrow.

Pappy bit the end off of his cigar.  He chewed it up, making a poultice for his wound.  Once the bleeding had stopped, he tied a new lure onto the end of my line and said, “Now let me teach you how to cast.” 

That day, I learned an important lesson from Pappy. It was more than a fishing lesson. It was a lesson for life; a lesson in grace.


                 -Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, July 2008



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