Every family has them, the family fish tales. Ours is no exception. Whether good, bad, or crazy, these stories are part of the fabric of our relationships.
In a veterinarian’s family quite often pleasure and business are mixed. That means that an afternoon of fishing might occur at a farm pond after the calf delivery or the relief for a bloated hog had been successful. Something like that was the setting one Saturday afternoon when William was about ten and Julie nine. It was a planned occasion because we had folding chairs with us, not usual equipment for a veterinary truck. The chairs became part of the adventure. Julie wanted to sit in a chair and fish. The bank was steep. She couldn’t get her cork far enough into the water to suit her without moving the chair. Her dad warned her repeatedly that the chair would fold if she kept moving it. She continued to edge it closer and closer until–Julie and the chair splashed into the pond. True to her spunky nature, Julie surfaced spluttering and laughing. It was a chilly afternoon and we weren’t ready to leave so our resourceful vet pulled a pair of coveralls from behind his truck seat and we set Julie into them. Even with the legs rolled up as far as they would go, she could hardly walk. The crotch was dragging the ground. I don’t remember whether we caught any fish that day!
One day when she was visiting us, my sister Jackie went fishing with the kids and me. We thought she should experience some South Georgia pond fishing. William and I baited everyone’s hook and I sighed happily. It was always so good to be on a nice grassy bank with the sound of crows cawing high in the pines and a cork floating ready to disappear any minute. Jackie was happy to be outdoors but not so pleased to be holding a fishing pole. She held it dutifully, somewhat as if she were prepared to attack a monster. After five minutes she said carefully, “I believe I’ll just lie down in this nice grass and take a nap.” I insisted she had to fish. “Fish will start biting just any minute,” I encouraged her. She held on as if the pole were holding her up. In a moment I heard a soft cry. Jackie had caught a fish. It took William and me both to pull it in and flop it in front of poor Jackie who looked ready to faint. It was a big sleek yellow belly. While Jackie, now thoroughly exhausted, lay down for her much desired nap, William put the fish in a bucket. Turns out, that was our only keeper that day. And it was the last fish, to my knowledge, that Jackie has ever caught.
William (later to be called Will) as a teenager, used to go river fishing with Mitch Kemp. He would tell wild stories about the dangers of the Ochlocknee River–alligators, snakes, and such. His main catch was gar which he never brought home. Now it gives me pleasure to hear him tell of occasional fishing escapades with his boys on Alabama rivers.
Our favorite family fishing memory is not a fish tale but a crab tale. Charles asked an employee of his, David Lee, to go with us one day to Panacea and show us how to crab on the salt flats. We took a roll of nylon cord, a five gallon bucket and a sturdy fish net. In Panacea we purchased the grossest, most unsightly, smelliest fish heads the fish market had. David helped us find the “perfect” crabbing spot, a salty pond surrounded by sea grass but with trails to the water. Following instructions of our dark skinned friend we pulled in and netted forty blue crabs that day. There were high squeals of glee, some of dismay, lots of laughter and mud. At home, even after sharing with David, we had all the crabs we could eat. We boiled them and sat around our kitchen table cracking claws, digging out the sweet morsels, and jabbering about the fun we’d had.
Charles Douglas acquired a love of fishing at a very young age. He loved to fish before he could either put bait on or take fish off. I remember well because I was the one who threaded those yucky worms on and then extricated the fish, one slickery one after another. I was glad when he became an “independent” fisherman. Even then, though, help was needed sometimes. I think he was about ten when he accompanied my sister and me to our niece Joan’s apartment in Jacksonville. Joan was awaiting a liver transplant at Mayo Clinic and we were her designated companions for that night. Her apartment was right beside a nice picturesque canal. Charles D went out to investigate, and we were having a quiet chat when he came in with a wispy willow branch asking for thread and a safety pin. Joan, always an encourager to the young, found these items and we laughed as he went back out. A sign plainly warned, “No Fishing” but who would worry about a little boy and that flimsy stick? Well, he caught a fish all right, a seven or eight inch one. And he couldn’t get it loose from that pin. There we were by moonlight beside the “No Fishing” sign struggling to get that poor fish loose and back into the canal. I expected to be caught in a big search light’s beam any time.
Charles D made a much bigger catch a few years later at a Grady County pond. He caught a few small ones that afternoon but what he wanted was a big wide-mouthed bass. He’d reported to Grandaddy there was a bass cruising near the shore. Grandaddy was sitting in his truck studying his Sunday school lesson when he heard a great shout from across the pond. Charles D says that fish kept nibbling and nibbling on his bait and then suddenly the line went to whining as the fish realized he’d been snagged. He tried to pull Charles D but he’d met his match. Charles D tugged and pulled and wrestled until he finally piled him up on the shore. Grandaddy agreed that was one for the taxidermist so he still presides in Charles D’s room, along with a long snake skin.
Will enjoys beach activities with his kids–throwing Frisbee, building sandcastles, swimming–but if he gets a chance he really likes to fish too. On one occasion he decided to fish far out in the waves away from all swimmers but the trip back and forth for bait became annoying. So he packed his pockets full of bait and prepared to have a care-free time. He’d no sooner begun than he noticed ominous fins which quickly surrounded him. He managed to get back to shore without being attacked and decided fish bait in the pockets was not a good idea.
My brother Charlie likes to tell about the time our quiet, very proper little mother visited him and his bride in Alaska. They took her camping on the Seward Peninsula. Mamma went for a walk on the seashore. By and by Charlie and Elaine saw her approaching carrying something. With a perfectly straight face she held out a very dead fish and said, “I found supper for us.”
I’m sure you have much bigger, funnier, more adventurous fish tales. Claim them, enjoy them, spin them eloquently around a campfire or your kitchen table. Even if you tell them truthfully and accurately, they will still be entertaining.