We've been talking about fish for the last two weeks-and I finally got to eat some over the weekend. When it comes to having a fish fry-no one can do it like Papaw Tony. The menu he served: fried pike, hush puppies, mountain beans, fresh corn and tomatoes, slaw, homemade tarter sauce, and cantaloupe.
Papaw Tony makes the best hush puppies you ever tasted-well at least the best I ever tasted. I got him to share his recipe with us.
First mix together one cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper in a bowl.
Chop 3 medium onions-set aside.
Add 1/4 cup milk to the dry ingredients and stir well.
Next stir in the onions. The batter will be thick-but Papaw said not to worry-enough liquid will come out of the onions and sugar to make the hush puppies moist.
Papaw uses 2 spoons to drop the hush puppies into hot oil-and fries them till golden brown.
Mountain beans is one of my favorite things to eat when we visit Papaw. The recipe couldn't be easier. Cook 3/4 of a medium onion chopped fine in a little oil till it starts to turn brown-then add a can of pork n beans and stir. The Deer Hunter said when he was little, Papaw and him camped a lot in the middle prong area of Haywood County. Papaw cooked the beans with onions while they camped-cause it was an easy thing to fix. And since they were indeed in the mountains-he started calling them mountain beans.
Papaw even makes his own tarter sauce.
Mix together- 16oz of sour cream, sweet pickle relish to taste, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. Chill till ready to serve. (Papaw said I should warn you-that makes a lot of tarter sauce-but you could reduce the amounts if you needed less)
Papaw fries his fish like many folks do-he dips the fillets in an egg wash-then in flour-then in bread crumbs and fries till golden brown-but not over cooked.
His advice on the fish: find somebody who has them and then steal them. That's actually how Papaw got our fish for supper-but it was all in good fun as he only stole them from his friend's freezer with the help of the friend's son.
Tipper and Paul
I appreciate all of you who hung around for not one-but 2 weeks of the fish. I enjoyed every photo and every guest post submitted for the week. As the series draws to a close I realized I never told you any of my fishing stories-mostly because I don't have many to tell.
When I was young my older brother, Steve, was the fisherman of the house. It seems like he was always going off somewhere with a pole-a can of worms-and a warning from Granny to "Please be careful."
I'm the only girl Pap and Granny had. I'm sandwiched between the 2 best brothers in the entire world. Pap took the boys fishing fairly often, and my usual part in the day of fishing was this:
I'd beg and plead to go along too. I'd promise to be patient and not want to come home because I got bored or tired of fighting the bugs and briars. Sometimes-most times-Pap would give in to my pleading even though he knew well and good my promises were false and as soon as I tired of playing around the river I'd be asking if it was time to go home every 4 minutes. I still have good memories of those times fishing with Pap and the boys though.
Pap loves to tell about the time Paul caught a big carp and I got so excited I picked Paul up pole and all and started running up the bank to the woods to make sure he got the fish pulled in.
Most of the time Pap fished either just below or just above where Brasstown Creek flows into the Hiwassee River. If we were on the river side-Pap made sure to listen close in case they let the water off to generate power.
One trip that especially stands out in my mind was farther down the river than Pap usually fished-closer to Murphy than to Brasstown. Now that I look back through the years-I realize we were near the place Pap was born when his parents sharecropped on the Harshaw Farm. Typical-after we'd been there a while I started whining to go home. A little farther down the river Pap found a large sandbar to perch on. There was a pool of water between the bar and the bank. Since the secluded area was away from the moving waters and wasn't very deep either-it made the perfect place for me to play. Pap let me get in clothes and all. I was fascinated by the shiny sand and the millions of round smooth rocks-and when it came time to go home that day-I didn't even want to go.
After those days, I didn't go on a fishing trip again until I met The Deer Hunter-and even then I think I only tagged along on one trout fishing expedition up the Middle Prong area of the Pigeon River.
By far my largest experience with fish lies not on the catching side-but on the cleaning side. When I met The Deer Hunter I was working at Lake Logan-a meeting facility then owned by Champion International. As a boathouse attendant one of my duties was to clean any fish caught by the guests-and they caught plenty. Those days were some of the best of my life-but I was too young and silly to realize it.
The Deer Hunter fished quite a bit when we were first married but as the girls grew older he dropped the pursuit of fish for the pursuit of whatever the girls were doing. In fact-the only time we've ever taken the girls fishing (that they can remember) was last summer.
Even though I don't have much experience with fishing-I'll always look back fondly on the days Pap let me come too. I'll always remember how safe I felt riding on his back as he stomped down the briars and weeds to make me a place to play beside the river.
Today's entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by Kenneth Roper
Curtis Mease-The Deer Hunter's Grandfather
Fly Fishin' at Horsepasture River written by Kenneth Roper
School had been out for two weeks, I had just turned 14 and we had a Kennedy in the White House. Life was good, and the morning Sun was peepin' in and out as we rode through the shadows to the Land of the Jellies. We were nearing Cashiers, heading deeper into the mountains of Transylvania County.
Suddenly the road turned into gravel, dust was so thick you could hardly see our lead Jeep in front of us. It only took a few of those "meet yourself a coming" curves and I was hanging out the truck window, gaging like a dog. (And today, if I'm not driving, I still get carsick.)
Finally we pulled off the road a piece and stopped. I noticed the Jeep, and Ralph and Ted walking around just like they owned the place. We had arrived at Horsepasture. I poured out of the truck, grabbed a heavy quilt, and threw it in the grass and briars. By the time I woke up they already had a big tent set up and the chores were mostly done. Ted saw that I was a bit sad for not helping so I got to clean most all the fish for supper. Now since Ted was a Deacon in our Church, and daddy's best friend, my brother and I had to watch our colorful language when he was around. But he taught us the art of tying flies.
Those he made he called "skullbusters." They looked like a Grey Hackel with a Yellow Body, but his were much better than the storebought kind. And he taught us how to use our ole three piece bamboo rods, how to roll the flies across the water as if they were Mayflies about to be supper for a big ole Brown. (I think those Hollywood Dudes in the movie "A River Runs Thru It" could have learned something from our technique!)
My brother and I had caught lizzards and saved enough money to order our own Fly-tying Kit. Harold was much better at making flyhooks than me, but I'll bet our daddy wondered what was happening to his prize Dominecker Pullets, with those fine feathers a missin' around their necks and glory holes, but that made excellent hackel. Just a few years ago, my brother went on to a Better Place, I still have our Fly-tying Kit.
Ole Ralph, had been to Horsepasture and even on over to White Water many times before, and he shared with us what to expect. So about an hour and a half before dark we scattered up and down the river. That evening I went upstream and was really charged, getting to fish a new stream, fishin' in places that most would pass on by. Horsepasture is a darker water and much slower than our beautiful Nantahala, but the six of us caught 46 trout that evening. I'm sure we threw back many "stockers" and were probably illegal on the limit, but guess who got to clean the fish?
The next morning just as the sun was beginning to touch the water, I was making my way downstream. I just had to see "Windy Falls" and "Rainbow Falls" ole Ralph had talked about. Someone long ago had blazed a trail along the river, kinda like our Liquor trails back home. I had walked the trail for some time and noticed we were getting farther and farther from the river. All of a sudden it opened up, the wind was a blowin' and my brother and I was wet, just like being in a misty rain. It scared both of us at first, then we remembered Ralph telling us how the water just followed the falls a long way, before spraying into a large pond. We made our way to the river and caught a bunch of Brown trout that day, never making it on to see Rainbow Falls, but what a thrill it was for a couple of country boys.
Hope you enjoyed Kenneth's post as much as I did!
Since we started The Week Of The Fish, a few of you have mentioned catching fish and keeping them alive for later use. Jim Casada described the way Al Dorsey kept catfish before selling them:
"He would take them home with him and he had a special wire cage in Toot Hollow Branch, right next to his home, where he placed them. He would feed the fish two or three weeks, much like folks used to feed ‘possums to clean them out. Al then sold the catfish."
And Bill Burnett left a comment about his family keeping fish in a waterbox in their cellar:
"Since the Little Tennessee River ran through our farm I was raised catching and releasing to grease many fish. The most abundant of these were Catfish. We kept trotlines in all summer and had a waterbox in our cellar where we almost always had fresh fish during warm weather."
I asked Bill to describe the waterbox in more detail:
"My Dad and I dug out and poured a concrete cellar behind our house, we discovered a spring coming out of the bank as we were digging so when we started pouring the cellar we boxed in the spring and routed it through the upper wall of the cellar and into a concrete box we formed and poured in the floor down the right side of the cellar. This concrete box was about twenty inches wide by eighteen inches deep and twelve feet long, it had a sixteen inch high by two inch pipe plumbed into bottom of the lower end which carried the water out and emptied into a branch. This kept fresh water flowing through the box like the raceways you see at trout hatcheries. This arrangement provided enough oxygen to keep several catfish alive for extended periods but was insufficiently oxygenated to keep trout since the drop from the spring was only about a foot above the full level of the box. This cellar is still there even though our home burned in the early seventies and Duke Power, whom we rented from, sold the property and it is now part of the Needmore Tract managed by NC Wildlife. If you cross the Swinging Bridge across the Little Tennessee River at Needmore this cellar is about one hundred and fifty yards from the east end of the bridge on the right above the Lower Needmore Road which connects with NC 28 (Franklin Highway)."
Pap tells me when he was a boy it was common practice for folks to catch fish and keep them alive in a nearby body of water or even in the rain barrel until they were needed for food.
I would have been forever mesmerized if a fish was swimming around in a barrel of water when I was a kid. Granny Gazzie had an old wringer washer machine behind her house that would fill with water every time it came a hard rain. I loved to sneak back there and play in that rain water-I can't imagine how excited I would have been if I'd seen a fish swimming around in it!
I wonder if catching fish and keeping them alive for future eating is still common-do you know?
p.s. One short fishing tale I have to share came by way of Johnie Arant:
The One That Got Away!
When I was a 12 year old boy I was fishing in a ditch that ran between our field and the farm next to ours. Something got a hold of my hook, I don't know what it was. Before I could pull it out it bit my line and broke it. That was when I lived on a farm near Paragould, Arkansas. I am now retired and live in a little town called Biggers, Arkansas.
Johnie T. Arant
Today's entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by David Templeton.
Fishing with Our Daddy written by David Templeton
I don’t think I ever thought about it from what would have been Dad’s memory. We never had fished before. I was… oh …., about ten, maybe. My little brother was about seven and Shirley would have been six years old. I think Dorothy was with us … she would have been twelve. Patty, older yet, stayed home.
Dad worked a lot. He had no trained vocation and with no particular job skills he had to provide for a family of seven kids and him and Mom and he had to take whatever work he could find. Where there’s work men go and he had started out in the coal mines of West Virginia as the looming war with Japan and Germany had driven the mines into massive hiring and he worked the mines and took other odd jobs and overtime and he and Mom began growing a family there in McDowell County and he made enough money to provide. He was sick and didn’t go to work the day Bartley No. 2 at Pond Creek blew up and killed 87 men and he left the mines and moved us to East Tennessee where the war had made many more good jobs in defense plants up and down the Holston River.
After the war, there were Levitt towns (as they were often called) in Kingsport, too and they wanted to buy a home of their own and to have as much comfort as possible and feed and clothe their growing brood. So Dad took other work and I remember by 1948, as Kingsport was returning to a post-war economy, him working two other part-time jobs and the defense plant kept on working so we kids didn’t see much of Dad as he often was home only long enough to get six or seven hours sleep and go back to work. And we loved our Daddy and some late summer evenings Mom would let us go up the street and wait under a street light to see Daddy coming home, walking because he had no car, and we would jump up and down when he came into view and when he got to us we would cling to his hands or his britchey legs and hang onto him all the way home. It’s about all we saw of him was him coming home in those jar fly evenings to rest a while and sleep some and go back out.
So there seldom was a leisure time for Dad. There seldom was a time when Dad could play with us or take us places on Sunday drives and most certainly there were no family vacations. But, sometimes … sometimes Dad did have a car; usually not for long but when he had a car he and Mom would take us for a drive and Mom would make some sandwiches and we would stop at a shaded roadside table and have a picnic and play in the streams of mountain waters running alongside the road and try to catch the little fishes and the crawdads darting away from our jabbing hands. But we didn’t get to fish because Dad didn’t have any fishing poles and stuff and for sure not enough for each of us.
But, onetime … and it must have been a pleasureful time because it is among my best feeling memories … one time Dad went to the store and bought some of those little fishing kits you could buy back then; they had string, and a float or cork bobber and a hook and you would cut a pole and tie the string on the end of it and set the cork and you’d have a fishing pole. And you could buy a few extra hooks and split shots and corks because the first thing you did was get the line tangled in a low hanging limb or get your hook snagged on the bottom of the creek, on a rock ledge and Dad would have to jerk it loose and usually you’d lose the hook and the cork and he’d have to rig up another fishing line of the pole and we’d try again, so it always took extra hooks and split shots and corks and the rigging alone kept Dad busy with set-ups. And, he would have dug a can of fishing worms, a plenty for the time.
This one time he also bought some of those little cans of potted meat and some little cans of Vienna sausages and a loaf of bread and we could enjoy some real tasty picnic food while we fished but it usually meant that Dad would have to help us make us a sandwich or help us open the can of potted meat and spread it on our bread with his… what he called his “fishing knife” and it was like one of those knives we called a Boy Scout knife and it had… oh, maybe a can opener blade and a big blade and a little blade and a spoon and a fork-like part, too. Kind of like those Swiss Army knives you see nowadays.
I’m sure as Dad worked at his bread-wrapping machine at the Dixie Maid bakery there in Kingsport, he would think about his family and us and regret how precious little time he had with us and he would fancy what he might do to spend some good times with us and he determined to take us fishing as soon as he had a day off and in his mind at his machine he could picture the fishing trip, a sunny day, four or five of us kids, fishing poles all set on the bank and propped up on forked sticks and each kid sitting quietly by their pole waiting patiently for a bite and kids feasting on lunchmeat sandwiches and him fishing, too; and a string of good-sized punkin-seed sunfish that Mom would admire when we got home and make us a big supper of fried sunfish and fried cornbread. Quiet… peaceful… bucolic… In his day dream.
In reality, there on that creek bank, it went different once the fishing poles were made up and a worm slid onto the hook and the bobber set and the line out in the water and the pole resting on the fork. It went different very quickly, as each of us would mistake any movement of the bobber as a bite and jerk the pole and jerk the line all the way out and into the leafy tree limb and Dad would have to get the fishing line freed from the tree limb and lose the worm and the hook and sinker and he would have to rig it up again with another hook and split shot and bobber and a fresh worm and help get the line back out in the water and by then two more of us would have tangled lines or an worm-empty hooks and from then on all Dad would get done would be that of servicing everyone’s fishing set-up or getting a line loose or taking a Horney head off the hook and explaining to us that it was not a good fish to keep, and mosquito bites, and dropped vy-eenies, and Johnny has to pee, and all this before a half hour had passed and Dad’s patience became exasperation and rather than order us to GET IN THE CAR!! He would finally gently say, “Kids, this isn’t a very good fishing hole. Let’s get everything in the car and drive on up the road a piece and see if we can find a better place to fish”. And, we be happy to get in the car because “fishing must not be all it’s cracked up to be” and Dad would drive around a while and finally say, “Kids, let’s just go on back home for now and we’ll stop at the Piggly-Wiggly and get some salt Cod and we’ll ask Mommie to make us some fish and cornbread and some fried potatoes and we’ll try fishing some other time."
And, we were all happy and we had had a good day with our Daddy and he was with us and we loved him all the more. And it became happy memory, one that I recollect and think about when my grandkids want me to take them fishing. I sure miss my father and his tender heart and the patience that God gave him before he took up family fishing.
I hope you enjoyed David's post as much as I did! It reminded me of some of the not so perfect fishing trips I've been on before-trips where I was the cause of the angst. And I love David's use of the words 'britchey legs'. Britches (for pants) is one of those Appalachian words I'm so familiar with-I don't even think about it.
Today's entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by Bob Weekley in 1992.
At 80, She Still Loves To Fish - Everyday written by Bob Weekley
This is a story not about a fish, but about the person who caught it. The fish? Well, it was a good one, a largemouth bass that weighed 8 pounds and was 22 inches long. Not bad at all. Citation size.
It was caught Sept. 13 at Crystal Lake near West Union in Doddridge County, where my mother and father built a home many years ago. The fisherman? It was my mom, Lena "Billie" Weekley, who is 80 years young and who fished every day possible. Mom is not into women's lib, so we can call her a fisherman, not a fisherwoman or a fisher person.
As everybody knows, mothers are the greatest, and to have a mother who fishes at age 80, well, it's especially nice. Mom and a friend, Mary Star of Wolf Summit, Harrison County, fish together a lot, and they fish everywhere. I can hardly mention a place within reasonable driving distance they haven't fished.
I take mom on shopping trips to Parkersburg, and drive to Marietta, New Martinsville and other places along the Ohio River, and as we pass a certain spot, she will say, "Mary and I fished that river or that lake." The list amazes me.
Sometimes a particular site will appear to be difficult as to river access, but apparently that is no problem for them. "Oh, we just slide down over the bank," mom will say. I could not believe two ladies could have fished that many places, but they seemingly aren't through yet. Occasionally on our drives, mom will say. "I am going to tell Mary about (this lake or that stream), and we'll try it."
Mom fishes Crystal Lake more than anywhere else because she lives there. She and dad were among the first to build there, starting with a two-room cabin and adding on over the years.
But, as I say, her fishing isn't limited to Crystal Lake. She has also fished Conaway Run Lake, Middle Island Creek, Pennsboro Reservoir, Ohio River, Muskingum River and appropriately for mom, Fishing Creek. There are probably other places I'm not aware of. Mom is a busy fisherman.
My dad, who passed away several years ago, was a hunter and a fisherman, and of course mom was and is a fisherman, and they fished together most of their adult lives. They say, "Take a kid fishing," and I believe in that, but taking an older person fishing is nice too, especially if it's your mom. But in my case, I don't have to take mom fishing. She goes on her own.
The big largemouth she caught at Crystal Lake wasn't the first nice fish she has landed there this year. Earlier she caught a 23-inch largemouth, which although longer, wasn't quite as heavy as the aforementioned fish.
Mom has her share of fisherman's luck. She caught the 23-inch bass on a bluegill that she had hooked just moments before. She put the rod down with that bluegill still on the line and, and went to the house to see about something she was cooking. When she returned, she reeled in what she thought was a small bluegill but which turned out to be a big bass.
Mom isn't just a live bait fisherman. She is hooked on Lary Ikes and jigs, too. In fact just about anything as long as it will catch fish.
I hope you enjoyed Bob's post about his mother as much as I did. I hope I'm as spry as she was when I reach 80.
p.s. Ron Banks is the winner of the book so graciously donated by Jim Casada.
Today's entry in The Week of the Fish was written by Ed Ammons.
Caught On The River Bank written by Ed Ammons
When I was a teenager all us boys liked to ride dirt bikes. I never had one of my own but never failed to seize the opportunity to ride somebody else’s if they had more than one or didn’t want to go. Cousin Craz had three but one day when only his Suzuki 250 was running he asked me to go riding with him. So I piled on behind him and off we went. We took back roads, logging roads and pig trails ‘til we came out on the Little Tennessee about half way between the Narrows and the mouth of Sawmill Creek. We turned upriver on a well worn trail used by fisherman there to catch white bass coming up out of Fontana to spawn. The trail followed the river and was straight and sandy smooth so Craz got it up to a pretty good clip. It was a warm sunny day and we were enjoying the wind in our faces.
Suddenly I was sitting on my butt on the ground. Craz was on up the trail a ways on his butt too and the bike was still going. After I recovered my wits a bit I got up and went to help my cousin but he was already up and brushing off his clothes. When he got to his right leg it had a fishhook in it. And the fishhook had a fishing line tied to it. And something was pulling on the other end.
We looked back down the line toward the river bank and here comes an inebriated angler trying to concentrate on reeling in his fish. He looked up and saw us and started cussing and shaking his fist in our direction but as he got closer and saw the size of his catch his jaw dropped and he just stood there with his mouth open.
As soon as our plastered piscatorial pal released the pressure on the line, guess what Craz did. He, being the laid back easy going soul he was, reached down and unhooked his pants leg then turn back to see about his bike. It was a little way on up the trail on its side still running. He picked it up, checked it out a little, said “you ready?” and off we went leaving our new found friend standing there in a state of shock.
Later that evening when we went back over the day's highlights, we figured Bozo was trying to cast out into the river and, being disoriented as he was, had cast back over his head and we just so happened to arrive at the same instant that hook did. We must have pulled out all his line and at the end it jerked Craz back into me and pushed me off first then pulled him off, leaving the bike to find its way alone.
As I said before, cousin Crazy Joe was the most unexcitable person I have met before or since. We could have tied the sot up in his own fishing line and left him laying there but we chose to let him off the hook, so to speak.
Now that is a fishing tale-I hope you liked Ed's story as much as I did!
Photo provided by Bob Weekley
A few days ago when I posted the fish vocabulary words, I came across an interesting entry in the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English:
hog fish, hog molly, hog sucker noun A scavenging fish, the logperch (Percina caprodes), most often known as hog sucker in the mountains. Same as white sucker.
1849 Lanham Allegheny Mts 65 I took the liberty of doubting the gentleman's word, and subsequently found out that the people of this section of country call the legitimate pickerel the "salmon," the black bass the "black trout," the mullet the "redhorse," and a deformed sucker a "hog-fish." 1939 Hall Coll. Waldens Creek TN The creek was full of fish-bass, white suckers, sliversides, red horses, hog mollies in the creek. (R. L. Fox) 1940 Berrey Sthn Mt Dialect 52 I disgust hawg-mollies and mounting oysters. 1968 DARE = freshwater fish not good to eat (Brasstown NC). 1976 Garber Mountain-ese 43 Sol is down at the crick tryin' to grab-hook hog suckers. 1995-97 Montgomery Coll. hog fish (Ledford); = a common brown sucker encountered in the larger creeks or in the rivers, often when fishing for trout. It was considered a 'trash' fish not worth keeping (Ellis); hog molly small catfish with a large head (Shields); hog sucker (Adams, Jones, Ledford, Shields); = a common scavenger fish in mountain streams (Cardewell); fish with a flat head, big eyes and a snoutlike mouth (Hooper). [DARE esp South, South Midland]
The first quote from 1849 is what jumped out at me. It made me think of the ways Appalachians (and others) are often misunderstood by people who aren't familiar with our culture but think they know it better than we do. And of course the Brasstown reference pleased me. I can confirm that 40 years later-hog suckers still aren't a fish that's eaten in Brasstown. Hog sucker is what the ugly fish is called here.
Today's entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by Keith Jones.
Photo by Gary Powell
Fishin’ Early with Aunt Avery written by Keith Jones
My grandmother died long before I was born, but her two sisters strove mightily to fill that place in our lives. They lived on “the Old Collins Place” where their Dad had farmed, kept store, and generally been the most progressive innovator in Choestoe Valley (Union County, GA.) He gave each of his children some land when they married, then left the homeplace to the last three single children, with instructions for them to write wills leaving the farm to the last survivor. Uncle Esley had a small bedroom just off the huge kitchen, and Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel had bedrooms toward the back of the house. Uncle Esley died when I was a small boy, leaving just the two sisters to carry on.
Aunt Ethel was short, practical, and worked outside the home in the school cafeteria. Aunt Avery was beanpole tall and thin, tough, wiry, and worked as hard as any man ever thought about doing. She taught me to ‘cut tops and pull fodder,’ to pull peanuts up and dry them, to feed the chickens and gather eggs, and many other everyday farm skills. But Aunt Avery wasn’t all about work—she really knew how to have fun, too, and her favorite pastime was fishing.
Down behind the house was a shed absolutely filled up with cane poles. I don’t remember her ever telling me the night before that we would be going fishing. I’d just wake up from a snug sleep under quilts and hand-woven coverlets to her shaking my shoulder and saying, “Get up now, jump in your clothes, we’re going fishin’!” Outside, the gray light before dawn might reveal fog all along the creek, even far up the mountains, but she knew the rising sun would soon burn all that away. We’d stop by the shed and choose our poles for the day. She’d have me carrying an old bucket while she carried a shovel. On the way down to the creek, we’d stop near the barn and dig worms out of the black muck by the side of the building.
We’d walk across the pasture, past the fallen ruins of great-granddad’s sawmill, to Aunt Avery’s favorite bend in the creek. Sometimes we’d fish near the footlog that spanned the creek, linking with the trail that led over the mountain to my granddad Dyer’s home. But more often we were a few yards downstream from there, where the creek made a sharp turn that produced a whirlpool. That vortex was Aunt Avery’s secret honey hole for fish, and we seldom had to spend more than thirty or forty minutes before we had a stringer full of fat little sunfish. I suspect that Aunt Avery occasionally caught a native trout, since my most memorable outing was when a really large brownie took my hook, made an astonishing, twisting leap far into the air in front of my startled face and threw my hook and bait far up onto the bank.
Now the stream is stocked with rainbows. I’m sure anglers with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment would love to range up that stream. But they could never match the excitement I had as a little boy hollering, “Aunt Avery! Aunt Avery! I got one!” And certainly no breakfast matched what we would have when we returned from these dawn expeditions—fried fish, grits AND country fried potatoes, homegrown sausage, streak-o-lean and yard eggs (Aunt Ethel had some hens famous for giving double-yolk eggs.) Hot biscuits, cornbread, all kinds of jellies and jams, and of course sorghum syrup.
I never really developed into a fisherman as a grownup. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anything could really match those days when I followed that bonneted awkward-graceful figure in her long plain cotton dress, as we walked through the dewy pasture to fish.
I hope you enjoyed Keith's memories of fishing with Aunt Avery as much as I did! It makes me wish I could go visit her and Aunt Ethel myself.
Today's entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by Ed Myers.
Photo provided by Mary Shipman of Oldentimes Blog
THE FISH written by Ed Myers - Bryson City, NC
Now, with all due respect to our ladies (and my Mother was one who exemplified the “lady” in “mountain lady”…not so much in physical size, nor coarseness of elevated attitudes, as much as spirit bled with clay), fishing is a boys sport, even when we become men, grandmen and probably hereafter.
I’ll have to take that back, as my early life with my various grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, cousins, second cousins and extended genealogies, beginning with my Mother, proved that fishing is gender neutral with regard to catching, cleaning and eating.
Even so, no doubt all men, all creeds and colors, all states and countries, have this story to tell.
My first fish. My first southern mountain dammed up troublesome river fish. What a whopper it was…and is.
Think Huck. Think Finn. Bare feet calluses. Mud to roll your toes in. Earthly heaven.
Anyway, if you’ve done it you know; if not, as Louie “High Note” Armstrong said of jazz when someone asked him what it was (and I’ll paraphrase, as my memory seems to be becoming more energetic with the passing years, “If you have to ask…you’ll never know.”).
Our haunt as children was a little railroad rock pile that covered the gap from this creek or that into Loudon (or, Fort Loudon) lake, around Knoxville, TN. It sat as many interesting things do at the end of a dirt road that had long since said so long to the gravel truck.
Just a pile of rocks, a giant culvert of great granite, many-toothed stones that let a long dead railroad line send Clorox to Cincinnati, or other things, for long, long times.
Time is short; so I will be.
Catching fish is “a” of the “A” rites of passage for a southern mountain male, for, with our abundance of water in its innumerable forms and destinations, we who live in the watershed that moistens almost all the south tend to view those who live downstream, as, well, downstream types of people. Many stories told about the topic, but never too many.
My first was supposed to be a pan fish, known variously as crappie (black and white), specks and…delicious.
We went to our rock pile every spring throughout my childhood, alerted to the possibility of breaking the odds and catching something under the redbud’s bloom, a near to getting it, sure fire that crappie are spawning, that they will flow in schools near the bank so you can bob for them and be rewarded one weekend or the next with a fry you will remember for as ever as ever can be.
I won’t tell you about my Uncle Jake who robbed me of my spot just as they were biting, nor of the 40lb flathead my half-blind granny hooked in a future millionaire’s yard.
I will tell you that my first fish hit while I was wondering on the rocks, took my minnow to the bottom, excited a pure plague of action, and ended with a (guessing) four-ounce red-eyed rock bass on my line…my first fish.
I will admit that my Mom was a little embarrassed to take it home to fry, but I wanted it and she, knowing the rules in her bones, fried it up fine and crispy.
As you could guess, it was the best fish I ever ate…and it was the last time I’ve seen the family of that first time, scarlet-eyed, flap of fury ever since.
I hope you enjoyed the memory of Ed's first fish as much as I did!