“Did you ever go fishing when you were a child. What did you enjoy about fishing?” was my Story Worth question #11 of 50 about my past.
The following story is my response to the question. As you read my story, think back to when you were five-years old and try to remember something you enjoyed doing with one or both of your parents. Hope you enjoy the story and your journey back in time.
FISHING WITH DAD
Some of my best moments in life involve going fishing with Dad when I was a young boy. The first time I recall going fishing with him was after my family moved into the house on Berry Street—I was five-years old at the time. My dad and I would go fishing several Saturdays a month during the summer. Mama went with us a few times, but she didn’t continue after my sister, JoAnn, was born.
We didn’t have a boat, so we typically fished from the bank at some of the local farm ponds. Dad knew the farmers because he worked on their tractors during the week and they allowed him to take me fishing in their private ponds.
Those wonderful Saturdays would start by loading the car with some cane poles. Daddy put them through the window on my side of the car and let them stick out toward the rear of the car. I had to climb over the poles to get into my seat. We didn’t have rods and reels, just those bamboo cane poles for fishing with worms.
Then we went to a neighborhood located near the Edisto River. We would pull up in front of a house that had a sign on the front porch advertising ‘Baitz For Sale’ and Dad would holler, “Got any bait today?”
The elderly woman sitting on the porch would usually say, “Yeah! We gots lots of baitz.”
We’d walk up the porch steps and Dad would say, “Give me two cans of Georgia Wigglers.” I don’t really know why people in South Carolina called them Georgia Wigglers, but I do know that when you uncovered them, they wiggled all over the place trying to get away. I guess they didn’t like South Carolina and wanted to get back to Georgia as fast as they could—seemed reasonable when I was a five-year old.
The woman would dig in the dirt contained in a huge bucket and expose millions of worms. She grabbed several handfuls of wigglers and put them into the cans. Then she covered them with some dirt. Dad would pay her, thank her, and we’d be on our way. The excitement from knowing our next stop would be at one of our ole-fishing holes would make my body tingle.
We rode for what felt like hours to get far out into the country, and I would get more excited with each passing minute. Then we’d turn onto a narrow-dirt road and rode deep into the woods. All of a sudden, there would appear a beautiful pond—peaceful, as if beckoning tired souls to relax and enjoy her bounty. You could hear sounds of birds singing and frogs croaking, which fueled my excitement even more.
After unloading our cane poles, we looked for a clear spot along the bank of the pond. Dad would unwind the line from the poles, put a worm on the hook, and toss the tasty-slimy morsel into the water. I liked watching the cork and bait hit the water because they made rippled-circles that expanded outward and would then slowly disappear. When the circles stopped moving outward, I asked Dad where the ripples went. He said something about surface tension of water and friction as he handed me a fishing pole. Then he’d tell me to watch my cork and jerk the pole if the cork went under the surface.
I’d sit patiently watching the bright-yellow cork for a long time waiting for it to move across the water’s surface or go under completely. Sometimes it’d start moving in seconds, and other times, it took many minutes. I learned to be very patient and quiet while I waited. Being quiet for me was easy, but being patient was another story. Regardless of how long it took, I maintained a tight grip on the cane pole and was ready to set the hook if there was any movement of the cork.
You can see many things around the pond while you sit quietly waiting for the fish to bite. There were always turtles swimming about. Some would even try to steal our bait. Unfortunately, they usually swallowed the hook. They fought hard trying to get away, but couldn’t free themselves from the hook. It wasn’t much fun getting the hook out, but Dad managed to set them free after a few minutes.
Cranes would walk in the water along the bank’s edge in search of small fish. It was cool watching them stand perfectly still, and then all of a sudden, their head would pierce the water to catch a fish in its beak. Then they’d flip the fish up in the air and swallow it headfirst. It was fun watching the armless cranes maneuver the fish into the proper position without dropping them back into the water.
We often saw snakes resting on logs or swimming in the water on our fishing trips. I remember one time in particular when a snake was swimming in the water about twenty feet directly in front of us. Dad said it was a ‘cottonmouth’. I wondered why the snake had cotton in its mouth. Dad told me that’s just what folks called them because their mouths were white inside. He said it was a water moccasin and they’re poisonous.
I sat there very quietly with my eyes shifting back and forth between the ‘cottonmouth’ and my bright-yellow cork. The snake placed its head on a small log and lay motionless—except for the tongue moving in and out. It stayed there a long time just watching us as we watched it. I guess it got tired of looking at us because it started swimming across the pond toward the bank on the other side of the pond. I was glad to see it leave because it was giving me the heebie-jeebies. The snake was spooky.
With the snake now far away from us, I was able to refocus my attention on fishing. After a few minutes passed, my cork started moving and I snatched the pole. The fish started pulling away and I raised my fishing pole. Out of the water came a large gold-bellied bream. It must have weighed twenty pounds or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Dad would decide if it was big enough to keep. If it was, he placed a stringer through the fish’s mouth and tossed it back into the water to keep it alive. If it was too small, he threw it back behind us on the bank. He said the farmer wanted us to throw the small fish away because he wanted the other fish in the pond to grow bigger. It seemed somewhat cruel to me as I watched those fish taking their last breaths before going off to meet their maker. Dad told me it made the other fish in the pond healthier by getting rid of the runts.
We would fish for several hours each trip and each outing with Dad was a great time for me. When the day was done, we packed up the fishing poles and made the long ride back home. Dad would then clean the fish and Mama would fry them. We would have fish and hush puppies for supper, which made for some good eating. I always liked catching and eating those fish. The moments I spent with Dad on those fishing trips were very special to me—so special that I smile every time I think about the times we spent together sitting on the bank of those small farm ponds.
We were very busy on one of our outings to a pond. We had been to this pond before but had always fished from the same spot. The farmer told us to try fishing on the bank on the other side of the pond near the wooded area. We took him up on it and went to the opposite side of the pond. The bank was clear but there were trees and bushes just behind us. We set up and started fishing.
The first cork hit the water and immediately went beneath the surface and out of sight. I set the hook and out came a big bream. The rapid-fire fishing went on for a few minutes and then slowed down a bit. I had to pee, so I hoped the break in action would allow me enough time to take care of important business.
I put my pole down on the ground. Just as I started to walk away, my cork disappeared under the surface again. I ran back to grab the fishing pole and set the hook, but no fish. This happened again several more times. Every time I went to walk away, the cork would go under. I’d set the hook, and nothing.
By now, I had to pee so badly my eyes were floating. I finally just put the pole down and ran to the bushes—ah, relief at last! When I came back, my cork was gone. I set the hook and out came another huge bream. Dad was laughing so hard he almost ‘busted’ his gut. He said those fish knew I had to pee and were just keeping me busy so I’d pee in my pants. Sometimes, the simple things are the ones that leave lasting memories, and bring a smile to your face many years later when you pause to reflect on special moments in life.
I enjoyed the days I spent fishing with Dad because they were some of the best days in my life. We’d sit on the bank of a pond and talk about all kinds of things. Although it was great when the fish were biting, I enjoyed those trips even when we didn’t catch a single fish. It made me feel very special to be out in nature with my dad. We were both at our best when we were together like that.
We went fishing together many times through the following years of my life. Now that I’m an old man, I would love to have an opportunity to take Dad on one more fishing trip, even if the fish were not biting—just sitting on the bank of a calm pond talking to him would warm my heart. Watching him have a good time would be wonderful because he gave me so many good moments in life and taught me so much about how to be a man of good character. Dad died when I was thirty, and I’ve missed him every year since. He was my mentor for all things good when I was five, and sixty-five years later, he’s still my hero.
It also saddens me that my granddad never went fishing with us. I think it would have been a lot of fun sitting on the bank with my dad and granddad—fishing, talking, or just dreaming of things to come. Unfortunately, that opportunity never materialized for me.
I hope that my two daughters and five grandchildren will someday look back on a time in life and remember some good moments that they shared with me. For it is fond memories from our past that helps paint smiles on our faces—no matter one’s age.
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Tom Tatum – Author – 2020
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