Nice catch: a good day at the fishing hole

I have heard consistently throughout this past year that I should write outdoors features. Now if you know anything about me, you would know that I have zero knowledge about hunting, fishing, etc., nor have I taken part in these activities. That is until this week. Union County, this is what you have been waiting for.

My only memory of fishing comes from when I was little and I had an orange Snoopy fishing pole. I never caught anything, and I definitely did not know what I was doing. Needless to say, I was so excited about this fishing trip that I visited a Bass Pro Shop while on vacation, carrying a sign saying “Hi, I don’t belong here.”

The day of the trip arrives, and I am expecting to have a pole baited and ready to go, but little did I know this would be a different kind of fishing.

Fishing for Dummies

Commercial fishing is way different from your everyday fishing where you have your pole and you sit around until you get something. It is planned and a lot of work goes into preparing the lines. I was told the night before that the lines would be baited and waiting for us the next morning. I had no idea what this meant at the time.

Five a.m. rolls around Wednesday, and I find myself meeting up with my companion for the trip. An avid fisherman who now makes a job out of his hobby, I was told stories from his childhood about fishing trips, along with details about what we were doing exactly.

Once we made it to Sardis Lake, we jumped in the boat and made our way to the first of five lines that were placed along the lake. Each line had hooks set about six inches apart, and are baited with shad, caught at local lock and dam.

“People don’t know this, but that’s the best kind of bait you can use, but only if it’s fresh,” he said.

I now understood the “dipping and baiting part” of the process, with dipping referring to the catching of the shad with a net. It is also a long process, as my fisherman was out from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. the day before, dipping, cleaning, cutting and baiting the five lines.

We make it to the first line, which is in a fairly shallow area. All that comes of this one are a couple gar fish. Both are thrown back, and those are the only bites from that line. At this time I am starting to think that I have jinxed this trip and we are not going to catch anything.

The second and third lines brought a few catfish, mostly white humpback, but a couple channel as well. I am then informed that the white humpback is the best because it is the purest and best tasting white meat, whereas the channel has a noticeable yellow line. Also, channel is what all of us have been eating at restaurants for all these years. Interesting stuff.

By the time we make it toward the final lines, we have quite a few fish, the largest being around 10 lbs. I think this is amazing, of course, but then I am told that one line normally brings in about 20 to 30 fish from March through June. We arrive at the final line, and by the look of the line, we knew there was a big one somewhere. The first catfish came up and was 21 lbs., and I thought it could not get any bigger than this. Then we met Bullwinkle.

Throughout the trip, we would give the biggest fish this name, or simply refer to it as a “dipper,” meaning a net had to be used to bring in the fish. We had four or five dippers on this trip, but none quite like Bullwinkle. This fish was estimated at about 25 lbs, but actually weighed in at 27.

“You can tell everyone you caught it, because technically you did. You’re in the boat,” I was told.

Trust me, I fully intend on telling everyone that.

Dressin’ time!

The last part of the experience was watching as the fish were cleaned and dressed. I am assured that fish have no feeling, therefore the fact that their skin was being ripped from them was null. I watch as each are cut up, including a couple white humpback for my parents to enjoy.

“The biggest mistake people can make when dressing a fish is waiting too long to do so,” I’m told. “You wait too long, the skin gets rough, and it’s tougher to work with. That’s why you do it when they’re fresh.”

I did not hang around to watch Bullwinkle get cleaned, but I can imagine it was a handful.

All in all this was an amazing experience, as we caught roughly 160 lbs. of fish. Now I have top quality fish to enjoy, and I also learned a lot about fishing and all things Union County. Thanks to my commercial fisherman, who I’m sure had a good laugh watching me on this trip.