I was home from school for the weekend and, as always, my first stop was to check out whatever the Old Men had been up to while I was gone. They were always taking things apart that didn’t necessarily benefit from disassembly or building things that didn’t necessarily need to be built. Also, by my estimate at the time, I was at the peak of knowledge, meaning I was pretty sure I knew everything worth knowing there was to know and stood ready to share.
If this fact impressed the Old Men, they hid it well.
They’d largely retired from trotline fishing by then and had taken their talents to the Tenn-Tom Waterway on a pontoon boat outfitted to their own design. Around the rail, rod holders saluted the water in all four directions. Tackle, ice chests and bait occupied every flat surface within. When I arrived I saw them near their rig dressing fish from their latest excursion and walked down to inspect their work. As I rounded the corner of the trailered boat the scent hit me like a tennis racquet to the head.
“What,” I shouted before quickly getting a grip of my next words, “is that?” I didn’t have to clarify.
“Stink bait,” one of them said, grinning.
“Where is it?” I asked, looking around for a dead elephant or similarly-sized pile capable of producing a stench of that magnitude.
“Used up,” the other Old Man said. “That’s the empty bucket. Go rinse it out so your Grandmother won’t complain.”
Somehow they’d not only gotten the notion that a burlap sack of well-soured soybeans sunk to the bottom of the lake would draw catfish, they’d unfortunately proven themselves right. They dressed the results while I re-thought my Friday afternoon routine and hosed out the bucket from as far away as the nozzle’s stream would reach. They told me they had another batch behind the barn that would be ready the next morning if I wanted to go.
By 8 a.m. on Saturday, less than an hour after setting Batch 2 down on what the depth finder had shown to be a flat, empty bottom, we were catching fish that were steadily increasing in size. The fish never got at what was in the bag, but the scent alone drew and held them.
“The biggest ones out here eventually come to it,” one of the Old Men said. “No matter how big they get, they don’t know everything. Some folks would do well to remember that.”
To the best of my ability, I have.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.