By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
In the days before the internet, the Old Men got their most recent information from a network of fellow oldsters through lines of communication with connections in places like the Phillips 66 service station in Verona, the Brewer Cash Grocery and barber shops far and wide.
What they gleaned from this dubious harvest were reports, truthful and otherwise, from fellow fishermen who, like them, drove at their preferred outdoor calling with the same determination they used at their jobs, on their farms and in their gardens – enjoyment was good, but results were better.
Somewhere in that web of obfuscation they picked up reports of catfish coming out of languid pools of open lake water to congregate in the oxygen-rich environments found in the mouths of running rivers. The point where Bull Mountain Creek crosses under a highway overpass and enters the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway north of Smithville seemed the ideal location to try this out.
At the peak of their fishing operations, the Old Men owned and operated what seemed to me a flotilla of fishing boats. None were glamorous – the closest any came to luxury was cushioning on a seat – but they served a variety of fishing applications. If there were waters that held catfish or crappie within a 200-mile drive, they had a boat to get to them. The most unusual of the remuda was a prototype pontoon boat one of them had taken in payment for a welding job. It had several seats, some open space for folding chairs, a center console for the pilot and a big locking gear box we used to keep all the life jackets out of the way, as this took place before safety was invented.
The outer rail was made of square aluminum tubing and to it the Old Men added short lengths of pipe set at outward angles, creating a network of rod holders.
With all its flags flying and anchored in a current, the pontoon boat looked like a rectangular version of a tuna rig. If it didn’t catch anything, it wasn’t for lack of hooks in the water.
The overnight excursion caught a fair number of fish, but it was an adventure for adventure’s sake as much as anything. We cooked supper over charcoal and breakfast over a Coleman stove.
During the night, one of the rods was bent double and ripped from its holder, taken away in the dark by the likes of what we could only imagine. For a diversion, we brought along one of the standard boats and used it to run trotlines at intervals through the night. When the sun came up, we pronounced the overnight effort a success and vowed to do it again.
Someday, with my kids, I will.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point