The Old Man on the front of the boat dropped the trotline back into the lake and took a deep breath. His wet shirt stuck to him as he rinsed his hands in the tea-brown water. Remnants of bait spread across the surface in translucent rainbows, an oil sheen thinning fast under the sun.
He shook the last drops from his hands then wiped them on a towel already damp from humidity and the day. At his feet sat a small bucket with a cube of frozen catalpa worms half thawed, the supply of live worms spent, their screen box emptied some time before. Two large ice chests of fish sat amidships in the small, flat-bottomed craft. One contained dressed fish on clean ice, the morning’s catch taken care of shortly after we broke for lunch. The other held the afternoon’s haul still in their natural state with what remained of ice that had long since done its duty.
Our lines were set along a section of Grenada Lake that lay a short run out of Choctaw Landing. We’d left Brewer in the dark as we’d so often done, greeting the sunrise somewhere west of Calhoun City. Dew that covered every surface and wet whatever it touched burned off quickly as we set to work on the morning’s first lines. By noon we knew the day would be counted a success. By four o’clock we were estimating how many more runs we’d get in before dark. The numbers we were hauling in said one thing, but our enthusiasm, quickly waning in the heat, said another.
“Crank the motor up and make the wind blow,” the Old Man said to his counterpart in the back. I shifted from the front seat to the ice chests to make way for him and soon the Mercury rumbled to life and we were out on open water, gleaning quick encouragement from our breeze.
The workload on a trotline operation decreases rapidly from bow to stern. The person holding the line also has to be the one controlling the boat whether by hand or trolling motor. They also untangle and bait the hooks and, in most cases, land and remove the fish, and there’s really no comfortable seating position from which to do all of this correctly, either. The next person toward the stern marshals the catch into an ice chest and keeps the bait handy. If necessary he operates or passes forward the dip net and hands the front man any tools he may need. Everyone further toward the stern from him is keeping the back of the boat from flying up in the air.
I knew our usual front man, the more avid fisherman among my Old Men, was old and that I should help, but being replaced on the bow was not help he wanted, a fact that didn’t have to be stated to be clear. At the time I thought it was because I did a poor job in his stead but, with time, I’ve seen things differently.
We were there because he wanted to be there. If he couldn’t run the lines, much of the point was lost, something I’ve come to appreciate, anytime I’ve felt like cranking the motor up and making the wind blow.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.