One afternoon, a man and his wife came by and wanted a small quantity of fish. Just a sample amount, really, maybe five or 10 pounds.
Catfish from these ponds were generally harvested by way of a two-man seine, a net several yards long and maybe five feet wide, but my Grandaddy was still working for JESCO at the time and wasn’t home, and none of the other Old Men were available either. Still, no more than they required, my Grandmother suggested she, the couple and I could fish in the nearest pond and get what they wanted.
I took pride in rigging out rods for Grandmother and the two guests. The first three rods stood ready to fish when I grabbed them but nobody else had to know that. The last one I picked up for myself was the only one without a weight, hook and float in place.
Just weeks before, I’d been coached to tie what I still think of as my Uncle Buddy’s fishing knot, in actuality a work of art called the improved clinch, so I grabbed the first hook I could find, a tiny, long-necked specimen meant for bream, and tied it on as quickly as I could, forgetting in my haste to add a weight or float. My knot wouldn’t have earned any praise but, no matter, the game was afoot.
The first of the three ponds lay within sight of the house. Three sides of this small body of water stood thick and tall in brush and the other side already had the other three people fishing on it when I took a chunk of liver from the bait can and loaded my weightless hook.
“I’m going around to the next pond,” I said to no one in particular since, if I made too big a point of it, Grandmother probably wouldn’t have let me get out of sight near the water. She was deep in conversation with the visiting lady and the man was bent on catching fish.
Around the hedge, just out of sight of where they were standing lay the next pond, one whose levy had recently suffered a breach. It held water, but not too much. I climbed down the grassy bank, walked a few steps out onto the bare mud flat and immediately saw a catfish as long as my arm circling my way in the scant pooling that remained. The sun was in my favor and I lowered my hook into his path. Seconds later, when he inhaled the bait, I bent the rod double and swung him up out of the water. The hook came untied at the apex of the arc and he fell flopping onto the mud flat, where I pounced on him, gathered him behind the pectoral fins as I’d been taught, left the rod and walked back to where Grandmother and the guests were standing. I couldn’t have been out of their sight an entire minute.
When I walked up holding the big catfish like the champion grabblers I’d seen pictured in the state game and fish magazine they were amazed, and I told the story just as I’ve written it here, the unvarnished truth. It sounded so goofy it almost had to be a lie, but who would intentionally tell a lie that goofy? The man stared at me in disbelief, then demanded to be shown where I caught him. At the sight of the big mud puddle, I could tell he thought I was putting him on. When they left an hour later with three fish, mine plus two small ones caught by Grandmother and the lady, he was nonplussed to say the least.
Even at a young age I knew what I’d found. That story was true, but I saw then if one could believe his bluff so well he forgot he was bluffing, the art of the fish tale could take him far.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.