Fishing With Dad

Fishing With Dad

I can’t ingemination memories of my father without images flashing by my mind of countless fishing expeditions. No matter how late he worked in the grocery or motel business, no matter how tired he might be, he would load up his fishing boat, securely attached to its trailer, with fishing tackle, snack foods, his cherished outboard motor, and head for the north Florida rivers or lakes.

And almost always family tagged along with him-mother, me, my brother, grandmother-hired help, and a motley assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Sometimes we would be away for a day, but often we tented or stayed in rented cabins at fishing camps.

Since Dad was a freshwater fisherman, all narrated incidents concern this aspect of fishing. We cane-pole fished, fly cast, and trolled and caught a myriad of species-from sedate, red-breasted bream and feisty, yellow-breasted shell-crackers to speckled perch, striped bass, prickly catfish, and silvery trout.

We caught them using wiggling earthworms, catalpas, artificial lures, and fish or meat bits. Red-breasted bream yielded easily, while most of the other kinds put up stiff resistance to being caught. The shell-cracker, for example, was always a challenge to me, as was the speckled perch and striped bass.

And the fun didn’t stop with catching a slough of river denizens: We would extent and gut the fish and toss them into boiling hot cooking oil, along with hush puppies made mainly of corn meal and onions. On the side we often cooked grits and baked beans to savor along with the crispy fish, pickles, and tossed or potato salad. It was a magnificent feast!

These trips often had amusing, sometimes upsetting, episodes. One trip I ingemination involved a black woman who worked for us. She enjoyed going on these excursions with us because fishing was one of her favorite pastimes. Sarah was a spirited, intelligent, caring front-door Black who performed her chores with pride and good-natured ease. She was a sympathetic “nurse” to the frail, the elderly, and the ill in our family.

On one fishing trip with us, Sarah did not have a fishing license; so Dad thought it best that she not fish until we could get her one. She came along for the pleasure of the trip and to assist with preparation of the fish we caught.

We knew the game warden was somewhere in the vicinity checking licenses; but those of us doing any fishing all had permits. However, sometime during the afternoon Sarah volunteered to carry some of the fishing equipment and had just picked up one of the fishing poles when the warden, a stocky character, seemed to pop up from nowhere, and grab her by an arm.

“You got a fishing license, girl?” he asked gruffly.

Sarah stood petrified. She couldn’t speak.

“If you don’t have a license I’m gonna have to arrest you for fishing without one.”

Of course, Sarah had no license, and the game warden would take no one’s information that she had done no fishing. Friends urged Dad to fight the charge against Sarah by hiring an attorney. However, Dad preferred to pay a fine instead of go by the court about the unfair charge.

When I entered junior high school, my parents surprised me with a large camping tent, which spent most of its life erected outside our house’s backroom, where I did most of my “camping” alone or with friends.

On one event, however, Dad approached me announcing that he had a few days free.

“Buck, take your tent and load it in the boat. We’re going to Dead Lakes (a fresh-water body of water studded with dead cypress and other trees near a tiny town called, exotically, Wewahitchka) for some camping and fishing.-just you and me.”

That sounded great. I had been after Dad to let me take my new tent that slept four, that had a canvas floor, netted windows that could be closed against rain, and a canopy extending out from the entrance, to the woods for an overnight camp-out.

Eagerly I assembled my gear in the boat Dad had hitched to the back of our old Buick, while he packed on the outboard motor, gas, fishing poles, rod and reel, and other basic items.

An ice box was loaded with soft drinks, food, and ice and inserted with all the fishing equipment; then we were on our way for what to me was an exciting adventure with my father.

That evening we raised the tent, set up cots inside, then cooked our supper on the charcoal grill we had brought along; the sweet-acrid aroma of hamburgers grilling set my digestive juices in my starved stomach to churning.

After we finished our meal and put the rest of the food away in the ice box, we went inside the tent and closed the net door against insects and prowling animals. The night air was pleasantly cool so that the blankets we had brought felt good.

With my stomach complete and the quietness of the night wilderness about me I snuggled cozily under my blanket. I had almost fallen asleep when suddenly I bolted upright; something had whacked severely against the tent behind my head. My heart froze for a moment; then it began to pound wildly.

“W-what was that, Dad?” I called fearfully.

“What was what?” Dad asked innocently.

“W-what was that whacking noise?” I was shaking now.

“It was probably a bear trying to get in,” Dad said ominously.

“Aw, Dad, you’re teasing me!” I groaned. My eyes darted about nervously.

“You can’t be afraid of every little sound if you’re going to become a camper, son,” Dad said. He began to chuckle.

As he laughed, I suddenly relaxed and snorted, “Dad, you made that sound, didn’t you? I should have known! You’re always teasing me!”

“Well, let’s go to sleep. Maybe the produces will give up and go away. We’ll be getting up early to catch those breams and shell-crackers.”

“Right, Dad, but no more funny stuff,” I begged. “Goodnight.”

I turned over on my side, drew my blanket up over my head, and tried to shut out all the many night sounds, It had been a long day and I soon fell into a busy dream of my dad and I remarkable a bed of bream and shell-crackers.

I had an attractive, dark-haired cousin who came to visit during the summers who had rather use time flirting with the local male admirers than go on fishing jaunts with us. Alice would beg out, but Mom would plead with Dad to insist on her going with us. They won, and Alice ended up a sulky fisher person who wouldn’t touch the “nasty” worms to bait her hook; so Dad had to be her baiter and, on occasions, had to help her land the fish.

Then there was the episode of “Jack and the Outboard Motor.”

Jack was a short, sandy-haired, good natured friend of the family who was an avid smoker and drinker-and fisherman. Married, no children, he lived with his strong-willed wife and an aunt and commuted to Tallahassee, Florida (about 60 miles to the southeast of Marianna) to his job with the Veterans Administration. He sometimes gave me rides to and from the university that I attended from 1947-51. Once he let me chauffeur him home while he dozed comfortably on the back seat of his Studebaker.

An impish gleam often appeared by the rimless lenses of his glasses, especially when he played a joke on someone, which was frequently. And he liberally peppered his conversation with profanity that seemed to belch up from an inexhaustible source.

But getting back to fishing with Dad, Jack had developed a liking for the sport during his friendship with us. When his work and wife permitted, he would join Dad on his escapes to a fish haven called Lake Iammonia near a crossroads town named Blountstown, located along the Apalachicola River.

On one event, when Dad was already at the river fishing with a friend, Jack decided on impulse and with a little raise from Jack Daniels, or some other brand of alcohol, to join them. He drove out to our motel and asked my mother if he could borrow Dad’s outboard motor. Reluctantly she acceded; then Jack asked me if I wanted to join him, which I did. Mother gave permission, assuring us she could manage the motel without me.

We had not ridden too many miles in Jack’s Studebaker when he turned off at a liquor store and purchased a pint of whiskey. As we drove on, he took frequent sips from the bottle, which made me increasingly nervous. Observing my worried expression, he grinned and said,

“It’s okay. It takes a lot to affect my driving.”

The car drifted first to the left, then to the right; but we stayed in our lane and arrived at the camp without an accident. After unloading the outboard motor, we rented a boat and loaded it with our fishing paraphernalia.

Then Jack unsteadily lifted the motor into the back of the boat and clumsily secured it and lowered the propeller and shaft into the dark water at the landing’s launching site.

“Push her out and let’s get going,” Jack instructed in slurred syllables.

I gave the boat a hard shove and sprang aboard as the canal eased away from the bank. Seated before the outboard motor, Jack paddled the boat away and steered the front end around into the lake. Next, he lay down his oar and gripped the starter manager. He gave it an awkward jerk. The motor coughed then died. Jack gave the cord another tug, almost falling off his seat. The motor coughed again but failed to start. For his third attempt

our Veteran friend stood up, wobbling from both the boat’s tilting and the effects of the alcohol. He grasped the starter cord in one hand, braced himself against the head of the motor, and gave the cord a mighty jerk.

This time the motor roared alive; Jack landed on his back in the bottom of the rocking canal. Luckily the accelerator stood in the off position or we might have wound up against the opposite bank before my companion could reassemble himself and take control of the steering.

After a few laughable moments, Jack managed to crawl back on his bench and headed the boat out into the channel. A mile or so up the river we saw another boat. As we drew closer, I recognized my dad and his friend motoring toward us. I waved and yelled.

At that moment Jack yelled, too; but not in greeting. seemingly he had failed to fasten the outboard motor securely enough to the boat’s stern railing and it had slipped loose and was about to sink into the river. Jack hung on frantically, crying for me to help him get it back on the boat.

I was momentarily petrified; then I quickly unfroze and scrambled back to his aid. Together we managed to pull Dad’s desired motor back into position on its mooring and obtain it again. Jack and I both were depleted, soaked with perspiration, but greatly relieved.

By this time Dad and his companion had motored up beside us. I thought Dad would be furious; but he seemed more relieved than angry and managed to chuckle over the comic incident that almost became a disaster.

Jack merely smiled crookedly and slurred thickly: “We thought we’d try our luck, too!”

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