LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Good friend, Les Crandall from Montgomery County stopped by last weekend to give me a hefty bag of chunky bluegill fillets and giddily showed me photographs of several big bass he had caught and released back into Cedar Creek Lake there in Lincoln County.
Les had called earlier in the week to try and get me to make the fishing trip with him but I begged off because my left arm is still not up to cranking a reel handle, and any attempts I might make to bait a hook would be laughable. The stroke I had in March, combined with complications caused by Parkinson’s Disease, have put a serious hitch in my ability to pursue the fishing habit.
The only pleasure I get out of fishing these days is remembering the many, many trips I have made with my late fishing buddy, Junior Helton; my Uncle Jim Adams; and a host of uncles and cousins when I was growing up on Blair Branch.
Every uncle I had on both sides of the family and, for that matter, several of my aunts were hooked on fishing whenever they had time to spare. My Dad, on the other hand, was the only member of our extended family who missed the fishing gene, and he had absolutely no interest in hunting or fishing.
But somehow he understood mine and my younger brothers’ inherent need to wet a line. Before I was even old enough to start school, he would stop by a big patch of bamboo reeds on the edge of Black Bottom when we went to trade at Oscar and Susan Back’s little grocery store. He would let me select a long reed pole which he would cut off with his pocket knife and then haul it home dangling off the bed of his old Chevy pickup.
We housed and boarded several mining ponies in those days and the sweet feed they ate came in 100 pound burlap bags, the tops of which were sewn together with strands of stout nylon thread that made, when raveled out, 6 or 8 feet lengths of perfect fishing line. Mom would bend straight pins into V shapes, tie the pin heads to a length of sack string and we would wind it around the tips of the reed poles, and presto, the perfect fishing rig for the horny head chubs then residing in every little pool on Blair Branch.
By the time I was in fourth grade in the late 1950s I was allowed to spend two weeks every summer with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Alpha who lived on the Kentucky River. Uncle Jim was a fisherman’s fisherman and he had a big selection of bait casting rods and reels. He also had the patience to teach his nephews how to use and care for them. Other kids may have counted the number of days until Christmas, but I counted the days that remained before I got to spend a vacation fishing with my ever-grinning Uncle Jim.
I believe he, too, looked forward to our visits because it gave him a valid excuse to pretty much fish around the clock for two whole weeks. Of course Aunt Alpha would insist that the garden had to be hoed, the lawn mowed, her flower beds weeded, beans picked, and other such chores done before any fishing was allowed, but that was just fine with me.
With Uncle Jim peering over my shoulder on one trip or another, I caught my first bass, catfish, redeye and red-horse sucker and I have, on many occasions, watched in awe as he played and landed trophy-grade small mouth bass that nobody else on the river seemed able to tease into biting.
As Les Crandall backed his boat out of my driveway, he yelled back at me, “You sure missed out on a heck of a fishing trip!”
And I thought to myself, “I’m sure I did, but I’ll bet anything that I’ve had a thousand better.”
I’d also bet about anything that Les never experienced the thrill of catching a big horny head chub with a pin hook and a reed pole.