Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Old Time Fishing

by Norris Chambers

   In the old days we fished for fun and for fish. We didn't use a rod and reel or fancy lures. The two most common fishing implements were either a pole and a line or a simple trot line. Some unscrupulous people resorted to seines and nets. Was it legal? If we had game wardens, we didn't know about them. You did what you wanted to when you were fishing or hunting. A few unethical characters resorted to dynamiting or shocking with an old telephone ringer.

  But, as kids, the kind of fishing we did mostly was just plain packing up and going to a good fishing hole and spending a night or two.

  When Clifton and I planned a trip, we took along a folding canvas boat, three or four trot lines, a coffee bucket and frying pan, a slab of bacon and a sack of biscuits, a bag of cookies and a large tarp or wagon sheet. We loaded this on the Model T truck along with all of Clifton's younger brothers that wanted to go and any other friends who were free and ready.

  In our part of the state there was a stream called Pecan Bayou. The pecan part was right, for there were hundreds of large pecan trees on the banks. Actually, it wasn't big enough to be called a river and was too large to be a creek. The definitions of stream types is very vague. Our closest stream of any consequence was called Red River, probably because the water was colored red from red clay after a heavy rain. It should have been called a creek. It was a fair sized waterway and had holes that held water during long dry spells. It only ran when it rained.

  There was a drainage system from one of our fields that ran to Red River that we called a "draw". Usually a draw ran into what was called a "branch" and the branch ran into a creek. The creek then ran into a larger creek or a river.

  Pecan Bayou and Jim Ned Creek ran together and later fed Lake Brownwood. Jim Ned, named for an Indian Chief, was called a creek, although it was as big as Pecan Bayou.

  We sometimes went pole fishing or seining to Red River, but we didn't consider the water holes large enough for trot lines. The bayou was wider and had holes of water that were much longer and very deep in places.

  Early one Spring we decided to organize a week-end fishing trip to the bayou. We would pack up and leave Friday afternoon after school and come back Sunday. The weather was a little chilly, but it didn't look rainy. We didn't have big weather teams broadcasting prediction then like we do not. All we had was the Farmer's Almanac and the weather calendars that had a prediction for each day. But these seldom were correct for our part of the country, and no one depended on them.

  Clifton and I and his brother Clyde and a neighbor boy about our age named Andy started the adventure by taking a seine to a muddy dirt tank to catch crawfish for bait. Most tanks in the area, if they didn't go dry at times, were well stocked with crawfish. The usual procedure was for two of the boys to pull off their clothes and wade around in a big circle with the seine. Usually the one we used was about twenty feet long and made from fishing cord. The seine was then dragged to the shore and the crawfish were picked up and put in a bucket of water. We preferred smaller ones for our trot lines, so the large ones were thrown back. We have been guilty of frying the tails, but it was not a regular practice. Sometimes small frogs were caught in the net, and they made excellent bait. The bait seining process was sometimes repeated at the bayou to get minnows. We baited some lines with crawfish and some with minnows. Small pieces of bacon also made a good bait.

  Our favorite fishing hole had a rather steep hill on one side and a large field on the other. Fields along the bayou were very rich and fertile from frequent overflow and produced bumper crops of grain or cotton. This particular field had been seeded with wheat for winter pasture. Later, in the Spring, it would start growing and produce wheat for harvest in the late Summer or early Fall.

  We set up our camp on the bank just above the water. There were tall trees all around us. We had positioned the truck so that the tarp, stretched between a tree and the top of the windshield, and staked at one end made a nice lean-to shelter.

  The boat was constructed of 2x12 boards and heavy canvas. Each side was made of two 5 foot boards hinged in the middle for folding. There were two end pieces 3 feet wide and another bulkhead in the middle. These boards fit in slots, as did the two seats - one in the front and one in the back. The completed boat was pretty sturdy. The canvas was stretched across the bottom and made waterproof at the seams with tar and wooden moldings. The canvas would seep a little water, but not enough to worry about.

  Clifton and I took the boat and set our four trot lines diagonally across the long water hole and baited it. We rowed back to camp and prepared to eat. Clyde and Andy had built a fire and were frying bacon.

  "We'll have fish for breakfast," Clifton remarked. That was a pretty safe prediction. Usually we caught plenty of catfish. The coffee bucket was steaming nicely. Already the aroma was pretty strong and it was beginning to smell like a camp.

  The supper was as good as it smelled. When we were finished we washed our frying pan and tin plates at the edge of the water hole, scouring them good with sand. We took a bat and ball out to the edge of the field and had a rousing baseball game then played dominoes by the light of the wood fire. About midnight, after getting well started on the second bucket of coffee, we decided to go run the trot lines.

  This time all four of use took the boat and shoved off. The first line was jerking rapidly and we knew we had something. We paddled along the line and Clyde and Andy raised it up. Soon we could see that we had a big turtle on a hook. He must have weighed ten pounds. Andy managed to get the hook out of his mouth and we moved on. The line was still jerking. Sure enough, we had a nice catfish about ten inches long. We flipped it in the boat and raised the line up. About half of our baits were gone.

  The next three lines brought us five more fish, one even larger than the first. We also found another big turtle and part of fish that a turtle had apparently been dining on. This happened quite often. We baited the lines again on the way back, then put the fish in the cage that we used for this purpose. It was about two feet square and made of fine mesh chicken wire on a wooden frame. It was in the shallow water near the shore and was tied with a wire to a nearby tree. We didn't keep fish on a stringer because the turtles and snakes wouldn't leave them alone. Sometimes animals would steal them off of a stringer.

  We sat around the fire awhile talking and telling tales and in the wee hours of the morning we crawled into the lean-to and slept on the quilt pallets that we had brought.

  On other trips we had been caught in heavy rains, but this was a good outing and the weather was fine. We got another batch of fish the next morning and baited the lines again. Ordinarily we didn't catch very many fish in the daytime, but it was always worth a try.

  We did have fish for breakfast, and the meal was delicious. We could have had fried squirrel, too. Squirrels were plentiful, but we decided the fish was enough and we didn't do any squirrel shooting.

  After breakfast we did a little seining in the shallow end of the hole and came up with several eating-size perch, a couple of turtles and many minnows. We talked about making turtle soup. Andy said he had eaten it and it was good. But we didn't feel like that kind of experimenting and we let the turtles swim away.

  All of our fishing was not confined to local streams. Sometimes my brother and Papa would make a trip to the Colorado or San Saba. We really enjoyed these excursions. The fishing was always good there, and we got all the fish we could eat and brought some home. On these trips we took ice along and the surplus fish were cleaned and packed in ice. Without cooling, the meat spoiled quickly. Sometimes, if ice was not available, the cleaned fish were packed between layers of salt in buckets. They would last a few days like this and when soaked in water for several hours didn't taste all that bad.

  In the twenties and thirties, in the back country, the water in streams and tanks was good enough to drink and use for cooking. Sometimes it tasted a little rank, but it didn't make us sick. some country boys have been known to remark about pure well or spring water: "Well, it's wet, but it don't have no body to it!"


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