Category Archives: Fishing Ramblings – My Fishing Blog

Random thoughts and musings about fishing

Conservation VS Preservation

If you spend much time on Facebook, you will see many videos of people rescuing animals. A recent one shows a couple in a boat picking a hawk out of the water with a paddle and easing it toward the bank where it flies off. Many show divers cutting ropes from turtles and even whales.

Several videos show people helping bucks that have gotten their antlers tangled together while fighting. One shows a man carefully cutting a small tree to free a big buck with his antlers wedged around it, probably from rubbing it in the fall.

What is it in us that makes people want to take care of animals? Most of us have that desire to help when we see injured animals. Although we may hunt the same animals and catch fish to eat, we want to do it when legal, and in a sporting manner.

Kids as well as adults have this desire, even more so. Growing up there were many times I found baby birds that had fallen from their nests, doomed to die on the ground. It took only a couple of times putting them back in the nest, only to find them dead on the ground later, to realize the mother bird would push them back out, rejecting them probably because of the human smell.

One time while cutting our field with a rotary mower I saw a rabbit run ahead of me. I stopped and looked in the grass and found her nest, with several small rabbits in it. I carefully marked it and made sure to cut around it, leaving a small island of refuge for them.

That fall we were hunting that same field and killed a couple of rabbits. I remember thinking they may have been some of the same ones I avoided killing with the mower the past spring. But I felt no guilt killing, cleaning and eating them. That is the way of nature, predators killing and eating prey. But it is only human compassion that makes us want to protect the same animals at other times.

Dearing Branch on our property had some small bream and catfish in it. During dry summers it would dry up, being reduced to a few deep pools where all the fish went for refuge from the receding water. Many times, we would get the fish out of those pools, carry them to the house and put them in wash tubs with hoses keeping them full of water.

A few times we were able to keep some of them alive until the branch filled from rains. We would then take the survivors back to the branch and release them. But when the branch was full we would fish for them and eat any we caught.

The same attitude about protecting the resource is common among hunters and fishermen. We are the real conservationists. We believe in using our resources while protecting it. Taking some fish and game to eat does not harm the population.

Some “tree huggers’” the folks that want to totally protect everything in the environment without any human interference or change, never learned the ways of nature. They demand we leave deer alone and not hunt them. But that does not work.

There are almost no deer predators, other than humans, left in nature. Many examples, like Red Top
Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona, show the facility of that approach. Deer got so overpopulated at Red Top Mountain that they ate all available food. Even the bark was stripped from young trees as high as the deer could reach.

Deer there were starving to death. Some do-gooders wanted to feed them. Others suggested giving them birth control to control he overpopulation. But the Department of Natural Resources realized the cost and inefficiency of both of those approaches, so they opened the park to archery hunting.

Within a few years the problem was solved, at no cost. Not only did hunters take enough deer legally to reduce the population to sustainable levels, they got food for their families. That is a much better solution for deer and people than the other silly suggestions.

Also on Facebook, you will see condemnation of trophy hunters that go to Africa to take game. The do-gooders want those hunters stopped, even suggesting killing them. The taking of Cecil the Lion is a good example. They are out of touch with reality.

Those hunters are strictly controlled, taking only specified animals. They spend a lot of money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, for their trip. That money goes to local governments and much of it is used to control poachers, local folks that kill animals for monetary gain, with no though to long term effects. They often decimate animal populations to dangerously low levels.

Not only do local governments use money from hunters to protect animal populations, any animals killed are eaten by local people, feeding them. And the money hunters spend on local supplies help those same people.

In tournaments strict rules protect bass. Any fisherman bringing in a dead bass is penalized and catch and release is almost a religion among bass fishermen. After a tournament, bass weighed in are released back into the lake, with big tournaments going to the trouble of using boats with holding tanks to release fish all over the lake rather than concentrating them in one area.

Hunters and fishermen want to protect but use resources. Our license fees go to state agencies that are tasked with that goal. And money spent on fishing and hunting supplies have a special tax that is used for protecting resources.

Don’t condemn us. Join us in helping the natural environment while enjoying the products of it.

Planting A Garden

Did you plant tomatoes of Good Friday as tradition says you should? Are they still alive?

Growing up, we always planted a garden, a big one, supplying our family with most vegetables for the year. Mom canned or froze everything possible from it, so we ate good food year round. And she could cook anything and make it taste very good.

I usually hated working in the garden, wanting to be fishing or running wild in the woods in the spring when we had to plant and during the summer during harvest time. But I surely did like eating the products of our labor.

After my brother and I got married and moved away from home mom and dad continued the big garden and we helped a little when we could be there. Every visit home meant carrying frozen and canned goods back with us to eat until our next trip.

When I bought my house in Pike County with enough land for a garden, I tried to have my own. My lot was nothing but trees, so I cut and cleared about a half-acre of it behind the house. I will never forget dad visiting soon after I got it cleared and tilled, and he commented that it looked like good dirt.

That first spring I planted squash, tomatoes, corn, butterbeans, cucumbers and several other things. I got more squash than I could eat but, as the corn and butterbeans grew, we had a dry early summer and I found my well would not supply enough water to keep then alive.

Watching things I had worked so hard to plant and weed wilt and die was terrible. So I gave up.

After a few years I decided I had to have fresh tomatoes, so I crawled under the house, cut the shower drain and ran a pipe out from under the house to a small patch I had tilled. In it I planted eight tomato plants and four bell pepper plants.

Every time we took a shower the water drained out to the plants and kept them watered. It worked great for several years then the plants started dyeing way too early. I realized I had to move the plot every few years so did that, and it worked until I ran out of places the drain pipe would reach.

A few years ago, I dug a hole at the end of the drain pipe and buried a 55 gallon drum without a bottom or top. I put a sump pump in it so when the shower drains into the can it pumps the water anywhere
I want it around the back yard. That works well and I can move my tiny tomato and pepper garden around without running out of space.

I often wait too late to plant. Growing up we always planted on time and had fresh tomatoes by
July 4th. Procrastination this year could be a good thing. Hopefully sometimes in July this year I will be eating tomato sandwiches from just picked tomatoes. Nothing is better!

Losing Patrick F. McManus

Voices from the River: Losing Patrick F. McManus
By Chris Hunt
from The Fishing Wire

Years ago, after being abruptly transplanted from the high-mountain meadows of Colorado to the hot, sticky pine forest of East Texas, I found solace in the loss of my Rocky Mountain roots in the writings of men like Bob Saile, Ed Dentry and Charlie Meyers.

And I found the spirit to laugh about my predicament—for a Colorado kid, being transported largely against his will to Texas amounts to a premature death sentence—in the words of Patrick F. McManus. There were nights, early in my Texas furlough, that I giggled through tears at the books McManus shared with the world. I read them under the covers, of course, by flashlight until the D-size batteries faded and sleep followed soon after.

Sadly, McManus died Thursday at 84.

His vivid descriptions of fishing and hunting with the characters that influenced his own upbringing in rural northern Idaho inspired me to adapt to my newfound home and make the best of it. While I didn’t have friends named Crazy Eddie, Rancid or Retch, or a sister he called the Troll, I eventually collected enough buddies an annoying little brothers to stir up enough mischief in the Sabine River bottoms to while away sticky summer days in a state my mother would have been horrified to see in person.

Pat McManus was my inspiration. In fact, he may be why I gravitated to journalism after high school and college, and why that journalism took on a serious outdoor-writing bent shortly after that.

I know I’m not alone in my adoration for the words produced by the outdoor humorist. To this day, I occasionally find myself using phrases from his books and back-page columns in Outdoor Life in conversation and giggling all over again. From his books ranging from They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? to A Fine and Pleasant Misery (My favorite was The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard), he provided a source of outdoor artistry that motivated me and many others to get outside, uncover the mysteries of the outdoors and experience life away from the television. He was, in a sense, the Mark Twain of his generation, an unassuming, gifted writer who found humor behind every tree and under every rock. We should all be so lucky.

I’ve handed his books down to my own kids, but, sadly, their magic seems to have faded a bit in the face of hand-held screens and an ever-running series of Ridiculousness videos that keep young minds sadly captivated and entranced. My daughter read his books voraciously as a youngster. My son never caught the bug.

His death has inspired me yet again—I’ll try once more to gently push his words on Cameron and see if, by chance, he’s ready to let them stick. McManus’ stories are often silly and slapstick, but from his writings about his days spent as a near-vagrant youth following tracks into the woods to his later descriptions of fatherhood and family, he has provided generations of outdoors people with true joy. I hope my son can experience that, too.

Rest in peace, Pat. Thank you for leaving behind so much inspiration. Your words have made my world better, and I know I’m not alone.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.

McManus was one of my favorite outdoor writers. Ronnie

Some Cold Weather Fishing Memories

Some Cold Weather Fishing Memories

For some reason, the song “Baby Its Cold Outside” kept going through my head last week. Putting a heat lamp on my well and my outboard motor lower unit is a common winter job, but it seems I haven’t had to do it for a few years. As always, weather changes from year to year.

Over the years I have had some interesting, experiences in the cold, some fun, others not so much. I seem to remember many very cold winters in my preteen years, but memories are often fallible. But some of the times outdoors over the years stand out.

Dearing Branch ran near our property line through the woods and under a culvert at Iron Hill Road. Where the pipe dumped water on the downstream side of the road there was the biggest hole in the area, about ten feet in diameter. The water was a few feet deep and we caught a lot of small fish there in the summer.

Most of the winters back then were cold enough that the surface of that hole froze solid. I learned to “ice skate” on that ice, sliding and falling across it. More than one time we broke through and had a cold run the quarter mile back to the house in wet pants and boots.

The ice was usually a couple inches thick. Luckily the hole was not deep enough to really be dangerous. If we broke through the ice it would wet us only about thigh deep at worst, and there was no danger of getting trapped under the ice as can happen on bigger waters. But mama fussed a lot, anyway.

Later, after I started bass fishing in the winter, I found out how important good clothes can be. I think I was one of the first people in Georgia to ever own a snowmobile suit and boots. But even with suitable cold weather clothes, there were a few times nothing I had was enough.

One Christmas Linda and I were staying in our little camper beside my parent’s mobile home at Raysville Boat Club. We had an electric heater running and we were comfortable in the bed. During the night our dog Merlin jumped up off her usual place under the bed and got into bed with us, a very unusual happening. She never jumped into the bed.

The next morning we found the reason. Her water bowl on the floor was frozen solid. The little heater produced enough heat to keep it bearable a couple feet above the floor, but on the floor, it was freezing.

That morning the thermometer on the porch showed five degrees, and the wind was blowing hard. I tried to go out fishing anyway. After putting the boat in the water I idled out of the cove and started hitting waves. The splash from the waves hitting the boat froze before they hit me, forming sleet between the boat edge and my snowmobile suit, hit it and fell off.

I turned the boat and went back to the ramp! No fishing that day.

Bass will bite even when it is extremely cold. One Sportsman Club tournament proved that. When I went through town on the way to Sinclair, the First National Bank thermometer read 11 degrees. We had problems at the ramp, when a boat was launched the water running off the trailer as it was pulled up the ramp froze

It was a scary feeling backing down the ramp and feeling your truck slide toward the water. As soon as the back tires got to the water the ice ended and the truck would stop. But trying to go back up the icy ramp was trouble. You had to spin your tires and basically melt the ice as you went up the hill.

We didn’t catch a lot of fish, but I managed to win with seven keepers by fishing a crankbait so slow it barely moved. And every cast we had to dip our rods into the water to melt the ice in the guides. On the way home that afternoon the bank thermometer read 17 degrees, the high for the day.

My pond has frozen over several times in past years but not recently. I caught my only “ice fishing” fish one year by knocking a hole in the ice at the end of the dock and dropping a bait through it. The small bream that I landed was enough to say I caught one, so I left.

Skipping a rock across a frozen pond makes an interesting sound. I found that out years ago when I threw one out to see if it would break through the ice. It didn’t but as it skittered over the ice it made a strange ringing sound. Several more proved it was the norm. I have seen videos on Facebook that showed the same sound.

Newer boat motors crank fairly well in cold weather, but old ones used to be very hard to start. But a worse problem is frozen steering cables. At more than one tournament we have launched boats, got the motor cranked only to find they could not be steered. Several tournaments have been won by people forced to fish around the ramp using their trolling motor because of that problem.

I got a scare a few years ago at a tournament at Jackson. It had been very cold, but my motor cranked. As I ran up the lake right at daylight suddenly a loud crunching sound made me think my motor had blown up. I stopped but the motor seemed to idle fine. Then I looked around and realized there was a sheet of quarter inch ice all the way across the lake. The sound was my boat acting as an ice breaker.

I hope I don’t make any more extremely cold memories this winter!

Have You Ever Been On A Snipe Hunt?

If you grew up like I did in rural Georgia, you may have been invited to a snipe hunt. You had to go at night and one person, you, got to hold the sack while your “friends” drove the snipe into the sack. Of course, they left you “holding the bag” out in the dark while they went home.

There really are snipe around here. They live in wet area and probe the mud for worms with their long bills. When spooked they make a strange squawk and take off in irregular, darting side to side flight.

When young I was very curious about them and other birds. Like James J. Audubon, I wanted to examine them up close, so I shot them when I could. Over the years I shot everything from field larks and starlings to killdeers. If they were not good to eat, I killed one to examine and was satisfied.

One bird that was very elusive was a brown one that lived in a marshy area on our farm. I would see them every year but could not get very close, and when I did get into range I could not hit them with my trusty .410 when they flew.

I finally killed one. It was brown with a long, thin bill and I found out in my Encyclopedia Britannica, my google back then, that it was a snipe. I discovered they were related to woodcock, hard to shoot as I knew from experience, and good to eat. But that was the only one I ever killed.

Tomorrow is the last day of woodcock season in Georgia. Woodcock are popular upland game birds further north but here they are mostly limited to the north Georgia mountains. Some folks do hunt them in Georgia and they are good to eat. I think woodcock and snipe are considered the same for the season since they are closely related. And you need a shotgun and dog, not a sack, to get them!

Fishing and Hunting Traditions

Fishing and hunting have always had traditions that have been passed down generation to generation. Many of those traditions are threatened by a huge variety of forces. Will any of them survive?

In 1974 Jim Berry got me in the Spalding County
Sportsman Club and I fished my first bass tournament with him that April. Although I had never been competitive in anything, I fell in love with tournament fishing and am still fanatical about club tournaments 43 years later.

I did not play any sports in high school, never was much for games of any kind and liked solitary, contemplative activities like hunting and fishing. But something about bass tournaments changed that and made me want to compete in what had always been a different kind of recreation.

Bass tournament have grown to a huge business over the past 40 years. Top pros win millions of dollars over their careers and appear on TV and in advertising like any other pro sports figure. They are looked up to by many youth as role models.

As much as I love tournaments, I fear we have lost something. Fishing has become a media spectacle with live coverage of tournaments, interviews with pros, some of whom are cocky and showy, and way too much glorification of their skills.

Growing up I sculled wooden jon boats for my uncles, paddling quietly so they could cast their lures in farm ponds. Those were learning times for me, with quiet conversations discussing everything from fishing methods to the mysteries of life. Catching fish was fun and I loved it when I got a turn to fish, but it was about so much more.

Now bass fishing consists of screaming around a lake in a bass boat, often at 70 plus miles per hour, working hard to get a bite rather than relaxing, and showing off with everything from fist pumps to dancing around on the boat, often with exclamations that would make you think catching a bass was the same as scoring a touchdown.

It takes skill to catch bass consistently and there is no doubt good fishermen are skillful. But to listen to some fishermen when they catch a fish you would think they have achieved some great victory. It is like they overcame some huge handicap to do something no one else could do.

Tournament fishing did change something else. In the past most fish caught were eaten. Catch and release has become a religion for many bass fishermen, with anyone keeping bass to eat condemned. But some of this religion only extends to show.

One tournament trail bans nets for several reasons but one often used is that netting a bass harms it, removing the protective slime on their bodies and lowering their chances of survival when released. But in those same tournaments fishermen are shown “boat flipping” bass they hooked.

Boat flipping is getting a bass near the boat and pulling it out of the water with heavy tackle. The bass flies through the air, slams into the carpet in the bottom of the boat and thrashes around until the fisherman can pick up.

There is no way that does less damage to the fish than a net.

Most tournaments have become about money and fame. That is why I like club fishing. So far, my clubs don’t make it about money, although some want to raise entry fees and turn it in that direction, with higher payouts. There are some bragging rights in doing well in those tournaments but most of it is low key with few show-offs.

The Federation Top Six tournaments have moved in the wrong way in my opinion. When I started fishing them in 1979 there was competition, mainly for the right to move up to the regional tournament but some between clubs for bragging rights, not individual glory. At the first regional I fished with the state team in 1983 the 12 of us worked together, sharing information every night and trying to help everyone do good and finish high as a team. Our team won.

The last one I fished in 2010 it was everyone for himself, with little information sharing on the team. It was so bad that one night when I told the team of a small pattern I thought I had found another team member told me I could not fish those places, those were his fish. Our “team” finished near the bottom.

In the past you fished with someone from another club and shared the places fished during the day, with each of you having half a day to run the trolling motor. You had to qualify for the Top Six by doing well in your club the year before.

I fished the Federation Nation Top Six at Lanier this past week, after this was written. Now, with that Federation, clubs still send teams but others can “buy” in, paying to enter the tournament even if you didn’t make the club team. It a pro/am format, with the boater having control of the boat all day. Entry fees have gone up and it has become more cut-throat.

If it went the way I am afraid it will go, it will be the last one I fish.

I will continue to fish club tournaments as long as I am able. Maybe its my age, I am not keeping up with the times, but I hope I never see the changes locally I am seeing at the state level and up.

Something about fishing has been lost. There is nothing wrong with tournaments, but sometimes I miss sitting in the back of the boat, sculling for an adult while they fished and shared their life experiences and knowledge with me.

Bad Cold and Deer Hunting

I’ve had a cold I would not wish on anyone but people wanting to take my guns and those wanting to ban hunting. I came home from Lake Lanier two weeks ago today, got in bed and pretty much stayed there for 12 days. I knew I was sick when I had to force myself to get up and go do research for two magazine articles.

Several people I know have had this mess with chest congestion, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and a headache. And just feeling total run down without any energy. I hope it does not get widespread in our area.

Deer hunters in central Georgia should be having a great time right now. Doe days opened last Saturday, November 4, so it is a good time to fill your freezer. And this is the height of the rut in this area, meaning bucks are losing their minds chasing does. They expose themselves to hunters more than any other time of year. And does running from a buck they are not attracted to may blunder into your range. There is a lot of movement of both.

The only negative is the bright moon. Lots of light at night makes deer move around more then than during the day when it is legal to hunt. And all the acorns have pretty much fallen. A good many are still on the ground and deer are scattered feeding in many areas. It won‘t be long before acorns are gone for the year and food plots and other food sources like green briar and honeysuckle will attract deer to specific areas.

Making Bows and Arrows and Stone Axes

Bows and arrows fascinated me when I was growing up. We searched woods and fields for arrowheads and were constantly on the look-out for any rock that resembled one. Most of what we found were just random pieces of rock somewhat arrowhead shaped but we were sure we had found something once used to take down game.

At six years old I really did not understand differences between kinds of rocks. Our farm had a lot of soft sandstone, a good bit of granite from chunk to boulder size, and a few flint rocks.

The sandstone would break easily and there were all kinds of shapes of stones. I now know it is easy to shape but too soft to be of much use for anything but crushing softer stuff. But we thought arrowheads could be made of that reddish rock.

It was easy to shape it by breaking off small pieces and even by rubbing it on the granite boulders. It did not flake, it just came apart as small pieces and sandy residue. And an ax head made from it would break as soon as you hit a tree with it.

Looking back its funny, but we tried to make stone axes by shaping rocks with the blunt end of our steel hatchets. Talk about going backwards! And getting a stone chunk to stay on any kind of handle was a joke. We tried the way we had seen in pictures, splitting a stick handle, putting the stone between in the split then lashing it into place with baling twine.

Little did we know you needed something much tighter than that twine could be tied. If lashed on with leather strips then soaked in water, the leather shrank as it dried and got very tight. With our home made stone axes the head often flew off the handle before the head could hit the tree and crumble.

We did make some realistic looking arrowheads from the sandstone but did not realize they would have been useless. No matter how carefully we worked the edges could never be sharp. Flint flakes into sharp edges when chipped, sandstone merely gets rounded on the edges. But we had fun making our axes and arrowheads.

Bows and arrows were interesting, too. We thought any bent stick with a string on each end would suffice but, if the stick did not break when bent back, it had no strength to spring back to propel an arrow. And baling twine was probably not the best bow string.

Any somewhat straight stick could be an arrow, but they never worked. We did not know about wetting and heating sticks and straightening them. We just used them how they grew, and sweetgum, the most common type tree on our farm, is useless for bows and arrows.

Trips to the north Georgia mountains on summer vacation introduced me to blowguns, something Cherokees used for hunting small game. The ones we bought at tourist traps were about three feet long and came with a couple of rubber tipped darts. They never worked well, having a range of just a few feet.

We tried to make them, too, with pieces of cane that grew along Dearing Branch. It did not take long to give up trying to hollow them out by boring through each joint. If daddy had made me work as hard on the farm as I did working on blowguns I would not have liked it. But again, it was fun trying to make them.

I sometimes wonder if kids have any experiences like those I had growing up. I hope so.

Getting Bait

Getting bait was always fun but sometimes we tried weird baits. Like all good fishermen, if we heard the fish were biting something we had to try it. That is why there are such huge selections of colors and types of plugs and worms at Berry’s Sporting Goods!

One time this desire to use anything we were told fish were biting taught me a lesson. Uncle Slaton and his family was visiting from Texas and we were all camping at Clarks Hill. As usual, we fished for bass, bream or crappie during the day and ran trotlines at night for catfish.

One afternoon Uncle Slaton came back to the camp from fishing and pulled out a nice catfish. He said he was fishing in a cove and found a trotline. The catfish was on it and since the line had not been checked all day he took the fish.

More important, he held up a half of a black plastic worm. He said it was on the hook the catfish was on and the rest of the line was baited with other pieces of black worms.

We immediately pulled out all our black plastic worms and started cutting them up. That night we baited all our trotlines with them. The next morning we didn’t have a fish on our lines.

I do not know how Uncle Slaton smothered his laughs. He later told us he played a trick on us, there were no plastic worms on any of the hooks where he found the catfish.

We had to go to the store and buy more black worms for our bass fishing.

One time I heard catfish would bite little chunks of Ivory Soap. That sounded like a nice clean bait to use rather than the stinky chicken guts we usually used. You washed your hands every time you baited a hook.

We cut bars of soap into half inch squares and baited a bunch of hooks – one time. We did not catch a fish. I may be slow but after one night I gave up on black plastic worms and Ivory Soap on trotlines!

Spottail minnows are one of the best baits for many game fish, no joke. Guides on Lanier and other lakes bait up places with rice to draw them in and either set out traps for them or catch them in a cast net. Spotted bass love them.

The biggest spottails I have ever seen were less than three inches long, a good size for most game fish. Last weekend Jack “Zero” Ridgeway called me about them. He had been fishing from a dock at West Point lake and had caught some spottails six inches long. He sent me a picture of one of them.

Neither of us had ever heard of spottails that big, and that would bite a bait so you could catch them on a hook. I looked them up and found out that spottails are a type of shiner minnow and their average size is two to three inches, but they can grow up to six inches long. They range from Canada as far south as the Chattahoochee River drainage in Georgia. Since West Point is on the Chattahoochee River that fits right in.

Building Tree Houses – Growing Up Wild In Georgia

Do kids still build tree houses? That was always a favorite summer activity of mine. From the one in the pecan tree in my front yard to the ones we built down in the woods, they ranged from simple platforms ten feet high to complex ones so far up we put side boards on it to keep from falling out.

The house I grew up in had five pecan trees. There was a huge one in from of the house, another big one to one side and a third in the edge of the field past mama’s flower bed. There were two more smaller trees right beside the ditch on Iron Hill Road to the same side as the flower bed.

One of those smaller trees had a big limb about ten feet from the ground that was perfect for the base of a tree house. Boards nailed to the tree trunk provided a ladder for access. Then two by fours nailed to the limb made the base, with braces going back to the trunk below them.

I rebuilt that one several times over my youth as the boards rotted and became unsafe. I spent many summer days sitting in it, cooled by any breeze that filtered through the limbs and shaded by the leaves above me. I felt completely hidden from the world watching the occasional car or truck that passed just a few feet away. And although mama knew where I was, I could not see the house from my platform.

Taking sandwiches and a drink up in the tree to eat made many summer lunches pass quickly. In the fall there were always pecans on the platform for a snack. One special place was a limb knot hole right beside the platform where I often found pecan hulls where a blue jay or wood pecker had stuck a nut in the small hole and used it as a vice to hold its lunch as it pecked away the shell and ate the meat.

The highest tree house we ever built was in a huge pine tree behind Harold’s house. My memory tells me it was way too high but it was probably no more than 30 feet from the ground, still scary enough for a 12-year-old. It was hard work hauling the boards up that high, either pulling them up with a rope or passing them hand over hand between Harold, Hal and me while we perched with one leg hooked over a limb.

The platform on this one was probably 10 feet square, sitting on a big limb parallel to the ground. Another limb below that one that ran up at more of an angle provided a great place for supports so we could build it bigger. It was cross braced and around the edges we had nailed one by eights to provide a small lip.

We actually slept up there in our sleeping bags one time but near the base of it was our camp. We made prefab walls and a roof and struggled to get them the couple of hundred yards to the site. The three sided shed was a great place to store wood for a dry fire starter and some tools we used every time we camped there.

A rock fire pit with a homemade spit, made from two forked limbs and a cross piece with the bark stripped, was used for roasting squirrels and birds. We cooked breakfast in our mess kits on that fire and also put our “camp dinners” on it. Those were the big patty of ground beef topped by potatoes, onions, carrots and butter wrapped in tinfoil.

Other tree houses ranged from not much bigger than what I now put up for a deer stand to platforms we could lay one and stretch out. We never had anything like the fancy prefab “tree” houses on posts you see in yards nowadays. They are often nowhere near a tree, usually put up by the parents, and very complex.

I can’t help but believe kids are missing something by building their own houses down in the woods, all by themselves, with no adult supervision or help, like we did.