Category Archives: Fishing Ramblings – My Fishing Blog

Random thoughts and musings about fishing

Deer Camp Memories

 As I threw another log on the fire, my mind wandered over the past 40 years of deer camp here.  When I first joined, the “old” men mostly stayed in camp and didn’t hunt much.  For several years “Captain” was the old man in charge of the fire.  Now it is my “old man” job and I don’t leave camp much.

    After spending almost half my life in the club, memories are plentiful. Hundreds of nights sitting around the fire, eating parched or boiled peanuts and sharing stores, some of them mostly true, revive past experiences. And the same ones are told over and over, drawing amazed reactions from young members and smiles from us older ones.

    And we celebrate and morn lost members. Many of the young members fathers I watched grow up and become men over the years.  They pass on their traditions to their children, just as their fathers passed them on to them. The never-ending cycle of outdoor and hunting life.

    Many of the stories are funny and draw laughs every year.  Tales of cut shirt tails, stories of first blood, memories of members walking to their stand in a circle in the dark and ending back up at camp, all bring chuckles.

    One of mine is finding the perfect place for my climbing stand, easing up the tree in the dark then staring another club member in the eyes in a tree only 30 feet away.  Or the time I helped build a permanent stand with a friend, only to have him not be able to hunt it opening day. He doesn’t laugh much when I mention the big nine point I killed from that stand on opening day, but everybody else does.

    Four wheelers stuck in the creek are both funny and scary.  Turning a four-wheeler upside down on top of you in a creek is not funny until after you are safe.  It is funny now to remember the work of the six of us laboring for hours to get it out, but at the time it was only exhausting.

    Some of the scariest stories are the one or two about stands breaking and tumbling members to the ground. Fortunately, none ended up with serious injuries, just injured pride.

    Many of my memories revolve around a stand I have hunted for more than 30 years.  It is a simple stand, 2x4s nailed between two sweetgum trees about 24 inches apart 20 feet off the ground with a 16-inch piece of plywood nailed on top of them.  Spikes driven into the trees 30 years ago are sticking out barely enough for a boot hold now.

    The stand has been sweetened over the years. A small shelf is placed in the perfect position to hold my coffee cup.  Sticks cross the area above my head, placed just right for a black plastic bag to stretch over and protect me from rain.  And a nail holds my hanging rifle in position to raise it without excess movement.

    I found the place for the stand by accident.  I found a creek hillside that seemed to be perfect for a stand, near the very end of one of our roads.  I loaded materials to build it in the truck then headed to the end of the road.

    Before toting everything through the woods, I remembered hunting too close to the other club member so I walked around a little. Sure enough, there was another stand, hidden in an oak tree, looking over the same hillside.

    I went back to the truck disappointed and started driving slowly back out, watching the ground on either side of the road carefully.  When I spotted a trail crossing it, I stopped and followed the trail though some pines to where they stopped at the edge of hardwoods.  There was a slight opening along the edge from an old logging road.

    Careful inspection proved there were no other stands for at least 200 yards in any direction.  I built the stand with help from a fellow club member.  The first morning I hunted it I was shocked how close it was to Highway 18.  The bends in the road fooled me.  I could glimpse 18 wheelers traveling along the road, and their tire noise often make it hard to hear.

    Even with the noise problem I have killed more than 40 deer from that stand.

    Some of those kills I was very proud of, some not so much.  One day I glimpsed a deer facing me about 50 yards away at the very end of the old logging road.  Young pines hid part of it but I could clearly see its head and chest since it was facing me. I shot it with my 30-30 in the chest and it dropped.

    When I got to it, I was shocked how small it was.  Although it was doe day and I was hunting meat, I wanted a bigger deer since the limit was two a year back then. I was able to pick up the 40-pound yearling by its back legs and carry it over my shoulder, not drag it out.

    I quickly gutted and skinned it and took it home, since I did not want to take it back to camp and get kidded about its size. I quartered that deer, cut its backbone in half and froze it.  Each piece fit in a big crockpot!  But it was some of the most tender venison I have ever eaten!

    I was very proud of a big ten point I shot from that stand, but I really didn’t put any effort into finding it, it just happened to wander by me.  It fell near the camp road and I drove to it. As I drug it to the truck and started loading it, another member stopped on his way out of the woods and helped load it.

    He gave me a sour look and said “I have been hunting that deer all week!”

    Don’t miss a chance to make memories in a deer camp.

I Am Thankful for the Outdoors

Although 2020 has been a crazy year, I have much to be thankful for, even this year.  Thanksgiving brings back many great memories and makes me realize what a good life I have had for 70 years.

    Most of all I am thankful for a wonderful wife that has put up with me for 49 years.  Only one time in all those years has she complained about my hundreds of fishing and hunting trips as well as other things.

    One year at Thanksgiving my mama planned Thanksgiving dinner at our place at the lake.   Every year I headed to Clarks Hill Wednesday afternoon with my boat as soon as school was out for the holidays.  Most years I got up and fished a couple of hours
Thursday morning, then went into town for a big meal at lunch with my family.

    That year mama had dinner at the lake so I could fish more hours.  I went out early that morning with the warning “be in early enough for dinner” from mama. I told her I would come in early enough to get cleaned up for the extended family that was joining us.

    I will never forget weighing the 7.1-pound bass that hit a Shadrapap on my DeLiar scales, then looking at my watch and noting it was 12:01 PM.  I thought it was wonderful mama had planned dinner, not lunch, or I would have not caught it.

    When I went in at 5:00 to get cleaned up for dinner, mama and Linda were not happy.  Maybe it was a Freudian slip that made me forget mama always said dinner for noon day meals and supper for nighttime meals.   Everyone that had come for dinner had already left and I missed seeing my brother and his family, several uncles and aunts and some cousins.

    The only thing colder than the cold stares I got that afternoon from mama and Linda was the cold turkey sandwich I had for Thanksgiving “dinner.”

    I am thankful for growing up in a family with parents that were tough on me but loving.  Discipline was strict, but I was given a lot of freedom when all my chores were done.  I could go out early in the morning hunting or fishing with my friends and the only rules were get my farm work done first and to be in to eat supper with my family.

    I am thankful I leaned to love the outdoors, respecting nature and its awesome power and beauty.  I am thankful I never learned to love killing, but understood it is part of nature.  Every animal I have shot, from squirrels to deer, made me respect death and the fact those animals died so I could eat them.

    I am thankful that I grew up in a free country that did not restrict my right to own guns, hunt and fish.  Unfortunately, that is changing, and I do not know how much longer it will last. 

    I am thankful I grew up on a farm and learned the value of hard work and the rewards from it.  I have had a comfortable life, mainly due to Linda and me working hard, often at two jobs each, and enjoying the rewards of being frugal, saving and planning for the future.  That allowed me to do what I wanted, have a bass boat all my life and go fishing when I wanted to go, without spending on frivolous things just to impress others.

    I am thankful for learning to be good leader from my daddy and Laymon Hattaway.  Daddy was my principal in elementary school, and I taught school with Mr. Hattaway as my principal for seven years.  My career as a teacher, central office administrator and principal was strongly influenced by those two men, and I would not have been as successful without their influence.

    I am thankful Jim Berry gave me the opportunity to fill a lifetime dream of being a writer.  Berry’s Sporting Goods sponsoring my first articles in the Griffin Daily News in 1987 gave me a start on a fun, fulfilling second career.

    I am thankful Linda got a second job as a cruise travel writer, allowing me to see things this country boy never imagined seeing. From squatting on the ice in Antarctica with penguins waddling by close enough to touch to catching salmon on a fly rod in Alaska on my 60th birthday, her love of travel has made me go places I will never forget.

    I am very thankful for the advances in medicine that seems to have cured my cancer.  Daddy died from chemotherapy treatments from his cancer in 2000.  It destroyed his kidneys, causing him to need dialysis which he hated. 

    Although the seven months of chemotherapy and radiation I took two years ago had some rough times, I never missed a fishing trip, going at least five times a month the whole time.  I think my drive to go fishing helped me through it, giving me something to look forward to during the rough times.

    Most of all I am glad to still be alive after all these years, with the hope of more to come.  I hope to make even mor memories in the time I have left.  

Fishing and Hunting In the Rain

 “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  Although I like the song, I have to disagree with the Carpenters on rainy days.  I love hunting and fishing on rainy days.

    Hunting squirrels during a hard rain was tough, they tended to stay in hollows and nests. But during a light rain or after a hard one, with wet leaves on the ground, I could slip quietly through the woods and get close enough for a shot without spooking them.

    Deer hunting was similar.  Although I usually stayed in my tree stand, I could still hunt, slowly moving parallel to deer trails and along ridge lines, watching for any movement.  Although the deer usually spotted my movement before I spotted theirs, I did slip up on a few.

    One day while hunting near Griffin I was easing along during a hard rain.  I spotted something that looked out of place down the hill.  I studied it and it did not move.  I though it might be another hunter sitting on a stump in a rain suit, so I did not raise my rifle to get a close look thought my scope.

    I decided to slip back the way I came, hoping the other hunter did not see me.  But, of course, as soon as I took a step, the “hunter” flipped up its white tail and ran off.  Although I did not get to shoot that deer, I still think I made the right decision for safety.

    Since I usually stayed in my tree stand, I made a frame over my head with limbs and carried a big black garbage bag with me.  If it rained, I could put the garbage bag over the frame in a few seconds and have a nice cover to keep the rain off.

    Now several companies make camouflage umbrellas with ways to attach them to the tree to do the same thing.

    Fishing in the rain seems to be better than sunny days too. Since bass do not have eyelids and their pupils cannot contract to limit light, they do not like bright sunlight. They tend to feed in shallower water on rainy days and they cannot see my lure and tell it is fake as easily, so they are easier to catch.

    I have been fishing on some miserable days in heavy rain. Often I pour a cup of coffee and am never able to finish it, the rain keeps my cup full.  All too often rain is so hard it makes my automatic bilge pumps run constantly.

    In a November tournament a few years ago at Lake Lanier it rained like that.  I found out my waterproof boots were not, and even my best heavy rain suit, Cabela’s GuideWear, let some water in, mostly down my sleeves. 

That is one of the few tournaments I have come back to the ramp early.  I caught my fifth fish with about an hour left to fish and decided I would go with what I had. That sounded better than staying out in the rain and being miserable for another hour trying to catch a bass that would cull one I had in the livewell like I usually would.

Luckily, I won so it was a good decision.

Although I have caught some of my biggest bass on rainy, cold days I do have my limits.  One Christmas at Clarks Hill the wind was howling and sleet was falling.  I found some shelter behind an island and caught an eight-pound largemouth. After landing it I decided I had enough and went in to show it off.

Another day there I put my boat in on an extremely cold, windy day. It was not raining and I was dressed for the cold, but as I idled out of the cove with the ramp and hit the wind and waves, drops splashing from the front of the boat froze in the air before hitting my jacket and fell off as ice. I turned around and went in!

Some days are just too bad for even me to fish.

Falling Leaves and Pecans

When I was young I watched leaves start falling with mixed emotions.  The big pecan trees in our yard dropped what seemed like tons of leaves that needed raking. But they also dropped delicious nuts.

    By the time I was eight years old I was spending hours with a rake in my hands. Before that, I would help pick up pecans, dropping them into a small bucket then dumping it into a croker sack. We would go over the yard picking up pecans first, then rake the leaves into the ditch in front of the house.

    Times were much more peaceful back then. The quiet whoosh of the rake was soothing, unlike the high-pitched whine of leaf blowers now.

    After raking the leaves, daddy would take a fishing pole and knock the lower limbs to make more nuts fall so we had to go over the yard again to pick up newly exposed nuts as well as the ones he shook loose.  When I was a little older he would let me climb the tree and shake the limbs I could get to without falling with the nuts.

    The huge tree in front of the house was hard to climb since the lowest limb was way above my head and the limbs were so big they were hard to shake.  But four other trees were smaller and I could reach lower limbs, climb up to each limb, stand on it while holding tight to a higher limb and jump up and down.  It was effective except for the highest limbs.

    We always burned the leaves in the ditch.  I really enjoyed that part of the process.  I still get warm, good memories when I smell leaves burning in the fall.  We would stand around the ditch with our rakes, trying to avoid the smoke, and make sure the fire stayed in the ditch.

    When the pile burned down, daddy would take a pitchfork and turn the embers over, exposing lower leaves that had not burned from lack of air. This made sure they all burned.

    After the fire was mostly out I would get down in the ditch and rake around for pecans we had missed.  There were always some under the ashes and, although some were burned too much, many were roasted just right. I don’t think I have ever eaten a better pecan than those that were still in the shell and hot from the fire.

    We repeated this process three or four times each fall, filling many 50-pound sacks with nuts. We kept them separated by variety.  One tree had what we called “thin shell” pecans, nuts with very thin, easy to crack shells.  Another tree we called “peewee” pecans, small nuts that were half the size of the other trees.

    I hated picking them up since it took forever to fill a bucket. But for some reason they brought more money per pound than the bigger nuts.  We sold many pounds of pecans, taking them to a buyer in Augusta. We often had a half dozen 50 pound bags to deliver.

    Although we sold many of the nuts, we cracked and shelled many pounds for our own use.  All summer long we had sat around the TV at night shelling peas and butterbeans, but in the fall we did the same with pecans.

    Daddy would take the nuts and crack them with a nutcracker, then mama, Billy and I would shell them, Daddy could crack them so most of the shell came off easily but without damaging the nut.

    The goal was to get out whole halves.  The halves went into one big bowl while the pieces went into another, keeping them separate for different uses. The halves had to be worked on to get the thin bitter string out of the groves on top of the nut. We had special picks to scrape them out.

    Each night as soon as we got enough mama would cover a baking sheet with nuts, put them in the oven and roast them. While shelling them we ate the warm, salted nuts.

    I had a “pet” red ant bed in the ditch where we burned the leaves and I always worried the fire would kill them. But as soon as the ground cooled they would dig out of their bed and start working, clearing the tunnels and making a small circular mound.

    All summer I would kill flies and take them down to the bed and feed the ants. I loved watching an ant find the dead fly and carry it back to the tunnel. I could sit for hours watching them move dirt grains around and make their home.

    Although they often crawled on me, I never got bitten by one. These ants were big, much bigger than the smaller black ants that lived around the house and made smaller mounds.  I still do not know what species of ant they were but they fantasticated me.

    Back in those days simple things kept kids interested.  And we always had chores to do.  I wonder if any kids now have any similar experiences.

Whiteoak Acorns

 Whiteoak acorns have been falling like rain at my house.  I blew off my driveway between my house and garage and within 48 hours I could not walk across it without stepping on acorns.

    Whiteoak acorns are a wonder of nature.  Big trees drop thousands of them each fall, but almost none will fill their destiny of producing another mature tree.  Some will rot, but most will be eaten by wildlife.  Without them some species would not survive.

    Deer depend on them to fatten up in the fall for the lean winter months when food is scarce.  Squirrels eat some on the spot but bury many more, sniffing them out during the winter when they, too, can not find other food. Birds of many species eat them with abandon when they are plentiful

    Whiteoaks and acorns have played an important part of my outdoor life.  I have spent hundreds of hours sitting under various trees, holding my .22 Remington semiautomatic rifle or my single shot .410, waiting on a squirrel to expose himself. When they came for dinner they became my dinner.

    I have built deer stands in them or near them all my life. Their spreading lower limbs offer good anchors for a built stand. Most of the time I put my climbing stand near one in a popular or pine, giving myself a good shot at any deer that comes to feed.

    When I was a kid, I read in one of my outdoor books that Indians ate acorns.  I tried one, it was very bitter, and I immediately spit it out. Then I read the
Indians pounded them into meal, soaked the meal in water to remove the tannin, the chemical that produced the bitter taste, then used the meal for cooking.

    Since there was always plenty of cornmeal in the cabinet in the kitchen, I never went to the trouble to try that.

    Whiteoak wood makes good firewood and I have cut down hundreds on my property, usually one that had died, and split them up for firewood for my insert in my great room. The first five years I lived in my current house I heated it totally with the wood burning insert, putting a sheet over the stairwell going upstairs to keep the heat in the downstairs living area we used, and using fans in doorways to move the heat into other rooms.

    I stopped doing that and lit the pilot light on my furnace when I was out of town for a tournament and Linda was home alone. She got sick and could not bring in firewood and keep a fire going. Even after that experience, most of my heat still came from the burning wood.

    They say cutting wood for heating warms you seven times.  When you cut it, load it, unload it, split it, stack it, carry it inside and finally when you burn it.  I can attest to that, especially on warm fall days when I was doing all of the above except burning it!

    I always wanted to be a “survivalists,” studying different kinds of edible natural plants I could gather.  Mushrooms were one thing I avoided, but there is an amazing amount of food available most of the year if you know where to look.  And game and fish provide plenty of protein if you can catch or kill it.

    Although I have never tried most of them, there are many ways to preserve food for the winter when food is not available to gather.  Like squirrels and deer, if you are going to survive in the wild, you have to store food for the winter or try to fatten up to make it through lean times.

    Storing it is much better than trying to get enough fat stored to starve and burn it when no food is available.

    We did that on the farm.  We had a big walk in pantry off the garage and by this time of year there were hundreds of jars in it. Everything from string beans, tomatoes, potatoes to jams, jellies and preserves were canned ready for winter.   Add in the freezer full of other vegetables and fruits and we ate good all winter.

    I am listening to a book about a terrorist attack that destroys our electric grid and plunges the
US into chaos.  Millions of people in cities run out of food in less than a week, and they have no idea what to do other than loot and steal what they want.

    I think I am too old to survive on my own now, but I think I still could get by better than most.  Very few people have a clue how to produce their own food. They think meat comes in nice Styrofoam packages with clear wrap, vegetables are clean and grouped in bins and canned goods magically appear on shelves.

    If we ever decend into chaos like in the book millions would die.  Could you survive on your own with out our food supply chain and heat from electricity and gas?  Most could not.

Ants and Nature

I remember the first time I saw an ant farm for sale.  It amazed me. I had my own free-range ant farm when I was growing up.  Although I could not see the tunnels, their cave mouth and small mound was plainly visible in the ditch in front of my house on Iron Hill Road.

    In the ditch in front of my house was a nest of big red ants.  I found out they are Florida Harvester Ants, but at the time they were just big red ants to me.  I sat for hours just watching their activities.  It was not unusual for one to crawl around on me but I was never bit by one.

    In the summer I would kill flies and take them to the ants to feed them.  It was amazing how fast they would discover the ant even if I put it a couple of feet from their tunnel entrance.  Scouts constantly moved around the perimeter of the bed, looking for food and danger, ranging out a long way from home. A long way for tiny ant legs anyway.

    An ant would find the dead fly and pick it up in its “jaws” and carry it to the tunnel then down inside. Often the fly was as big or bigger than the ant but they seemed to have no problem.

    To test their strength, I would drop small pebbles over the entrance hole.  The hole was in the center of a shallow bowl that had been cleaned of debris out about a foot. Around that clearing grainy pebbles ringed the bed, making it look like a target.

    When a tiny pebble was dropped over the entrance an ant would instantly move it away. They could carry pebbles bigger than their body. If I put one down too big for one ant two or more would work together to move it back to the edge.  They would seem to communicate someway, with an ant holding the pebble on each side and one moving backwards, much like two people carrying a heavy table.

    Rain would wash away the bed temporarily but it never took more than a couple of hours for the ants to unseal the tunnel and clear their little opening.   Again, they cooperated and seemed to be coordinated in their activity, not just running around like mindless bugs.

    At some point I tried to have a pet bed inside.  I would get a gallon jar and fill it with dirt, then put some ants in it, cover the mouth with cheese cloth and watch them.  I always found black ant beds and dug them up for my captives, never disturbing my pet red ant bed.

    No matter how many ants I managed to put in the jar my farm was never successful.  The ants would dig their tunnels and I could watch them work along the edges of the glass for a few days, but, even though I fed them plenty of flies, all the ants disappeared within a few days.

    I never realized I needed a queen ant to keep reproducing replacement worker ants.  I did get some eggs with the ants I put in my farm but even though the workers would take care of them, with no new eggs to replace the ones that hatched, the supply of workers soon ran out.

    Nature is amazing and fun to watch, even down to tiny ants.

Facebook Biased Fact Checkers

I spend way too much time on Facebook, laughing at bad jokes, keeping up with fraternity brothers I have not seen in years and making new friends and sharing information with old ones.  But I also spend too much time getting frustrated over fake information and angry about true information about folks that believe in things that go against everything I was raised to believe.

    One of the most madding things are the so called “fact checkers” that contradict my opinions with their own opinions, not facts.

    A good example is a meme I shared this week.  It showed democrat vice president candidate Kamala Harris, in an interview, saying she was in favor of banning so called “assault weapons” and having a “mandatory” buyback program. 

She wants to make law-abiding gun owners, about 15 million of us according to the New York Times, that own anything she calls an assault weapon, turn it in to the government for a small payment or be arrested.

    The meme said democrat vice president candidate Kamala Harris is anti-gun and anti-2nd Amendment.

    I was “fact checked” with the comments that Kamala Harris is not anti-gun and anti-2nd Amendment, she is in favor of “sensible gun laws.”  The 2nd Amendment says a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.”  But according to the “fact checkers,” taking guns away from citizens, by force, is “sensible.”

    Factbook has every right to censor information and make false claims since they are a private company. But I still call them “Facistbook,” for their censorship

I Love Water – and Clarks Hill Is My Heaven

I have always loved water. From Dearing Branch, where I could jump across most sections, to 72,000-acre Clarks Hill, everything from branches, ponds, rivers and lakes have drawn me. 

    Clarks Hill was my “heaven on earth,” from the earliest camping trip there with the RA church group to my many fishing trips there as an adult. I fished my first tournament there in April, 1974 and the Sportsman Club has been back every year since then, including this year.  When I found out the dam was started in 1950, my birthyear, I just knew it was built just for me!

    The RAs camped a couple of times a year at “The Cliffs,” a ditch that ran back a couple hundred feet from the lake.  The edges were ten feet above the water, and we could never touch bottom when swimming in it. After I got a depthfinder I found out it was about 18 feet deep.

    We would pitch our tents on the bank along the ditch, build fires and cook our meals. After dark we would put out our lines for catfish.  I will never forget the time I took a quart jar of chicken livers and gizzards and left it out in the sun.  I was sure the smell that almost made me sick would attract catfish, but apparently, they though it was as awful as I did.

    We boys would stay up as late as we could, but invariably we would go to sleep, only to awake to the adults still talking quietly by the fire, watching their rods.  And after waking it was time to fry bacon, scramble eggs and toast bread on the open fire.

    Daddy joined Raysville Boat Club when I was 16.  Five years earlier, Mr. Hugh took me water skiing for the first time and I fell in love with it.  About three years later Harold’s family bought a ski boat and I got to drive it. I will never forget the feeling freedom that went over me that day.

    When daddy joined the boat club, he also bought a 17-foot Larson with a 120 HP Mercruiser outdrive motor.  It was a great ski boat and I spend untold hours both driving it pulling skiers and behind it skiing. I got pretty good slaloming and even skiing on trick skis and foot skis. But as hard as I tried, I never could ski barefoot.

    We also fished from that boat for bass, crappie, catfish and bream.  Daddy and I ran baskets for a few years and kept our freezer full of fish. Then we discovered spring crappie fishing and I spent hundreds of hours in that boat with mama and daddy, pulling in fish after fish and filling out limits.

    Linda and I met on a blind date at a fraternity party and, although we didn’t really hit it off, I invited her to go to the lake with me and go skiing. She turned me down. But a few weeks later we happened to have dinner together and really clicked. I again asked her to go skiing and she accepted.

    We did ski that weekend, but we also fished some.  I think that is what convinced me she was the right one. It has worked out pretty good, our 49 anniversary is this month!

    At the end of our first year of marriage we spent the month of August at the trailer at the boat club.  I would get up early and go out in the Larson, trying to cast for bass but mostly trolling. I would come in for lunch, stay in the cool trailer until late afternoon then Linda would go out with me in the more comfortable afternoon.

    One day at lunch when my parents joined us, I said I wanted to catch a 12-pound bass to have mounted. Daddy kinda laughed and said if I did he would have it mounted for me.  Linda said how about her, and daddy said if you catch an eight pounder I will have it mounted.

I found a long, shallow point where I caught a three-pound bass on a Hellbender one morning, one of the only deep diving “plugs” back then.  We had no depthfinder but I could tell how the point came up shallow and then dropped off by the action of the plug bumping bottom.

That afternoon Linda went out with me. I was trolling a chrome Hellbender and Linda a blue one.  We went over the point and Linda’s rod bowed up. At first I thought she was hung, then a huge bass jumped.  It jumped three more times before she landed it.

On my hand-held scales it weighed eight pounds, ten ounces and we confirmed that at the marina!  When daddy saw it I am not sure who beamed more, Linda, him or me.  And daddy had it mounted, I am looking at it right now, hanging on the wall with that blue Hellbender in its mouth.

I still have not caught that 12 pounder!

I have so many more memories from Clarks Hill they almost overwhelm me when reminiscing.   

Growing Up Wild On Dearing Branch

    Dearing Branch was one of the great joys of my youth.  From the fence on the north side of our farm where it entered to the pipe under Iron Hill Road where it left our property, it ran about three quarters of mile.

    I explored, played, hunted and fished the branch on our neighbor’s property on either side, too, but the section on our farm was my special heaven.  I knew every foot of it, from the shallow sandy area where we built a swimming hole to the deep cut bank with an overhanging stump where I caught bream.

    Near the north fence line, the ground was sandy and the branch wide and shallow. It narrowed to go between two trees, a perfect place for a dam. And we dammed it every summer, filling croker sacks with sand dug from the bottom and placed between the two trees and on either side of them. 

    By digging out a lot of sand and making a good dam, we created a swimming hole about chest deep on a ten-year-old.  We skinny dipped there on hot summer days, then stood around on the bank in the sun until we dried enough to put on our clothes. Shoes were not problem; we never wore them in the summer.

    The swimming hole lasted until the first good thunderstorm, when rushing water washed away our best efforts. One summer we got the bright idea that an old crosstie placed in front of the trees, then filled in with sandbags, would stop it from washing away.

    Three boys never labored as hard to do anything as we did dragging that crosstie a few hundred yards. Those things are heavy.  And it worked great, for a short time. Even though they are very heavy, we found out rushing water can turn a crosstie sideways and wash away the sandbags.

    I fished for many hours on the branch. I read outdoor magazines, and thought I could tie flies to catch branch fish like the folks I read about tied them to catch stream trout.

    My flies were tied on small bream hooks with mama’s sewing thread. I used chicken feathers, we had plenty.  But my creations looked nothing like what was in the magazine. They were way too big, bulky and a wadded mess.

    But when tied to a short length of fishing line on a stick from the branch bank, and dabbled on top of the water just right, a bream or what I called horny heads would hit them.  The horny heads were long and skinny, and had knots on their heads.

    When I say long, I mean three inches long. And bream were about the same size.  We knew there were small mud cats in the branch, we caught them by hand during dry summers when the branch dried up except for a few deep holes. Every fish in the area went to those holes, where they quickly used up so much oxygen the fish would swim on top and we could scoop them up.

    I hunted squirrels and rabbits up and down the branch, and one time jumped a duck.  I spent many hours the next few years trying to find another one without any success. I also hunted snipe and killed a couple. Yes, there really are such a bird and they are related to their northern cousins the woodcock.

    One winter the pool right at the Iron Hill Road pipe froze over, and I “ice skated” on its ten foot by ten-foot surface until I broke though.  Luckily, the water was only two feet deep, but my feet in my boots were freezing by the time I ran back to the house!

    Branches create great memories.

Shooting Birds and Picking Cotton To Earn Money

    A question popular on “Fazebook” got me thinking about earning money growing up. A couple of weeks ago I started seeing the question “Have you ever picked cotton?” often.

    Yes, I have – one time when I was about 12 years old.  A friend’s family had a big farm and grew cotton.  One weekend while visiting we decided to earn some money by helping pick cotton.  We got our long bags and went out into the hot field early in the morning.

    I admit we played as much as we picked.  And we quit at noon, going in for lunch and deciding that was not a fun way to earn money. I don’t remember how much was paid for picking cotton, I think it was about 25 cents per hundred pounds. If I remember right, I earned a whole dime that half day I “worked.”

    A money earning “job” I had that I really enjoyed for years would probably make bird watchers and animal rights fanatics go crazy now. It was protecting our pecan trees. 

We had five big pecan trees and not only sold the nuts for a little extra farm income; we shelled and ate fresh nuts every way from raw to parched to pies and on cakes. And we froze many pounds for use until the next crop.

    Blue jays and crows liked pecans as much as we did and could eat enough each day to hurt our harvest.  From the time I got my first BB gun at six years old until I went off to college, daddy paid me a dime for every blue jay and a quarter for every crow I could kill.

    Blue jays were fairly easy to kill and on a good Saturday I often earned a dollar.  Crows were not easy.  I would get up at dawn and sit in a bush near one of the pecan trees with my .410, only to miss the crow as it flew off.  They always saw me raise my gun no matter how careful and slowly I tried to sight in on them sitting on a limb. I can remember killing only three in all the years I tried!

    I could get my bounty year-round, and my standard fee for blowing up a nest with eggs was 50 cents since five eggs were average. After killing the adult near the nest, there was no way to count the eggs after shooting up the nest. If there were baby birds in it, I could usually find and count them. I realized later in life daddy trusted me completely to tell him the truth about how many I killed, a small thing but I am sure it helped me realized the importance of being honest.

    While leaves were on the trees blue jays were harder to see and shoot, but I got pretty good at it.  With bare limbs, it was easy to spot the patch of blue but much harder to get close enough for a shot.  They could see me as well as I could see them.

    I wonder if kids have fun ways to earn money now?