2010-09-29 / School & Sports

Backroads and Bobtails

Talking about it doesn’t help
by Bob Kornegay
As a fisherman, I’m a rodand reel purist. I don’t use gill nets. I never go jug fishing. I politely decline to go noodling.

Am I uppity? Are such pursuits beneath me? Have I gotten “above my raising?”

No. My attitude has nothing to do with snobbery. I believe, in fact, that netting, jugging, and noodling (where legal) are fine sports for those who practice them. I personally avoid them because I was psychologically scarred as a youth and the thought of such activities makes me sweat, drink heavily and occasionally curl up in a fetal position for days on end.

My only jug-fishing foray took place at age 12. My friend Tommy and I tossed six jug-and-line rigs into a weed-choked “back-to-nature” pond and settled down on the bank to smoke cigarettes filched from our daddies and await the capture of catfish we were certain couldn’t resist the live baitfish on the hook at the end of each line. Our plan, when a hookup occurred, was to strip off, swim out and retrieve both jug and fish. Hey, we were 12, remember?

It didn’t take long. One of our half-gallon jugs, having drifted halfway across the pond, began moving across the water’s surface like an America’s Cup yacht. I was soon swimming (somewhat less gracefully) after it, nekkid as a picked chicken. Being young, immortal and in good physical condition, I caught up to the bobbing jug and “smartly” reached out my foot, wrapping the line around my ankle. Doing so, I placed my big toe into the mouth of our captured prey, which, as luck would have it, wasn’t a catfish. It was instead a huge grinnel (mudfish, blackfish, call him what you will) with powerful jaws and needlesharp teeth. The aforementioned toe impaled itself on the hook imbedded in the fish’s mouth and said hook, along with those sharp teeth, sank deeply into my young podiatric flesh. My screams were heard for miles, as was Tommy’s hysterical laughter.

Fish, hook, and toe remained joined as I swam painfully ashore. Tommy eventually separated the three with a rusty Barlow knife. I cried big old tears. I still do, every time I think about it.

My buddy Mike and I went gill-netting for redhorse suckers in February, 1968. It was nighttime. It was cold. We had neither waders nor change of clothing. But we were teenagers, hormonally fueled supermen. We kindled a fire on the creek bank, shucked off every garment and waded headlong into the stream.

Never was a gill net set any faster. I only wish we had timed it. It would be an unbreakable record. I was never so cold in my life. Thankfully, hypothermia hadn’t yet been invented and the anatomical structures that shrank and temporarily disappeared returned to normal when we warmed up again.

As we dried out and dressed at streamside beside our blessed blaze, Mike, through chattering teeth, said, “Boy, are we stupid!”

“Yep,” I replied. “And we gotta come back and check this net in a few hours.”

For the record, that wasn’t much fun either, even with clothes on. I drove across that creek a while back. It was daylight and the temperature was 98 degrees. Despite that, I got the shakes and turned a rather pretty shade of blue.

As college students, my pal Dwight and I tried noodling. For the uninitiated, noodling is fishing’s version of severe mental illness. To successfully noodle, one must deliberately stick his hand and arm into bankside holes, submerged hollow logs and nasty-looking floating debris piles. If he’s lucky, he feels a fish wriggling inside the dark cavity and extracts it bare-handed. This is commonly done by fishermen in the upper Midwest. Last time I checked, waters in the upper Midwest do not house four-foot water moccasins or alligator snapping turtles the size of #2 washtubs. Dwight and I were not nekkid during this great adventure, owing to our “maturing” with age.

I learned two interesting things that day: 1. Harmless water snakes and four-foot water moccasins look very much alike in muddy water. 2. The pitch and volume of a scream changes very little from age 12 to age 21. Dwight, by the way, now sells life insurance. There are very few noodlers on his client list.

I must go now. This reminiscence hasn’t had the psyche-healing effect I thought it might. Excuse me, please, while I curl up in my corner.

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