2017-05-17 / Opinion


All Aboard an Old Wooden Boat
by Bob Kornegay

The fishing camps all had names. I remember Dunn’s Camp on the lower Chattahoochee and Idlewild on Lake Talquin, from where fishermen embarked to catch mammoth shellcrackers from a stretch of water christened “Rice Patch.” Other names escape memory, but the camps were many. Buck and Slats knew them all.

Buck, my grandfather, and Slats, his favorite fishing buddy, often allowed my intrusion on their angling fellowship. Whenever I was allowed to tag along back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the resulting excursions became memorable events forever imbedded in future recollections. I remember them distinctly and in detail.

Recalled most vividly are the boats. Each camp had a “fishing fleet,” a nondescript flotilla tethered beneath a rickety shoreline shelter ambitiously called a “boathouse.” No one I knew back then trailered his own boat to a favorite fishing hole. Boats were for renting, not buying. The going rate was $1 a day. Buck, a small-town barber, would hand over a wadded, crinkled dollar bill (10 cents more than the price of a haircut) and thereby purchase one daylight-to-dark adventure, pure sensual nirvana for one whose post-pubescent discoveries were still years in the future.

Fishing- camp boats were heavy wooden things liberally slathered with red and/or green paint, obviously a magic concoction that peeled and curled upon contact with plywood. Aboard each were two anchors, one-gallon tin cans full of set concrete into which were imbedded rusty eye bolts. A length of rope, frayed and rotten, attached these weights to bow and stern. Paddles provided propulsion and came in awfully handy whenever Buck’s old 5-horse Firestone outboard refused to start, which, roughly speaking, was every time the starter cord was pulled. Also included were “life preservers,” ancient cork-filled boat cushions which would not have supported the weight of a wet Chihuahua and didn’t matter anyhow since they were sat upon and never worn.

An empty Maxwell House coffee can was also standard equipment. No fishing camp boat left “port” without one. Wooden boats, especially wooden boats infrequently caulked and seldom painted, leak. Leaks, naturally, must be bailed. Fishermen leak intermittently as well, and “leaking” into a coffee can from a kneeling position proved much less precarious than performing the same task afoot over the side, particularly in a wind while bobbing on choppy water. I’m sure a Folger’s or Chase & Sandborn container would have performed equally well, but “Good to the Last Drop” is a Maxwell House trademark and I shall not infringe.

Built into the middle bench seat, where I always sat, was a low-tech livewell. My first exposure to organized calisthenics was a set of 200- times- a- day knee bends as I stood and sat rhythmically to allow regular access to the lid. Worse, there were invariably “things” in these livewells, discoveries made when they were first opened. Wasp nests proved exciting, as did the occasional live water snake. No less motivating were two or three dead fish left behind by the last angler to use the boat a week before. Care to guess whose honor it was to rid the boat of these fragrant “leftovers?”

I heard my first “dirty” joke aboard a fishing-camp boat. Mr. Slats told it and I laughed, but only because Buck did. Otherwise I had no clue. Something about loading a boat one time and being asked by the fishing-camp guy if he (Slats) needed a couple of “oars.”

According to Slats, he replied, “Naw, fella, we’re goin’ fishin’.”

Into those boats, many a big old bream was hoisted and happily tossed into the livewell. That’s just for the record, though, because it doesn’t matter a lick. Never did.

What matters is I was always welcomed aboard. Period. And for a time, a too-brief time, I was a fishing buddy to two unsung heroes; dead Firestone, Maxwell House “plumbing,” frayed anchor ropes, and all. There’s not a five-figure bass rig in the whole world I’d take for that. Not one.

Editor’s note: This brings back fond memories for several columns on fishing trips.

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