Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Crappie

Crappie fishing can be big fun.  My Uncle Sam loved to fish and crappie was his “go to” fish when nothing else were biting.  He shared with me his secret hole one day, and it was everything he said it was when no other fish could be found in the entire lake.  Since he always saved it for the last resort so as not to be skunked, it was not overly fished, and each time we went there, the crappie were biting.

Sam was a man of pride (aren’t we all?), and he refused to return home without fish to brag about.  I didn’t know of this secret crappie hole for about a year after I started fishing with him, but that was because we had always caught enough fish to brag about.  Then one day it happened.  Even Sam couldn’t find a fish.  They were there, of course, but we spent hours at the best spots and couldn’t bring anything to the boat.  So he told me about his closely held secret.

At the north end of Eagle Mountain Lake near a place where the West Fork of the Trinity River made its entrance to the lake was an old collapsed wooden dock where Sam had me tie up the boat to one of the remaining pilings.  He refused to allow me to drop the anchor because it would spook the fish, so I went along with it.  He tied a small hook on his line and skewered a small grub on it.  Slowly he lowered it into the water and quickly he brought it back up with a decent crappie on it.  I followed his lead, and in about 45 minutes, we had enough fish to have a fish fry.

I was sworn to secrecy.  And I could not fish there unless he was with me.  During the next year, we went there only two or three more times, but once was just because Sam wanted to prove some point to another family member who wouldn’t get in the boat with him.  We headed straight to the crappie hole, and came back an hour later with a boatload of fish.  I didn’t ask Sam what he was trying to prove, nor did I ask who the family member was, and it didn’t matter.  Sam felt he proved his point, and that was good enough.

One day Sam refused to go fishing with me.  For two years we had fished at least twice a month, and most of the time it was three or four times each month.  Never before had he turned me down, and no one else would fish with him, so I was baffled by this.  He said something about having done it all, and the tide had turned, but I didn’t get it.  No other explanation was ever given.  Sam never went fishing again.

I began fishing elsewhere.  There were many lakes surrounding Fort Worth, and I believed I should try them out.  Besides, each time I returned to Eagle Mountain Lake to fish, my heart wasn’t in it.  I missed my fishing buddy.  As ornery as Sam was, he had become my friend and fishing mentor, and I couldn’t think about fishing that lake without him.  He would still talk fishing with me, and he would loan me specialized gear from time to time, but he never returned to the water with me or with anyone else.

The knowledge of fishing Sam passed on to me became the basis of successful fishing throughout my travels.  My job took me all over the U.S.A. as well as some other countries, and everywhere I went, my fishing rod and tackle box went with me.  At no time did I feel I couldn’t fish a new body of water due to lack of experience as a fisherman.  Maybe the fish were different from my home territory, and maybe the techniques varied a bit from what I knew, but I could hold my own with very little guidance.

I fished in several places most people can only dream of fishing, and I caught some very exciting fish.  Yes, sometimes I didn’t catch a thing, and I thought about that secret crappie hole, but I couldn’t go there.  I had promised Sam I wouldn’t go there without him, and he wasn’t fishing any more.  Not to mention the crappie hole was often more than a thousand miles away.

Whenever I was back in Fort Worth, I would always go visit Sam, and we would talk about fishing, and he always loved to talk about it, but he still wouldn’t go.  Then one day about a year after he stopped fishing Sam told me the crappie hole was mine.  I could go there anytime I wanted to and I didn’t need his permission.  As far as he knew, no one else was aware of it but him and me, and soon it would be just me.  That’s when I first noticed his age.  Sam had always been ageless to me.  I should have known better, but there are many things I don’t notice about a friend and age is one of those things.  Now Sam suddenly looked his age.

A month later I returned home from a business trip to discover Sam had passed away, and I had missed the funeral by a few hours.  I grabbed my fishing gear, pushed a boat into the water and headed straight to the crappie hole.  That afternoon I caught at least 75 fish and probably many more.  I took them home, cleaned them and put them into the freezer, and I never again fished Eagle Mountain Lake.  It had been a crappie day.

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