I’ve spent a lot of time, and nights, in the woods and on the rivers and lakes. I think a lot of that is because I was a loner much of the time when I was young. I learned to enjoy my own company, and felt more comfortable, confident, and at ease, in the woods, alone. I still do. Not all of it was alone. I did have a fishing buddy sometimes, but not that often. This extremely cold weather we are having this winter got me to thinking about some of the harder ones, so, naturally, I’ve just got to tell you about a few of them.
When I was about 15, I finally got a boat. Not much of one, but it worked. I bought it from Sonny Lofland for $15. It wasn’t in the water when I went to get it, I didn’t notice it had a bad rotten place in it when I picked it up, and he forgot to tell me. I finally worked out a paddling and dipping water schedule that worked ok, two strokes and one can of water out. Once I got it in the Fourche River, I pretty well had to leave it there, because I was not able to get the truck from Dad very often, and I usually had to put in at least a quarter or fifty cents worth of gas, and that was harder to come by than Dad’s permission. I just hid it in the bushes, and that worked pretty well for a year or so. I caught up a batch of shiners from our pond one early spring day, and Tooter and I headed to the river, about three miles away. It was a nice early spring day, pretty warm, so I didn’t worry much about cold. I set out my lines, built a fire, but it just kept getting colder and colder. I was almost out of bait when I ran the lines at midnight, but I found a toad frog on the bank, so I put him on.
I didn’t have a coat, and by the time I was getting sleepy I was also about to freeze. That campfire was too big to risk sleeping close to, so I just let it die down to a nice bed of coals, and Tooter and I curled up around it. I had a ten pound cat on that toad frog when I took up the lines at daylight. Dad was watching as I walked up through the pasture the next morning, and I walked right spritely as Dad looked over that ten pound cat. Somebody found my boat and hauled it off pretty soon after that, so now I was back to bank fishing and wading. Summer time camping on the Fourche was about as bad as cold weather, what with the mosquitoes buzzing around in my ears all night. I didn’t catch many more catfish that big in those days. Toad frogs were hard to find.
When I was in the 12th grade at Fourche Valley, there were five boys in my class. We decided to go deer huntin’ one weekend. The deer were pretty thin in the valley bout’ then. About the only time one wandered into the valley was when somebody’s deer dog ran one out of the mountains. So, we went over to Harkey’s valley where there were more deer. A cold streak was coming in that night, so we all got in one tent, piled all our combined quilts in one pile, with us all under that pile. Five boys in one pile kept us all plenty warm. In fact, too warm. I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating like a hog. I went outside to the water bucket for a drink, but the water bucket was frozen solid. The thermometer said 13 degrees.
I had a bad experience the next morning. One that I have never told anybody about to this day. I was on a deer stand. I heard a deer coming through thick brush. I made out what seemed to be a deer head, even thought I saw horns. (Or were those horns only tree limbs?) I aimed and fired my 30-30. After the smoke cleared, the deer was gone. Then it hit me. Did I REALLY see a deer head, and horns, or was I just too excited by the prospect, (I had only seen about two deer while I was growing up) and was that maybe one of my buddies down there? Shaking, I went down to investigate. No deer. No buddy. I just had to sit down until I recovered a little, and vowed to myself this would forever be my secret. And it has been. Forever turned out to be 52 years.
When Barbara and I first got married, we lived right on the bank of the White river, but it was only a small stream there, up in those mountains of St. Paul, Arkansas. So, I didn’t do much catfishing for a while. We soon moved to Fayetteville, the rivers were larger, the fishing was better, and I was at the peak of my fishing all night thing. Barbara didn’t think much of my being gone at least one night a week, and that was our single largest area of disagreement in those days. I remember sleeping under a poncho while it rained all night at least three times. But I did catch a lot of catfish. Barbara soon figured out that if she would not cook what I caught, that would slow me down some, and it did.
When Corey was four years old or so, I took him with me for the first time. The fish were biting, so I ran the lines a couple of times during the night, but it was cold, so I fixed him up with a bed in the boat so he could stay warm, and we had to sleep in the same sleeping bag so I could keep him warm. Must not have worked very well, because he soon tired of cat fishing at night. I’ve often thought, with regret, that I turned him off to night time fishing that night. I was soon alone again.
I’ve learned a few things sitting around a campfire on the river bank. If one throws the wrong chunk of drift wood in the fire, one that has spent a year or two at the bottom of the river, bad things can happen. If it happens it has been washed out on the bank, and now looks completely dry, sometimes it still has water pockets in the middle. When they heat up to steam, that chunk will sometimes start shooting little (or sometimes, larger) burning bullets out. Sometimes, they will shoot a long way, and may be very hot. A big river rock, under the same circumstances, can explode in a deadly fashion. Just thought you’d like to know.
CONTINUED IN FOUR DAYS Thanks for reading!