Thursday, November 3, 2011

What are you doing in the Pond?

   Cat fishing at night has got to be one of the best ways there is of fishing. You set your lines and bait them up during the day then head back to your camp spot, build up a nice fire and set around visiting with your friends. After it gets dark you head out and run your lines every couple of hours. You can even do some rod and reel fishing in between but if you have limb lines or a trot line out it’s more fun to just hang out and wait to check them. Limb lines can get your adrenalin pumping pretty good when you cruse to where you can shine a sight on them and watch the limb dipping down to the water. You can even make a good guess about the size of the fish depending on how far and how often it dips. What you really want to see is it hit the water with a hard slap and stay down for awhile, that’s a sign of a good one. Trot lines are even more fun when you reach down in the water and pick one end of it up and feel a fish trying to pull you out of the boat.
   Now as much as Stanley and I loved this kind of fishing not everyone was exactly cut out for it. You have to keep in mind that you were around a creek, river, pond or lake while you were doing it. Because you were around water and at night you had to keep an eye out for all different kinds of critters although most of them wouldn’t bother you. You might walk up on a coon or possum hiding in the brush and be scared when they took off or even a deer that would stand so still they were hard to see until they exploded out of the brush right next to you but the main thing you had to watch for was skeeters and snakes. Skeeters could just about drive someone away from the water like my cousin Kenneth. That boy loved to night fish but at the right time of the year tem skeeters loved him a lot more. I’ve seen him down on the river wearing a short sleeve shirt when the skeeters were bad and it looked like he had a long sleeve shirt on just from the number of them that would be on him. An hour or two down there and he looked like he had a really bad case of measles! Nether Stanley or I could really understand that because they seldom bothered us. Everyone else would have so many on them it looked like they were about to be carried away and me and Stanley would get maybe one or two bites. They just didn’t seem to like us for some reason.
   The other main worry folks had was the snakes. We knew lots of folks that were scared to death of snakes, including my own dad. Now I’m not saying Stanley and me have never been scared by a snake, if you happen to look down and see one right next to your feet it’s really hard not to jump. I can say that we have never been afraid of any snake that we could see and never understood people who were. Down home we got rattle snakes which most of the time, not always, but most of the time will buzz when you get close to them. Even when we were kids we had no problem whacking one on the head if we found it after which we’d skin it and take the rattles. We could sell the skin in Henryetta for bets and hat bands and the rattles were always good trading material. We had copperheads which we believed were the most dangerous because they blended in with the dead leaves so well they were really hard to see. The other thing about copperheads was that you never knew where they might be. We’ve seen just as many out in the yard, under the porch or around the barn as we did out in the woods. The one you had to worry about the most when you were fishing was a cottonmouth. Cottonmouths are a whole different animal when it comes to snakes. They are kind of like a copperhead because they can blend to their back ground but where a copperhead will try to get away if you get close to him the first warning you have that a cottonmouth is close is when he strikes at you. They are aggressive also. You can be out on the water in a boat and see a cottonmouth swimming by and more than likely he’ll head toward your boat and try to climb in. You also have to watch any overhanging branches while you’re running you lines because they like to lay up in the branches close to the water and if you stick the nose of your boat under them they tend to fall down in the boat. Being in a small boat with a pissed off cottonmouth can get really exciting real quick. There has been more than one person who has shot a hole in their boat because of a snake, mostly just plain ole water snakes that they thought were cottonmouths. Again, it wasn’t that Stanley and I were fearless in anyway, we were just used to snakes because we had learned to identify them and we had caught a bunch of them.
   When I was living up in Chelsea I had a couple of guys that wanted to go spend the night fishing and set a trot line. I was always more than ready to go but since neither of them had ever been night fishing I decided we would good to a good sized pond instead of out on the lake. There were some nice sized catfish in the pond and we wouldn’t have to worry about the wind or waves like we would on the lake. We had a little fourteen foot boat and enough line to stretch all the way across the pond. We got to the pond late in the afternoon got the boat in the water and stretched our line across the pond. We ended up with enough line for about thirty hooks and after we had them all baited we headed back to shore to set up a camp. We had a lot of fun just sitting around the fire and shooting the bull but I had to keep putting them off from checking the line because they wanted to run it fifteen minutes after we set it out. We finally ran it the first time about two hours after dark and took four fish the smallest being around five pounds. They were really fired up after that so it was hard to get them to wait at least two more hours before we checked it again
   After they drove me crazy for awhile we went ahead and ran the line again after just an hour and a half. I was sitting in the front of the boat pulling up the line and it looked like they had been right because we had a ten pounder on the first hook. One of them was sitting in the back of the boat helping me pull it across with the line and the other was sitting in the middle. As I took a fish off the hook I’d toss over my shoulder so the middle guy could stuff it in a sack. We were catching fish on about every other hook and things were going fine until we got a little past the middle of the pond. We only had one light that night and the middle guy was holding it so he could spot light the fish while I took them off. I could feel a fish pulling on the line but it felt like it was a couple more hooks down from where we were so I was watching up the line and not paying much attention to what was happing right in front of me. As I pulled the line up out of the water I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and when I looked down there was a snake caught on one of the hooks. That wasn’t uncommon; Stanley and I had caught a lot of snakes when we had lines set out, especially when you’re using small perch for bait. It only took one glance to realize that it was only a small diamond backed water snake not a cottonmouth so I just grabbed hold of it, pulled the hook out of its mouth and tossed it behind me.
   The next thing I knew, my nose was just about touching the water from the boat leaning over and all I could hear was a bunch of yelling and two huge splashes! The boat flopped back the opposite way, nearly throwing me out the other side and when I looked toward the rear I was the only one left in the boat. I managed to set up and look around wondering what in the world had happened. The light was laying in the bottom of the bat so I grabbed it and started shining it around the pond trying to figure out where the other two guys had gone. I spotted one of the half ways back to the bank swimming to beat the band. I spotted the other one ten feet or more away from the boat trying his best to keep afloat. I grabbed the paddle and headed over to him because it was easy to see that he didn’t know how to swim. I finally got over to him and tried to grab him to help him back in the boat but all he would do was yell “is it still in the boat”? I had no idea what he was talking about and had to get him calmed down enough to get it through to me that he thought the snake was in the boat. It seems that when I tossed it over my shoulder instead of it going back in the water like I meant it too, it had landed in the boat, right in the middle of John’s lap.
   I didn’t have a clue that both of those guys were scared of snakes. I had a hell of a time getting John back in the boat. In between all his cussing at me for throwing a snake in the boat he made me search the entire boat to make sure it wasn’t still there. He still wanted to just hang onto the boat while I paddled us back to the bank until I reminded him that even thought there were no snakes in the boat, they were in the pond. After that he couldn’t get in the boat fast enough. I got more cussing when we got back to the bank until everyone calmed down for me to explain that there was nothing to worry about because it wasn’t poisonous. I thought that would make everything all right but it didn’t seem to matter to them.
   That ended our fishing trip that night. Neither of them were willing to get back in the boat and I had to haul their soggy butts home then go back and gather up my stuff by myself. You can bet from then on I asked if anyone was afraid of snakes BEFORE I got in a boat with them.