Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New series...The Birth of a Trout Bum"

Picture this...it's 1980, you cross the railroad tracks in the little mill town of Lindale Ga. Up the tracks are 3 boys, no older than 11 or 12. Each one of them has on rubber hip boots, a fishing vest (if you could get a closer look it's actually a hunting vest with pill bottles full of hooks , weights and spinners shoved down in the shell holders) and a fishing rod...it's Christmas break, they're headed towards the Creek and it's freezing. Today...that'd make a lot of fishermen's day...the birth of a Trout Bum is what I'd say.

My dad, who is not a fisherman, showed up from work one spring day with a youth sized Zebco 202 rod and reel combo. This was before the scoobie or Barbie themed rods and reels...it was very generic looking with its solid glass 3' fiberglass blank, cork handle and black reel. He said, "Get ready, we're going fishing." I was around six years old and that's when my wanderlust associated with fishing started and it's still redlined after 40 years. In those early years different lakes around town were as good as any of the exotic locations that I've daydreamed about throughout the years. I had heard stories of huge Bass in "Padgett's Lake", Powhatan and Wax lake to name only a fraction that were available to the everyday fisherman. As I fished those lakes with my brother Steve or my close friends, Scott, Mike, Billy and David, this unknown to me addiction was incubating in my soul to a point of total obsession. I didn't want to just catch Bass, bream and catfish...I wanted to catch the biggest. When I got a taste of those in the larger sizes I wanted more...something not just big but beautiful and romantic with a feisty attitude. Trout!!!! The only thing was...there were no trout in my area. The closest place was an hour drive and being 9 years old that was impossible to get to on a bicycle and back by dinner without my parents sending out a search party. So,  I'd fish the local ponds and creeks catching numerous types of sunfish, chubs, the prized red-eye bass until that one winter day in 1979.

   I had bought a black and yellow Panther Martin spinner at Owen's Hardware...walked down to the old grist mill and duck pond on Silver Creek in Lindale, Ga and started fishing. I had started at the bridge just upstream of the cotton mill and was working my way back to the sharp bend in the creek. As I made my way past the old sycamore tree, that still stands there today, I made a cast across the Creek towards where the water wheel would have been on the grist mill and pulled my lure through a deep hole that was there. I could see my little spinner buzzing along several feet below the surface when a silver streak darted out of the shadows and absolutely crushed the bait. I knew what it was, even though I'd never actually caught one and in that moment in time, landing that fish was the most important task I had on the planet...it was my first trout.

   I pulled that fish up on the bank and dove on it, tried to grab it several times but if you didn't know, trout are one of the most slippery fish known to man. Finally, I had it, no doubt in a death grip, and took off in a dead run up to Hotchie's Cafeteria to show my mom and the owner Hotchie Millican my supreme prize. (One thing I noticed while that fish was in my hands, every time it tried to wiggle out I could feel it's muscles almost vibrate, trout are the only fish I think I've noticed that in.) I came busting through the front door of the restaurant with that live fish gripped in both hands, rod and reel tucked under my arm and not stopping until I was behind the serving line, Hotchie was standing there with a most surprised look on his face and was in a rare mode...speechless! I blurted out, "Is this what I think it is?" He looked at it, took it out of my hands and said, " by god, that is a rainbow trout! Where'd ya get it?". To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement but again blurted out with the utmost excitement... "Down there by the old mill, you should of seen that sucker hit..."and I went into every detail of the short moment in time it took to actually catch that fish. That day, Hotchie cleaned and cooked that little trout on the griddle for me like I was something special.

   As the days went by a man I'd seen in church and knew from afar came in Hotchie's and wanted me to tell him about catching that trout. His name...Mr. Jack Mathis, a man I would come to know and respect as a man and a fisherman. I sat down at the table with him and he listened to every single word of my story, asked questions and the likes...just like he was conversing with a grown man and when I finished he said, " Jim, let's keep that our little secret." He said that he knew a lot of folks already knew but let's let it die down some or else people from all over the county would be crowding our Creek. There was plenty of space for us and our friends and I agreed that I didn't want any crowds on that little Creek. You see, Jack had been catching trout for a while out of Silver Creek and he told me that a man upstream had a place dammed up that he kept trout in. When the Creek would flood some would get washed down while others would simply swim upstream but I believe that in 1979 me and Jack were the only others outside of that man that had put those trout in the hole behind his house that knew about them. I may be wrong but I don't think I am.

  As my teen years went on most of my friends would wade the creek looking for trout and my good friend Mike was catching them further up the Creek around "Chamber's Mill" with his friend Gary...by the late 80's the state had put the Creek on it's list to stock and more and more folks came to check it out but a small group of us that were willing to trek up the Creek, brave the posted signs and be willing to run, knew where the better spots with some up to 18" that were caught. I was fortunate to be invited numerous times to fish the Oconaluftee in Cherokee NC with my friend Scott and his dad where I got a taste of big water and bigger fish...namely, my pb Brook trout that weighed 3lbs. I learned the basics during that time like wading skills, reading water, trout habits etc. My imagination bloomed and I knew that I wanted to chase those beautiful creatures. I've been on many trips with a few of my childhood friends over years to remote trout streams that hold native Brook trout to rivers that hold record class browns. A lot of those exotic waters from my youth are now old favorites, a little stocked rainbow doesn't get a second glance anymore but what it has grown into is exactly what my childhood dreams were made of... we were trout bums when it wasn't cool. Peace