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Fish Tales

By Tom Poland
web posted June 5, 2015

LIFE DOWN SOUTH – “Summertime and the living is easy, fish are a-jumping ...” About this time of year bream go on the bed and the fishing can be furious. Old timers say bream move to shallow water and fan out pie-plate-sized craters to lay their eggs in. Drop a hook near a bream bed and you better be ready for action. Anytime I see a boy with a pole over his shoulders it resurrects some Mayberry moments from childhood.

Summers spent fishing were a time of pure bliss. No jobs, no demands, and no stress other than snagging a hook on a limb. As a boy, all I thought about was fishing. I read anything I could about fishing and copies of Outdoor Life were close at hand. And then football, high school, college, and work relegated fishing to “something I used to do.” I remember the last time I fished though, and it was special.
In the late 1970s I worked for a fellow Georgian, John Culler, who gave me my first break as a writer. He served as the editor of South Carolina Wildlife magazine, when he hired me in 1978. John gave me my first break and I am grateful to him to this day.
Like all country boys, John grew up with a cane pole in his hand. Later, he wrote Purple Heaven, a book filled with memories of growing up in Americus. A gifted storyteller, he relived his boyhood days of fishing in a chapter titled “Memories.”

“I grew up in a small Southern town with plenty of free time in the summer, a lot of it spent adventuring along various creek banks and around a big old millpond about a mile from home. It was a time when every day was exciting and every new thing an adventure, and some of the very best moments came when I had a fishing pole in my hands.”

John describes the cranky old man who ran the gristmill at the pond and how he put him on the bluegill bed. “He was covered with a fine white powder all over his bib overalls, from his untied brogans to his grizzled face, which held about a cup of meal in his three-day-old beard and eyebrows. He had a penchant for giving anyone he saw a piece of his mind but all he had ever given me was kindness and a soft smile. Once he even let put my hands in the fresh ground meal. ‘Feel it,’ he said. ‘It’s warm.’ The day he showed me the bream bed had been one of the lesser of the better days, and I was passing the mill on my way home.”

“Didn’t do much good, did you?” He was sitting on the steps.
“I got some bites, but I missed them,” I lied.
“Come here a minute, boy. Let me show you something,” he said as he got up and started walking along the path next to the dam right by the road. Slowly parting the covering of honeysuckle, he gazed intently into the water. “Looka there, boy. That’s a bream bed, and if you drop a fat wiggler in there about daylight tomorrow morning you’re going to be on to something.”

The next morning at dawn John rushed to the bream bed (The most delicious time in all creation is just before sunup on a summer morning,” writes John).
“Keen with the anticipation of the battle I was sure to come, there is no way I can describe the way I felt. It was absolutely better than any Christmas morning that ever happened. I was so nervous and excited it took four tries before I could hit the worm with the hook, then the darn thing got tangled on every strand of honeysuckle within five miles. Finally it fell free and dropped into the water with a soft plop.
“Evidently I had too much lead, because the cork sank too. ‘Shucks,’ I thought, and raised my pole to bring it in. But I didn’t have too much lead, a big fat bluegill had my worm. There was a violent jerk, a tremendous sloshing and splashing in the shallow water, and I was in the middle of the fight of my life!

“Finally I got him on the bank—a tremendous bluegill, perhaps more than a pound—and my heart was running 500 miles an hour. I heard the mill start up, and I took off to show the miller what I had done. My knees were still weak. It was a tremendous feeling. I haven’t gotten over it yet!”

If you’ve fished a bream bed, you know how John felt. We have our special memories too. And among mine is the last time I fished. It was with John. He had just accepted the editor’s position at Outdoor Life, the beloved magazine of my youth.

My boyhood days of farm ponds and creeks behind me, my greatest memory of fishing as a man is sitting side by side with a fellow Georgian, a man about to take over the magazine that thrilled me to no end as a boy. It was one of those pure moments you remember forever.

Photo by Tom

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