Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Across the River

Right now, a construction crew is working on demolishing the bridge over the South Tyger near my house. My son and I walked past the Bridge Out signs last week, just to take a look at the progress they'd made so far. The guard rails had been torn down partially, and the crew had put up erosion barriers to hold back the little bit of dirt they'd pushed around. The water under the bridge is shallow there, as that portion is being silted in. We talked about how great it would be if they would do a little dredging there, deepening the run like is was years ago, back when the bridge was a killer catfish hole.

About twenty-five years ago, I would stand on the bridge and catch channel cats by the dozen. Chicken liver slime marked the spot on the concrete rail where I'd cut chunks of bait, because that's the only bait I knew to use then. I'd drop my line down beside the pilings and wait to set the hook. With a jerk and a bowed rod, I would play the fish out from under the bridge and haul them up to me, dropping the perfect channels cats in a five-gallon bucket.

I kept every one I caught, and we'd save them up for a fish fry on hot Saturday evenings when all of the family would show up for a (free) meal. I never liked fillets of big catfish, they taste to much like the muddy bottom of a pond. I like smaller whole catfish-- minus the head, of course-- fried with the bone in 'em. Salt and pepper, battered and fried, please.

We'd go down there at dark, and fish for hours. It was nice just sitting down there, listening to the sounds of the river bottom on a warm summer night. What was left of the old, old bridge-- one that had fell in years ago-- was a good place to sit, fishing right off the end of it. The part of the old bridge sticking out over the water was a good place to put a folding chair and fish straight down into a deep hole full of bream and catfish. Now, if you stand in that spot, the nearest water is a trickle, seventy yards away. Another good fishing spot lost to hundred of tons of silt and sand.

This place has changed a lot over the years, some changes by nature, others by man. Just goes to show you how things don't stay the same. When I was a kid, I guess I thought it would always be like that, it would always be a good place to catch a few fish for supper. Now from the bridge, all you can see is the shallow water where the carp roll on hot July evenings. If you bushwhack your way upriver or downriver a ways, you may pick up a bass, or catfish or two, but I guess the days of filling the bucket with channel cats are over. That is, unless, mother nature decides otherwise. At least I have the memories.

Hopefully this new bridge with last for years, and provide safe travel for school buses and big trucks traveling across it. For a while now, buses from the school up the road have been going the long way around to avoid crossing it, according to what I read in the paper. Progress is good, run down bridges are bad, no matter if they're a good fishing spot or not.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Making An Escape

He got me up early that Saturday, said the corn needed hoeing and weeds had to be pulled. I slid a shirt over my head and found my shoes. The old man was frying sausage and the smoke was thick in the kitchen. Biscuits were browning dark in the oven and I could hear the clock ticking in the hallway. My brother and sister, still laying in their beds, didn't have to wake yet. They would take their breakfast later, an hour or so after I would be hanging my sweat-soaked shirt on a locust post in the edge of the field.

I protested as he laid out the list of what he expected me to get done with before suppertime. But with the threat of the belt around his waist, I just looked down into the little saucer at the black piece of meat, then I split the biscuit in half and folded the hunk of sausage inside.

I kicked the screen door open and stomped down the back steps to the barn. The hoe was leaned up in one corner beside a sack of feed. In the shed on the back of the barn was the old flat- bottomed boat, and laying across the seat was my fishing rods. I picked one out, a Mitchell spinning outfit, and took my tackle box and slipped through the patch of pines behind the barn to the road and headed down to the river.

All the way down there, I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering how long it would be before he'd figure out I'd made a run for it. I cut through the wood just before the bridge and followed the water's edge upstream until I reached the shoal that I considered to be my base camp on the river. He'd never wade through all of the dense brush to get to where I am, I thought.

I dug around under the wet leaves until I found enough worms to fill the rusted soup can I found washed up on the sandbar. Also, there was a small bucket that said Sliced Pickles on the side that was in the weeds where people sometimes dump their trash out at night. Some people dump dogs and cats out at the bridge, and the old man warns about mad dogs wandering round down there, so I've always got an eye out.

I bait my hook and cast out, and like a dream the line thrums wildly and I jerk hard to set the hook, only to have the rig fly back at me like a bullet, the hook sinking into the meat on my left forearm all the way to the bend. I couldn't find my knife, so I had to ramble through my box to look for something. But all I had was a pair of catfish skinning pliers.

I chewed through the thick line with the skinning pliers, blood pouring down and dripping from my fingers into the sand and the water. With a hard jerk, I popped the hook out and wiped the blood on my shirt and jeans. The only other time I felt pain like that was when a sixteen penny nail rammed up into my heel when I stepped on the board it was in when we tore down the chicken pen.

After the blood stopped, I fished. I caught a couple of fat bluegills and a channel cat. I put some water in the pickle bucket and put the catfish in it. He'd probably have to be my supper later on, since I am a fugitive now.

If I waded out halfway across, I could see the bridge. Every time I'd hear a vehicle I would look to see what kind of car or truck it was.

Hours passed, and it was afternoon. He knew by now for sure that I had escaped the farm and was on the lamb. If he don't find me here, he'll wait me out. He always did in the past. He knew that I had to come home sometime, at least that's what he thought. But I planned on staying there.

I caught another nice channel cat, and I went to put him in the bucket with the other one, but I jumped back when I saw a snake pop up with my fish in his mouth that he was stealing. Since he had his teeth in it, I just let him keep it, and he disappeared into the brush. I kept my eye on the other fish after that.

The sun began sinking behind the hill across the river, and the sounds of the bottom lands grew louder and louder. I had already quit fishing, and I was sitting on the pickle bucket with the catfish in it, thinking of what to do. I was starting to think hard about whether I wanted to stay the night on the river, with God-knows-what out there in the woods surrounding me, or if I wanted to face the firing squad when I walked into the yard after skipping out on my responsibilities.

The sound had grown so loud at that point that I was having a hard time thinking, and my nerves were on edge. Then a sound broke through the shrill of tree frogs and insects-- the unmistakable sound of the old Ford truck that he drove. I could see the light in the distance as he stopped on the bridge. He was riding the roads to find me. Now I must decide if I should lay low for the night out there in the darkest of dark, or walk out into his headlights and surrender.