Off the Porch: Fishing like Aunt Wanda
We had a problem, we were anchored in a spot just in front of a salinity control gate on the edge of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and we were catching so many black drum that the big speckled trout we knew were there couldn’t get to our baits. The black drum were two to five pound fish, and they fought like devils. Our guide, Mike Bares, with Hackberry Rod and Gun, was staying busy taking fish off and keeping live shrimp transferred from the live well to the bait bucket on the console. I remember catching five of these fish in five casts before finally connecting to a nice speck. Some problem, huh?
Sometimes, anglers get a little too focused on a specific fish and forget the fun of fishing. It’s normal, I suppose, because we tend to identify ourselves by the fish we pursue. Some of us are bass anglers, some surf fisherman, some fish offshore. Beyond this, we often get caught up in the quest for a specific species or class of fish and, to make our quest a little more noble, we begin to belittle those who pursue less sophisticated quarry. I, for the life of me, can’t figure out why anyone would spend hours hiking mountain trails and spending thousands of dollars and hours of time on his equipment, to catch an eight inch wild rainbow or brook trout. That same guy thinks I am a mindless redneck for owning a 13 foot surf rod that throws an eight ounce sinker into the ocean, only to stand shoulder to shoulder with other mindless rednecks to catch a big, dumb, red drum. I suppose we’re both equally guilty of being fish snobs.
Fishing should be done for pleasure and to harvest from nature’s bounty. It can be done as competition or as a quest to improve one’s skills in accomplishing certain goals, but when this happens, I believe something important is lost. Our Lake Charles trip was part of a business trip to the NRA Convention. We decided to stop by Lake Charles to spend time with our friends there and get a story on our hosts, Hackberry Rod and Gun. On the boat with us was Kaylen Fletcher, a public relations manager for Southwest Louisiana and this was Kaylen’s first fishing trip. True, our target fish was speckled trout, a much sought after game fish with a reputation for being a great fish to eat, but Kaylen didn’t carry the preconceived notion that a speck is more desirable than a black drum. She was enjoying catching fish and that’s what fishing should be all about.
As we fished, I assured Mike that we were having just as much fun catching black drum as we would catching specks. Personally, I like to eat black drum this size more than I like speckled trout. I’m different this way, I like bluefish better than flounder.
As a small boy, I used to go fishing with my Aunt Wanda; we kids called her Aunt Wandee. She was a widow and she lived within walking distance of our house. We’d walk to a spot behind her house on Abbott’s Creek or make a little longer walk to Shelly Murphy’s pond. It was the most primitive fishing I’ve ever done in my life. We used cane poles that I assume she rigged herself. Her husband, Grover, had died several years before I was born. She owned no car, so we had to walk. We dug the worms behind her old garage that no longer housed Grover’s car. We used real cork bobbers and hooks she probably bought at the hardware store on a trip to town with someone else. She treated her box of hooks like they cost four dollars each.
Aunt Wanda never caught a fish too small. Every fish she caught was a cause for celebration. She kept every little bream or tiny catfish we caught and she carefully cleaned them and ate every one as if it were a rare and exotic form of caviar. I walked to her house for a meal of these little boney bream and catfish and I marvel today at how much she enjoyed the whole process, from digging the worms to picking the morsels of fish off those tiny little skeletons. I’m convinced she was the most pure angler I have known in my life because her fishing was for the fun and sustenance of it and it had nothing to do with impressing someone else.
The term “purist” refers to “somebody who seeks to maintain the pure or traditional form of something”. I know the folks who fish bamboo fly rods that cost thousands of dollars and tie their own flies on the bank of distant mountain streams consider themselves to be purists. I know the guys who spend a thousand dollars on a surf rod and reel and have enough red drum citations under their belt to wallpaper their houses consider themselves to be great anglers.
Neither of them were real anglers compared to Aunt Wanda. She fished because she loved to do it and she appreciated it more because she loved it for what it was. She was a true angler and should be a role model to all of us who tend to get a little uppity from time to time. Fishing can be as complicated as you wish or as simple but it all shakes down to the joy of catching a fish. Aunt Wanda knew this and she should be a role model to all of us. It occurred to me on Lake Charles just how important the joy of catching fish. It’s the most precious part and we all need to be careful not to lose it.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com.