Off the Porch: Reminiscing on the Roanoke

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 12:27 PM


My preacher once told me that lying is my spiritual gift. Well, maybe I lied about that. Fact is I’ve had a penchant for stretching the truth all my life. My late Uncle Roby used to tell the story about the first time he met me. I was about four and he asked what I’d been doing. I replied, “Shooting Indians” (remember, this was in the days of cowboy movies).
The best kind of lying is recreational lying. I’ve never been good at business lying or romantic lying, but I’m a master at recreational lying. I admit, I did spend a lot of time in the presence of some of the best liars in the country. A man who was as good a recreational liar as I ever met was Mickey Harrison. If you know Mick, make sure he gets a copy of this story because I truly owe my career as a liar more to him than any other person. Mickey could tell a lie with so much sincerity that even those who knew him to be less than totally honest in his reports still fell for his lies. Once, while Mickey and I were working together, he asked me how many kids I had. I decided to try my skills at recreational lying. I put my most serious face on and replied, “Nine.”
Mickey showed no surprise or any other reaction. He nodded his head gravely and said, “Wait’ll you’ve got as many as I’ve got.”
Some things are just too serious to lie about, though. I know old men remember things better than they really are. I have people come to me and tell me stories about things I did years ago and the fish are bigger, we shot more ducks, or the scores are higher. Those things just change a bit with memory and a little expansion during each telling eventually swells the length of a bass from three pounds to eight.
What I’m getting ready to tell is bona fide truth, provided it’s possible for an angler to truly tell the truth. I began fishing the Roanoke River near Weldon in 1998. The fishing had been phenomenal for a few years before that. My first trip, I went too early, in mid-April, and we only caught a few fish. The next trip, it was on like ping pong and, as I learned when to fish and where, it continued for several years, I think until about 2002.
In those days, we caught so many schoolie stripers that I find it difficult to believe my own memory. After the first year, we decided to make it an extended trip. Billy Lagle, my son in law, Jeff Jordan, and my old shooting buddy, Russell Jones, formed the first year’s group if I remember right. The next year, the size of our group doubled and we had four boats in the water. We called the trip Sensitivity Awareness Training and we held a one minute seminar every day after lunch on the river. With the boats rafted together, one of us would present a one minute speech on the value of being sensitive to the needs of others and the vibrations that indicate a strike. Then, we went back to fishing. We caught stripers on jigs, live bait, flies, and topwaters, my favorite. We once bought and fished 56 dozen bass minnows in a two day period.
We caught so many fish our thumbs looked like sandpaper from taking them off the hook. I remember catching them on jigs and just getting too tired to cast, I’d switch over to fishing a bass minnow on a short leader with a bullet sinker clicking the bottom and get one every cast. Billy decided to try catching them on a fly and sure enough he had success, in spite of the fact he knew little about fly fishing.
In the mornings early, before the sun made it over the horizon, we caught them on topwaters. Most topwater fishing is peaceful. You cast, the lure floats until all the ripples are gone, you twitch. This was nothing like that. You cast, the lure hit the water and the bass began knocking it out of the water. On the Roanoke during the striper season, you can only have one single hook on you lure and it must be barbless. The fish would try to eat the Zara Spook but only knock it away. I counted more than a dozen hits before the fish finally got the lure. Once, Jeff caught 18 consecutive fish, one on every cast, on a topwater. Jay Van Clodfelter and Tony Hunt once counted fish and caught 420 in a single day. I know there were days I caught well over a hundred but I simply couldn’t keep count, Tony and Jay Van used clicker counters.
Before you ask, no, they haven’t bit like that for a few years. Now, a good day is over 30 fish and a great day is 50. I have to admit that I’ve been skunked for stripers on trips in the last few years, though I always catch something. Normally it’s a catfish or two but I have caught flounder (yes, I have witnesses and photos) 150 miles from the ocean.
The season is coming up and I plan to fish the Roanoke again this year as I have every year since that first one. I hold no illusions that we’ll catch fish this year like we did in those days. Still, I always hold out hope when two fish come across the gunnels in quick succession. Maybe this will be the year they bite like that again. Whether the fish bite or not, the Roanoke River is a great place to spend a spring day. It will always be one of my favorite places in North Carolina, whether I ever catch another fish there or not.
As to whether we really did catch as many fish as my story relates, I have witnesses and can provide phone numbers and email addresses to confirm. Of course, you need to take into account that those guys are all fishermen, just like me.

Outdoor Celebration with Dick Jones as Speaker
There will be a Woods and Waters event, March 23rd, at Westchester Baptist Church in High Point,. This is a celebration of outdoor fun with exhibitors and demonstrations relating to shooting, hunting, and fishing. The event will begin at 3 p.m. and there will be a dinner featuring food from Tommy’s Barbeque at 6:00. After dinner, outdoor writer, Dick Jones will speak and relate some outdoor stories. There will be door prize drawings all afternoon long and prizes for the event will include outdoor gear including guns. Tickets are available in advance and are expected to sell out with only 120 seats for the dinner. Tickets are not required for the exhibits and demonstrations during the afternoon. For tickets call 336 687 3407 or 336 442 0777.