The old neighborhood is lined with houses. The woods we played in now hold an abundance of brick, mortar and siding. The little creek, which once had a consistent flow from the spillway of a pond hidden back in the woods near Augusta Road, is dry. Driving through the subdivision brings happy memories and melancholy recollections to see how it has changed. But then again everything has changed. Even the creek.
The creek itself was an imaginative place, where sticks became boats and were raced around rocks. Small dams were built to increase the water level where small boys could sit and cool off in the hot summer weather. Jacuzzi was not a word in our vocabulary but we understood the definition. Swimming trunks and bathing suits were reserved for pools. In the creek short pants were acceptable and would eventually dry if we stayed outside long enough.
Aggravating crayfish with skinny sticks and seeing how long they could stay clamped on these bits of wood brought an intense competitiveness between a group of youngsters. One needed to pull them slowly, only inching the crayfish across the sandy bottom to intersect with the make-believe finish line.
I remember one day Dad came home and promised a fishing trip to Lake Hartwell the following weekend. He said we would rent a boat and motor from the marina and crappie fish. It didn’t matter what kind of fish we were after, just the excitement about being with dad and fishing together. Dad worked a lot of long hours in the textile industry, so there wasn’t always a lot of spare time.
I didn’t have any concept as to how large Lake Hartwell was. I just knew that if there was a motor involved, it was bigger than our little half-acre piece of heaven hidden in the woods several hundred yards upstream.
The fishing anticipation in a young boy made bedtime a struggle. Burning thoughts of the fish, what kind, how big, being in a boat for the first time; it all danced fervently throughout my head and kept my eyes wide open. I had so many questions and Dad said to be patient. What did this mean?
I wondered how dad knew where to go find the fish, but it really didn’t matter. This sense of excitement and ardent thoughts of an upcoming fishing adventure still make it hard for this boy, 60 years later, to sleep the night before. And I hope it never changes.
The day before our quest I can remember dad coming home with a new bait bucket. He grabbed a pillowcase from the linen closet and took me down to the creek. He found a long oak stick that had fallen near the creek bottom. I was instructed to find a large rock for the bottom of the pillowcase. I can recall him telling me that as a boy growing up in north Georgia, he used a burlap potato sack as it drained better and wished we had one.
We walked up to where the creek made a hard right around a boulder and formed a deep pocket on the inside near tree roots that had been washed out. At age 6, a deep run was defined as about 18 inches. I could see small minnows in large numbers darting in and out of the tree roots.
He took the pillowcase and opened it up where the current would wash inside and laid the big rock on the bottom to hold it down. My job was to stand behind it and keep the pillowcase open. He took the stick and jabbed inside the tree roots. I could feel the pillowcase wiggle with life forms swimming in. After a few minutes, he grabbed the pillowcase and lifted it up quickly, pouring all the inhabitants into the new minnow bucket, now filled with creek water. Like seeing new toys on Christmas morning for the first time, I stared at all the minnows, crayfish, and a turtle that we had caught, with a keen sense of anticipation and excitement. Everything managed to get released except the minnows.
In a little boy’s mind, this swirling school of delectable bait needed an extra layer of protection. So, that night I slept with the minnow bucket in my bedroom. Of course, mom wasn’t really fond of that idea, but dad overruled. After all, the minnows were needed for the most important task at hand; bringing bigger fish back!
That next morning, I was awake when dad peeped in the room and called my name. I had already gotten up and dressed to save time. There was a difference between getting up for school and a fishing trip.
Miles to a fishing destination seems longer getting there than coming home. We arrived at the marina, and they had the rental boat and motor fueled and waiting for us. I loaded the rods and carefully placed the minnow bucket against the boat seat for more support. The little aluminum 14’ V hull looked like a yacht in my eyes. My first fishing trip with dad and my first boat ride. It was almost too much excitement for a small boy to handle. Excitement could be defined also as hyper and I was told several times, in a fatherly voice, to slow down, hush, and sit on the front seat near the bow.
Of course, I kept opening the top of the minnow bucket to make sure they hadn’t jumped out. I also liked to stick my hand in the bucket and feel them tickle as they swam threw my hands. For some genetic reason, my daughter always enjoyed the same sort of tickle.
I could never remember our location or how many crappie we caught. I do remember that I learned how to hook a minnow, how the red and white bobber connected to the line and how intently I concentrated on it. I remember having lunch in the boat and just being alone with dad fishing. Pictures weren’t taken but the photographs will linger in my mind forever.
He didn’t know it then but that one day created a love for fishing that has lasted a lifetime. One never knows how impactful and positive a day fishing with a youngster can mean to them. Maybe that’s why I always like to “take a kid” fishing.