MEMPHIS — When I was a kid, about 12 or 13 years old, a bunch of us were gathered at a little lake near my home in Alabama, grilling, talking and fishing for carp along the shoreline.
Since carp were known for sometimes yanking rod-and-reels from the forked sticks we used as rod holders — and since he was more into fellowship than fishing that day — my grandfather’s friend, Hubert Isbell, had his Zebco One tucked safely beside him with no hook in the water. But his granddaughter, Stephanie, kept pestering to use it until he finally gave in.
Hubert’s wife, Ruth, agreed to watch the rod to keep it from ending up in the lake. But when a carp doubled the rod over in the forked stick and we all shouted at her to grab it, she looked up the shoreline like she thought we were pointing at a deer or a bird.
I took off running toward the rod, but I reached the shoreline just in time to see it shoot into the water, leaving only a trail of bubbles behind.
Ruth slinked up the bank toward Hubert and offered a sincere, “I’m sorry.”
Hubert’s reply still stands as one of the most comical moments I’ve ever experienced outdoors.
“There ain’t no need in worrying about it,” he said. “It was just the best one I had.”
Several people who’ve heard me tell that story through the years have suggested I should change the details to say we were fishing for catfish instead of a species that so many consider nothing but a trash fish.
But I’ve never been hung up on appearances when it comes to fishing. If it pulls, I’ll fish for it.
I realize that’s not the prevailing attitude during an age when tournaments are held weekly for bass, crappie and catfish. But I do feel sorry sometimes for people who totally overlook certain species of fish because they know there’s no chance they’ll ever help them in a tournament or because they don’t make for the best eating.
My friends and I spent thousands of hours fishing for carp when I was younger. These were native common carp that usually topped out at 20 pounds — not the Asian variety that grows to 60 and 70 pounds — but they were still sometimes more than you could handle on a rod-and-reel.
I’ve caught tons of them, and there were days when I caught more pounds of fish on one cast than any bass fisherman on the lake did all day long.
Did we have anything worth having when I was done?
No. But if you’ll keep a check on local bass tournament standings, you’ll see that most tournament anglers don’t either when the day’s over — and they haven’t had nearly as much fun as we did with those carp.
In the headwaters of Wilson Lake, just below Wheeler Dam on the Tennessee River, I’ve caught as many as 13 species in one day of live-bait fishing.
A lot of people fish over there just for the smallmouth bass, striped bass and hybrids. But if I’m releasing fish anyway — and that’s usually the case — I value the white bass, catfish and drum just as much as the others.
Using ribbon lures for gar, fishing oxbow swamps for bowfin and trolling multi-hook rigs for white and yellow bass during the dog days of summer when nothing else is biting are all things I’ve enjoyed. The last time I was at Reelfoot Lake, I heard some people talking about snagging for buffalo — the fish, not the animal — and I think that sounds like fun, too.
I understand it takes a lot of time and effort to be successful on these ultracompetitive tournament circuits these days. But don’t let the desire to deposit a check cause you to overlook fishing for other species that offer little beyond pure fun.
You won’t have to worry about keeping them in a live well all day.
You won’t have to worry about whether you’ve got more total weight than all the other boats on the lake.
And best of all, you’ll have a boat load of fun on your own schedule without having to pay an entry fee.