LookBack7.9

In 1939, this large, 65-pound catfish was caught on a trout line right here in Trousdale County. The men were Hammock Merryman, Ed Merryman and Jeff Majors, with a young Kenneth Merryman along in overalls. The fish looks big enough to swallow Kenneth — good thing they weren’t grabbin’ for fish and grabbed this monster!

Last week we wrote about a type of fishing that involved little more than a pair of hands and a bit of bravado!

That was the sport of grabbin’ for fish!

A person would stick their hands into the creek and feel around under tree roots, bluffs or large flat rocks and try to grab any fish that might be lingering there!

Noodling was similar, with snapping turtles being the quarry.

Both endeavors called for a lot of gumption, as you might well end up grabbing hold of a water snake!

Our story this week is almost as bad!

The late Clifford Story would regularly regale me with stories of his childhood in rural Trousdale County. I could fill a book with the exploits he has given me, but for now we will stick to fishing.

When Clifford was a student at the old Trousdale County High School in the mid-1940s, the school had a policy that if you kept an “A” average all year, you were exempt from taking the year-end finals.

Those who were exempt could leave the school grounds to amble around town, stopping by the local soda fountain, sitting in on a court case or shooting the breeze with the fellows down at the gas station.

While staying at school and reading a good book in the library was also an option, most of the straight-A students chose to leave the school campus.

Clifford and several of the other older boys decided to roll up the legs of their britches and wade into the creek to do a little grabbin’ for fish.

Little Goose Creek wasn’t too deep right as it passed through town, and the boys headed down the hill from the school to the creek and a nice flat section of water with plenty of shade.

Clifford had never been grabbin,’ but at least one boy in the crew had and commenced to showing the others what to do.

Clifford found a large flat rock at the edge of the creek and he pulled off his shoes and socks and hiked his pants legs up and waded in. His shirt was already pulled off so that his arms were bare down to his T-shirt and he began to reach under the rock.

Sure enough, he immediately felt something and he was sure he had a whopper of a fish.

It had a long skinny neck and Clifford then thought that instead of a fish, he might have grabbed a turtle. But whatever it was, it didn’t want to budge from its spot under the rock.

Another of the boys was Clifford’s close friend, James Neal Oglesby. James came to Clifford’s aid and reached under the rock to give the effort another pair of hands to pull out the varmint.

What they pulled out definitely wasn’t a fish, but it wasn’t a turtle or a snake either!

It was about two feet long, grey-black in color and its body wasn’t covered in scales like a fish, but was more like leather.

It was bigger around than a snake, with small fins and covered with what felt like slime!

Clifford and James looked at each other and tossed the creature back into the creek. And that was the extent of Clifford’s grabbin’ for the rest of his life!

It wasn’t until years later that Clifford, who eventually served in World War II in a bomber over Europe, went to college and spent a life in the forestry service, found out what his ‘creature from the black lagoon’ was.

He was reading a magazine and came across a picture of a “mud puppy,” also called “water dogs.”

The critters are a rare sight, since they are nocturnal and only come out from under such hiding places as rocks at night.

A mud puppy eats anything it can get into its mouth with teeth that point inward so that once the mud puppy bites down, their prey can’t back out.

Clifford said that his critter was almost two feet long, but that the record for a mud puppy in Tennessee is only 19 inches long. Maybe a world record?

Or it might have been a hellbender salamander, which is similar in appearance and easily reaches two feet in length, except that they don’t have external gills and they have small feet.

Whatever it was, Clifford was glad to return it to its home in the creek and he and James and the others had a great tale to share with the others back at school.

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