THE FOLLOWING IS A CHAPTER FROM THE NEW BOOK… THE PRINCE OF POINT LOOKOUT.
I was a heckuva fishing guide at 17, and Table Rock Lake was full of big bass back then.
Dr. Clark (left) with Mrs. Jones at the celebration of the completion of the learning center she donated so much money for.
She is shown receiving an honorary degree from the college. It wasn't for fishing!!
It might be a good time to brag about my contribution to the Nettie Marie Jones learning center at School of the Ozarks, which held the auditorium and two or three floors of classrooms. Nettie Marie Jones was a very rich lady, probably in her seventies, and she had given a great deal of money to the school.
While the Nettie Marie Jones learning center was under construction at School of the Ozarks, it was a great place to sneak off with a girl and explore the dark stairways at night, and I think I did that a few times but not often enough. I can’t remember the names of the girls. If I did I wouldn’t tell. Now some girl from that time can read this book, and brag to her family that she was one of them!
At seventeen, I was very naïve and immature. This isn’t one of those tell-all books. If it were, I wouldn’t have much to tell! The only exploring I ever did, had nothing to do with the girls I met and spent time with. I was happy to just hold them close and smell them, and steal a few kisses whilst exploring the vast stairways and darkened rooms of that big dark building and get away with it.
You have to remember I never did anything like that in high school, having never had enough money to have a date. At S of O, you didn’t have to have much money to explore the under-construction learning center, or sit on lookout point watching the moonlight on Taneycomo, far below.
I did have a big part in the financing of the big learning center that bore her name, because I took Nettie Marie Jones fishing! I didn’t know who she was at the time. Dr. Clark quite often benefited from the trout I caught from Taneycomo, and he told me about property on Tablerock Lake only about four or five miles south of the school called “Clevenger Cove”.
There was an old V-bottom aluminum boat there, a great deal harder to paddle than our johnboats on the Big Piney. Still, I could paddle it, and that cove back then was full of big bass. I’d spend a weekend there on occasion and bring bass filets back for Dr. Clark, telling him I would take him fishing whenever he would like.
He never seemed to have any time, and then all at once he did. He told me that he needed me to paddle a boat around Clevenger Cove one spring evening for him and a guest of the school, to see if I could help the elderly lady catch a fish.
On the Piney, I had been guiding fishermen since I was 12 or 13. Guiding fishermen was my cup of tea. So there I was about four p.m. one beautiful afternoon paddling around Clevenger Cove with Dr. Clark, the only time I ever saw him without a suit and tie, with a lady along whom he referred to as Mrs. Jones.
I didn’t know who she was and I didn’t care. My job was to see to it she caught a bass, because she never had caught anything before. Dr. Clark’s tackle was sparse, and he only brought some little Zebco push-button reels on rods that would have been better suited for goggle-eye fishing than bass.
Mrs. Jones couldn’t cast, no matter how hard I tried to teach her. My favorite topwater lures were going to be of no value. Thankfully she was just enjoying the afternoon so much she didn’t seem to care about the fishing. So I tied on a plastic worm rig for her, a hairy jig for Dr. Clark, and took them out just off the timber aways so they wouldn’t get hung up. I paddled slowly along while Dr. Clark’s line trailed out on one side and Mrs. Jones’ line trailed out on the other side, behind the boat.
All in all, it was a really boring afternoon, until Dr. Clark interrupted himself and jerked his rod high. It bent double and he fought a two-pound largemouth around, whooping and hollering and laughing in that Georgia accent, until he got it close enough that I could grab its lower lip and boat it.
The two of them acted like that bass was a wall-hanger, and I put it over the side of the boat on a stringer, thanking God that something exciting had happened that didn’t involve any one falling out of the boat and getting wet.
We had a fish! There weren’t going to be any more, I knew that.For Mrs. Jones I had a plastic worm rigged so that the hook’s barb was back deep in the plastic. It would keep her from hooking every stick on the bottom of the lake she dragged over, but if a bass picked it up, she’d have to set the hook, and she had as much chance of feeling a strike and setting the hook in a bass as I had of making an A in algebra.
Everyone is a witness to a miracle on occasion. Some of us recognize one when we see it, and others do not. I was watching Mrs Jones line, and I saw the fish hit. There wasn’t any doubt about it, the line didn’t just stop a bit, it lurched. And then it cut through the water to the left and came back.
“Ma’am, jerk that rod,” I hollered. She turned to look at me, and the end of it started to bend. “Hang on to it ma’am” I hollered again, “and give it a jerk.”
Mrs. Jones never once jerked, but thank goodness she did hang on. She didn’t look all that hefty and I figured a three-pound bass would whip her. But she came alive in that boat, struggling and squealing, turning that handle on the reel backwards, giving that bass a little more line to work with. I finally got it across to her to reel it the other direction, and there was pandemonium on Clevenger Cove.
It took awhile, and there was great suspense as all three of us thought there wasn’t a way in the world she would get that bass close to the boat. But by golly she did, and I being the type of experienced professional fishing guide I was, got ahold of his lip on the first try. He weighed five pounds if he weighed an ounce and there has never been three happier people in one boat.
That afternoon back at Dr. Clark’s house, there were pictures taken and all the girls who worked there looked at me as if I was a hero. But after I filleted the bass, I headed back to the dormitory and a supper of meat loaf at the cafeteria, remembering the laughter and happiness behind me at the Clark home. Kind of sad, ain’t it.
In time they finished the Nettie Marie Jones learning center. Thousands of students have gone through the classrooms of that big building, and graduates who learned much there, have gone on to do great things. But nowhere is my contribution to higher education at School of the Ozarks noted, nor has anyone ever given the proper credit to that big bass that gave himself up for the advancement of knowledge. No one but me and my old friend, Dr. Clark.
The book “The Prince of Point Lookout” is priced at $16.00. Readers of this column can have it sent to them, inscribed and autographed for $14.00 and the postage is paid. Payment can be sent to Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. You can write to me at the same address or email me at email@example.com