Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Bobber and Still Water

         If I were ever asked to list the ten things I have enjoyed the most in my life in the outdoors, not too far down the line I would list, “watching a bobber”.  It was one of life’ greatest pleasures in my youth. You too have likely done that if you grew up in the country.  If you have been there and done that, you know what I mean.

         When I was five or six, Grandma McNew and I watched bobbers on my Uncle Roy’s pond, which he allowed no one else to fish except my cousins and me and Grandma and Grandpa.

        Back then, summer ponds weren’t all filled with the scum and algae you see today.  The water there in the shade of the big oak tree was dark and deep, full of bluegill and bass and catfish. And in the summer, Grandma and I often sat there in the shade watching a bobber sit stone-still on a smooth surface, knowing that any moment it might dance a little, throwing out little ringlets on the water, then dive out of sight in flash, the braided line cutting through the depths.
         It only took a jerk on the cane pole to know what you had.  But no matter, it would be dinner the following day; not filets in a skillet but whole fried bass or bluegill with the fins left on, just scaled and gutted with the heads cut off.

         Usually that disappearing bobber meant only a hand-sized bluegill, but sometimes a bass 12 or 14 inches long would pull it under.  Once or twice in every few hours of fishing, it would be a catfish, and if you weren’t careful you might break the end off the old cane pole by jerking too hard. You landed a bigger fish by walking backwards and dragging it up the bank.

         As I grew a little bit older, I had another reason for using a bobber.  Dad and Grandpa Dablemont loved to set trotlines on the Big Piney River for whopper-sized flathead catfish that would weigh from 20 to 40 pounds.  While other species of catfish can be caught on stink-bait or small minnows or any kind of dead bait, a flathead doesn’t get caught often on anything but large, live bait.  Green sunfish, which we always called ‘black perch’ were pretty high on a flatheads menu.
         Across the fence behind our house was a neighbor’s pond, an old one, built to water an old milk cow or two.  It wasn’t pretty, muddy most of the time.  But that pond was filled with black perch from 3 to 5 inches in length and I could catch enough in 30 minutes to bait a trotline.  By that time I had and old fiberglass rod and a Shakespeare casting reel and a red and white bobber.  I would sit there on that orange clay bank sweltering in the heat, with a bucket and a can of worms. I’d fling the baited hook out 6 or 8 feet from the bank and watch that bobber like a cat watches the pendulum on a clock.  It was almost always dancing around, and when it did I would give it a jerk, so the little sunfish wouldn’t swallow the hook.  I have pictures of big flathead catfish Dad and Grandpa and I would bring home just because of my ability with a hook and bobber in the pond across the fence.

         It was only 8 or 10 years later, the first summer I worked as the Outdoor Editor for the Arkansas Democrat, that I met a fellow by the name of Yarbrough, who was a guide on Dardanelle lake, about 40 miles west of Little Rock. There was a small arm on the north side of that lake known as Spadra Creek, and Mr. Yarbrough showed me where there was a hump coming up in the middle of that long deep tributary, where I could catch crappie on minnows early in the summer.

         To make a long story short and happy, I took some minnows and a bobber, and caught my limit there in just a few hours of the evening, on several occasions.  I got to watching that bobber with such concentration, I scarcely noticed the metal fishing boats that would pass, staring at that old wooden boat I had brought from back home on the Piney, and had paddled out there to watch a bobber and fill my stringer with crappie.

         It is a different time.  Modern day outdoor writers who thrive in suburbs do not write about bobbers; maybe they never use them to catch panfish.

But there is one writer who still leans back and watches a bobber every now and then, just to bring back a taste of the good old days… and I am him!

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