Bob Mitchell: Mid-July was catfishing time

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Seventy-five or 80 years ago, mid-July meant get ready for a trip to one of the local rivers for a catfish outing. That’s when it was legal to catch the whiskered ones in Missouri.

My dad and one of his fishing partners were as regular as clockwork to be at the river for this opening and observe my birthday. That partner was Ralph Hawk, who lived west of the present airport, and was always on go for a fishing trip.

Normally, there were just the three of us. Only once did a friend of mine accompany us, and that was a memorable trip. Segments of these trips might have been passed along in previous columns, but there might be a new twist or two involved now that makes them worthy of retelling.

Sport went with us

On one trip to the Cottner Ford area, dad’s working for an auto agency made a used truck available for transportation. Fortunately for us, it had a grain bed and a large tarp in the back — the bed making sure my Pointer bird dog at the time wouldn’t jump out as we headed to the site between Rock Creek and Owl Creek on White River.

The tarp was especially handy when a real honest-to-goodness cloudburst hit the area that evening. With some straw in the truck bed, Sport and I were cozy as we could be, while dad and Ralph fished in the rain. They had seined minnows out of the field stream fed by Keen Spring. My job was to wade upstream from the seine that reached across the small stream. Crawfish were a bonus catch on these runs.

Before the rain came, we had eaten our dinner, which always included pork and beans. With leftovers in a can they were poured into Sport’s feeder, which ended up being a mistake. During the night he had a gas attack and was completely miserable. When the rain stopped he was tied outside!

Johnson country

This location was Lem Johnson country, one of those families who departed their homes with the arrival of Table Rock Lake. They became residents of the Hilltop community with their selling to the government.

The next morning, after the storm, Lizzie Johnson visited our camp and wasn’t very happy with the two men who had left a youngster in the truck with heavy lightning and possibility of a flash flood hitting the shoreline of the ford. In her way of thinking, l should have been in their home on higher ground on the road into the area.

Lem stood back quiet as a mouse, telling the men when Lizzie was out of earshot, that it had probably been dryer in the truck, since their roof leaked “like a sieve.”

It was an experience to be in this area during those years, simply to watch folks in vehicles and wagons cross White River, headed to Golden, their closest shopping point.

Wildcat fell in stream

On one trip, Trolinger Wilson went with us on a trip where a boat was to be used going downstream from a White River access point. We loaded our gear and headed down river. Almost immediately, we spotted a wildcat in a small tree on the stream bank. The tree wasn’t adequate to hold the animal’s weight, the limb broke and into the water it went, and disappeared downstream ahead of us, swimming for all it was worth.

That night, having bedded down on a gravel bar while the men were fishing, Trolinger and I were awakened by a strange sound. Kidlike, we assumed it was the wildcat coming after us. Calling loudly to the men, who responded quickly, we gathered wood to revive the fire, and to discover the source of the racket. It was a grasshopper cage, with rubber from old inner tubes designed for reaching inside for a bait without losing the whole batch. The bumping against the rubber had been our source of problems. We kept the fire going strongly the remainder of the night.

Sleeping in a cave

Another time the three of us were on a river, having traveled downstream a short ways for a favorite trotline spot, when another one of those summer storms hit the area. Ralph, being familiar with the area, put us on notice not to worry. He knew of a cave in the bluff above us, so we scrambled to higher ground.

Taking our blankets with us, the men made sure there were no other inhabitants in the cave, and we settled in for at least a dry night.

For dad and Ralph it wasn’t completely dry, since they twice had to move the boat to avoid a rising river. As a kid, it was good to have them return to our quarters for that night, since they had our only flashlights with them.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.>/em>