OAK HILL — I bumped into a reader of this column recently, and he staggered me with this statement: “I’ve noticed one thing, and that’s that you never catch fish.”
Well, he made a good observation, except the word “never” was a little strong. I have had some successful days on the water, but then there are days when I can’t buy a fish.
Some days I’m so busy manning a camera and a notebook that I can’t concentrate on serious fishing. But that may sound like a lame excuse, especially when you consider the following experience that happened on a beautiful mid-April day nine years ago.
I was seated in the middle of Cliff Rawlins’ fishing boat, the seat next to the steering wheel. My son-in-law, Dwight Cole, was in the rear swivel seat, with two rods trolling straight back from the rear of the boat. Rawlins was in the front pedestal seat, two light-action rods in rod holders, one trolling off to his right and the other to his left.
I was using my brand new 10-foot Crappie Jack rod. The extra length allowed me to reach outside the other trolling lines and troll without hooking into the others.
I was using the same tiny jig and plastic grub Cliff was using. I was catching nothing. Rawlins was setting the hook on one side or the other every three or four minutes and reeling in another fish – either a bluegill or a crappie, mostly crappie.
In just over three hours of trolling with the bow-mounted electric motor, Cliff must have put close to the daily per-man creel limit (30) of crappie in the live well, plus I don’t know how many bluegill.
Dwight, baiting with wax worms, warmed up near the end of the run and caught about a dozen bluegill and one channel catfish.
I caught zilch.
Looking back, I think my problem was I wasn’t letting out enough line to get my lure down where Cliff was getting his.
But I enjoy watching others catch fish almost as much as I enjoy catching them myself. I finally just folded my pole and laid it down, unwrapped a bologna sandwich from the cooler, and sat back to watch the lean, mean fishing machine in front of me “work.” It was better than watching the Saturday morning fishing shows on ESPN.
“I’ve been fishing this lake for 30 years. It’s my favorite lake,” Cliff said. “I’ve caught about 40 bass out of this lake this year. A bunch of crappie.”
“This lake” is Jackson Lake, a 242-acre body of water with 11 miles of shoreline located off Ohio 279 just west of Oak Hill.
We were out for panfish on this day, not bass. Whatever species he’s going for, Rawlins fishes strictly with artificial bait.
He didn’t lose any lures on this day. Everything he got “snagged” on was either a bluegill or a crappie. These two species are among the very best for eating, and the fish he caught were put to their proper use.
I’ll tell you the kind of guy Cliff Rawlins is: I was going to keep the fish we caught, take them home and fillet them, and add them with some crappie I got from Reelfoot Lake in early March (yes, I really did have a nice catching day there) and, thus, have enough for a fish fry for family and friends.
However, at the Portsmouth Daily Times, I was scheduled to work my full-time newspaper job in the afternoon – finish a World War II story and write a story about the Atomic Plant diesel spill, then drive to McDermott to cover the Minford-Northwest baseball game.
There would be no time for me to stop by my house. Cliff had me follow him to his house. He opened his freezer and handed me a package of frozen crappie fillets he had caught and cleaned from Lake Jackson earlier that month. Wow!
And if I understand it right, he cleaned the fish “we” caught that day and insisted on Dwight taking them for his kitchen.
You can’t beat a guy like that.
Thanks, Cliff. I hope you’re able to fish another 30 years on your favorite lake, Lake Jackson.
WORDS OF WISDOM: Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.
Reach G. Sam Piatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 606-932-3619.