By Otha Barham / Outdoors Editor
The Meridian Star
Sometimes during our initiation into some outdoor pursuit it is the things we learn about our mentors that are most prominent in our memories. For me, casting lures to bass is a treasured recreation, the practice of which I learned from several teachers, including my father. I am indebted to them all. I value the memories of these men even more than I value the lessons they taught me.
One mentor was Mr. Gerome Harvey, a railroad employee whose son, Tommy, was my best friend. Mr. Harvey, as I always addressed him, had one recreation; bass fishing. I admired Mr. Harvey. As the young might say today, “he was cool.” He not only had a Pflueger Summit casting reel and one of the new solid glass rods, but he had a deep running Hawaiian Wiggler bass lure made by the famous Fred Arbogast company. He kept it in its original box which had a clear cellophane top through which I could peer and wish for a lure like it. His line was 25 pound test black braided, typical of the period.
Also Mr. Harvey had an unusual bass fishing technique that revealed his excitability. He fished mostly at night and he fished only one spot on one lake.
A couple of times a month, Mr. Harvey would let Tommy and me go along to his fishing spot. We would load up in their family’s Model A Ford 4-door, the last of its kind in service around Meridian. The rides to the lake in that old car, a holdover from the Depression years, was always a highlight for me. The last Model As were made in 1931 I believe and it was the late 1940s when we fished together, the car was running fine. Its four cylinders made that wonderful clacking/sucking/puttering sound as it sped along on its updated 600 X 16 tires, Mr. Harvey adjusting the “spark” (timing to younger readers) with the lever just beneath the steering wheel and shifting the little transmission with the floor shift lever.
I was always in the back seat where I regularly rubbed my hand on the short knap of the dull colored velvety seat covers.
Our destination was always what then was called around Meridian “the water works lake number three.” The dam to that lake was later cut so that it merged with two to form one large lake. Along with lake number one, the two resulting impoundments are now called Bonita Lakes.
Specifically Mr. Harvey’s spot was a gently sloping shoreline along the remote eastern part of the upper lake. He fished sometimes for hours, usually until nine or ten p.m. never moving more than a few yards along the shore. Casting for bass in such a limited area was unusual, as it would be even today. But Mr. Harvey stayed put. He reasoned that, “After dark, the really big bass will eventually come into these shallows to feed. When they do, my lure will be there waiting for them.”
Of course he was right. The giant bass would come up from the deep water where they stayed during hot summer days and feed in the shallows at night. Several times Mr. Harvey had been there, dutifully casting the deep running Hawaiian Wiggler, when an absolutely behemoth largemouth would smash the red, black and white lure and get himself caught. The fish would be shown around the neighborhood before it was deep fried.
Mr. Harvey’s way of landing the big bass he sought so patiently tells a story of condensed excitement. Hundreds of casts progressively built tension within the man so that when a giant bass grabbed his lure and he set the hook with the stiff rod, his pent up energy burst forth with a most unusual behavior.
When he felt the monster on the line, he would drop the rod and reel, grab the strong line with both hands and turn around and run to the woods with the line over his shoulder, dragging the big fish into the shallows and out onto dry land with brute force. Such was his excitement and determination to land the fish that he could not control himself. Invariably he would land the fish tug-of-war style, and then feel a little embarrassed afterward.
One time when he brought in a bass that went almost eight pounds, I put both fists into its mouth and there was more room left inside it.
I learned patience from Mr. Harvey. And I learned about the feeding habits and preferred feeding times of big bass. But it is his techniques and his excitement and his chuckle and his Model A that abide in the higher places of my memory.