Meridian Star

March 14, 2014

A fishing outing worth remembering

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — I have a pleasant memory that surfaces several times a year and it occurred to me just today that it had been hanging around for more than 50 years.

    There is not much else I recall about that year, if in fact it actually was 1953, except that by the Lord’s grace and charitable teachers I graduated high school. But I do remember a good bit about that white perch trip I made with my friend to Lake Washington in the Mississippi Delta.

    More people referred to crappie as white perch back then than today but anglers then and now know that the fish is one of delicate and tasty flesh; delicious whether fried, broiled or baked. And in the days before Okatibbee Reservoir was built, there wasn’t much big water around Meridian that held limitless crappie schools.

    Anglers talked about the Delta oxbow lakes where one could pull out the big slabs to the point of exhaustion, and those who had been there had the prints from their Kodaks to prove it. These stories stirred the spirit of adventure in my friend Ivan Chisolm and me. Such stirrings in teenage boys usually lead to actions; occasionally harmless ones. Our late winter journey to Lake Washington was one of those harmless though impressionable endeavors on which I can report, among a sea of ones that I shall never put in print.

    Simply put, we drove to the little town of Glen Allan, we camped, we caught lots of fish and we came home. For those who are not moved by nature or deep friendships or experiences that shape who we are, that is the story of our white perch trip. For the rest of us here is more to that story.

    The happenings on that excursion are less clear after all this time, but they include spending the night curled up in Chiz’s 1947 Ford, boating limits of the big speckled fish and perfect fishing weather. A personal highlight was a plate-size crappie I caught on a deep running Arbogast Hawaiian Wiggler while sneaking in a few casts for bass. Chiz recalls the cottonmouths that gathered at the dock to gorge on remnants from our fish-cleaning.

    Prominent in my mind are the sights and sounds and smells of that fisherman’s paradise. Funny how the thud of a wooden paddle against the waterlogged boards of an old wooden boat can remain in one’s mind for half a century. The rented boat moved through the water at a snail’s pace, easily becoming stationary once the sculling stopped because it’s soaked hull probably weighed 300 pounds. The old boat stayed quietly in place while we worked each crappie bed in the shallows.

    Along the banks water moccasins watched us from their perches in the forks of low branches . I can close my eyes and see the brownish water lapping gently against countless cypress knees that jutted up from every space between the huge water-loving trees.

    I can still see a lanky black man, looking too large for his tiny wooden boat; only his feet hidden below the gunnel planks, stretching out his arm to extend a long cane pole to a crappie bed. His work shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His long arm and long pole seemed to stretch for 15 feet where he slipped a minnow into the water with nary a sound or splash.

    It was late February, too early for the smells of honeysuckle and bluegill beds. But the cool air was suffused with the aroma of plant life in warming water, decaying wood and the fishy smell of the old boat.

    Memories sometimes seem to linger as welcome evidence not only of inspiring natural surroundings, or measurable success, but of subtle influences that motivate us to be better persons. You never know when you go on a fishing trip just what lies in store. If we keep going back for more, meaningful experiences like the Lake Washington crappie trip will come along to enrich our lives.