Retreat On The River

Life On The Back Page

Daryl Gay | June 30, 2022

One of my uncles—oh, brother!—just happened to be in the yard when the feller pulled up. Seeking my whereabouts..

“Uh, I’m thanking he’s on the river.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know just where, would you?”

“Likely sommers between Milledgeville and Jesup.”

“Well, that narrows it down.”

No response, other than deadpan gaze.

“Reckon he’s got his phone with him? What about text? Will he answer a text?”

“Not so’s you could tell it. He ain’t much on talkin’ or typin’ when he’s on the river, ‘ceptin maybe to the fish.”

“Please excuse all my inquiries, but I really do need to get in touch with Mr. Gay and would appreciate any assistance you could provide.”

“Wal, I ain’t perzactly sure about what them inquiries is that you ain’t got no excuse for, but I ain’t answered so many questions since I last took a test in fourth grade. What I CAN tell you is that he took crickets, worms and punkinseeds, so he’ll likely be rod fishing plus settin’ hooks. Come in ‘bout breakfast if’n he gets hongry.”


“Just like as not. But if they gets to bitin’ real good could be Thursday. He always totes matches.”

I never did get found. Didn’t even get the story until Glynn recalled the episode Saturday morning. Shucks; didn’t figger I needed life insurance, whole or term, or an extended car warranty anyways.

I’m sorry(?) to say that things haven’t changed much over all these years. Rivers—Oconee, Ocmulgee, Mississippi, St. Johns or St. Lawrence—fascinate me. If you can get bored on a river, there’s just too much excitement in your life…

Take a couple of weeks back, for instance; on the Oconee, between Milledgeville and Jesup. 

It started innocently enough when I remembered that the full moon was nearly upon us. Which led to remembrance of a small area of large shellcrackers. And redbreasts.

All bedding.

What’s a fisherman to do?

But remember now, it’s a river; don’t put all your hooks in one bed. 

There’s apt to be a couple (million) of those aggravating punkinseeds, just large enough to swipe a cricket meant for their elders. Adorned with a 6/0 hook and flung into a deep hole on the big rod, they’re perfectly bedazzling to an obese catfish/striper/gar. That trio of heathens gets its jollies by swiping punkinseed, rod, reel and anything else it can snatch overboard while we’re distracted reeling in bedding shellcrackers.

And that’s why the rod is looped in the anchor rope…

And while we were at it, figured we might as well tie off a half-dozen limblines on the way downriver to the bedding spot.

OK; odds of a cornmeal-coated fry-up are looking pretty good…

A couple hours later, 52 fewer varied bream inhabit said spot. Me and three bad-tempered gar have argued rather vehemently over a pair of punkinseeds. (Who, by the way, appreciated the gar’s chainsaw imitations about as much as I did the attempted cricket thefts that got them impaled in the first place…)

I entreat my companion—who, just so’s you’ll know, spruces up that front boat seat in a way Glynn could never aspire to—to up anchor so as to ease back for a line check.

Three catfish and two bucking-wild gar later, we idle toward the last. It had been secured near the protruding end of a sunken treetop, and even from a distance I could tell that something on the hook end was a right smart vexed.

But even upon reaching it, I couldn’t see what it was. Whoever the big dummy was that tied the line had left it too long, and whatever was on the other end had embroidered it amongst that treetop.

Hmmm; decisions, decisions…

It’s dark down in that water. In fact, we’re running out of light above it, too, and Cinderella has to be home by midnight. So I bite the bullet, ask her to please keep a close eye on the neighborhood, and  begin tugging.

It would lift about a foot, then a violent thump-thump-thumping would snatch it downward and tight once more. Finally, I saw him.

Well, part of him, anyways.

I’m a fair to middlin’ judge of fish weights, but it’s really hard to tell when all you can see is very probably the ugliest face within the realm of piscatorial possibility.

Man, that was one malignant catfish! And I’m saying thirty on the bottom end of the scale though I still couldn’t make out the bottom end of the fish.

I’d heave and he’d ho; each time I loosened the length of heavy trotline cord a foot, he’d whip it tight again two. All the while glaring like I was two months late on my rent…

This went on for who knows how long; time flies when you’re frantic, and this was one fish I didn’t plan to lose. Tried everything, all the while attempting to push back a burgeoning idea.

 Taking a momentary respite, I murmured—unwittingly—aloud: “Reckon how deep that is…”

Came an instant reply/squeak/squeal: “I don’t know, but you’re not getting out of this boat. Look on the BANK!!!”

There, 10 feet away, perched about 9 feet of very expensive suitcases, shoes and belts, gazing upon the splashing commotion as if it was a ringing dinner bell.

OK, Ugly, you’re on your own; I’m cutting the line now.

No sir, never a dull moment. If you need me, I’ll be on a river. Just ask Glynn…

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