The Last Redfin Pike Trip
A touching story of three generations of south Georgia creek anglers.
Editor’s Note: The author, Lucky L. Black, passed away on Aug. 4, 1992. His son, Jason, found a partial manuscript of the below story and polished it up to have it published on GON.
When I stopped to gulp in some extra air, I saw the gator track. The path was wet from the dew, and the footprint was large and deep. It was also fresh, meaning that the scaly gentleman who left it was not too far away.
As well as my eyesight would allow, I studied the small creek channel and the low bushes around it to see where his tracks went. At my age, I had no desire to fight off a big bull gator with my wispy little pike rod and a pocket knife.
I rested a few minutes longer to get my wind back and then moved slowly up the creek channel, swatting skeeters and trying to stay out of the deepest mud. As I walked around the end of a big blown-down cypress tree, I saw the lake shimmering ahead. My son was back a good ways behind me and would fish up the other arm of the creek to where I started at the lake. This was our yearly pike fishing trip, and the last couple of years it was getting harder to get to the lake or for my son to find the time to go.
Deep Creek Swamp in Turner and Crisp counties had been one of my favorite pike fishing areas since boyhood. It covered a good many miles in deep south Georgia. I started hunting and fishing most of the swamp more than a half century ago. Still today as in those early days, only the most ardent pike fisherman ventured into the deep swamp.
The swamp, especially the lake we knew as “Black Lake,” was a big pike paradise. For many years, my son and I had hunted and fished in this swamp and now seeing this old bull gator’s track brought back some memories and put a little more excitement into this trip. I had no plans to wrestle him for any pike at any of the lakes ahead, but it made me more alert and my senses a little sharper.
After I was well into my 70s, I began to realize that all of those senses seemed to lean heavily to the dull side. Even before I was into my 70s, I wasn’t jumping blowdowns and walking through knee-deep mud as I once did. I noticed, too, that tree limbs and roots began to conspire against me more often than not. Although I still made a fairly accurate cast, it seemed that a tree limb would lean out of its way to catch my Rooster Tail. The highest limbs seemed to be the ones that loved Rooster Tails the best.
Some years ago, to protect my blood pressure and to keep from offending God, I gave up trying to fish the lakes that were deep in the swamp. I started to pike fish around the creek bridges and the easier lakes that didn’t require much walking and where there wasn’t many bushes.
This type of fishing and fishermen was what us swampers called “road fishermen,” those who were afraid to go into the deep swamp after truly large pike. They only catch the smaller “new year” pike. So for the last few seasons now I had become a road fisherman. I still caught large number of redfins, but they were usually a lot smaller than what I was used to catching.
After I waded into my late 70s, my old eyes began to dim to the point that I could no longer cast a Rooster Tail with the accuracy needed to place it under a low bush across the creek where a big redfin would be waiting for a meal.
So for one season, I decided to take a camera and take pictures of other fisherman, but my pictures weren’t that great either. So this year, I decided to do something very special because this year was when my son brought along his son to pass down the family tradition of pike fishing. I rented a small hand-held video camera because this time would be the last trip for me. My grandson was just getting old enough to start the experience of the deep swamp fishing, where the larger redfins lay waiting for a quick meal around stumps and brushpiles.
As we started in the bushes and made our way down the creek heading toward the deep, dark waters of Black Lake, the mud got deeper, and it was harder to walk. My son saw that I was struggling a little and offered to assist me. I would not let him, but he did anyway. I had a warm feeling of love pass over me as I realized that I was not a burden on him, but a hero, if you will, for him to take the time to help his father to do the one thing he loved the most.
After a while, we made it to Black Lake. I just sat at the old oak where I hung a Rooster Tail some 35 years ago. The Rooster Tail was still there, and it brought back fond memories of when my son and I were there, and I was teaching him. As I sat and watched my son teaching my grandson how to properly retrieve a “Tail” and how to snatch out a ferocious pike from under a log across the creek, I thought of how wonderful this day was because there were three generations of pike fishers here. It made me feel good as I watched my son be so patient with his son. This made me realize that he was very attentive on how to perfect his skills over the years from watching me.
After a while I started to fish the sloughs and backwater brushpiles. As my son and grandson moved farther up creek and out of sight, I just looked around and gazed in the deep, dark water. I thought of just how much I would miss this type of fishing and watching my grandson grow to be as good an angler as his father.
I stepped around a small fallen tree and over a small brushpile to find nothing more than the big bull gator that had used these same waters as long as I have. This gator looked every bit of 14 feet long, a huge specimen of a south Georgia reptile. The huge gator growled and snapped at me. He looked as if he was going to charge, so I started to make a run for it. Suddenly, my feet got tangled up in some honeysuckle vines, and I couldn’t move. I turned around to focus on the big gator to find out if this was it for me or what.
The huge gator just peered into my dark brown eyes as I did his. Then the gator slowly turned and slid down into the murky water, as if he realized that this was my last time in his territory. The big gator knew that I would no longer pose a threat to his large appetite by catching the same fish he made as his meal. Little did he know that my son and grandson were an even bigger threat to him, for my son had become a better fisherman than I had.
Soon the boys came back down the creek and met up with me. I filmed them catching those wonderful redfins and saw the love they possessed for each other, as well as the sport we had grown to love. After a while, we made our way back down the great creek and back out to the less productive areas toward the truck.
I never told anyone about my encounter with the gator for that time was just as important to me as the whole trip because that memory will remain with me forever.
The next day we watched our video and laughed, joked and kidded one another. We all knew that this was an important day in our lives, and it would remain in our hearts and minds for the rest of our days.
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