Copyright
Sam Elmore

THE BEST DANG FISHING DOG IN COLUMBIA COUNTY


Like most farmers back in the 1930's, we looked forward to summer and "laying by" time, when most of the farm work was finished. That's when Papa would pack up the family in the wagon and we'd go camp out on Dorcheat Creek for a week.

In preparation for the trip, us young boys had certain chores to do, such as dig worms and catch crickets for bream bait, rig up the cane poles and trotlines, and draw water from the well to fill the oak keg we used to carry our drinking water.

One of my jobs was to catch six 'frying-size' chickens and tie their legs for the trip to the creek. We'd stake them out under a shady bush, provide them with food and water, and if the fish didn't bite, we'd have fried chicken for supper.

Since we always caught plenty fish, the chickens were taken back and turned loose in the yard after each trip. It got to where all I had to do was slam the back screen door and them same chickens would fall over on their backs and stick up their legs to get ‘em tied.

One summer it was unusually dry, almost amounting to a drought. Dorcheat Creek dried up into pools. That summer, everyone stayed home except Papa and the older boys. They left in the wagon with a number two wash-tub, and several goose-neck hoes that we used for chopping cotton.

When they got to Dorcheat Creek, they waded into the pools and commenced to stir up the water with the hoes (a practice that was illegal.). When the water got real muddy, the fish had to come up for air; Papa would grab them with his hands and fling them out on the bank, where the boys would put them in the tub.

When the tub was full they headed for home, where we ran out to meet them; wondering whether we would be eating fresh fish for supper or heating up the cornbread and turnip greens left over from dinner. All of us pitched in to clean the fish, laughing and frollicking around that big galvanized wash-tub.

An old man, who lived just down the road, came walking by. Seeing all of us gathered out in the yard, his curiosity got the best of him and he stepped through the yard gate. Seeing Mama, he raised his panama hat.

"E'enin', Miz Hattie...Abb; what you all a-doin'?"

"Come on around, Mister Ranse," Papa replied, "We jes' cleanin' a mess of fish for supper."

He walked over to us and, when he saw what was in that tub, his mouth dropped wide open.

"Sakes alive! I don't b'lieve I ever saw the beat in my life! ‘y gannie, I was just tellin' my wife yistiddy that it looks like we'll have to eat dry beans the rest of the year, what with Dorcheat all dried up, and no rain."

"Now, Mister Ranse, you know good-'n-well that any time we got fish, you and the Missus got fish---jes' take as many as you want. You can see we got plenty for ever'body."

Papa turned his head in my direction.

"Bud, step yonder to the shed and bring me one-a them feed sacks for Mister Ranse to take his fish home in."

I scooted out to the barn and picked out a cloth sack that had held wheat shorts, that we used for hog feed. I gave it a couple of good pops to shake out the dust and took it to Papa.

"I declare, Abb," said the old man, as he selected a few fish and put them in the bag, "I always said you was the best fisherman I ever saw. You the only man I know can catch fish when they ain't nobody else had a nibble in over two months. How in the dickens you do it? They's bound to be a secret to it, ain't they?"

"Wa'al, Mister Ranse," Papa began, cutting his icy blue eyes around and gritting his teeth at us young-uns, which meant that he was gonna pull a prank and we'd best not mess it up by giggling..."I don't mind you a-knowin' how I catch 'em, but I wouldn't want it to get around too fur, if you get my meanin'; but, I do have a way of doin' it."

"Aw, pshaw, Abb...You know I ain't one to go spreadin' thangs around."

That statement almost caused Mama to swaller her dip of Tube Rose snuff, ‘cause he had a reputation a mile wide for spreading gossip.

"Wa'al, sir," Papa said, "You see that dog yonder under the porch?"

Papa pointed at the raggedy-est, no-account mutt that'd ever took up uninvited residence under any man's porch.

"I'd venture to say," Papa continued, "that he's about the best dang fishing dog in Columbia County; and b'lieve me, I have had me some good fishin' dogs in my time."

"Wa'al, I be damn...'scuse me Miz Hattie. I can't say I ever seen a real-live fishing dog before. You mean to tell me that dog, all by his ownself --- uh--- how does he---I be damn...'scuse me Miz Hattie. Now Abb, you wouldn't josh a old man, would ye?"

Papa didn't say another word. He just looked him right in the eye and, with the blade of his pocket-knife, pointed to the sack of fish he was holdin', pointed to the tub full of fish, and then pointed at the dog, which was laying yonder with it's head in the dirt, snoring.

As he walked away with his fish, we could hear the old man muttering under his breath..."I be damn---never in all my born days ..."

It was awful hard, but we had to wait until he was out of hearing before we could bust a-loose laughing. After which, we all sat down to a real fine fish supper. Only Mama had any comment; chiding Papa for taking advantage of a neighbor like that.

A week later, us young-uns were playin' cowboy-and-indians around the barn, when we saw a man, dressed up in a suit, walk into the front yard. We made a bee-line for the house and duck-walked under the porch so we could spy on the situation. We reckoned it had to be either a circuit-ridin' preacher, or maybe the Watkins peddler, because nobody else we knew of would be wearing a suit.

From our hiding place under the porch, we heard Mama walking toward the front door, in response to his knock. We knew that she would only stick her head out, because she was barefooted like the rest of us, and had on her scrubbing clothes.

"Good morning, Ma'am," we heard the man say to Mama. "Miz Hattie, I expect that you don't remember me, but..."

"Wa'al, sure I do. Ain't you Mister Ranse's youngest boy, James? Why, I watched you grow up from a weed. Where you been at all this time?"

"I have been attending the University of Arkansas for the past three years," he replied, "and I am home visiting with the family during summer vacation."

"Wa'al, I'd ast you to come in", Mama said, "but we scrubbin' the floors and they ain't dry yet. Was they somethin' you wanted?"

Mama sounded kinda ‘antsy-like', ‘cause she was embarrassed to be poking just her head around the door jamb, and trying to hide her bare feet at the same once.

"Oh, no, ma'am. That's all right...I just stopped by to speak with Mister Abb, but I can see he's not at home. I merely wanted to relay my parent's appreciation for the fish you gave them last week. They said to thank you kindly."

"Aw...they more'n welcome", Mama answered; "Was it something important you wanted? Mister Abb is back yonder plowin' the ol' Bulger field...I can send one-a the boys to fetch ‘im...."

We was having fun up under the porch, peekin' through the cracks at his fancy suit, and his two-colored shoes, and gigglin' at the fancy way he was talkin'; but we groaned on the inside at the prospect of a two-mile messenger trip if we had to go get Papa.

"No, ma'am, it isn't anything important, it's just that...you see, my Father always advised me that the best way to teach a young puppy is to let it run with an older, experienced dog. Well, I brought my Collie puppy with me and...since Father has recently been bragging so much about Mister Abb's dog, I wondered if it would be all right if I left my puppy here for the summer to learn how to fish?"