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Recharging batteries at the river

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • Outdoor columnist Ben Smith says spending time with friends while mixing in a little hunting or fishing leaves him a better person afterward.

After being in the comfort of the truck air conditioning for over two hours, the blast of heat almost knocked me over. Is it supposed to be this hot in mid-June? My face immediately turned red, and I could feel the sweat beginning to bead up on my forehead. There is no breeze to counteract the combination of humidity and sweltering temperature. Regret begins to creep into my mind. Why in the world did I make this trip?

I arrived in Bolton at the deer camp around 5:30. At first, I’d planned to be there earlier, but better judgment got the best of me. It was entirely too hot and dry to be riding around the property any earlier than after dinner. Plus, had I come up earlier I wouldn’t have had an excuse to stop at Jerry’s Catfish House in Florence on the way. I scarfed my fish plate down while doing my best to avoid becoming a vehicular statistic on I-20 in Jackson during Friday rush hour. The horrible road conditions made eating coleslaw that much more of an adventure. I only stabbed myself with the plastic fork three times. But, alas, I made it with a full belly and plenty of daylight to spare.

The plan was to ride the property with my cousin, Brandon, and our hunting partner, Brad. After that, we’d catch enough bait to do a little fishing from the banks of the Big Black River. To me, it sounded like a great evening mixture of outdoors and company. Plus, given the last few weeks, I was desperate to get out of town for a day to clear my mind and recharge my batteries. After we all arrived and unloaded our gear, all three of us squeezed into my Ranger to ride around. 

A lack of recent rain left the roads through the property pretty dusty. It wasn’t too bad when we were riding, but when we stopped a cloud of dust settled around us. The property up there is beautiful. A mixture of hard woods and pines adorn the hills before sloping down into the river bottom of cypress and CRP. Egrets take flight out of the sloughs when the Ranger approaches. Deer get up from bedding areas and trot off while the occasional alligator takes cover in the thick cypress shadows. The bugs, well the bugs don’t go anywhere. I’ve never seen so many horseflies in my life.

After riding for about an hour and being satisfied with what we’d seen, we headed to the lake on our mission to procure bait for the evening. We caught a few bream for bait and spent a little more time than we’d planned catching some small bass for fun, as well. This was good medicine for me. It was the first time all year that I’d been fishing, and it felt great to feel that subtle tug on the other end of the line.

After satisfying our bait needs for the evening, we headed down to the river. The plan was to put some bank poles out and come back periodically to check them for catfish. The banks of the river here are pretty steep and having good footing is unheard of. A thick layer of slimy silt covers the bank and any vegetation that was once there. Brandon and Brad immediately get to work driving the poles into the banks. I lagged a little behind in hopes of learning from their misfortune on where I could step without slipping. They didn’t disappoint. Both of them took a spill shortly after exiting the Ranger. Myself, being an elite athlete, strapped my Crocs into four-wheel drive mode and carefully navigated the bank without a problem.

Any remaining sunlight was well gone by the time we got the bank poles set up. The darkness out there is so thick you can’t see your hands in front of your face. The mosquitoes are also thick. I commented that Discovery needs to do a Naked and Afraid challenge on the Big Black and see if anyone can survive it. Unless I had an ample supply of bug spray, I’d tap out in a matter of minutes. Brandon and Brad made quick work of setting the poles up and within a few minutes we had them baited and were headed back to the camp to hang out for a while.

After several hours of shooting the bull, Brandon and I headed back down to the river to check our poles. Brad is an old man in a middle aged man’s body, so he went on to bed. Looking back on it, maybe he’s just wiser than we are. Upon arriving back at the river, we noticed two things: none of our poles were bouncing (indicating a fish being on them) and one of the poles had been ripped out of the ground and was poking up in the river about twenty feet from the bank. We did our best to retrieve it but opted to wait until morning. We put fresh new bait on the other poles then went back to the camp to get a few hours of sleep.

Morning came much quicker than I’d anticipated. I rolled over in my bed at 9:30 to the sound of Brandon in the kitchen. He was buzzing about, having already been down to the river. He happily exclaimed that we had at least one fish hooked. I jumped up and we headed down to see what we caught. Much to our disappointment, we’d hooked a Longnose Gar. Not our fish of choice, however, it was the biggest Longnose Gar that I’d ever seen. Well over forty inches, he was scary looking. To add to our misfortune, we’d lost another bank pole, no doubt the work of an alligator. Neither of the remaining two poles had anything on them, so we pulled our gear, fished out the last pole from the river, and headed back to camp empty handed. 

After doing a little more property riding, I headed home to be with the girls for Father’s Day on Sunday. Even though we didn’t really catch what we wanted to, my heart was full, and my soul had been fed. I needed that quick trip more than those guys knew. It’s a good thing to spend time in the company of friends and if I can mix a little hunting or fishing in with it, I’m usually a better person afterward. It also got me fired up to do more fishing. I just need the heat to take a break!

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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