One of the things that my brother and I looked forward to as boys was going fishing in the boat on the Coosa River with Dad. I have never been much of a fisherman, but I still enjoyed going, I was just always ready to come home a lot sooner than Zach and Dad ever were. Dad would announce that we were going fishing on Monday to build anticipation for the week. Friday night Zach and Dad would bring all of the fishing tackle into the living room and waste their time by re-spooling their reels with fresh fishing line. I’d have to hold the spool of line on a pencil as Zach reeled it onto the reel. They would carefully select a lure and piddle around in the myriad of tackle boxes. Saturday morning after we loaded the boat with all of our fishing rods and tackle boxes, was when the real preparation started. We would swing by the BP to fuel the boat, fill a cooler with ice, and more importantly make our snack selections. I’m not sure who made the rules of what is proper fishing fare, but we sure stuck to them as if they were handed down from Mt. Sinai by the Lord himself. Vienna Sausages, potted meat, and saltine crackers are the staple diet of avid fisherman. Vienna sausages is spelled just like the capitol of Austria but pronounced “Vie-Eena”. Saying it like the capitol of Austria will make you sound like a city slicker and destroy your credibility on the river. This fishing diet is best appreciated with a canned coke and a pack of saltine crackers. You could also pack some bologna sandwiches-again, not pronounced like the Italian city, but “baloney.” Chips are permissible, but real fisherman lean toward the standard saltine. I am not a real fisherman and would usually make a more flamboyant selection like Doritos, or Pizza flavored nacho chips. Dad’s drink of choice was Pepsi, while Zach would get Dr. Pepper. I got Dr. Pepper because Zach did.
My philosophy of fishing has always been pretty simple, catch one fish, and dig into the potted meat, Vienna sausages, and cold cokes. I was usually ready to go home about four hours before anyone else was.
The first boat Dad had was an old brown fiberglass boat with stick steering. We soon graduated to an aluminum boat with a steering wheel for steering. The aluminum boat was a much needed upgrade where many fond memories were made, but I guess the most memorable boat we had was an aluminum flat bottom boat that Dad had procured from my Uncle Johnny. After a couple of tubes of calk we used that death trap to “float the creek”. Kelly Creek flows into the Coosa river a mile or so South of the Logan Martin Dam. Kelly Creek is only a couple of yards short of being a river, rivers being measured in length.
The biggest difference in going fishing in the River and floating the Creek is the logistics. In the river, you drive yourself to the boat landing, launch the boat, and then return to the same location and the comfort of your truck and boat trailer when you’re finished fishing. When you float the creek, you have to con someone into dropping you off at the crack of dawn at point A up the creek and then picking you up at point B later in the day. Sounds simple enough these days, but you should try it without a cell phone for a more realistic effect.
The first time we floated the creek, we manhandled the boat into the back of the truck and drove down a dead end road where the frame of an old steel bridge still spanned the creek. It would take the rest of the day for us to reach the boat launch on Kelly Creek which was five or seven miles away. The landing was about a mile from the river. This dead end road was the closest access to the creek, but not at all ideal for launching a boat. How bad you want to go fishing is reciprocal to your willingness to carry a flatbed aluminum boat half a mile through the bushes and down a cliff. The manufacturers were kind enough to put handles on the boat. It probably wasn’t as bad as I remember since my job was to carry the tackle boxes and cooler, and we were too excited to complain about paltry things like briars and torn clothes.
There are a number of marked differences between fishing in the river and fishing in the creek. For starters, the Coosa River was a good five hundred feet wide, whereas Kelly Creek might be fifty feet wide at the widest point, and much narrower in general, which meant that for the most part you were in the shade for the whole day on the creek. The river was a good deal deeper too, some places up to forty feet. We had to get out and carry the boat across rocks in some places on the creek and the deepest point might have been fifteen feet. I loved how quiet it was on the creek. You hardly hear any cars or engines it’s just you and the creek. It also helps if you are with people that you love. I do not consider myself a sportsman today, but this aspect of many outdoor activities is still incredibly appealing.
Floating the creek was more memorable than fishing in the river for a few reasons, the biggest being that you were committed to it, you couldn’t crank the outboard motor and go home. Even on the river when our motor died once, there was someone to tow you home. Not having a motor wasn’t a big deal since you were floating with the current, but if you needed a helping hand from a stranger you were out of luck. You hardly saw anyone on the creek until you were about a mile from the river.
The narrower and shallower creek was also more challenging. On our maiden voyage down the creek we had just rounded a bend when we encountered one of our first challenges, a huge oak tree had fallen across the creek and there was only about eighteen inches of clearance from the water. Zach and Dad stopped fishing. I stopped eating. We all stared at the tree across the river not saying a word. A duck with four or five ducklings paddled under the tree.
“What are we going to do boys?” Dad asked.
“Let’s do what the ducks did.” I finally piped up since Zach was not offering any ideas.
We all laid down flat of our backs and slid under the oak tree. I remember Dad having to pull us through since we got wedged under there a couple of times. It’s a wonder a water moccasin didn’t drop down into the boat with us.
Being a shallow body of water, there are a number of places on Kelly Creek where there are white water rapids, which would be fun if you were in a kayak, but is a downright nuisance in a flat bottom boat. The first time we came upon the rapids we decided to “shoot” them rather than get out and carry the boat. Everything went fine. We zipped right through the rapids without so much as a bang and by the time we got to the next set of rapids, we had thrown caution to the wind and were hoping for the same outcome. We braced ourselves as Zach tried to steer us to what seemed like the best route, but the rapids sucked us in and the boat grounded on the rocks with a thump. We rocked the boat to try to free ourselves, but the boat wouldn’t budge. We decided the boat was too heavy so I got out in order to lighten it, but the boat still held fast. Zach got out, but the boat still wouldn’t budge. As Dad was standing up to step out, the boat lunged forward and he fell flat of his back in the stern, snapping a fishing rod as water rushed into the boat. He was soaking wet, but most concerned about his waterlogged wallet. When Zach and I recovered from laughter, we decided in might be time to have lunch. We were able to sail on smoothly for the rest of the day though it was a long four hours for Dad to sit in his sopping wet clothes.
As the day wore on we could hear voices from other fishermen who were coming up the creek from the landing, it’s pretty cool how far the water will carry a voice. When we finally met up with the other boat we got to witness one of the guys set the hook and fight a humongous fish for what seemed like an eternity. When he finally got the fish netted he realized that it wasn’t what he had hoped for, “It’s a drum.” He said, one of the least desirable species in the river. He used a more colorful adjective than I feel comfortable even writing, which was unnecessary since his voice carried the most disappointing emotion that I’d heard all day.
I hope my Dad wasn’t as disappointed when one day he woke me up to go fishing on a Saturday and I told him, “I don’t want to go fishing. I don’t like fishing. I don’t even like Dr. Pepper.” I imagine that this revelation stung him a bit as he and Zach loaded up the boat without me for the first of many fishing trips. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you like and what you do just to be with the people you love. I’m going through the same thing with my boy now. Since he was about four minutes old, we could tell that he loved to be outside. He’s only been fishing about three times, but he already loves it. It looks like I’m going to have to endure a few more fishing trips just to spend time with my little outdoors man. That’ll be alright though, I’ll pack plenty of snacks.
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