Robbie White ~ Artist

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fish Bait Tree

Now, as fate goes, at the age of 22 I found myself, by choice of my own, uprooted from my beloved North Florida, and living on a 40,000 acre cattle ranch in Oregon. Mama says I should never have married a Yankee. But alas, that is what happened. And, so as the dog days of the summer of 1978 ended in Quincy, Florida, so did my days of laying on the sugar white sandy beaches, fishing and swimming in the gator infested waters of Lake Talquin, and throwing a cork into the fishing waters from an old cane pole.

Out West, I soon became known in the tiny town of Mitchell, Oregon, as that “crazy woman” from Florida. My accent was odd, my stories chalked up as “tall tales”, and no one out there, seem to know the difference between a “gopher” and a “catawba worm”.

Fishing for trout, sturgeon and salmon was so different than what I was used to. I had never used a rod and reel. We used cane poles back home. Our prize catch for the day was bream, catfish, and a speckled perch, and now and then a prize bass. And forget a store bought lure! We had a fish bait tree ourselves. Well, that claim was the beginning of my “craziness” in the eyes and minds of the local ranchers and citizens in our small ranching community. What sealed my fate as being the crazy woman from Florida, well…I’ll leave that story for another post.

Yes, we had a fish bait tree when I was a kid. This was during the time we lived on the Flora Dora Farm, a beautiful peach orchard located just off the Attapulgus Hwy, between Quincy, Florida, and Bainbridge, Georgia. It was called a Catawba tree, and once a year, it was filled with the best worms imaginable. Catawba worms, perfect to catch fish with. But, you had to get them off the tree, and that darn tree was located right next to the old tin roof shed on the south edge of the property, and right in the middle of the hog pen.

I’ll swim in gator and snake infested waters, but goodness, I hate having to go into a hog pen, filled with those beasts. Daddy had about 12 white hogs, and thankfully they were far from the house! But, one weekend afternoon, Daddy and his friend Chuck Burns decided to go fishing down at one of the farm ponds for catfish, because the catawbas were thick, and a fish fry was a sure thing that Saturday evening.

So, Daddy and Mr. Burns rounded up the kids to go with them to that hog pen, and the fish bait tree. They gave us buckets and explained to us that they were going to climb up on the old tin roof of the pig shed, and they would shake that tree, and any worms that fell into the dirt floor of the pen, we were to pick up and put in our buckets. And so the adventure began of dodging hogs, each other, and grabbing those worms.

Now, to get into that pen was not a problem for most of the kids, but me, well it involved crossing over an electric fence that was in place to prevent the hogs from escaping, and I was scared of electricity. Daddy assured me I would be fine, to just step over it, try not to touch the wire, and get into the pen. And so, one leg went over that wire, just as I began to lift my other leg, the first leg touched the wire, I jerked, got shocked, then the other, and before long I was stuck bouncing off both wires, screaming, one leg on one side, the other leg, on the other side, hogs running everywhere, worms falling off the tree because Daddy and Mr. Burns were laughing and the tree shaking from their enjoyment of my predicament and the other kids running around picking up worms, while my bucket was flaying in the air while I’m still screaming and crying.

Then, THUD….Daddy fell off the roof of the shed from laughing so hard, right into the middle of those hogs. Many fish were caught that late evening, and I swear the neighbors 2 miles away could hear their laughter the whole time they were fishing and frog gigging that evening and night, about the episode in the hog pen. As for me, both thighs scorched from being burnt, I never went inside that hog pen again.

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