“Cain’t ya smell ‘em?!” The little bait shop hadn’t changed in the thirty-odd years Arthur Farrell has been stopping by for crickets and ice. The smells that included a mixture of old grease, sawdust, and rich topsoil for the worms took him back even further when the road to Guntersville, Alabama, was only hardwoods and cotton fields.
“Well, cain’t ya?” the old man asked again.
“No, first time out this year,” Arthur replied, still thinking more about the years that have sped by and the time when his father first took him to a bait shop in a little town just north of Birmingham. The same smell lived there and the same man, he was sure, had worked there. For 25 cents his father bought hooks, crickets, two cokes, and two bologna sandwiches. For 25 cents today, well…
“Around my little pond just back of the house,” the old man continued, “they stinkin’ to high heavens, those bream. Been on bed nigh three days, but come on quick soon’s the full moon struck. Shellcracker, too, I been hearin’ are bitin’ real good on the lake, but we only got the big bluegill in ma pond.”
Arthur watched Jack through the greasy window as he finished putting gas in the boat. His mind wandered again back through all the years, and he wondered if his father ever stopped to consider the recurring cycle that could only be passed from father to son, father to son. He paid for the 50-pack of size-eight hooks, gas, and two bags of ice and headed out the door. That smell, the one of the bait shop, would be with him until the lake winds slowly peeled it away in the oncoming hours.
With Jack driving, they pulled out of the parking lot and continued on down Highway 431 toward Guntersville, hanging a left on Highway 79, the Scottsboro Highway. It was a Tuesday morning and the weekend warriors had long since headed home and the lake would be calm except for the wind. Jack turned in at Preston Island and came to a halt near the water at the deserted boat ramp.
Arthur unfastened the tie-downs while Jack situated all of their gear in the boat and readied the aluminum Bass Tracker for the water.
They putted out of the cove to the mouth where good beds have been made year after year. They both fished about three feet deep. Arthur preferred a light cork bobber to Jack’s heavier plastic one. Old habits.
They first stopped near the bank where a low-hanging tree spread six feet out over the water and Arthur’s bobber barely touched the water before a Plunk!, the indication of a stout fish bowing his ultralight rod like he was hung on bottom. A big, dark, and shiny female, bigger than the hand of a large man, emerged from the water after a few seconds and it wasn’t long before Jack followed. They took 10 more from the bed and then let it be.
The air was still a bit cool and a light fog hung over the glass-like water. Not another soul was seen or an engine heard. They knew of several more beds within a mile of Preston Island where they might take a few more fish before calling it quits. Plus, who needs to hurry on a morning when the fish are biting and nobody’s missing you?
Arthur started up the engine and pointed the boat toward the channel. Upriver they went for a short ways before reaching Boshart Creek, another guaranteed spot for catching fish. Boshart is fairly shallow, no more than three or four feet and shellcracker beds are easy to spot. And boy were they there!
Arthur eased along while Jack stood on the bow scanning for the light-colored beds in the green water.
“Here we go,” Jack said, pointing to the starboard side. “About 30 yards.”
Arthur turned the key, quieting the boat, and they drifted for a few seconds until Jack tipped up the trolling motor. Forty feet out they dropped anchor and baited their hooks.
“Don’t throw it in there,” Arthur instructed. “Keep your bobber around the perimeter.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Jack replied, rolling his eyes.
“And don’t roll your eyes at me,” was answered by a “there he is.” Arthur, as usual, put the first shellcracker in the boat. Five or so here and a few more there and they called it a day around noon. It had warmed considerably and they had a fine mess of fish to filet. And Arthur, despite all that his eyes have seen, could hardly wipe the grin off his face as they headed for home. A lot of us know what a big time you can have catching such a little fish.