Mike Wilson: Lick Creek days: The bream rock
Published 12:00 pm Friday, March 10, 2023
As a sexagenarian, I have lost almost all of my enthusiasm for baking outdoors in the summer midday sun for most any reason. Period. I honestly think that the only noon July attraction that could lure me out at this juncture would be an invitation to play Augusta National. There was a time, though …
The boulder, which was sort of kidney bean-shaped, had been implanted by Mother Nature eons ago on what became the bank of Lick Creek in front of my grandparents’ boathouse. Facing the middle of the indentation and about three feet out into the water was a large and slowly rotting stump. The water between the stump and the rock was usually about two feet deep, and I firmly believe that I never failed to catch at least one bream whenever I dropped a line there.
From early on — age six or so– I was permitted to go there alone to fill the time between fishing outings on the boat and meals (my grandmother believed in “three squares”), and I missed very few chances to sit there with a cane pole. Try to remember your own first taste of freedom: finally, permission to be out of sight and out of vocal range and free of pesky little sisters. Heady stuff, no?
It only took me one lesson to learn not to sit on the old log nearby. A case of chiggers that leaves me still itching at the mere thought put me out of commission briefly, but soon I was right back in the game, well painted with Caladryl. I remember counting once and getting bored of it after catching more than 50 assorted sunfish and bluegills and an occasional baby bass. I gradually refined my approach until I was tight-lining (no bobber) with a small trout hook to assure that not even the tiniest specimen got away. I released countless two-inch fish — unless Granddaddy wanted some to bait jugs. (I learned later that game fish were not to be used for bait…I trust the statute of limitations has expired.) I spurned the approach of Vernon, the boy from a couple of cabins down the road, who chummed and baited inside his boathouse with oatmeal flakes. I was a purist!
After I graduated to a rod and reel, I would try my best to attract the big gars that occasionally came cruising down the bank with a red and white spoon. The one I finally did manage to entice into striking proceeded to wreck that whole rig, breaking the rod and stripping the drag of the inexpensive Zebco. I had to mow several lawns back in Memphis to replace that set. Even when I got older and was allowed to run up and down the river at will in Granddaddy’s Alumacraft, I could rarely resist stopping there at least momentarily to try to snag one more fish on the way to the house.
I couldn’t help but smile when my granddaughter balked at leaving our favorite North Carolina catfish spot as the heat index rose above 100 a couple of years ago. My sense is that not many kids share such determination these days when it is so much easier to play video games or watch cartoons.
As the years went by, the stump gradually disappeared. There was only a little stub akin to a cypress knob still there the last time I visited the rock over 30 years ago. I trust it is still there and that no one has bulldozed the bank in the interim to install a ramp or somesuch. I may even ask to have my ashes scattered in that spot some day; I really can’t think of a better place.
Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.