“Do you want to go fishing?” my dad asked.
Without thinking I answered, “Yeah!”
“Be ready to go in the morning.” He said.
Fishing was my most favorite thing to do with my dad. He was a building contractor who framed and finished out new homes. One of my fondest memories of him was the way he was admired and respected by the general contractors, the real estate developers who hired him, and his other business associates.
He only had a 3rd grade education, but he could walk up to a vacant lot where there was only a stack of raw lumber and, from the house prints, lay out a house’s foundation, get the concrete poured, and on the dried surface mark out where every stud, corner, tee post, door, and window were ultimately going to go.
From the time I was six or seven years old I went to the job with my dad. I remember my first salary was 25 cents an hour, but my dad raised my pay often and fairly throughout the time I worked with him. He joked that, “I would pay you what you’re worth, but I don’t think you should work for that.”
My job was to cut all the studs, build the corner and tee posts, and make the door and window frames. At about this stage we would bring in other laborers and I would help build and raise the walls, add the ceiling joists and deck the roof, and put up the wallboard and wall ties in preparation for the external brick or stone veneer. I worked with my dad after school until dark, during the summer, and on weekends until I graduated from high school.
Anyhow, fishing is what this story is about. We fished the lakes and ponds around my hometown, Montgomery, Alabama, every chance we got. We didn’t have a boat so we used the johnboats that were already there or walked the banks. Other than that small limitation we were relatively sophisticated fishermen. We both had spinning or casting gear and a reasonably large collection of lures.
I can remember many times when it was almost dark when we got to the lake. This was a great time to use surface lures because the bass were sensitive to bugs and frogs landing and moving on the surface. There is nothing so satisfying as the sound of a huge bass breaking the surface of the water and taking your lure. We caught lots of fish, which I had to scale, gut and clean.
When my dad asked if I wanted to go fishing, I responded like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I didn’t even ask where we were going. It turned out my dad was taking me to a place where he fished as a boy. It was somewhere near Luverne, Alabama, a city in Crenshaw County, about 45 miles below Montgomery.
My dad was born in Luverne in 1898 and grew up there. I suspect now that he was returning to a place, which he enjoyed as a boy himself.
I didn’t pay much attention to where we were and how we got there because 45 miles is an infinite distance to a young boy. However, eventually we got to a place where we could park just off the highway from Montgomery. We could see the bridge over the Patsaliga River, but we didn’t go there.
We climbed a fence into a farmer’s field that abutted the river. I remember we walked a mile or so along a path beside the river until we came to a place where my dad stopped. He rigged up with a cork, sinker and hook. The river was so narrow that it didn’t appear to me that we could do much casting, so I copied what he was doing. Also, we hadn’t brought any worms or crickets, so I couldn’t figure out what we ere going to use for bait.
Now, there was a tree that overhung the river and the water below the tree was a boil with action. The fish were striking something. My dad moved over to the tree and took something off a leaf and threaded it onto his hook. He dropped it into the river and the cork didn’t even have time to settle before it took off. My dad hooked and brought in a large (3/4 to 1 lb) shellcracker bream. I couldn’t wait to get my own bait in the water.
I had time to study the tree and the “worm” my dad had used for bait. It was a green caterpillar that was eating the leaves of the tree. My dad explained that it was a catalpa worm and the tree was a catalpa tree. I got my own catalpa worm into the river as quick as I could.
My dad said, “In the late 1700s, catalpa trees were planted all over the Eastern United States with southwest Georgia, south Alabama, and throughout south-central and southeast Mississippi. Catalpa trees grow naturally along rivers and margins of swamps. Find the Catalpa Tree and in most cases you’ll find the worm.”
We both caught as many shellcracker and bluegill bream as we wanted and finally gave it up because we were plain tired of fishing. I haven’t since been to a place that was as exciting for catching fish. I could see that my dad enjoyed it too.
I don’t believe we discovered this place and this catalpa tree by accident. As I remember back we parked and went directly to the tree before doing any fishing. We fished there and no other place. I am now convinced that my dad wanted me to live an experience he had previously enjoyed himself.