by Glenda Barrett
Now, if you’ll bait your hook with one of these worms and spit on it, you might get a bite.
Mamaw advised, as we sat side by side on the muddy creek bank in North Georgia getting our lines ready to cast into the dark, green water.
When Mamaw’s arthritic hands became tired, she’d prop her crooked cane pole up in front of her on a forked stick. Next, she’d open her cotton, drawstring bag, take out her Dental Sweet Snuff and put a pinch in her mouth. Then, with a look of pure contentment, she’d lean back and watch for a nibble. Once she offered me a taste, but it didn’t take me long to see that I could turn it down forever.
Usually we dug our own worms, but sometimes we’d go to the bait shop. Once, when I was around nine years old, we found a lot of worms while gardening, but we didn’t have a can to put them in. Mamaw asked me to carry them home in my hands. We had started along the road to her house, when the worms began crawling around. It didn’t take long, until that became so unbearable I threw them down in the middle of the road. They crawled off, probably as relieved as I was.
When we arrived at our fishing spot, the first thing was baiting our hook. Mamaw hooked the worm in a way that left none of her hook showing. She said if the fish could see the hook, they wouldn’t bite it. I just stuck the hook through the worm and left both ends dangling. I’d get a lot of bites but not many fish. Mamaw’s version of hook baiting was clearly superior. After she caught several fish, she’d ask me to break a forked limb out of a tree, put the fish on it, and stick them in the edge of the water to keep them fresh until we got home.
On a good fishing day, we’d run out of worms, and she’d say, Glenda, see if you can find some up in the woods behind us or under some rocks, but be careful of snakes. Usually, I’d find two or three worms, and we divided them so we could fish longer.
Sometimes, Mamaw would caution me to be quiet, or I’d scare the fish, or to wear dark colors because light-colored clothing would scare them, too. Or maybe it was the spit. She’d say, If you’re not getting a bite, Glenda, try spitting on your bait, sometimes that will give them an appetite. I believed everything she told me and even tried that, but I will say that was my least favorite piece of advice. Anyway, something worked, because she always had a string of fish to carry home, while I usually caught nothing but a good case of poison ivy.
There was never one fishing trip that I didn’t have the frustration of getting my line out of the top of a tree or hanging it on a root in the bottom of the lake. Each time, Mamaw would lay her pole down and help me get it untangled. If it was tangled on a root, invariably she’d say, Glenda, you might have a hold of a big mud turtle! I know my big eyes widened at that comment.
At the end of the day, I’d start getting tired and bored and begin to throw rocks in the water. Before long, Mamaw would say, Glenda, I guess we’d better start home. Then, she’d fish a few minutes longer just in case another fish might swim by. Finally, we’d pack up our chairs, poles, bait cans and fish, and climb in the car. On the way home, we’d try to give the fish to each other, because neither one of us liked to clean them.
We usually ended up dividing them, but we always counted them to see who had caught the most. One day, after Mamaw was in her nineties and in a nursing home, I decided to take her a couple of trout, pan-fried golden brown to help stimulate her appetite. As she daintily picked bits of fish from the bones with her frail fingers, she began to share stories of her past fishing trips. She didn’t include all the bits I recalled of worm finding and hook baiting, but I could see the twinkle of contentment in her eyes as if the two of us were starting out all over again, ready to bait a hook with one of those worms, and spit on it, knowing at least one of us had the skill to bring home dinner.
Glenda Barrett, a native of Hiawassee, Georgia, is an artist, poet and writer. Her work has appeared in Mary Jane’s Farm Magazine, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Woman’s World, Country Woman, Farm & Ranch Living and many others. Her Appalachian paintings are on display at Fine Art America, and her poetry chapbook, “When the Sap Rises,” is available on Amazon.