April 12th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Fair Game
By Michael Saunders

I was taught to fish by my Mother. She helped me hold the cane pole and bring in my first bluegill when I was around four years old. Mom was always there for things like that. In the years before soccer, she was a baseball Mom, carting me to every practice and game. The band booster Mom who baked cakes and was at every home game to watch her two sons march at halftime. The one time I skipped school in the eleventh grade, she somehow knew that I had done it and drove up to the Dairy Queen where I was wasting away the day. I got the "look." You know, the one that tells you more than a thousand words possibly could. I never cut classes again. I knew I would get caught.

Mom was born Ruth Boyd Carneal on Christmas day, 1915. On that day a true fisher was born. No one ever pursued her quarry with more fervor than Mom. In 1946 she married my dad who was fresh from the navy and WWII. Dad was a boat lover, but only tried fishing one time and decided that riding was better than fishing. It was simple from that point on. Dad built and ran the boats, and Mom fished from them.

Her pursuit of the bull bluegill and the channel cat took her on myriad trips down the Alabama River, float trips down the Cahaba River, and every private pond in driving distance where she could get permission to fish. The trunk of her Oldsmobile smelled of fish on a regular basis. Stringers of "brim" as she called them were laid on sheets of newspaper for the trip back home where not a single fish was wasted, but served up piping hot along with beer batter hushpuppies and homemade coleslaw. Many a Saturday night in my youth was spent in the company of her friends eating freshly caught fish.

Sometime, I can't exactly remember when, Dad had gotten some concrete blocks from somewhere and built a small rectangular pool for my brother and I to cool off in. As I remember it was three layers high and had a concrete bottom with a drainpipe installed. There was a period when we got a little older and didn't use the pool quite often enough. Mom took advantage of the situation and started heaping in leaves and other organic matter and soon had a thriving worm bed going. No more trips to the bait store. The cricket box could easily be filled with black crickets from the grass around the house. There was a woodpile behind the tractor shed that Dad had threatened to burn many times but Mom was having none of that. There were roaches under those boards and they were going in the cricket box and catch a "bigun". Any thing that moved that a bluegill might bite was fair game for her.

Mikes Mom

It was from her that I learned the importance of an eddy in the river, and how to drift a cricket on a bobber and let the current take it back around to the waiting denizen of the deep that always waited at the backside. It was from her that I learned to take the bobber off and use a # 12 hook and single BB shot with a cricket and throw it up against the soapstone bank of the river, letting it drop just as if it had fallen in the water from above. "Watch that line real close. When you see it twitch, he's on there." It was from her that I learned the smell of a "brim" bed. It was from her that I learned to leave something for someone else to catch.

I think about all of these things now as I have passed them on to my son and now have a grandson to pass them on to. Mom is not able to go with me anymore in body, but she is still there with me in my heart every time I go. And when I return and swing by her house to drop off a few fish for her and her best friend Pearl, she always wants a report of how they were biting and what I caught them on. The cane pole and spinning reel has been replaced with a 5 wt flyrod and flies. The bait bucket sits empty now. The cricket box has more cobwebs than screen. But all the lessons she taught me are still with me and I remind her of the things that she taught me.

I still have this vision of Mom halfway up a Catalpa tree picking off worms and throwing them down to her friend Francis so they can go "bump the bottom" for river cats. I still see her coming in with her hair a mess and smelling of fish, but with a smile on her face that would charm anyone. I choose to remember her this way. And every time I feel the pull of a bluegill on my rod I think of her. ~ Michael Saunders

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