"Boy dad! Those are some really big bullhead.
Did you catch all of them or did Red give you
I couldn't believe that dad had caught two huge
buckets of those "whisker" fish all by himself.
When my sister and I woke up early those summer
Saturday mornings the first thing we did was to
go to the kitchen and check to see if dad had
caught any fish the previous night. He liked to
fish for catfish at the lake, by lantern light,
from the end of a friends dock. He and his constant
buddy fished from sundown to sunup most every Friday
night during the summer. We looked forward to the
early morning scramble to the kitchen in high hopes
that he had caught some more of those delicious fish.
"Well, I insisted "are we going to keep 'em all or
give some away? Mom probably wouldn't want to clean
that whole mess of fish. I know gramps wants the
heads and guts to use in the garden cause he said
there ain't no better fertilizer then fresh fish;
especially for his corn."
Dad said we'd keep most of this mess and share the
rest of them with our neighbors. Nothing tasted better
n' mom's freshly fried catfish fillets with plenty of
coleslaw and hush puppies.
Now, we had a strange partnership going in my house
when it came to fur, fish and fowl cleaning. Dad
would never admit to it; but, I know for a fact
that he had what mom called "a weak stomach" when
it came to cleaning fresh game. So, they shared
an unspoken ritual. When it came to fish he would
bring them home and put them in the freezer and
when they were almost board-stiff mom would get
them out and proceed with her half of the bargain.
She kept a very sharp pair of gigantic scissors
just for the fish processing chore. First she cut
the heads off with a sharp butcher knife. Looked
Paul Bunyanesque sized to my ten year old eyes.
Then she used the scissors to open those babies
from the tail to the gizzard; or, as she once
colorfully described it, "From the pee hole to
the neck!" Then it was a simple matter of lifting
the not quite rigidly frozen mass of "guts and
stuff" out of the stomach cavity in one mostly
blood-less swoop. Mom had perfected this technique
from thousands of fish de-bowelings over the years.
On the particular morning in mind, sis and I
arrived in the kitchen to find two completely
full buckets of lively bullheads; still squirming
and making that peculiar "poppin'" sound when out
of water. Probably would sound sort of like a
croaker to a sea shore dweller.
My sister was concerned that those poor fish needed
to be back in the water. And so, was set the stage
for one of our finest hours.
About an hour later dad hit the floor running,
after only an hours shut eye, when roused by a
blood curdling scream from the upstairs bathroom.
Mom was hittin' all the finest high notes that
woulda made an opera singer proud and long for
the same reproduction.
Next sound to be heard was from dad; "You kids
better git your butts up here this instant!" The
decibel level of that admonition meant that we
weren't being summoned for anything good!
Now, we couldn't understand all the commotion
cause all we did was afford them poor, water
deprived fish a little re-lubrication and
relaxation. Of course, when mom entered the
bathroom and spied about twenty-five catfish
contentedly cruisin' the tub, she was not
Sister and self then spent the next few minutes
draining the tub, returning the fish to their
bucket homes and disinfecting the tub with
copious amounts of soap, water and alcohol
and something else that mom contributed. She
said it would smell lots better then all that
fish poop and stuff in the tub.
I'm here to tell you that those were the best
tasting, if not the most memorable fish, I ever
However, the fresh water eel that gramps caught...
Well – that's a whole 'nother story! ~ Dick