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Backwater Fishing Zen

By: Angela Gillaspie © September 2003

"It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming." ~John Steinbeck

Fishing today is too complicated. On TV you'll see professional fisher-folks go out in their shiny boats, put shiny lures on their shiny hooks, catch a big shiny fish, and then throw it back into the shiny water. It looks good on TV, but that's not how I fish, which is braving mosquito swarms, dodging cow patties, impaling a cricket or worm on a hook, getting bait juice under my nails, and gazing into a pond as the breeze carries the exquisite scent of dirty cows. This kind of fishing is what I call "Backwater Fishing."

If you've got more time than money and view a fish as dinner - not an opponent, then you'll love Backwater Fishing. The main point is the challenge of using what you have between your ears to catch something to feed your family. (Of course, there's always the hope that you'll get something big so that you can brag about it.)

Woo wee! Lookit that catch!

Backwater Fishing is almost the opposite of professional fishing because professional fisher-folks use expensive bait and electronic fish finders, never eat their catch, own a couple dozen fishing licenses, fish in exotic places like the Chattahoochee River or Resaca Beach, and own a rod and reel that cost over $10.

I've never owned a fishing license because in my parts, you don't need one if you fish in a privately owned fishing hole. All of my favorite spots were on Granny's land; she kept the ponds stocked with catfish, bream, and bass and I knew if I caught a fish smaller than my foot, I had to throw it back or I'd be on the receiving end of a hickory switch. There are four ways I've gone and seen Backwater Fishing: with a cane pole, jug, trotline, and nothing but bravery.

Cane Pole Fishing. This is really simple: tie a fishing line on a cane pole (or whatever stick you can find) and fish for whatever you can catch. For catching catfish or bass, I go bottom fishing - for all other fish, I use a bobber. I've had folks say that using a large duck feather is better than a bobber to tell when a fish is on your line.

You don't have to use a stick or cane pole, but Backwater Fishing is all about making due with whatever you have. Once in a while, a relative may come into some money and buy fancy fishing gear and you might get his hand-me-down reel and you can go Backwater Fishing in style. Just don't go and get a big head, now.

woo momma - whatta cat!

Jug Fishing. Take an old milk jug, tie a baited fishing line to the handle and fling the jug to the middle of the pond. Daddy threw his jugs out late at night and came back early the next morning to gather them. Most all kinds of fish can be caught by jug fishing, just make sure you use a strong fishing line - at least twenty-pound test.

Trotline Fishing. This is similar to jug fishing except you use one big 100-pound test line strung with several baited fishing lines. Daddy tied old coffee cans to the ends, anchored one end to a stump and threw the other end out as far as he could. After a reasonable amount of time (i.e., about the time it took to consume several beers and bologna sandwiches), he'd roll in the line and see what he caught.

Noodling or Grabblin'. You have to be really brave to participate in the art of noodling. It's a fast way to put a lot of meat on the table - it's also a quick way to lose a finger or two if you don't know what you're doing.

You don't need any fishing gear - just excellent swimming skills, a buddy armed with a club or his trusty nine-iron, and a hunger for food and adventure. Strip down to your undies (or your Speedo, if you're an adventure-starved Yankee), wade out into the water (never go deeper than your chest), slip your hand in a hole, and wiggle your fingers.

If things go right, a great big catfish will chomp down on your hand and you'll drag it to the surface where your buddy will whack it over the head with his club. If things go wrong, like if you catch a cottonmouth, beaver, muskrat, or snapping turtle, then your buddy can still whack your catch over the head with his club. It's no wonder that many of the noodling fellows I know have nicknames like Nubster, Four-Fingered Fred, Stubs, and Stumpy.

Whichever kind of Backwater Fishing you choose, with the exception of noodling, you're going to need bait. There are three kinds of bait:

  1. whatever you can catch (crawdads, worms, frogs, minnows, and any kind of bugs, leeches, or larva),
  2. whatever you can make quick (dough balls, bread balls, cheese balls, and stink bait), and
  3. whatever you can find (sweet corn, bologna, dog food, and liver).

There's more to Backwater Fishing! Not only is it a relaxing and fun way to catch supper, you can participate in many other activities, like:

Backwater Fishing may not be as showy as today's professional fishing, but it's a lot more fun (and filling).



~*~*~ Angel's Anglin' Glossary ~*~*~

100-Pound Test Line: this is a braided nylon fishing line that will take 100 pounds of pressure before it breaks. A 20-pound test line can take up to 20 pounds of pressure before breaking.
Bait Juice: the liquid that oozes from whatever you're using for bait like chicken livers.
Beaver / Muskrat: a cranky little fellow with sharp teeth that doesn't like it when you shove your hand in his home.
Bobber: a little round float that you attach a couple of feet above the hook that jiggles when a fish bites on your hook. Some folks use corks, feathers, and anything else that will float.
Bottom-fishing: fishing on the bottom rather than the top or middle depth. This is a good way to catch sticks, beer cans, or Grandpa's lost teeth.
Bream: also called sunfish and panfish; this small fish lives in creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds and bite almost any bait you throw at them. They are known for their fight and when they hit your line, you'll swear up and down that a 57-pound cat was on the other end. There are several different kinds of bream including bluegill, redear, redbreast, and redeye.
Cast: to throw out your line.
Chattahoochee River: a river that runs near Atlanta that Alan Jackson sang about.
Cottonmouth: a meaner-than-Aunt-Louise poisonous snake that lives in rivers and ponds.
Cow Patty/Cow Pie: round pie-shaped bovine excrement that's left in pastures and around watering holes.
Crawdads: these are freshwater crustaceans that resemble (and taste like) little lobsters; they're also called crayfish, crawfish, mudbugs, and little lake lobsters.
Dough Balls: a doughy concoction made from cornmeal, cotton balls, and various other smelly items.
Fishing License: this document allows the owner to fish and to abide by the Department of Environmental Conservation; the rules for fishing licenses vary from state to state. But the bottom line is that if you fish on public property, you need a license.
Float: see bobber.
Gig: to impale or spear.
Hickory Switch: a thin branch from a hickory tree used for disciplinary purposes.
Hook: the J-shaped sharp and pointy thing that's used to catch the fish.
Line: filament, string, or whatever you can find to tie to your pole.
Minnows: baby fish; most of my relatives call these "minners."
Pole: oh come on, you don't know what a pole is? It's a stick!
Reel: it's a spool-looking thing attached to the pole that has the fishing line wound around it, there are a bunch of different kinds of reels, so don't get me started.
Resaca Beach: an imaginary place that the locals laugh about in the tiny town of Resaca, Georgia.
Sinkers: lead weights that are clamped to the fishing line that makes the hook stay under water.
Smooch: to kiss with reckless abandon.
Snapping Turtle: these turtles eat baby fish and are mean (a big one we call 'Nessie' bit a teat clean off one of Aunt Wanda's cows last summer).
Speedo: a really tight bathing suit that has been known to frighten small children and incite riots.
Stink Bait: a ripe smelling mixture made of organ meats, flour, cheese, and then aged three weeks to get the right amount of stink to attract catfish (and flies and Cousin Earl).
Twenty-pound Test: this fishing line can reel in fish that weigh up to twenty pounds.
Trotline: a single long fishing line strung across a river or pond that has single hooks hanging down and spaced about every three or four feet apart.

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Revised: 09/19/03 - 03/05/20
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