Have you ever been out on a Southern bass lake in the middle of the night? It’s a scary place. As scary as any old house. It’s like the inviting, fun-filled lake you’re familiar with becomes another world after dark. Especially a big, Southern lake like Lake Guntersville. It teems with life, most of it seemingly involved in the massive, slithering convulsions you hear all around. You can’t tell how far away or how close most of it is. Sometimes things bump the sides of the boat. Other times you hear something in the air. Bats? Who knows? You’re unsure if a bat would be better or worse than what you’re imagining. You hope it’s neither. Guntersville is choked with aquatic weeds. This adds its own creepiness once the light of day is gone. The thought of falling into that choking, clinging mass can paralyze you with fear, any ideas of a cooling midnight swim long forgotten. Carp, big bass and other, mostly benign creatures are responsible for the majority of the noises, but in the darkness the human imagination can be a frightful, even deadly thing.
But there are bass to be caught. Big ones that don’t like to come out and play during the harsh summer sun of daylight. So lots of us fish the lake at night, or at least we did years ago. Back when I was a kid, there were nighttime bass tournaments that let out from the Mud Creek boat ramp every Tuesday night. My brother and I would sometimes fish with our dad. We would get lucky on occasion and win one, but mostly Bobby Hutchins won them all with everyone else fighting for second place. Bobby was a heck of a fisherman. He was a skinny, older fellow who was a legend among the local bass fishermen. Bobby always fished alone and always at night. He was extremely secretive about the lures he used and his favorite fishing holes. He was friendly enough, but the rest of us always got the feeling he was making fun of us somehow, especially at weigh-in time when he’d wait quietly until everyone else had weighed their fish. Then he’d pull the winning stringer out and pick up his check.
This didn’t bother me too much. I was just a kid, and I felt lucky just to be hanging around so many good fishermen. Plus, like I said, we’d occasionally win one of the tournaments anyway. By the time I got in junior high school, my friends and I didn’t fish the tournaments any more. Our dads got the crazy idea that we were old enough to be paying our own entry fees if we wanted to fish, so we just went out by ourselves in the little aluminum boat with wooden seats that we had christened The Hawgdaddy. We’d row the boat over to watch the weigh-ins, but mostly we decided that we liked the fishing better than the competing anyway.
Then one night Bobby didn’t show up at the weigh-in. They found his boat in McIntyre Slough, but they didn’t find his body until early the next morning. Officially his drowning was an accident, but there were some pretty rough characters who fished those tournaments. Characters who didn’t take well to donating their hard-earned money to Bobby every week, and who might have grown tired of Bobby’s smug attitude. We always figured some of them did Bobby in that night.
A couple years went by, and most people forgot about the whole thing, or at least didn’t think about it much. Us kids didn’t though. We’d go out fishing at night on the lake in the Hawgdaddy, and we’d scare each other with stories about Bobby’s ghost stalking the shores of the lake on the darkest nights, eternally searching for those who held his head under that black water. Like I said, Lake Guntersville at night is a scary place. It wasn’t hard to scare each other. Continue reading Night Fishing: A Halloween Story
The rod is still there at my feet, the line lying out straight toward the center of the pond, just beginning to sink. It’s only a rod to me now. Just an old bamboo fishing pole. The sun is almost down, and I know my time is nearly gone. I knew as soon as I did it that something had gone wrong. Now I know about old man Coffee. I know why he went mad.
This was our spot, Jason and I. A swampy area with a deep pond in the middle near our home in North Alabama. We cleared out a little space on the western shore near a big oak for casting, bass plugs mostly, and we caught some nice ones. The rest of the shoreline was and is too overgrown with brush to make even short casts. I don’t know who owns the land. It always just seemed neglected. I guess we were poaching, but there was no one to care. As near as I can figure there are about two hundred acres here, the pond only about three acres of it, and only accessible by a circuitous route through the swamp. This western end is on a slight rise and is mercifully free from mosquitoes. It was like our own personal lake. We spent hours on slow summer evenings with our backs against this tree waiting for the fish to become active with the cooling of evening. I never knew this place to be unsettling in the least, but now I find my heart racing and my breathing difficult to control. The dark under the canopy of trees, in the past providing relief from the summer sun, now only exudes menace. Every sound causes me to start. It’s mid-autumn and cold, and my shallow breaths condense in the growing darkness, and yet sweat trickles slowly down the side of my head and down my back. The crickets are beginning to chirp with impending nightfall. I hear things, who knows what, occasionally sliding into the murky pond from the overgrown shore. I’m sitting with my back against our tree and the gun at my side. I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to use it. I’ve never been a strong man. If I was, I wouldn’t be here now.
Five years ago, my son had been a healthy young man. He was a fine athlete and a solid student. Not the captain of the football team, but a starter and a dang good player. He was also a budding fisherman. He and I spent many days out on the big lake going after largemouth bass. We rarely failed to win a few of the local bass tournaments in the summer. He was what his mother and I lived for. A son any man would be proud of.
Then the headaches started. At first we thought it was nothing, but they became worse. Then nose bleeds, and he was tired all the time. The doctors discovered the tumor in July, and Jason was dead by the end of the year. Just that quick. Continue reading TVangler’s Annual B-grade Halloween Horror Story: The Bamboo Fly Rod
A frightening tale of the dangers of fishing in haunted locations, brought to you by Flint River Correspondent Matt.
Most of us, sometime, somewhere, have had some sort of experience we can’t quite explain. Call it ghosts, the paranormal, .. haunting if you will, but most of us have seen or heard something that defied explanation, raising the hair on the back of our neck and sending chills down our spine.
So, in keeping with the holiday spirit – with Halloween just around the corner – I asked the fellas at the Berry Hill Poker Club this past Friday night if any of them had seen or heard anything they couldn’t explain. In short, I asked them for their ghost stories. Almost everyone had something – most of them during some misspent youth adventure, involving the consumption of illegally obtained beverages – but one really caught my attention. Continue reading A Tale of Terror (and Fishing)
I found out today that I failed to win the Traver Writing Contest sponsored by Fly Rod & Reel magazine. Obviously this came as no shock, but the magazine conspired to tear down my self esteem even more devastatingly by taking away an oft-used (by me) salve. Typically, they publish only the winner. That leaves the rest of us poor sots comforted by the thought, “Hey, I might have gotten second place. We’ll never know.” This time, they’re publishing three entries in addition to the winner. So, out of a relatively small pool of entrants (180 or so), not only did I not get second, I didn’t get third or fourth either. “Hey, maybe I got fifth,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyway, after reading the winners’ entries, I realize I didn’t stand a chance. Great work by some great writers. I think I’ll stick with my day job. That means you guys will occasionally suffer torture courtesy of my substandard writing. Here is my losing entry. It’s a substantial amount of true story mixed with a healthy dose of fiction, which long time readers of the site (are there such folk?) will realize. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, or at least use it as inspiration for entering next year’s contest. As in, “Hey, if this idiot is my competition, I might stand a chance at this.”
The Old Magic Continue reading A Sad, Failed Traver Writing Contest Entry
This is the last of my short stories for awhile. Once again, feel free to let me know what you think.
Sometimes I wake, and, lo, I have forgot,
And drifted out upon an ebbing sea!
My soul that was at rest now resteth not,
For I am with myself and not with thee;
Truth seems a blind moon in a glaring morn,
Where nothing is but sick-heart vanity:
Oh, thou who knowest, save thy child forlorn.
–George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Paul had had a good trip. He’d caught monstrous pigs, both rainbows and browns of such enormous proportions and in such ludicrous numbers that his friends back home would never believe him if not for the trout porn he was carrying on two full Compact Flash cards and another half-full in his camera bag. He wanted to fill up that last card before he left the next morning. But the river wasn’t cooperating this evening, and it was eating at him. He was doing everything right: two big heavy nymphs drifted repeatedly and drag-free through the deep run against the far bank, assisted by four split shot pinched about ten inches above the top fly. He knew there were big ones in the run.
Cast after cast, or more like, lob after lob of the heavy rig proved futile. No trout was going to strike this evening. If there was any kind of late evening rise, he might tempt a few up on dries, but they probably wouldn’t be very big. Maybe he could scramble out of bed in the morning in time for a few quick casts. Blamed fish never did cooperate when you really needed them to.
As he pivoted in the current to head back for shore, Paul’s weight shifted uncontrollably, and, before he could correct himself, the current had him on his back, washing him downstream. He didn’t panic and managed to drag himself ashore. Paul cursed exhaustedly as he caught his breath, until he looked and noticed water spilling from his camera bag, then he cursed energetically. There was a good chance the memory cards would dry out and work okay, but Paul also knew there was a chance they’d never work again. All his photos could be gone, and then what would have been the point of the trip?
Paul turned to head for shore and a place to dry out. He was a little surprised to see smoke rising from a little fire not fifty yards away on a little ridge overlooking the river. A stiff breeze suddenly picked up, and for the first time Paul felt chilled. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant feeling though. More refreshing than anything. He headed toward the fire, hoping for a little warmth, pushing aside the embarrassment he felt at having taken a tumble to the amusement, no doubt, of whoever tended the fire.
As he came to the crest of the ridge, Paul was greeted by a strange site. An old-timer sat with his back against a log tending the little fire, which had burned down to coals now and over which were a tea pot and a couple of crisping trout. At first Paul wanted to choke the man for killing trout from the sacred water, but something about the old man seemed beyond reproach. The old fellow had a weather-beaten fedora pulled down over his eyes, a patched-to-heck pair of waders, and a free-hand carved briar pipe puffing white smoke contemplatively into the strengthening pre-autumn breeze. Nope, Paul couldn’t be angry at this old codger. Old fellow just didn’t know better, is all. Continue reading An Evening Rise