Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bait Shop, Trotlines, and Fresh Catfish

What started out as a brief stop to buy some "fresh catfish" at a bait shop near the Mississippi River, turned into a really informative experience. The couple who operated the bait shop were busy working on their trotlines when we drove in. My husband is always eager to learn, so he inquired what they were doing. Like anyone with a unique occupation, they were happy to explain the wooden frame, the hooks, the lines, the bait, and how they use the boat to set the lines.

We asked if they had any catfish for sale. The lady said that earlier in the morning they sold over 1,000 pounds of their freshly-caught catfish to a group putting on a local fish fry. But, that they had one package of frozen catfish left in the freezer that she could sell us. We didn't have a cooler along, but she said she'd make us a 'make-shift' cooler and assured us we could easily drive 100+ miles back home and they'd be just fine. And, they were.

We found out how a trotline works. It's a heavy fishing line with baited hooks dangling from it that are attached at intervals by what they call 'snoods.' A snood is a short length of line that's attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end. In order to hold the lines below the surface of the water, they use old railroad spikes for the weights. Nightcrawlers work really well for catching catfish. They use GPS to set and find their trotlines. That way no one really knows where their lines are set. Other names for trotlines are tagged lines, throw lines, bank lines, or ditty lines.

We spent the afternoon with dear friends, as they had their RV set up in a Corps Park, and their campsite faced the river. We relaxed and visited under shade trees, watching little boys patiently waiting for a fish to bite. A baby bird fell out of its nest and landed beside our lawn chairs. Poor little thing was crying for help, and its momma was up in the tree chattering her warnings down to us. My reaction was to help the bird, but we left nature take care of itself.

On the way home, the two of us had a picnic supper along the river and watched the boaters and jet skiiers zoom past us. Everyone was sunburned, and we commented that they looked like little red and white bobbers out there. There's this little hamburger stand that has sold special burgers with fried onions for over 100 years, and it's our tradition to treat ourselves to these burgers whenever we're in the area. We like them so much that for our 40th anniversary, we chose to have our celebratory meal alongside the river--and the entrees of choice were, of course, these burgers! Each of us chomped two burgers down before our final trek of our trip home.

The recession certainly hasn't slowed down river traffic, motorcycle traffic, or any other recreational traffic. The weekend was a virtual flurry. It was fun reminiscing about the days we were out waterskiing, camping on sandbars with friends, sleeping in tents, and waving at barges as they crept down the Mighty and how they'd sound their fog horns at us. I can't really believe we attempted some of the things we did in those deep, murky, and potentially dangerous waters. Angels must've been hugging our shoulders to bring us safely to where we are now. Nevertheless, we have fantastic memories of being young and carefree.

One particular time we tented with another couple, with all of us in one tent. In the morning we woke up feeling a zillion grandaddy longleg spiders crawling on us and on all sides of our tent. Just imagine four people trying to get out of a tent opening at the same time!!!!! We still get hysterical thinking about it and can only speculate how in the world those spiders got in there.

So it is that life always gives us something to look forward to and something from our past to laugh about. Now, I simply cannot wait for that skillet of fried catfish!