A Tribute to a Little Old Lady from Smith County

Before I dive into this week’s column, let me preface by saying that I’m very fortunate. Actually, let me rephrase that, I’m incredibly blessed. I can probably count on my hands how many friends that I have around my age that still have grandparents alive. Unfortunately, I’m getting closer to no longer being on that list. After a long week of struggling, we laid my maternal grandmother to rest this weekend. And given the fact that she enjoyed reading my weekly blathering, I figured I’d pay homage to her this week.

The highs from last weekend’s wildlife extravaganza were curbed by the unsettling news late Saturday night that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. Of course, the family had trouble keeping me in the loop because I was doing what I do best…disappearing into the woods. Thankfully, nobody has come forward yet to tell me how selfish it was to be out hammering catfish while their worlds were turned upside down. Then again, Grandma wouldn’t have approved of them scolding her oldest grandchild. It’s partly her fault that I am the way I am anyway.

She was a feisty little old lady. Standing barely five feet tall, she had the personality of someone over seven feet. She was full of life, quick to crack a joke at your expense. She never had a problem telling you the truth, neither. At least the truth as she saw it. You’d think that someone that would “tell it like it is” would rub folks the wrong way. Apparently not. I don’t think that I’ve ever attended a funeral of someone her age where there were so many people. And I don’t know what her phone bill each month was, but I felt like each person there talked to her on the phone every day. They all had the same story.

And since I mentioned that I am the way I am partly due to her, here’s why. Her son, and her brother, are mostly responsible for my love of the outdoors. From handgrabbing catfish to deer hunting, they are the ones that introduced most of it to me when I was little. I have fond memories of spending the holidays at her house and being picked up in the mornings by her brother, Elvin, to go run dogs. She’d already be awake and through half a pot of coffee before I ever got out of the bed. I’d wake up to the sound of the radio in the kitchen and the smell of breakfast cooking. We’d eat a quick bite and I’d head out to the deer camp.

And speaking of eating, I always thought it was strange that a woman that raised a bunch of hunters never ate deer meat. But she didn’t. I never once remember eating deer meat at her house. My favorite meal, and one she’d make almost every time I came home, was about as simple as it gets. She’d make a pan of cornbread, boil some purple hull peas, and cover the cornbread with her tomato gravy. If she knew ahead of time that I was coming, she’d make sure she had the fixin’s for it. Lunch during deer season usually consisted of my second favorite “grandma meal”, a hamburger. I’m not sure what she did to them, but I still haven’t had another one as good as hers.

Now, I’ve got to level with you guys, I thought the funeral would be a writer’s dream come true. We’ve got some absolute characters in our family. You know the kind of people that you hear comedians tell stories about? Yep, we’ve got ‘em. And Lord do I love them. They are good ol’ country folks, but not the kind of people that you’d attend the opera with. You probably should, they’d make the opera a thousand times more fun, but they ain’t exactly the tuxedo type. I thought having all of these people together at one time, in one place, would provide me with enough content for a book. And I was right. I was just wrong about what kind of book.

Funerals are among the best places to “people watch”. But as I watched the continuous line come through the door at little ol’ Liberty Baptist Church in Center Ridge, Mississippi it hit me. As much as I like to pick on Smith County, there are some of the finest people in the world there. I was amazed at the amount of people that came to pay their final respects to this ninety-pound woman. I’ve been to plenty of funerals where I could get within a few words of exactly what the pastor would say. In this funeral it was evident that she had a real relationship with her church family. Heck, it took two pastors to deliver the address to the audience. My heart swelled with pride to know the impact she had on the people around her.

As I drove away from that tiny community, I held back tears knowing that no trip to Smith County will ever feel the same. She was an irreplaceable rock that I didn’t realize how much I needed until now. I will miss calling her to tell her about a deer I killed, or a game we won. I’ll miss her looking into my eyes when I walk through the door. I’ll miss watching her bounce my children on her knee. I’ll miss her calling me, just to say hello. No matter where I go from here, or what I do, I hope I can make that little old lady from Smith County proud.

A Mississippi Weekend Full of Fun and Adventure

Ain’t Mississippi great? This weekend the Mississippi Wildlife Federation hosted the 35th annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza which turned out to be fantastic. Being a first timer to this event, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to plenty of trade shows for baseball, but never one for the outdoors. Kind of a shame coming from someone that proclaims to be an avid outdoorsman. Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to go to another one.

From the time that I walked into the doors of the Clyde Muse Center I was like a kid in a candy store. If you could dream it up, it was there. The extravaganza had everything, and more, than any outdoorsman could ever want. Like deer hunting? The ‘Ganza had the Magnolia Records folks there scoring deer killed throughout our state. Big fisherman? There were multiple different bait manufacturers and rod companies there. Alligators your thing? Members of the show “Swamp People” were among the celebrities there to hang out and talk to people. Turkeys? The ‘Ganza was your chance to meet, and hang out, with the legendary Preston Pittman, as well as NWTF Mississippi calling champion Travis Ham. Are you weird and like snakes? No problem. The guys from the show “Rattlesnake Republic” came all the way from Texas to set up an enclosure full of nope ropes for your viewing pleasure.

There were plenty of activities for the kids to do, as well. I loved watching kids climb into a trough and learn how to grab catfish with their hands. There were sections where they could shoot BB guns and bows, and a booth where they could practice flipping a jig into a can. The Fetch-n-Fish exhibit was a major hit for kids watching the High Flying Retrievers. Mississippi Therapy Animals had plenty of cute pets to ooh and ahh over. And if you were lucky, you made it through without your kid forcing you to let them get their face painted and a balloon turned into the shape of a rifle. The ‘Ganza is truly a family event for all to experience.

There were enough outdoor apparel and equipment vendors there to fully clothe and equip all of the hunters in Mississippi. Every aisle you went down there were multiple people selling camo, or some sort of outdoor apparel. Muddy Water Camo, Easymoney Hunt Company, and Hurricane Marsh were all some of my favorites from the weekends. If you wanted a pair of new boots, Lite Boots had you covered with the absolute lightest pair of boots that you’ll ever put on. My oldest daughter even talked my tightwad self into a new pair for this season. If you needed new game calls, there were plenty of options, as well as hunting blinds and stands. Speaking of calls, Joshua Carney, owner of Son of the South, was there entertaining everyone with his ability to sound like practically any animal you can think of…with only his voice. Josh is alone worth the price of admission!

And of course, the best thing about the extravaganza was the Pinstripes to Camo booth (no bias intended). We enjoyed telling our story and meeting all of the people that came by. Matt reeled folks in with the most unique buck that I’ve ever seen. I can’t tell you how many times we told the story of his “Barnacle Buck”. All of the fun aside, at the end of the day all I wanted to do was get in the outdoors. So, that’s what I did.

By the end of the day on Saturday, I was “peopled” out. I was staying at my cousin’s house in Bolton that sits along the Big Black River, and we decided that it would be a good idea to sink some bait in hopes of catching a big catfish. I chaperoned while he caught bait in a couple of sloughs along the river. We didn’t catch a whole lot of bait, but I’ll say it wasn’t for a lack of effort. I’m pretty sure he was soaked in sweat before we ever made it to the river to fish. One thing we did catch, though, was the biggest bullfrog that I think I’ve ever seen. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t take it with me the next day for the folks at Magnolia Records to score. I’m almost positive it would have made Boone and Crockett.

With our bait in a bucket, we headed down to the river. Earlier rain dampened the ground and made the air so thick you could cut it with a knife. Carefully navigating down the bank of the Big Black to avoid any snakes or alligators, we finally got our lines in the water. Now it was time to sit back, relax, and wait. As good as our conversations about life were, my soul was filling up with the night sounds of the river. The frogs and crickets, coupled with the rippling of the river were music to my ears. Breaking the outdoor song, the sound of a bell ringing caused us to jump to our feet. Fish on!

I grabbed the rod and began to crank on the reel. Every so often the fish would rip drag and take off. Not knowing Brandon had the drag set on, I really didn’t know how big the fish was. He made his way down to the water’s edge and the excitement in his voice told me this was a good fish. Soon, the fish was in his hands and headed up the bank to me. We’d just landed a near thirty-pound catfish, my largest ever on a rod and reel. Thinking that it couldn’t get any better, another bell rang. Brandon grabbed the rod and reeled in another large blue cat, this one weighing a little over twelve pounds. This was exactly what I’d been needing.

We released the fish and decided to call it a night. After loading up the Ranger, we headed back to the house with our chests stuck out. I think I smiled all of the way back. As busy as my summer schedule has been, this trip couldn’t have happened at a better time. The good news is that the kids are back in school, summer is winding down, and alligator and deer season are just around the corner. We are getting close to one of my favorite times of the year.

We Don’t Have Enough Time to Waste

I’m beginning to realize that I’m a slow learner. During, and right after, the Covid shutdown I made a few different comments about it being a learning experience for everyone. It should have served as a reminder for us to slow down. And for a while, it did. But just like with so many other things time passed and I forgot. It actually didn’t take much time to slide right back into the busy schedule that I warned against. Pretty much from the time that the majority of us stopped wearing masks (some are still drinking the kool aid) I returned to doing almost exactly what I was doing before the shutdown. The only difference is that I added even more to my schedule.

June is quite possibly the busiest month of the year for me. There are all-star games, camps, and the dreaded travel ball showcases. Not to mention, putting the finishing touches on our roster for next season. That task takes longer than it used to due to the Major League Baseball draft being pushed back to July. A lot of players have always been reluctant to sign with a four-year college until after the draft. In the past, the draft was in the early parts of June, so by the end of the month you had a pretty good idea of what your roster would look like. This process now drags out all through June and into parts of July. Some years, this being one of them, we also have to wait until the draft is complete to see what all we are going to lose from our roster. All of this, and throw in a family vacation, culminated into an incredibly busy June that spilled over another month.

Knowing that June is always busy, I don’t schedule many fishing trips for the month. I usually save those for July and early August before our players report back to campus. The problem with fishing in late July is the doggone heat. Instead, I’ve opted, for the most part, to wait until cooler weather arrives. Unfortunately, according to the weather experts on social media, the temperature will never cool off, and the glaciers will all melt by the end of the year resulting in half of the eastern seaboard being wiped off the map. I reckon if they are right, fishing will be the least of my worries.

Isn’t it funny how we are supposed to be the ones teaching our children, but how often we actually learn from them? I have my kids to thank for reminding me to slow down for a second (and how slow of a learner I really am). For the last couple of weeks, they’ve been on me to take them fishing. It didn’t have to be anything special, or fancy. They just wanted a few minutes to wet a hook and hang out. For some reason, probably my lack of intellect, I continued to put them off. I’d do work in the yard that could have waited. I’d do something pertaining to baseball that could have waited. I’d flat out blame the heat, even though summer in July has always been hot. I just felt this internal need to do something that I felt was more important. How wrong I was.

You see, during those times when they asked to go fishing, I’d forgotten something. They start back school in July now (a rabbit-hole I could get lost in). Their time to hang out with Dad was fading fast before they were forced back into their busy schedules. Being reminded of this (slow learner), we loaded up the truck and went fishing. We didn’t make any big plans. There wasn’t a lot of packing to be done. Just tossed a couple of poles in the truck, grabbed some bait, and went to the lake.

I have to admit, part of me was dreading the trip while we were driving to the lake. It was so darn hot. Thankfully, by the time we arrived at the lake, afternoon thunderstorms were starting to build and lessen the heat. I helped them bait their hooks, then stood back and just watched them. That’s when it hit me. I’ve wasted an entire month chasing things that didn’t really matter. The longer that I stood there watching them, the angrier I became with myself. There’s not a single player that we signed this summer that couldn’t have waited a couple of days while I spent some time with my children. That grass that just had to be cut at the house? Yep, I could have let it grow all summer long and it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d broken a promise that I’d made to myself during Covid…to slow down and be intentional with my family.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind in this world. Whether you realize it, or not, we are all competing for something, and I LOVE competition. The problem is, the world and that competition, doesn’t love you back, and it will be there tomorrow. And if it isn’t, who cares. So here I am, renewing my vows to myself. I saw a quote the other day that read, “Be where your feet are.” I don’t remember who said it, but it punched me square in the nose. We don’t have much time to spend with our kids before they reach the age where they’d rather do other things. Use it wisely, take them fishing.

And speaking of using your time wisely, bring your kids to the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza this weekend in Pearl, MS. There will be plenty of neat things for them to do, and plenty of cool stuff for you to buy. If you do decide to come, swing by the Pinstripes to Camo booth and say hello! We’d love to meet you and your family!

Let’s Hunt Fuzzy Horns in September

A little over a week from now, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation will host its 35th Annual Wildlife Extravaganza in Pearl, MS. Now, I’ve been to plenty of baseball coaches conventions and clinics over the years, but I’ll ashamedly admit that this will be my first wildlife convention. And if I’m being honest, if it weren’t for one of my business partners setting this up, I’d probably be fishing, or working in the yard instead. It’s not that I don’t want to go, I do, I’ve just never done it. That said, the Pinstripes to Camo Podcast will have a booth at the extravaganza, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to it.

In the meantime, with the heat making fishing almost unbearable, and back-to-back weekends of hosting travel baseball tournaments (that’s a whole different story), I have been unable to get much time in the outdoors lately. Usually, July isn’t incredibly busy and I’m able to get some fishing and camping done. That just hasn’t been the case this year. Here’s to hoping that August provides a much needed mental vacation on the water.

So, what to talk about when not much is going on? Recently, Mississippi passed a bill establishing a velvet buck season in September. The season will only last for one weekend in September (Sept. 16-18) and will only be open to private lands. Hunters will be allowed to kill one buck and no antlerless deer. This buck will also count toward your yearly total. Hunters will have to report any harvest by 10:00pm the day of the harvest. You can do this on the MDWFP App or at the MDWFP website. Now, here’s the kicker: per MDWFP’s website, “All harvested bucks must be submitted for CWD sampling to a MDWFP CWD drop-off freezer, or to an MDWFP participating taxidermist within 5 days of harvest.”

That last sentence is what I am confused about. So far, I haven’t been able to find a good source that provides a reason for this. And how many hunters will willingly participate in this program? For the last couple of years, we’ve had CWD drop off locations around the state. There have been 51 drop off locations scattered across the state, usually nothing more than a deep freezer. However, it hasn’t been mandatory to check your harvest for CWD unless you’ve killed deer within the state’s CWD zones. So my question is, “Why now?” I understand the need for collecting data, but why are we doing this only for the velvet season?

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 50 times, CWD has been in Mississippi longer than since 2018. We didn’t just stumble onto the first deer that had it. It’s likely something that we’ve dealt with for the last decade, we just didn’t know it. And quite frankly, we haven’t really handled it that well since we found out for sure that it’s here. We’ve taken sort of a one foot in, one foot out approach. Sticking a bunch of deep freezers around the state and encouraging people to go out of their way to drop off a deer isn’t really earth shattering. Speaking of going out of their way, there are quite a few holes in the state in regard to deep freezer drop-off locations.

Let’s just say that Billy kills a deer in south central Smith County. The nearest drop-off location is either in Jefferson Davis County, Scott County, or eastern Jones County. With gas prices at $4.50 per gallon, I’m willing to bet that the average person isn’t adding unnecessary miles to their vehicle…especially to put their fresh new velvet trophy in a deep freezer under the care of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Let’s also take into consideration that the average temperature in September ain’t exactly cold. What you’ve just done is turned a usually honest hunter into a dishonest hunter.

What about hunters that don’t exactly self-report their kills on the day of? Given the unnecessary task of transporting a healthy deer to a CWD drop-off location, hunters might be less likely to actually report their kill, choosing to wait until the October archery season instead. That brings up another question: what is the difference in forcing these regulations in September, but not two weeks later when the annual archery season opens? Before someone sends me hate mail, I’m not advocating having to check in deer during archery season. I’m genuinely curious as to what the difference is between then and the rest of the season.

All of that aside, while I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the velvet season, I’m also a little on the fence about it. I have no doubt that it will give hunters the opportunity to kill the coveted velvet buck. That’s also what gives me pause. Patterning big bucks in the summer months isn’t all that hard to do with a feeder and a camera. As long as you keep the feeder full, they’ll keep coming to it almost like clockwork. How fair is this? What kind of reward do you get from this? We can all give the old, “I’m hunting to fill the freezer” line, but if you’re participating in the velvet season that ain’t the case. You’re hunting fuzzy horns. Maybe what the MDWFP, in all of its wisdom, should do is outlaw any type of bait. To me, that would go a lot further than a CWD drop-off requirement.

Alone: Survival in the Outdoors- Mississippi Edition

I’ve said before that I do not watch much television. On one hand, I don’t have much time for it. On the other, I share a house with four girls, and their entertainment preferences often do not align with mine. Given the fact that I’m greatly outnumbered, I have to choose to watch what they want, or go work outside in the yard. Our yard is always neat and trimmed. However, in this week’s edition of the “Pinstripes to Camo Podcast”, the Netflix show “Alone” was brought up, and I had to check it out. (Note: neither of my co-hosts are outnumbered in their homes)

Let me give you a quick rundown of the show. Ten participants test their mettle in a survival show for a cash prize. They are allowed to bring ten items of their choice (no firearms) and are dropped off in remote locations. From there, they self-film and see how long they can last. Out of all of the seasons thus far, most of them are in Canada. Cold and alone in Canada seems like it would be about as miserable as you can imagine. After checking out an episode, my wheels were spinning wondering how I would fair in a similar situation. For me, Canada would be out entirely due to my body’s natural resistance to freezing cold weather. But what about Mississippi? If given ten items, and dropped off in DeSoto National Forest, how long could I make it?

First, let’s take a look at the ten items that I would bring. Let’s just say the task will take place in South Mississippi in September. The first item that I would choose is a flint lighter. Fire is a necessity for survival. It can cook your food, fight off hypothermia, and lift your spirits. Anyone that’s watched the movie “Cast Away” knows this all too well. The second item I would bring is a pot. A pot is useful for cooking food and for boiling water to drink. September in Mississippi is going to require you to drink plenty of water. If you drink water that hasn’t been boiled and is contaminated, you’re not going to last very long.

The third and fourth items would be a tarp and rope for a shelter. You can obviously build a shelter out of raw materials that you find, but a tarp would provide a nice roof in the event it rains. Even in September, a wet body wouldn’t last very long before the risk of hypothermia set in. The rope would help secure the shelter, and it may provide more uses over the duration of your stay. The fifth necessity would be a bow/arrows. The show allowed for that to be used as one item, so we’ll keep with the theme. With a bow and arrow, you’d have the means to procure wild game from the abundant forests of Mississippi. It sure beats the heck out of trying to make snares to catch birds and squirrels. My sixth item would be fishing line/hook. If it is going to take too much energy trying to hunt with the bow, you can always sit in the shade by a creek and catch fish. You can easily make a pole to use out of small trees or branches.

Now that we’ve gotten food, shelter, and water out of the way, let’s talk about other things that would be beneficial in a survival situation. Item number 7 is a knife. This one is for obvious reasons. Unless you plan to make a knife from stone, this is a no brainer. Just about every survival situation you come across will involve a knife. The next item falls along similar lines, a hatchet. A hatchet has many purposes in survival. I would use it mostly to cut trees for shelter or wood for burning. These are two items that you must be careful with when using. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, they can cut your trip short (pun intended).

The next couple of items are more for creature comforts than actual survival. You can make bedding out of natural materials, but I’d hate to sleep on a straw bed each night, especially if I plan to be there for an extended time. That said, my ninth item would be a sleeping bag. A good night’s rest is vital if you’re going to survive in the wilderness. Curling up to sleep in a damp shelter on a cool September night would be much more pleasant with the aid of a sleeping bag. The final item that I would bring is a solar powered flashlight. It’s probably not a good idea to go wandering around the Mississippi forests in the dark. However, if you must do so, the aid of a light would be important to avoid injury. Or worse, stepping on, or near, something that might bite you. A snakebite in the woods is a quick way to extraction.

When I camp on the river, or during deer season, I carry most of the items that I’ve talked about. Even if it’s not technically a survival expedition, most of these items are necessities when outdoors. There’s a part of me that would love to have my own little “Alone” adventure later in the year. Even with my hatred of the cold, I’ll probably wait until after the first good frost to knock back some of the mosquitoes and snakes. I wonder how many days I can make it until they call me to come back to work.

Welcome to the Future

While sitting on my porch this evening, watching the kids run around with sparklers, a familiar song came on and my mind began to drift. Actually, after attending two different firework shows this weekend, the entire holiday has been a trip down memory lane. The sounds, the smells, the patriotic buzz in the air, all reminded me of being in Pensacola for the 4th when I was a kid. We used to have pretty darn good firework shows in Laurel when I was growing up, as well. Independence Day is a fun time to be a kid. That song got me to thinking of all of the things that have changed since my childhood, so I figured I’d write about some of them that somehow came to mind.

One of the things that I noticed over the weekend was the amount of children with cell phones. I drifted around Temple Baptist Church’s Community Picnic on Sunday evening and was blown away at all of the selfies being taken. I’m not being judgmental. My initial thoughts were of how I wished I’d had a camera in my pocket over the years. There’s no telling how many fish I’ve caught that nobody believed my story. If only I’d had a chance to take a picture to show them! Then again, after conversing with my good buddy, Ben Beasley, it’s probably a good thing we didn’t have camera phones growing up. We might not be employable if we did.

Speaking of fishing, I might have mentioned this before, but they now have rods with eyelets that glow in the dark for night fishing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on a riverbank wondering if my rod was bending or not. Last summer I was introduced to a little clip on bell to put on your rod for night fishing. Where in the heck were these things when I was growing up? And even better than glow-in-the-dark rods and bells, we now have remote control trolling motors, and trolling motors controlled by GPS. No more struggling to keep the boat going straight while your dad tells you just how great a job you’re doing. Electric reels for deep sea fishing to keep you from wearing your dainty arms out, new sonar systems that you can actually watch the fish eat your bait, and life jackets that automatically inflate when they go in the water are a few other futuristic inventions that have made fishing so much easier.

Even with all of the new inventions, my favorite thing about fishing remains unchanged: eating the fish. The girls were nice enough to buy me a large gas fryer for Father’s Day. This sucker holds 3 gallons of oil and can cook enough food to feed the neighborhood in no time. I’ve tried it out with some deer meat already, but I’m itching to sink some flathead catfish in it. I can’t tell you how many times people turn up their noses when you start talking about cooking large flathead catfish from the river. For some reason, someone neglected them and told them they aren’t any good when they get big. To me, the flathead catfish is the fillet mignon of the river. It’s not fishy tasting, and you don’t have to worry about bones if you clean the fish properly. Here are some tips to cooking the best catfish you’ll ever eat (with apologies to Jerry’s Catfish in Florence, MS.)

Tip A) when preparing your meat, cut out all of the dark red flesh in the meat. This part of the fish, usually down the tail meat, is edible but not the desired meat you want. Also get rid of any silver looking tissue on the meat. Tip B) don’t over season! It won’t take much seasoning to prepare this fish for the fryer. You want to taste the deliciousness of this fish without all of the additives. I use just a little bit of salt, pepper, and Tony Chachere seasoning sprinkled on the fish before rolling it in yellow corn meal. You can use a pre-mix seasoning if you prefer. Zatarain’s makes a pretty good one called “Crispy Southern”. Tip C) Heat your grease to between 350-360 degrees. If you get it too hot, you’ll burn the fish. If you get it too low, you’ll end up with fish soaked with grease. Don’t overcook your fish. Once they begin to float and brown it’s time to pull them out. Set them on paper towels to dry and cool.

With the summer fading fast, now is the time to get out with your kids and do some fishing. Watching mine this weekend, and thinking about my childhood, raised my awareness of how important it is that we include our kids in the outdoors. I’m grateful for the people that thought it was a good idea to take me fishing, and teach me how to cook them. Here’s to hoping mine learn as much as I did.

Vacationing/Fishing at Jekyll Island, Georgia

We’ve always tried to take a summer vacation in late June. Last year we went to the mountains. The year before that everything was pretty much shut down due to Covid. In 2019, Amy was pregnant with our third daughter and had zero desire to venture very far from the house during June (Allie was born on June 29th). If memory serves me correctly, the four or five years prior to that were spent on some sort of beach vacation. We always enjoy our trips away, but one thing has always been missing for me: the opportunity to kill, or catch, something while on vacation.

My wife usually does not take my yearning for an adventure into account when planning these trips. However, this year she finally relinquished her stronghold on vacation and allowed me to have some minor input on our destination. After some back and forth, and a few recommendations from some of her family members, we decided on Jekyll Island, Georgia. I’m fairly certain this is the destination she really wanted because she roped me in with pictures of alligators and folks catching redfish from kayaks. Usually, she would have just kept that stuff to herself and moved right on passed it if it wasn’t somewhere she really wanted to go. Needless to say, upon seeing the pictures I was all in for Jekyll.

Jekyll Island lies right off the coast of Georgia, just north of Jacksonville, Florida. This was an added bonus for me because we got to drive through part of Jacksonville. We didn’t venture into the city for the sake of time, but I got to point and show the kids where Daddy used to live. The first settlement on the island was started by British General James Edward Oglethorpe. He settled the first colony on the island and named it for Sir Joseph Jekyll, the man that financed the operation. Oglethorpe assigned Major William Horton to build an outpost on the island, and with the help of indentured servants, Horton built a fairly prosperous plantation. The Horton home remnants still stand today.

After Horton’s death, ownership of the island changed hands several times and the owners were not always British. French and Spanish buyers came and went until the War of 1812 which once again left the islands in the hands of the British. In 1858, the Wanderer Yacht (one of the few remaining slave ships still bringing slaves from Africa) arrived on the island. It arrived with close to 400 enslaved people aboard. During the Civil War, the ship was confiscated by Union forces and used for various military operations. During the early parts of the war, the island was used by Confederate troops until General Robert E. Lee ordered them off the island. There are still remnants of gun batteries on the island today.

Following the war, Jekyll was purposed as a high class hunting club. Started by John Eugene DuBignon, members of this high class club were J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William Vanderbilt, and William Rockefeller. At the time, it was dubbed the “richest, most exclusive hunting club in the world.” World War II eventually ended the club, and in 1947 it was sold to the state of Georgia for a state park.

Now that you’ve got the background of the island, let me describe it from my lens. The sites on the island are breathtakingly beautiful. From the marshland to Driftwood Beach, the island has a little bit of everything you could want. And yes, there are alligators on the island. There are also a ton of deer! I bet we saw over thirty deer during our visit, something I certainly didn’t foresee. The ground is covered with palmettos sprinkled in amongst some of the prettiest Live Oaks that you’ll ever see. Spanish moss hangs from the trees creating a curtain to a gorgeous skyline. The beaches are a mixture of sand and river silt due to the East River cutting the island from the mainland. Driftwood Beach is something out of a fairy tale and is considered one of the top beaches to visit in the country. There is also a really cool sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island that they take very seriously. White lights are not allowed on the beach at night, and sand dunes are protected for sea turtle nesting grounds.

Another thing that is big on the island is fishing. I felt like every truck that I saw on the island had fishing rods sticking out of the back. Of course, I’d have to try my hand at this. On the last evening of our trip, we ate dinner, then Mackenzie and I headed to the south end of the island to try surf fishing. I’ve never really done it, so I have no idea if we were doing it right, or not. We bought some frozen bait from the local bait shop, rigged up a pole, and waited while we watched the sun disappear on the horizon. Finally, the rod bent and I know what that means. I grabbed it quickly and started the retrieve. Being a surf fishing novice, I had no idea what I was reeling in.

During the retrieve, nothing surfaced showing me what I was reeling. To be honest, I felt like I was reeling in a catfish. Finally, as it got closer to the shore, that all familiar fin breached the water. We’d hooked ourselves a shark. It’s been a long time since I’ve landed a shark, and never from the beach. I’ve also never landed one barefoot while standing in ankle deep water exposing my toes to little sharp teeth. Fortunately, I’m coming home with all ten of them. Mackenzie’s excitement filled the sea air, this being her first encounter with the tax man. Even though the shark only measured about two feet in length, to her we’d caught Jaws. She wasn’t the only one that was excited. A small crowd gathered around to view our catch. One nervous vacationer told us that he’d been swimming in that exact area no more than a couple of hours earlier.

I removed the hook from the shark’s mouth with some pliers and sent him on his way. We sat back down in the sand, fished a little more, and talked about how beautiful the island was. We watched the stars fill up the black sky before calling it a night and heading back to our condo. On the drive back I couldn’t help but smile. Amy had finally picked the perfect vacation.

Summer Heat Has Me Beat

It’s hot. I could finish the column with just that statement and it would be the most accurate thing I’ve ever written. With baseball camps in full swing, I tried to imagine shivering in a deer stand on a cold December day to get through the day. It didn’t work. Sweat continued to pour out of every pore in my body while I watched 9-10 year old kids run around like it was 72 degrees with a breeze. The good news is, it won’t be hot forever.

Late June through mid-August is probably one of the toughest times to be an outdoorsman in Mississippi. For me, I’ve got a little more time to do things during this period, but the heat makes it tough to be motivated. If you’re going to fish, you have to do it early in the morning or very late in the evening. I’m not much of a morning person so evening it is. However, I checked the temperature around 8:00 this evening and it was still above 90 degrees. There is simply no way to avoid the summer heat and get outdoors at the same time. I’ll just have to settle for night fishing until one of my favorite times of the year arrives, late August.

Yes, it’s still very hot in late August. But, late August brings one of the best things, in my opinion, that Mississippi has to offer…alligator season. The first round of selections for the annual Mississippi alligator season have come and gone. Before the week is over, all applicants will know if they’ve been awarded the coveted permits, or not. We recently had Ricky Flynt, director of the Mississippi alligator program, on our podcast. I’d always wondered how the selection process was really carried out, and Ricky was more than happy to explain it to us. I’m sure he has to replace his phone this time of the year each year with the amount of phone calls he receives from unhappy applicants that didn’t get selected.

In order to potentially get tags for gators, one must apply during the first week of June. There’s a deadline and you must have an up to date hunting license to qualify. Next, all applicants go into a random drawing done by a separate organization. The lucky winners are then contacted by the MDWFP and have 48 hours to purchase their tags. If the winner does not purchase their tags in the allotted time frame, those tags go back into a second drawing. If the applicant was not awarded tags during the first drawing, they are still eligible to receive them in the second drawing. There is no second application needed.

Soon after purchasing the tags, the hunter is then sent a packet from Ricky and the MDWFP. This packet will contain a booklet with pretty much any question you can ask regarding the upcoming season. The packet will also include two temporary tags that must be placed on the alligator after dispatching it. If you lose your temporary tags, you are out of luck. Also included in the packet is contact information for different vendors in the event that you’d like to have your alligator professionally processed. If you’ve never dressed one before, I suggest factoring this cost into your trip. An alligator is probably the most difficult wild game species in Mississippi to dress out.

Since we are talking about cleaning gators, let’s get into eating them. Ricky also had some good advice on how to prepare and cook your meat. One of the biggest things he mentioned, and one I’ve had experience with, is getting all of the fat off of the meat. Alligator fat tastes like death. If you eat gator meat that has fat on it, the odds are that you won’t eat anymore, ever. Also, getting your gator iced down as quickly as possible after the kill will make the meat better. The longer it sits in the Mississippi heat, the worse it is going to be. If you plan to fry your meat, my preferred method, cut it into small bite sized pieces. Heat your grease up to 350 degrees, batter the meat to your likening, and then drop it in. The key here is not to overcook the meat. You’ll want to get it out as soon as it floats, if not just before. It’s been my experience that alligator meat is also best served hot, right out of the grease.

This time last year, things were looking dim for our alligator season. This year, one of the guys in our group has already been drawn for tags. We also plan to do some private land hunting and are trying to entice our friend from Virginia, Chad Heflin, the owner of Marshfield Outdoors to come down and go with us. I figure if you’re going to have the word “marsh” in your business name you’ve got to at least hunt the biggest predator in the marsh once in your life. Until the season gets here, you guys can find me soaking up some ballgames from the couch…in the comfort of air conditioning.

Fishing for Father’s Day

My ears rejoiced at the sound of the water slapping the sides of my boat as it crept upstream. I open the throttle up and the sound of the engine drowns everything out. The warm air hits so hard that I have to turn my cap around to keep from losing it. The sun is setting behind the trees, casting shadows across the Pearl River. After a short trip up the river, I leave society behind. There hasn’t been another human in sight. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

Last summer, I took a solo camping trip on the river for the first time. I enjoyed the experience so much that I promised myself I’d do it again. I didn’t necessarily plan this particular trip to be my solo trip, but it worked out that way, and part of me is glad that it did. One, the time alone is nice. Two, I like to prove to myself every now and then that I can still do things without the aid of others. Three, I didn’t catch any fish and that would ruin my reputation as a good guide.

I decided to try out a new area to fish on this trip. Once again, it wasn’t planned, but there was a pretty sketchy character at my normal spot, and I didn’t feel good about leaving my truck there given what happened last summer. I dumped the boat in the water and found what I thought were some good looking holes to catch fish in. I got my lines baited right at dark and picked out a nice spot on a sandbar to set up camp and hangout. I gathered enough driftwood for a fire, rigged up a pole, and began the process of waiting.

When you’re alone on the river, there’s plenty of time for deep thought. With Father’s Day approaching, my thoughts turned to how grateful I am for the fathers in my life. Grateful that my dad taught me how to fish. Grateful that he worked a tireless job for so many years to give my sister and I the opportunities that we’ve had. Grateful for the friendship that he and I have now. I thought about my father-in-law. From the early stages of me dating his daughter, he always treated me like part of the family. That has to be a rarity because I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do the same when boys start coming around our house. I’m grateful for the wisdom and advice that he shares, and appreciative of the example he sets.

I highly doubt that I’ll ever live up to the standards that the aforementioned have set. They are both far more selfless than I. Being a father hasn’t been an easy task. There are days that I am completely lost on what to do. Especially dealing with little girls. Some days I don’t know whether to whip them or hug them. When that happens, I usually just do both! Even on the days that are tough, being a father has been the greatest joy of my life. Getting those hugs when you come home after a long day, or a long trip, cannot be matched. Watching them grow, even though I wish they’d stay little, has been so much fun.

The full moon rises high in the night sky making me skeptical of my decision to be out here. I’ve never had much success fishing for catfish on a full moon, but maybe tonight will be different. I check all of my lines and just like I thought, no fish. I encounter a couple of smaller alligators that raises my skepticism of fishing this location. It wouldn’t surprise me to lose all of my bait tonight to these scavengers cruising up and down the banks. I put fresh bait on all of them and head back to my sandbar. After a quick dip in the river to cool off, that driftwood comes in handy. I climb in my tent and drift off to sleep to the sounds of the crackling fire, crickets, and the rhythm of the river.

The morning sun beams through my tent awakening me. There is still a little smoke coming from last night’s fire, so I add some small twigs to re-ignite it. I’m not much of a morning person, so it takes me a few minutes to get my bearings. I pack up camp and head out to check my lines. As I feared, each hook is empty. No bait, no catfish. Whether it was alligators, or gar, I’ll never know, but whatever it was picked the hooks clean. Regretfully, I pull in all of my gear and make my way to the boat landing. I don’t remember a catfish trip where I came back home completely skunked. First time for everything, I guess.

As I pulled away from the river, my spirits lifted a little. Trying to find the silver lining, I made it through the trip unharmed. None of my gear tore up. The boat ran well, and nobody stole my catalytic converter. If it were just about the fish, it would be cheaper to buy it in the store. Well, maybe a couple of years ago it would. On the other hand, coming home without fish is going to make it hard to justify to my wife that I need to keep going. Maybe on the next trip I’ll make up for it.

Red Snapper Season is Upon Us

The Gulf Coast Red Snapper season is officially in full swing. According to reports from local anglers, you’d be hard pressed to find a location where there are fish without wrestling with multiple other boats. As inconveniencing as that may sound, it’s a good thing. Given the fallout of the BP oil spill in 2010, I’m just happy we can still have a snapper season. And from what I’m hearing, there’s absolutely no shortage of fish.

There are some things you’ll need to keep in mind if you decide to try your hand at snapper fishing. One, there is a 2 fish limit for each person. The fish must be 16 total inches in length and you must report your catch online. Once again, seems like a major inconvenience, but reporting your catch allows the powers that be to determine the overall length of the season. This is part of the conservation effort to ensure that we are catching Red Snapper for years to come. Another thing to keep in mind is that the season can be closed at any time, so you’ll want to check before you go out. As of now, the season is open until July 4th, unless the quota is met before then.

The Red Snapper has become one of the most sought after fish over the years, and for good reason. They are pretty easy to catch when you find them, and they are absolutely delicious. When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Jamaica years ago, I was overjoyed to find that snapper was available for pretty much every meal, aside from breakfast. While on the trip, I ate snapper that was cooked just about any way you can imagine. After trying everything the island had to offer, I came home feeling the same way as when I went down there. Blackened snapper is hard to beat.

If you’ve never been on a snapper fishing trip, I encourage you to go before the season closes. Make a day trip with the entire family. The fish are super fun to catch and kids have a blast. I still remember the first snapper trip that I ever went on. Not because we caught a bunch of fish, but for the other events that transpired. I’ll never forget my grandfather’s hat blowing off while we were heading out to fish. The captain of the boat swung us around, and we were trying to retrieve it. It took a little longer than planned, and he had to circle the hat a few times. I know I’ve mentioned my dad’s issues with motion sickness once before in my column. Going around in circles trying to get that hat, all the while breathing in exhaust fumes from the engine didn’t mix well for Dad. He spent the remainder of the trip hanging over the edge of the boat giving up everything he’d eaten for the last few days.

I didn’t take another snapper trip for years after that one. And the next snapper trip I took wasn’t even really a snapper trip. We went tuna fishing out of Venice, Louisiana and ended up stopping at the rigs on the way back in. We headed out early that morning, caught bait, and began trying to hook up to a big yellowfin. After getting skunked for most of the day, we were fortunate enough to stumble onto a nice grass line that produced a few Mahi Mahi for us. After the Mahi bite cooled off, we decided to try our luck with deep dropping for snapper. I think that there were six of us in the boat, and we had our limit of Red Snapper in less than 30 minutes. They were big snapper, too. We were fishing in a couple hundred feet of water and reeling in those big snapper was taxing. We’d drop our bait and before it could ever hit the bottom we were fighting a fish. Every now and then we’d lose one to a shark, or barracuda, but for the most part it was constant action. We returned to Venice with a nice mixed bag of fish to bring home. It was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had salt-water fishing.

Since we are talking snapper and salt-water fishing, I feel it necessary to remind you to take extra precautions while out on the water. Take your time and make careful decisions. It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and hook your buddy, or turn your boat into a sunken treasure for divers. There aren’t any hospitals out there, and the ride back to shore is a lot longer when you’re bleeding. That being said, get out on the water and enjoy what the gulf has to offer while you can! Who knows, with the way things are going they’ll want to ban assault hooks before long.