Baseball, Hunting, and Fishing Have Many Similarities

Wow. What a week! Postseason baseball is incredibly fun, even more so when you win, but it’s also pretty draining on the mind and body.  As I rested today after being on the road for a week, I began to think of some of the ways baseball, hunting, and fishing share some similarities. Of course, baseball shares similarities with many things in life, as do hunting and fishing, but I don’t know much about accounting or construction so I’ll have stick with what I know.

Going into our conference tournament this past week, I felt like we knew a pretty good bit about the opponents that we would face. We’d seen most of them during the regular season, and I didn’t expect too many surprises in the tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament we look over statistics, tendencies, and make out scouting reports. If we do it right, we should have a decent idea of what our opponent can and cannot do. Then we put together a game plan of what it will take to win. How is this any different than hunting?

In the months leading up to the beginning of deer season, many of us will scout the animals we want to pursue. We will prepare food plots, put out cameras, and plot areas on a map of where we think gives us the best opportunity for success. By the time the season gets here, we will have a pretty good idea of what our opponent (the deer) are doing and when they are doing it. We will know how the deer will move in certain kinds of weather. We will know where they sleep and what they are eating. We will know which stands will give us the best chance for success depending on the direction of the wind. In essence, we will have our own little scouting report to give us our best chance to harvest that buck we’ve been lusting after. Just like baseball.

Before I go to a lake or river to fish, I usually like to take a look at some type of map. If it’s a public lake, there is usually a map somewhere online showing the different depths of the lake. It’s always good to know ahead of time where the deeper water is and where it begins to drop. If I’m fishing a river, I like to look at a topo map. This gives me a decent idea of steep drops in the land that usually coincides with a drop off in the river. After getting a general idea of where to fish, the next step is how to catch the fish. I equate this to trying to get a hitter out. If you’re a pitcher, you need to know what pitches a hitter hits well and what pitches they don’t hit well. Can I get this guy out with a slider? Can I catch this bass with a spinner bait? What pitches do this team feast on? What baits do these fish feast on? Just like baseball.

Next is the equipment debate. I’ve seen baseball players with crummy bats and ragged gloves whip the tails of kids with brand new stuff. They are just better players. I’ve also seen fishermen that were in boats held together by duct tape and prayers win tournaments while guys buzzed around in forty-thousand dollar rigs catching weeds. They are just better fishermen. However, my mother in law often chides me about being the best dressed hunter in the woods, and I am. I’m built for comfort, not speed. There are also a heckuva lot of guys out there killing booners in blue jeans and flannel shirts, while I snooze away an afternoon in the best Under Armor jacket you can imagine. They are just better hunters. However, I do believe that having updated equipment gives you an edge in the woods and on the water, just as it does on the baseball field. If you put two equal teams on the field, give one the best equipment and the other old equipment, I’d bet the guys with the new digs win the game. If my uncle had the gear and clothing that I have, he’d likely be able to sit in the woods for 3-4 days without making a twitch. Regardless of gear, some hunters/fishermen are just better…just like baseball.

Finally, how about the joy and heartache that each bring? After hours of preparation and work, how gut wrenching is it to miss that buck you’ve worked so hard for? Or better, how much happiness does it bring you to catch the bass of a lifetime after fishing a particular lake for an entire summer, day in and day out? Fortunately for our team, we got to experience the happy side of things this past weekend. After an entire year of uncertainty with Covid, and a regular season filled with ups and downs, we were able to raise a trophy on Sunday and proclaim ourselves conference champions. It’s a good feeling when hard work pays off! Just like hunting and fishing.

It’s Postseason Baseball Time at William Carey

With the beginning of May comes the beginning of postseason baseball. For the moment, it’s time to put aside outdoor adventures and lay focus where it belongs, on chasing championships. The month of May is filled with opportunities for players to etch their names in record books and extend their seasons.

The William Carey Baseball team has had a season full of streaks. After starting off the season at 2-2, the Crusaders reeled off 14 straight, including a Friday night win over the 5th ranked team in America. Then, the Crusaders dropped the next 5 games to fall out of the NAIA rankings. The next streak…5 wins in a row, followed by 3 straight losses. To keep with the theme of the season, Carey won the next 9 games before having three games canceled due to an opponent having Covid. Next up, the SSAC Tournament in Mobile, AL.

Carey enters the tournament as the 5th overall seed in the Southern States Athletic Conference and will play the University of Mobile to open things up. The Crusaders were only able to play 15 conference games during the regular season due to Covid cancelations, but hold a 30-10 overall record. Play beyond the tournament will largely depend on how the week goes for the Crusaders. Have a good showing in Mobile and likely keep playing, play poorly and the season likely ends.

Whether or not the season continues will largely depend on senior leadership within the team. The top two pitchers are seniors, as well as a few of the top position players. There are four or five first team All-Conference guys on this roster, and if they play well, we will keep going. This team has a great mix of young and old. There are more than a couple of freshmen that are major contributors on the mound and at the plate. Of course, when it gets to this time of the year there is no such thing as a freshman any longer. By now they have logged enough time to no longer be considered rookies.

Experience always plays a key role when it comes to postseason play. The good thing the Crusaders have on our side in that category is Head Coach Bobby Halford. In case you live under a rock, Coach Halford won his 1,200th game a couple of weeks ago. I don’t care if you’re playing backyard whiffle ball, that’s a heckuva lot of wins. To give you some scale of just how many that is, the next closest coach in the SSAC has a little over 700. If you ask Coach about it, he’ll just say that it’s because he’s been doing this for so long that eventually you get to this number. Hate to say it, but that’s just not true. Rarely anybody gets to this number, no matter how long you do it. I’m fortunate to have been here for quite a few of those and hope we can keep it rolling. It’s fun winning.

No matter the outcome of the tournament this week, it’s been a season for the ages. Never have I been a part of a team that had to jump through so many hoops just to get on the field. In 2017, when the tornado ripped through campus and knocked down our lights, we still knew that eventually we’d get back on the field and everything would be alright. Now that we’ve reached the postseason, these guys have to wake up each day hoping that there aren’t any positive tests that could derail the rest of the season and shut things down. We watched our women’s basketball team have to endure that in the fall and it’s not something that I would wish on any team. So here’s to hoping for a healthy finish to 2021 and another postseason of chasing a dream.

Here’s To a Camp That I Have Loved

Today (Sunday) is the day that I’ve been dreading for over a month; my last trip to our deer camp. The land had been for sale for the last year or so, and a buyer finally came through. Since the day that I got the news, I’ve been trying to find a window of opportunity to enjoy one final outing on the property before closing. That chance finally came through this weekend.

We finished our weekend series (a sweep) a little early on Saturday evening, and my desire to skip town and head to Vicksburg was overwhelming me. When I mentioned a quick trip to the camp to try my luck at killing a gobbler, my wife, although annoyed, was complicit in my desire to give it a shot. Of course, there is no such thing as a quick trip to Vicksburg and back, but my selfish desires had overtaken my ability to be logical. After dinner on Saturday evening, I quickly loaded the truck and headed toward camp for one last time.

Upon entering the house late Saturday night, there was a somber feeling. The house is now mostly empty and devoid of the beautiful deer, duck, and fish mounts that decorated the walls. The only things remaining were the living room and bedroom furniture, which I presume are staying. It was quiet, too quiet. Not like the deer camp environment that I’ve come to love so much over the years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy peace and quiet every now and then. I live with four girls, trust me I enjoy some quiet time, I just didn’t enjoy this moment of solitude. I grabbed a quick shower and climbed into bed to get some rest because tomorrow is my first last chance to kill a turkey this season.

The alarm goes off in what seems like ten minutes since I laid my head down on my pillow. I fight the urge to hit “silence” and go back to sleep. Reluctantly, at first, I drag myself out of bed and try to wake up. Realizing that time is not a luxury that I have, I hurriedly throw my camo and boots on, pack a granola bar and some water, and head out the door. As I begin my walk, I let out my best hoot owl impression, anxiously hoping for a response from a roosted gobbler. Silence. My long walk begins, stopping periodically to hoot, but still no response.

I take my time and make sure I’m not putting my foot down on any kind of serpent. I’ve killed entirely too many rattlesnakes on this property to be careless this time of the year. I get to a spot that I’ve seen turkeys in the past and get set up. I let out a few calls almost expecting a gobbler to fire up the woods. Nothing. I wait a while and call again. Nothing. After sitting a while longer, at the urging of my cousin who is texting me, I change locations. Along the way, I walk the sole of my boot clean off. Not exactly the way I envisioned my first last day of turkey season.

I sit, wait, call, and sit some more. Wash, rinse, repeat. The sun is well up into the sky and there’s a gentle breeze. I’m in the shade and the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, so at least it’s relaxing. My eyes get heavy and I dose off a couple of times. That’s my cue to begin the long walk back to the house. I need another bottle of water anyway, so the timing is perfect. I’d also like to catch one more bass out of the lake, so this is a good time to head back. I make the walk back, grab a bottle of water, and drive down to the lake. Within 10-15 minutes of fishing I’ve landed four small bass, which makes me happy. A small alligator swims by me offering his goodbyes, as well. It’s time to head out for one last hunt.

Once again, I make a pretty lengthy walk to my hunting spot. This time I’m even more deliberate about where I put my feet. Not because I’m worried about snakes, but because I want to remember each step of this walk. I walk a little slower and take in everything around me. The honeysuckle is in full bloom and the scent fills the air. My scent also fills the air, and the deer let me know they can smell me. I get set up and relax under a sawtooth oak for the evening hunt. I make a few quiet calls and just sit and wait. Nothing calls back and nothing shows up. The sun begins to set beyond the tree line, and just like that, my last hunt is over.

As I closed the gate for the last time and took off down the road, a flood of memories come over me. Things that I hope I never forget. Memories like Mackenzie killing her first deer, Collins catching her first fish, and time well spent with friends and family. No matter where I hunt next, or what lakes I fish in, this particular piece of land will always have a special place in my heart.

Bowfishing is the Key to a Successful Bachelor’s Trip

My wife is a pretty tolerant woman when it comes to my outdoor exploits. Of course, she should be, giving she knew what she was getting into when she said “I do.” At least she should have known. Shortly before our wedding in 2010, I had a few friends that were adamant about throwing me a bachelor party. Now, I’m not the bar hopping type, or the casino type, and certainly not the gentlemen’s club type, so our options were pretty limited. The only reasonable choice was some kind of fishing trip. We decided on a bowfishing trip in the South Delta.

Amy’s family owns a house situated on Eagle Lake, just north of Vicksburg. Her aunt was gracious enough to give me a key for a few days, provided we didn’t burn it down. Myself and three other friends loaded up boats and gear, and headed toward the Delta. You know how we all go through phases in life where we get really caught up in a particular activity or hobby? For me, during this phase of my life, I was absolutely eaten up with bowfishing. I was first introduced to it by Ben Tharp, and I had gone on a few trips with BJ Lynchard. Both of those guys were bowfishing experts, having both grown up along the Mississippi River and its oxbow lakes. The two of them became our guides, and we let Michael Fuquay tag along for the trip as well. It’s the least I could do after sinking his boat.

We arrived at the lake house and quickly threw together a plan for the first night. That’s right, I said the first night. This bachelor trip was going to last for at least three nights of fishing. We rigged up our equipment, dumped the boats in Eagle Lake, and began to search for fish. The boats were both equipped with large casting decks up front that had lights hanging on all sides to shine the fish. Ben had a custom built center-console fan boat made specifically for bowfishing. It wasn’t long and we were shooting fish left and right. The targeted species were catfish, gar, buffalo, and carp. We would throw the catfish into a large marine cooler and the other fish into a large barrel.

The air on Eagle Lake was hot and muggy that first night. We shot fish all night long and made it back to the dock as the sun was coming up. I don’t know how many fish we shot that night, but I know we didn’t have any space left in either boat the next morning. I can imagine we smelled fantastic with the combination of sweat and fish guts. We trailered the boats and headed back to the lake house to clean our fish. After the work was done, we washed the stink off and caught some much needed sleep, however, we didn’t sleep for long. The plan for the second day was to head over to Steele Bayou in the afternoon and try to shoot some big gar in the daylight hours. Sleep was something we’d just have to get once the trip was finished.

The second night was much like the first. While we were unsuccessful in landing a large alligator gar during the day, we still filled the boats up with fish that night. The only real difference were the alligators. As we slipped through the flooded areas surrounding Steele Bayou, the number of alligators we encountered were staggering. I stopped counting after I surpassed one hundred different sets of red eyes shining in our lights. Chills ran down my back thinking of what might happen if one of us were to fall out of the boat. We’d shoot a fish and have to quickly reel it into the boat before a gator stole our catch. In all of my life, I’ve never been anywhere else with that many alligators that wasn’t some kind of alligator farm.

Once again, we came in with the morning sun. On the way back to the house we stopped at a gas station just off of the lake. A gentleman was sitting outside having a morning smoke when we pulled in to grab a snack. He asked how many fish we shot that night, and when we showed him I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. Our conversation turned to cleaning the fish, and we let him know we most likely wouldn’t clean the carp and buffalo. He walked over to an old Buick sedan, popped the trunk, and instructed us to throw whatever we weren’t going to clean into the back. Look, it’s June in Mississippi. It’s hot and I know what that drum full of fish smelled like. He didn’t care and told us to just dump it in there and he’d take care of the rest. When he slammed the trunk shut, full of bloody fish, he turned to us, grinned, and said he’d be right back here the next morning if we wanted to give away some more.

After a shower and about 6 hours of rest, we were headed back to the water for a final night. This time we went to lakes Chotard and Albemarle. Once again, we filled up two boats with enough fish to feed a small army. The next morning we stopped at the same gas station on the way back to the house, and the same old man was sitting there waiting for us. I don’t know what he did with all of that fish the previous day, but that Buick was empty. We happily filled his trunk up for him again and headed back to the house.

Upon returning home, I slept for two straight days. I don’t recall ever being so exhausted from doing something that is supposed to be relaxing. If I wasn’t convinced that Amy was a keeper before this trip, I was surely convinced afterward. She never gave one negative smirk or comment regarding the dreaded bachelor trip. I was also convinced of another thing after this adventure, I have the best friends in the world.

How Much Longer Can the 2nd Amendment Hang in There?

I am a hunter. I do not apologize for it. My family shoots guns. We do not apologize for it. We eat meat that we harvest with our own weapons, unapologetically. That’s the beauty of living free in America. No matter how bad of a day that we might have, we’ve all won the lottery already by living in this country. But, for how long?

Before you click “next article” or close your browser, understand this, I am not going on a political rant. There are far too many “tweeters” and “facebookers” doing that already. It’s exhausting to get online and be bombarded with the political opinion of every idiot with a keyboard or a smartphone. The question and conversation that I have in mind is quite simple: Can the 2nd Amendment, as we know it, hang on, and if so, for how much longer? If you’re an outdoorsman, I believe this is a question that you should be pondering. Our way of life could potentially be hanging in the balance, determined by some politician that’s never held a firearm before. This troubles me.

Any time a politician, on either side of the spectrum, starts spouting off about things “you don’t need”, it bothers me. Who are they to decide what a free man needs or doesn’t need? Before I pass judgement on these people, I try to remind myself that, most likely, they were once human beings too. They were people, just like us, until someone told them they were important and needed to rule over the working class. Remember when the mayor of New York City tried to ban large sodas? The nerve of people to dictate how others live is appalling at times. That brings us to the next point…how much longer can the 2nd Amendment hang in there?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, let me enlighten you. There are people out there that don’t believe you should own a gun. Sounds crazy when you read that, right? After all, why are guns considered such a problem? Before I lost all of my guns in a boating accident, they had never fired the first round at a human being. I know what you’re thinking, guns in the hands of the wrong people become a problem, and you’re absolutely correct. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a problem. So are knives, baseball bats, axes, and gasoline. And in case you’ve forgotten 9/11, so are airplanes.

Let’s just say, for the sake of entertainment, that our beloved government bans weapons with magazine capabilities of more than 10. Will those “wrong people” that we mentioned before abide by this? I keep listening to people say that by banning these types of weapons that we will cut down violent crime. In what utopian world are you living in? Bad people are bad people and they aren’t worried about your magazine restrictions. Now, why in the world does anyone need a weapon with 10 or more rounds? To me, it’s one of two things: 1) I’m a really bad shot at times and need all of the help I can get; or (2) Because I have the constitutional right to protect myself and my family in the event of government overreach.

Now, as a hunter, I often ask myself, “If there was a sudden ban on semi-automatic weapons with high volume magazine capabilities, how would that affect me?” As a deer hunter, I can confidently say that it wouldn’t affect me in the least. I have never used a semi-automatic weapon to harvest deer and do not have any intention of doing so. It also wouldn’t affect me as a turkey hunter, duck hunter, or any other game that is legal to harvest in Mississippi. So why is it important to me? It’s important to me because just like the citizens of New York City with their soda, I don’t like the idea of a group of people telling us what is good for us and what is not. I’m not lost to the fact that there are likely hundreds of people that will die this year due to gun violence. I think that it’s tragic and pray that my family and friends never have to experience that kind of pain. I just don’t believe that it’s right to punish the good along with the wicked. I also wonder, if we allow the government to set these new restrictions, what will be next? Will we lose our right to have high powered rifles to harvest deer at long distances? Will we lose our right to teach our children how to properly use a firearm? Will we lose the ability to defend ourselves, our family, and our property from those who seek to destroy it?

Guns have been around longer than any of us have been on this earth. Guns will be around well after all of us are gone. People have been killing each other since Cain killed Abel with a stone. People will continue to kill each other long after we are all buried. Folks, we don’t have a gun problem in this country, we have a people problem. Washington DC can stomp its foot and get rid of all of the guns it wants to, and we will continue to be violent because we have a people problem. If you want to really solve violence in this country, don’t start with the tool, start with the handler.

Fishing with Captain Dan

Over the years I’ve mostly avoided life threatening injuries largely due to the fact that I’ve gotten smarter about who and where I traverse the outdoors with. I’ve mentioned before that if myself and my cousin, Hunter, go somewhere together on any kind of trip, it’s likely one of us ends up in the hospital. For this reason I’ve avoided doing too much with him, especially since I’ve gotten a little older and don’t recover from aches and pains as well as I used to. However, today might have changed things a little. Hunter called me this afternoon to let me know he has just purchased a new deep sea fishing boat. Let the planning begin! With our record together, what could possibly go wrong out in the middle of the ocean?

Getting that phone call lifted my spirits a little, and it also got me thinking about another cousin of ours that we used to do some deep sea fishing with. Dan was our second cousin on my mother’s side of the family and was larger than life. He came from very humble beginnings in Smith County in a small community called Center Ridge. Dan joined the Marines, eventually retired from the Marine Corps, became a small business owner, and settled in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, Candy. Dan loved the water and loved to fish, so naturally, we became close. He was also a big Jaguars fan so that made me love him even more. He was the life of the party and a pleasure to be around at all times.

I’ll never forget a fishing trip we took on the Pearl River in Lawrence County one weekend. We were running trot lines on the river and would fish from the bank while we were waiting. While fishing from the bank in the darkest night you can imagine, I remember Dan saying, “It sure would be nice if the tip of this rod was glow in the dark so we could see when a fish is on.” Fast forward a year later and I’m in a Bass Pro Shop in Kansas, and guess what they had. Glow in the dark eyes on a fishing rod. I called Dan to tell him that we missed out on a potential fortune. He just laughed and said they must have needed the money more than us. His laugh was infectious and I miss that.

Dan and Candy had a vacation home in Alligator Point, Florida and invited me and Amy down for a deep sea fishing trip about the time we finished college. Well, Dan invited me down to go fishing, and Candy invited Amy down to do girl stuff. The first morning, Dan and I accompanied his neighbor out to catch grouper and snapper. His friend, Frank, had a commercial license so there was no limit to how many we could keep. They just had to be a larger size fish than usual. We stayed out on the water all day and caught more fish than I cared to count. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in all of my life. The next day we took the girls out for some inshore fishing on Dan’s boat. It was pretty hot so Dan and Amy jumped in the Gulf for a swim. Amy got a little panicked when I told her there was a shark that had been swimming around them almost the entire time they’d been in the water. Once again, Dan just laughed it off.

After lunch that day we went back out on the water. This time we decided to go a little further out and try to catch a grouper or two. We ended up catching grouper and a few snapper, as well. Amy caught her first ever grouper and her first ever shark. Then, we hooked into something big. The reel was singing, the rod was bending, and line was ripping out. Dan and I took turns on the rod for the next thirty minutes before we finally got a view of what we’d hooked. On the other end of the line was a twelve foot shark. To this day, it’s still the biggest fish that I’ve ever been hooked up to. We finally wore the shark out enough to get it up to the boat, snap some pictures, and cut the line loose. By that time the sun was starting to set and it was time to head back to the harbor. That was the last time I ever got to fish with Captain Dan.

Captain James Daniel Clark passed away at the age of 56 on October 3, 2010 from a sudden brain aneurysm. I was on my way home from a hunting trip in Woodville, MS when I received the phone call with the news. My heart was shattered. It still aches. Dan was my cousin, but more importantly, he was my friend. As I looked over the audience as I began my speech at his funeral, I was amazed of just how many people’s lives that Dan touched. The room was packed with businessmen from the Jacksonville area and with military personnel. Like I said, he was larger than life. Now that my cousin has bought a deep sea fishing rig, I’m hoping we can recreate some memories that we had with Dan. Time spent on the water in the company of family and friends is never wasted and never lasts long enough.

A Life Spent on the River

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fishing rivers all over the states of Mississippi and Alabama for catfish. By the time other kids my age were learning how to tie their shoes, I was learning how to drive a boat on the Alabama River. I’m fortunate to have had family that made sure that I knew how to do this, you know, just in case. Of course, learning how to drive a boat at such a young age came with a price. I probably got yelled at more than most kids, but it certainly didn’t hurt me. Maybe the world would be a better place if more fathers made their kids drive the boat while they ran trotlines.

Speaking of being yelled at, I saw a meme the other day that almost perfectly summed up my childhood. It read, “You can’t hurt my feelings, I used to hold the flashlight for my dad.” Growing up in my household wasn’t always easy, but I’m tougher for it. Now that I’m older, I can look back and be thankful for all of those butt chewings. Back to the river. My dad and my uncle were avid river fishermen. When other families were taking vacations to the mountains and to the beach, we were going fishing on the river. I even skipped my Senior Prom to go run lines on the Strong River with my uncle. My date probably wasn’t happy when I canceled about two weeks before the dance, but I had priorities. We’d pitch a tent on a sandbar and put out trotlines, limblines, and yo-yos in pursuit of the three freshwater catfish that rivers in the South have to offer.

The targeted species was usually flathead catfish. You may call them flathead, tabbies, or yellow cats. To me, this is the gold standard catfish in the river. They can grow in excess of 100 pounds and they have gigantic mouths. They also taste better than other catfish, to me. To catch flatheads, it usually requires live bait. We’d spend the day catching small pond perch to use on our lines at night, for night is when the bite is best. You can usually find flatheads holding in deep holes just off of steep embankments and in eddies. Aside from line placement, the key is to keep your bait lively and fresh. One of my favorite ways to catch flatheads is handgrabbing. In Mississippi, we have a season that runs from early May to the end of June for handgrabbing. If you’re leery about sticking your hand in a dark hole in the river, just stick to limblines and trotlines.

The second species of catfish that we would often catch are blue cats. This silver medal fish is found in pretty much all rivers in Mississippi. You can catch them on almost anything. If some of our pond perch died before we could use them to catch flatheads, we’d cut them up and bait our hooks for blues. I’d much rather catch a blue cat on a rod and reel than on a trotline, or limbline. They are awfully fun to fight on a rod and reel. They are also the largest species of catfish in North America, with the world record catch coming in at 143 pounds. As for taste, they don’t make my mouth water as much as a flathead, but they are still pretty darn good eating.

The third species is the most popular catfish in America, as well as the easiest to catch. The bronze medal goes to the channel catfish. Most restaurant catfish that you will consume will be channel cat. Channel cats eat anything, and I mean anything. I’ve often heard stories of people catching channel cats using Ivory soap. While I’ve never personally tried this, my cousin did catch a mess of them last year with cut up pieces of chicken that he soaked in red Kool Aid. We would catch channel cats on trotlines using worms, minnows, and anything else we could run a hook through. Yo-Yo’s were also a popular choice of tackle when trying to catch channel cats, and we’d bait them with minnows as well. While fun to catch, you‘ve got to catch a pile of them to have a mess of fish. It takes far fewer flatheads and blues to fill your cooler. As far as taste, they take a backseat to the other cats, but with the right batter combination and some hot grease, they go down just fine.

The warmer weather has caused me to have catfish on the brain lately. I even learned a new method last year of river fishing. Bank poling is something that I wish I had learned 20 years ago. There’s no telling how many fish we’ve missed out on due to not having somewhere to put a line. Bank poles solve that problem. Now I can put a line almost anywhere on the river, and it’s a lot of fun to pull up to that piece of pipe dancing on the river’s edge with a big fish on the line. In the coming weeks, if you need to find me, you can catch me at one of a couple of places…on the diamond, or on the river.

Lunkers in the Spring

There is so much to do in the spring time that you just can’t keep up with all of it. Between baseball season, trying to go turkey hunting, watching my kids play ball, I forget that this is the best time of the year to go bass fishing. In recent years, I’ve also done less bass fishing and more fishing for catfish on the river, so it’s easy for me to miss it some years. However, I was recently in Montgomery, Alabama and was introduced to some guys fishing in a tournament on the Alabama River. While they were fishing for crappie and not bass, it reminded me that, “hey, this is the best time of the year to catch a lunker.”

While grabbing a quick bite to eat on Friday night in Millbrook, Alabama I met two guys in town fishing the 2021 Crappie National Championship. Michael Pelsor and Wendell Heath made the trip down to Alabama from Indiana in hopes of winning a championship later this week. This is the first time that I’d even heard of such. A national crappie fishing circuit? It blew my mind to find out that was even a thing. Of course, I blew their mind when the conversation somehow turned to alligators and I showed them pictures of some gators we’ve killed over the years. We swapped hunting and fishing stories for a bit before heading different directions, but it got me thinking. Why in the heck haven’t I been bass fishing yet? Now, Wendell made it clear of his disdain for bass fishermen, but I’ve never been much of a crappie fisherman, so bass it is.

Growing up in Mississippi, you learn how to bass fish about the same time you learn how to tie your shoes, maybe even before. My dad was always a big bass fisherman when I was a kid and I can remember standing in our front yard learning how to cast with a practice plug. I remember starting out with an old Zebco 33 reel and practicing in the yard for hours. After that, I graduated to tossing one of Dad’s Abu Garcia bait cast reels. Between getting yelled at for doing it wrong and having to untangle multiple “bird nests” I figured out how to cast with the reel pretty quick to avoid both. However, the first “big bass” that I ever caught was with that old Zebco.

I’ll never forget catching that fish. I was only four years old and it was in the middle of the summer. I’d just gotten a cast off of my leg that I had broken a few months earlier when a large mirror fell on top of me in the dressing room at JC Penney in Laurel. We lived outside of Laurel, at the time, in the Myrick community. Behind our house was an old pond, that probably wasn’t much bigger than a half-acre, and I would fish in it regularly. Dad was at work and Mom was cutting the yard so I grabbed my rod and headed down to the pond. Equipped with a plastic purple worm, I tossed my lure into the pond. As soon as the worm hit the water, the fish gulped it down. The bite was so strong I doubt I even had to set the hook. I can vividly remember just hanging on trying not to lose my rod as the fish pulled. My mother noticed me struggling with a fish on the line and hopped off the mower to come help. By the time she got there I pretty much had the fish to the bank.

We weighed the fish at just over 5 pounds. Not too shabby for a 4 year old alone in the backyard! We took the fish to a man down the road that did taxidermy work and had my catch immortalized. It still hangs in my home office today, along with another 5 pound bass. The other 5 pounder is a fish my oldest daughter caught when she was 4 years old, as well. She caught it in a local pond here in Oak Grove while bream fishing with some friends of ours. She likes to brag that she caught hers on a Barbie rod with a cricket, somehow making her the better fisherman. To my wife’s disdain, we also had her fish mounted to hang next to Dad’s.

That’s the great thing about bass fishing. It’s a great family activity and you can do it almost anywhere in Mississippi. It doesn’t have to be expensive, although it can get that way in the event you want to mount your catch. I love to watch my kids wrestle a bass to the shore. It’s fun to watch their eyes light up as if they have accomplished something spectacular. Another good thing is bass are pretty darned good to eat. They are less “boney” than bream, and to me, just plain taste better, which also reminds me, it’s time to fill up the freezer.

Baseball on the Southside

At the time of writing this latest installment of the Pinstripes to Camo blog, it is the eve of the turkey season opener. By the time this is published many of you will already have bagged your first bird of the 2021 season. So I will open by saying congratulations (in my most jealous voice possible.) I’m hopeful that the opportunity to get in the woods and hear that majestic gobble comes soon, and I hope when it does that I’m ready to take advantage of the moment. In the meantime, let me bore you with talk of baseball instead.

You may not have noticed, and judging by the size of the crowds at Milton Wheeler Field, you haven’t, but our baseball team is currently 15-2 overall. Yes, that was a shameless plug for our team. Along with good fishing and plenty to do in the outdoors, South Mississippi has great baseball. That I am well aware of. There are plenty of opportunities to see great baseball, all within a half hour drive from virtually anywhere in the Pine Belt. William Carey is no exception, regardless of your thoughts on it being a small university or not. Don’t believe me, ask die hard USM faithful what happened the last few times WCU played the Golden Eagles in the regular season. William Carey is a baseball school and I won’t apologize for saying it.

I’m not saying that we can go across town and beat those guys. They have a fantastic team and, in my opinion, one of the best college baseball coaches in the nation. What I am saying, is that it’s beyond time for folks around town to take notice of what’s going on down Highway 49 south. Regardless of whether or not we win another game this year (I hope we do or I’ll have to become a writer full time) we have a great group of young men. We’ve got four players that will end up being doctors! How many college baseball programs can say that?

Playing and coaching at WCU has obviously made me very biased, but for good reason. WCU is home to me. I was the first person in my family to go to college, so please forgive my pride a little bit. WCU is where I met my wife. She later transferred to USM to pursue a degree that WCU didn’t offer, but guess where her allegiance lies….WCU. WCU gave me my first ever coaching job, as well as my first ever head coaching job. There are a lot of people around town that don’t know that I was the first ever Men’s and Women’s Cross Country coach at William Carey. Shoot, we even won a conference championship in our fourth year of having the sport and had multiple All-Americans during that time. For me to say that I love William Carey is a major understatement. It’s given me everything that I have.

That brings me back to baseball. I love this team. They are tough, they play hard, they are fun to be around, and they like to win. I also believe that the covid situation has brought them closer together. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict what will happen the rest of the season. However, for now, I’m incredibly proud of them. Last weekend, we were down 7 runs in the fifth inning. If you’ve ever been to our field before you’d know that making up a 7 run differential is near impossible. Milton Wheeler Field, named for longtime history professor at WCU, is an absolute graveyard. The ball just does not fly there like it does across town. Didn’t matter to our guys, who scored 17 runs in the next three innings to enact the 10 run rule. Just this weekend, looking to complete a four game series sweep, we found ourselves down by three runs going into our last at bat. We scored four runs to walk off the series. We do not quit!

Not quitting…seems like something this country could really use a dose of right about now. I have to admit that I think covid has made our baseball team better. It’s made them focus on things that matter. It’s forced them to make better life decisions. It’s made them realize that tomorrow is not promised. This has been my hope from the moment that our season got shut down almost exactly one year ago. I can remember saying, “How can we make something positive out of this situation?” So far, these guys have figured that out. In the coming weeks, our schedule will get tougher. I hope that our guys will get tougher with it. I also hope that they will get the credit that they are due, not just for baseball, but for the things they are accomplishing in the classroom as well.

Next week I promise that I’ll get back to the outdoors, well maybe. In the meantime, check your schedules and swing by Milton Wheeler Field one weekend. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Chris Williams and I after a basehit in a recent game

Doubling Down with Dad

Oftentimes when I drive I will listen to a popular hunting and fishing podcast put on by my hero, Steven Rinella. The podcast is named “Meat Eater” for the television show that he has on Netflix. If you’re a hunter or fisherman and haven’t watched the show or listened to the podcast, I strongly encourage you to do so. It covers a wide variety of topics in the outdoor world, and I’ve learned a great deal of things listening. One of the topics of the conversation the other day was recovery dogs. I have a dog, Tessie, that will blood trail a deer, but I highly doubt she’d know what to do if she stumbled onto a ticked off buck that was still alive. However, I’ve seen some really good recovery dogs in action over the years, and the podcast made me think of one hunt in particular.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my dad doesn’t do much hunting. He would much rather fish than suffer the misery of sitting in the cold waiting for a deer to walk by. However, he will sometimes accompany me on a trip to spend some time together. I’m pretty sure he does it knowing that the only way he’s going to see his son in the fall or winter is by getting in the woods. When it comes to deer season I’ll admit that I’m pretty selfish with my time. I’ve missed friends and family member’s weddings and funerals because they interfered with deer season. Hey, it’s not my fault they chose to get married during the rut!

I got Dad to join me and an old friend from high school, Weston Windham, on a morning hunt in December 2016. It was a pretty chilly morning, and I expected the deer to move well as soon as the sun started getting higher and melting off the frost. We got up early and met Weston at a chunk of land outside of Laurel that his family owned. Weston, being a gracious host, made sure to send Dad to a good stand that is nearly impossible not to see deer from. I hunted a ladder stand not too far from Dad, in the event that he actually pulled the trigger that I could go and help him. I settled into my stand just as the sun started coming up. Almost immediately, I began to start seeing deer going about their morning routines. I can’t remember just how many I saw that morning, but I remember it being a lot. I wondered if Dad was having the same luck. At the time, I was thirty years old and my dad had never killed a deer in my lifetime. He says he shot a few back in the 70’s, but I have no proof of that. I did know that he’d never killed a “rack buck” before, and I anxiously awaited hearing a gunshot in hopes that his days of deer-less-ness ended.

By 10:00 that morning, the action at my stand had dwindled, so I began to climb down. I still hadn’t heard a gunshot, so I was a little disappointed. As I walked down a lane headed back to the truck, a buck stepped out into the lane and stopped about 100 yards in front of me. The sun was almost directly in my eyes, but I could make out his rack well enough to know what I was shooting. I shouldered my rifle, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped right in his tracks. As I walked closer to the deer, I was startled by a loud gunshot not far away. The shot came from where my dad was hunting. My heart began to pound with excitement wondering what he had killed. I pretty much forgot about the buck that I shot, and I hurried to his stand. When I got there, he was still shaking from the adrenaline. He explained that he had shot at a buck and felt confident that he’d hit him. He showed me where the deer went, and we found blood. This is where the fun ends and the work begins.

We trailed this buck for as long as any deer that I’ve ever trailed. We trailed him through the thickest briars that you can imagine. We trailed him for over two miles that went in a big circle. There were multiple times that I thought the deer had to be close and multiple times when I thought we should give up. Finally, we backed out and brought in the secret weapon, Tank. Tank is Weston’s pit bull that serves as a catch dog. Tank will catch wild hogs, deer, and pretty much anything else that you put him on. Tank also happens to be my dad’s favorite dog in the world and for good cause. Weston rigged Tank up with a GPS collar and put him on the trail. It wasn’t five minutes later Weston was screaming at me to bring a gun! When I arrived with a shotgun in tote my brain couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. Tank had ahold of the buck by the snout and the buck had picked the dog up and was slinging him back and forth. The dog never let go of the buck. Weston quickly grabbed the shotgun and finished him off, giving my dad his first ever buck.

I tried to argue that Dad still hadn’t actually killed a buck, but after we examined the wound we decided that the deer would have died if we’d have given it more time. After loading up the deer we made our way around to the buck that I’d killed and loaded it as well. As we began to skin the two deer I remember thinking of how cool it was to double down with my dad. The two bucks weren’t going to make any record books, but neither one of us cared. We took our time cleaning the deer, and we all three shared our versions of how the morning unfolded. It was a moment that I’ll probably never be able to recreate. Then again, maybe one day I’ll double down with one of my kids.