Fall Harvests and Bedtime Stories

The first complete week of the Mississippi archery season has passed. I have seen some very nice bucks hit the dirt already all across the state. Even better, I’ve seen more than a handful of first time archery kills from youth, as well as adults. To me, this is one of the best times of the year. I enjoy seeing the pictures of folks across the state taking trophies that will provide meat for their families for the year as well as stories that will last a lifetime. With each picture I see and story I hear it takes me back to some great memories that I have made in the woods and on the water.

At our house in the evenings, bedtime can be chaotic. Making sure three kids have gotten a bath, brushed their teeth, and have their clothes ready for the next day has its challenges. For the most part, my wife oversees this process because it has been proven multiple times that I will mess up this seemingly simple task. My involvement in the bedtime routine is the story before sleep. The kids always seem to want a bedtime story involving some hunting trip or fishing voyage, or at least they humor me by asking for these stories. I use this as an excuse to keep going hunting and fishing so they don’t have to hear the same stories over and over! The other night my oldest daughter, who killed her first deer last season at age 8, asked me to tell the story of my first deer. I was obviously happy to do so and thought with seeing so many firsts this past week that I’d share it here as well.

Growing up in South Mississippi we didn’t have near the bountiful land to hunt that my kids have been able to enjoy. Year after year we’d scour the woods in hopes of just seeing a deer, much less shooting one. I began to show an interest in hunting when I was around 6-7 years old mainly because I probably wanted to spend time with my Uncle. As a young kid I pretty much thought he was the coolest thing ever (and still pretty much do) and I loved the fact that he’d let me tag along with him. My dad would go from time to time but fishing was more of our thing rather than hunting. Dad didn’t like cold weather and still doesn’t to this day, but I’m working on that. Uncle Barry, however, was an outdoor maniac and I loved it. About the time that I got old enough to probably actually shoot a deer we moved to Florida for a couple of years and the urge to hunt was extinguished for a while. Upon moving back, I was once again enamored by the woods and all of its glory. My dad got us in a hunting club just outside of Taylorsville, MS and we began the quest to get me my first deer. It was a slow, painful process full of missed opportunities and missed shots. When we were fortunate enough to see a deer my heart would leap out of my chest and I’m not even sure I’d aim my rifle before I pulled, not squeezed as I had been taught, the trigger. I was 11 years old before my luck would change.

On this trip, I was fortunate enough to go hunting with another major influence in my outdoor life. My grandmother’s brother, Elvin, was and is basically a living legend in the hunting world of South Mississippi. He was killing giant South Mississippi bucks before anyone else was and doing it often. Today, at the distinguished age of 90, he is still killing deer and turkeys from time to time when his health allows. We began our trip early in the morning to a little piece of land along the Leaf River. He dropped me off at a stand and went to his own spot. Imagine dropping an 11 year old off with a high powered rifle nowadays, what could go wrong? The real question should be, what could go right? Of course, I had two deer come right by my stand only for me to watch them run off with white flags trailing behind. Another chance missed. By 9:00 or so, with my spirits broken, I climbed down and went to where our four wheeler was parked. Uncle Elvin was already there, assumingly anticipating that his 11 year old great nephew wouldn’t sit still in the stand for much longer than that. He was right, but we didn’t leave. He said he wanted to go sit in another spot for a little while so the two of us took off through the woods again. Instead of being in a stand we both sat up against a large oak tree that was raining acorns all around us. We weren’t sitting there more than 5 minutes when he nudged me and pointed up ahead. To my amazement, a deer was walking right toward us no farther than 60 yards away. I propped my .243 rifle on my knee and took a deep breath. This time I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out through the crisp November morning air and the deer kicked its hind legs up into the air and took off crashing through the woods. It stopped about 30 yards away from us at the edge of a thicket. Uncle Elvin raised his rifle and finished off the deer before it entered the thicket. Twenty-four years later I can still remember the adrenaline rush from that moment. I hurriedly scampered over to the deer lying on the ground. My first question to Uncle Elvin was, “Is this my deer or yours?” He assured me that this was most certainly my deer and he only shot to avoid having to drag a deer out of thick briars. My first deer! The feeling can never be repeated. It was a most special moment that I got to share with someone that I’ve admired and loved my entire life. Even at 90 years of age, Uncle Elvin will still tell that story from time to time, and when he does my heart swells with pride and affection.

I mentioned that the feeling can never be repeated. I’ve been fortunate enough to kill some very nice bucks through the years, but none compare to that first deer. The only feeling that I’ve found that comes close was being able to share a similar moment with my daughter last season. I hope that one day she will look back on her first deer with the same excitement and love that I shared with my uncle 24 years ago. Maybe in a quarter century she will be the one telling her children a bedtime story of her first deer with dad.

Meat on the Table

It’s late September which usually means a few things in the South. Hurricane season is at its peak, college football season is rolling, and deer season is fast approaching. Late September is a very busy time for those along the Gulf Coast, which reminds me to check my gear and make sure I’ve got all of the necessary cooking ingredients in the cabinet.

I’ve finally come down from my alligator hunting high and settled into pre-deer season mode. With cameras out and stands ready to go, it’s just a matter of time until I’m back in the woods hunting my favorite game. Speaking of favorites, I wanted to use this blog today to talk about one of my favorite ways to prepare my venison. A colleague from around 12 years ago put me onto this recipe and it changed my life.

For this particular dish I like to use small steak pieces that have been trimmed neatly. It doesn’t matter if they are medallions or strips. Usually meat that is cut from the backstrap or the hind quarter works best for this dish. After the meat is cut up and ready, the first step is to soak the meat in Dale’s Seasoning. I usually like to soak it for a couple of hours in the fridge but you can do it longer depending on how you want it to taste. If you do soak it longer it may turn out a little salty, so keep that in mind. Put the meat in the skillet, add worcestershire sauce, and cook on medium heat. Next, cut up bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms and add them once your meat has browned. Let all of this simmer until it has reached your desired temperature, then serve over white rice. This is a very easy stir fry to make, especially on days when you are late getting home from the office and need to throw together a quick meal for your family. It’s also something that my kids absolutely enjoy eating, so that’s a big bonus.

Now that you know this quick and easy recipe, the only thing that is left to do is get out in the woods and bring home the meat!

Mississippi Monster

I’ve got good friends. My blog should be a testament to that. Through the years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do some really cool stuff with some even cooler people. From deer hunts on land that most can only dream about, deep sea fishing trips 80 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, to alligator hunting on the Mississippi River, I’ve got to experience so much of the great outdoors that the South has to offer. This weekend, once again, was another opportunity to hang out with friends and family and test ourselves in God’s grocery store.

My trip began like most trips, me screwing something up. I finally got my boat back on Friday morning and wanted to take her for a test run before heading to Vicksburg for the weekend. I thought I’d dump her in the Bouie River just outside of Hattiesburg for a quick ride and on my way I’d be. Well, that just wasn’t meant to be. The boat launch had a little sand on it but I thought, “hey, I can make it.” I couldn’t make it. Upon backing the trailer down the ramp I realized I was stuck. Thank goodness there is always someone down there to lend a hand to an amateur in need. We pulled my truck and boat back up the ramp with an old ski rope that I had in the boat. Thankfully it worked and I decided that I would test the boat later, so I began my trip Northwest.

I arrived at the parent’s home of my cousin, Brandon Parker around 6:30. The house is nestled on plenty of land that borders the Big Black River in Edwards, MS and there are plenty of toys to keep me occupied. Brandon lets me know that we are going to pull a small boat down to the river with his four wheeler and winch it in the river with the Hummer. Guess who got to drive the Hummer? My weekend was made whether we killed an alligator or not as I drove that bus sized diesel vehicle through the woods and down to the river. I felt like I could destroy anything and everything with this machine. It was the ultimate man experience, driving a Hummer to go and kill an alligator. Unfortunately, we did not kill anything that night, but the time spent with family made the empty boat at the end of the night bearable.

Then I got the call that I had been hoping for. Good friend, Matt Alliston called and asked if I would want to accompany him and a couple of friends for a Mississippi River gator trip. Matt was my guide for my gator hunt last season and we have spent the last few alligator seasons hauling around on the Mississippi River and adjoining rivers in search of large gators. We put in our boats at Grand Gulf and down the Mississippi we went. The Mississippi River at night can be pretty intimidating, especially when barges are running the river. Not to mention the thought of running into a channel marker at 35 knots is something that gives me chills. We arrive at a small river that dumps into the Mississippi and our quest begins. The hunting is slow and we spot a few small gators but can never get hooked up. I’ve got a feeling that these gators have seen quite a few lights and boats in the last 10 days as gator hunters from all over try to fill tags. I’m going to blame our early failures on the fact that they have wised up since it’s late in the season. We hunt several different gators through the night with little to no luck. My adrenaline wears off and fatigue sets in somewhere around the 2am mark. My spirits are dwindling and the thought that we may go home empty handed begins to creep into my mind. Through the night we tell old stories of catching big gators because it sure doesn’t look like we are going to make any new ones on this night. Around 5am we decide to finally pull the plug and head back toward the Mississippi and back toward the boat launch. As we are making our way toward the mouth of the river we spot red eyes up ahead swimming toward the middle of the river. This is a very good sign that it could be a large gator. We kill the motor and creep up on him with the trolling motor. The moon is full so we don’t even really need a light to see the large reptile swimming downstream. With one cast of the rod, I am hooked up to a large and very angry alligator. I fight with the giant a few minutes before our buddies arrive and also get a hook in him. After a lengthy battle with hooks coming loose and lines breaking we are finally able to harpoon and snare the gator. It turns out he is larger than we thought he was which makes us even more grateful for the late night luck. We dispatch the gator and roll him in the boat. This is where things get comical. I am not real squeamish, but this thing smelled TERRIBLE! Matt and I both begin to gag and finally I can’t take any more as I lean over the boat and throw up. Now I’ve got to ride beside this stinking beast for at least an hour back to shore. I vomit again. Heck, I almost want to vomit thinking about it now!

We hit the Mississippi River as the sun begins to rise. It’s possibly the most beautiful sunrise that I’ve ever seen, and a gentle reminder of how fortunate I am to get to do these things. At the boat launch we all agree that this is going to be our yearly tradition. Which brings me to the question, is it August again yet?

Slaying Dragons

August has come and almost gone. Fishing in the August heat is tough. Deer season is still a ways away, but close enough to start getting excited about. So what do we do in August to pass the time to get us closer to archery season, or cooler weather to make fishing more enjoyable? We go alligator hunting.

The Mississippi alligator season began on Friday and is now in full swing. The 10 day season provides hunters with the opportunity of a lifetime in trying to kill the apex predator in the state of MS. The state awards 960 tags divided up between 7 different zones. Hunters apply for tags in early June with the hopes of being drawn to partake in the ultimate test of outdoor bravado. At the time of this article I have already seen pictures of quite a few large gators harvested across the state. Hunters have the opportunity to harvest one large gator of over 7 feet in length and one slot gator that can be between 4 and 7 feet. The gators have to be caught with a rod/reel, harpoon, or bowfishing tackle then dispatched with a shotgun at close range. It is a riveting experience and provides for great fellowship in the outdoors. I’ve been on quite a few trips with friends through the years and was fortunate enough to draw tags last season. I did not get tags this year, but hope to make a trip before the season ends with a couple of lucky friends that have tags.

Speaking of last season, I had the trip of a lifetime! I was drawn for tags in the Southwest zone of the state which encompasses everything south of Interstate 20 and west of Interstate 55. To me, it is the absolute best zone to kill a big gator because of all of the access to public water in this zone. We decided to try our luck on an oxbow lake off of the Mississippi River. My cousin, Hunter, made the trip with me to meet some friends in Port Gibson in hopes of finding a big gator. This is where the trip already gets interesting. If you know anything about trips that I’ve been on that involve my cousin then you know it usually ends up with one of us having to make a trip to the emergency room. Our families probably spent the entire time we were on this trip in constant prayer that we would both survive. We hadn’t even arrived at the river yet when we ran across a very large rattlesnake in the road. I told Hunter that I had a machete in the backseat and to hop out and kill the snake. Of course, he looked at me like I was crazy and made sure that I knew it. He instead opted for a frog gig that I had in the back of the truck. Stabbing a rattlesnake in the road with a frog gig is not as easy as it sounds apparently. With a car approaching us as we were sitting in the middle of the road, Hunter stabbed the snake with the gig and threw it in the back of the truck. He hopped back in the truck and off toward the river we went. Just one thing, the snake was not dead he told me. Not dead!!! You mean we’ve got a ticked off, bleeding rattlesnake in the back of my truck? When we arrived at the river I found out the answer to that question was yes. We made sure before we hit the water that we definitely killed the snake. The last thing I wanted was to return to the truck the next morning having forgot about the snake only to end up with fang marks in my body and another cousin trip to the ER.

My friends arrived at the ramp to the Mississippi River and we got the boat in the water. We made a rather short trip to our destination and began to search for that perfect gator. Fortunately, the friends that accompanied us on this trip are alligator gurus. These guys seemingly harvest a gator well over 10 feet long each season. To say they know what they are doing is a major understatement. They are the best at it. We aren’t on the water very long until we hook up to a couple of smaller gators. The first one is about 8 feet long. It’s too small to keep for our big gator tag and too large to be the slot gator. Nonetheless, it provides us with some action and some practice before we find the one we are looking for. We troll around for an hour or so and finally see what we are looking for. There is seemingly a large gator making his way through the middle of the oxbow lake. This is a good sign as large gators tend to run the open areas more than smaller ones. We make our first cast on the gator using a large, weighted treble hook. The cast is successful and off we go. The gator begins to pull the boat around with ease. Now we know for sure that we are hooked up to a large one. After just a few minutes the hook comes loose and my heart sinks a little. Will we be able to find this bad boy again, or will he lay on the bottom and wait us out? It doesn’t take long and he’s back up again. We cast toward him a couple of more times and finally get the hook in him again. This time he’s hooked really well and I feel confident we will have a chance to land him. The large gator pulls us around for about 45 minutes before we have a chance to harpoon him. We are able to get close enough to stick him right behind the head with the harpoon. Now we have two lines in him, thus making it easier to control the gator and further wear him out, before he wears all of us out. Finally the large reptile has lost his fight and we are able to tie him up to the boat and dispatch him with a 20 gauge shotgun. He measures out at 12′ and weighs 550 pounds. He is an absolute giant! I cannot control my excitement for our good fortune. My heart is nearly leaping from my chest as we begin to pull him aboard the boat. Once in the boat with us, we look around and realize that we don’t have enough room to try and kill our slot gator. We also realize that we’ve still got to make our way back across the Mississippi River with an extra 550 pounds in the boat with us. We decide to call it a night and head back to Port Gibson with our heads held high and our boat riding low. We arrive back at the camp a little after midnight and use the tractor to get the gator out of the boat for the ensuing photoshoot. After enough pictures were taken we load the gator into the walk-in cooler for the evening to prepare him to be cleaned in the morning.

As I lay down to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but smile. It was the perfect adventure shared with family and good friends. It was an even better bonus that myself or Hunter didn’t end up with stitches or any broken bones. That’s what alligator hunting is all about. It’s about the adventure and time spent in the beautiful Mississippi outdoors. I can’t wait to make my next trip!

Is It October Yet?

It’s that time of the year where I usually start counting the days until October 1st. In case you don’t know the significance of the date, October 1st is the opening day of bow season in the Mississippi Delta. October is just a fun month, period. Usually by October the Mississippi heat has somewhat subsided, college football is in full swing, and the MLB playoffs have began. The leaves will begin to change, the mornings will be cool and crisp, and we will have an opportunity, once again, to begin the quest to fill our freezers with whitetail deer. Before any of that can happen, there must be prep work done.

This weekend, I made a quick trip to our deer camp in Vicksburg, Mississippi. For the last four years I have had the opportunity to hunt some beautiful property just south of Vicksburg on the Big Black River. After growing up in South Mississippi, where the average mature whitetail buck was around 165 pounds, this place has really spoiled me for the last few years. We have been fortunate to kill some very nice bucks and my daughter killed her first ever deer on the land last season. It’s also been a great place to fish and I’ve made many memories watching the kids grow into a love of the outdoors. Even better, the people that I’ve got to share time with up there are nothing short of fantastic. To have a place like this, though, takes a little labor and planning.

This weekend was more about planning than it was labor. I cannot ever remember putting a camera out in early August, but my excitement for the upcoming season has grown so much that I decided to do so. I’ve also seen a lot of people posting trail cam pictures lately so I thought I’d get in on the action. I left the office on Friday and hurried home as quick as I could to load up and head to the camp. The drive from the house to Vicksburg is around 2.5 hours any way you slice it, unless you are driving with Eric Ebers and his wife is in labor. That cuts the trip down an hour at least! After loading my four wheeler on the trailer and throwing a bag with some gear and clothes in the truck, I was rolling northwest toward camp. I stopped briefly in Vicksburg to pick up some batteries and a quick bite and tried to beat the sunset to the camp. As I began to turn onto the dirt road leading to the camp, I noticed a familiar critter on the side of the road, a timber rattlesnake! I excitedly jumped out of my truck almost before it could stop, carefully made my way around the back of the trailer and found him in the grass. With one blast from my 9mm pistol the rattler was pretty much done (I did pump an extra round in him to be sure). The trip is starting off great as I haven’t even gotten to camp yet and already I get to shoot something! I load my snake in the trailer and make my way on to the house. When I arrive there are three deer in the field next to the house and I’m reminded of why I love this place once again.

The next morning I wake up early and make my way down to the lake. I try to bring my dog, Tessie, with me when I come to the camp for a companion and because she loves it even more than I do. After she takes a swim and I help out spraying some lily pads we head back to the camp house to grab my cameras. There are at least four places on the property that I want to place a camera to see what’s around. Putting out cameras is usually an exciting activity because I always anticipate what they will capture. The anticipation is still there on this trip, but the heat index reaches 104 and my excitement turns to sweat. Nonetheless, I get the cameras placed in the desired areas and head back to camp. Tessie has been awaiting my return, most likely not so patiently, and gives me a great greeting when I get back. We play around in the yard a while before loading the truck up to head back home. It’s a quick trip, but a productive one, and a trip that I hope yields some promising results. Now I sit at home and wait. I don’t wait for pictures to come to me via email because I don’t own a bank. My cameras are the old school, check your SD card type. I’ll have to return in a couple of weeks and manually check them to see what this years crop of bucks look like. Every time I leave I have a feeling of fulfillment as well as a tinge of sadness with having to go. Until the next trip, I’ll await with anticipation of what the cameras will show, and of what adventure lies ahead.

The Pier

It doesn’t matter how long you traverse the outdoors, sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with unfortunate events. I’ve had more than my fair share of “uh ohs” and “did that really just happen” experiences. It just comes with the territory, especially if you are me. I’ve been on a camping trip where I almost chopped my index finger off with a machete. I’ve been on a deep sea fishing trip where we turned the boat into a submarine momentarily, effectively blowing the windshield out in my face resulting in 15 stitches (thanks, Chris). I’ve even sank a boat in the Okatoma River once that wasn’t even mine (apologies to Michael). Most of my friends that frequent the outdoors have very similar stories, if not worse. Unfortunately, that’s where this weeks blog takes us again.

My wife recently booked us a three day trip to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi for a family getaway. The house, owned by a friend of hers, is nestled along a canal just off of the Jourdan River. My initial thoughts are that this could be the best family vacation ever. To me, what could be better than a house along a river where you can catch redfish, speckled trout, crabs, and who knows what else. I was completely correct about one thing, the house is awesome. We arrived on Monday afternoon around 3:00 and just driving up to the house got my blood pumping. The house sits on stilts about 12 feet off of the ground, has a wrap around porch that is partially screened in, a nice outdoor cooking area, and down by the river……a pier. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this pier would tick me off more than once. We hadn’t been at the house more than 20 minutes, and while unloading the car I hear our middle daughter yelling. Our oldest daughter, Mackenzie, had slipped off of the pier and into the canal. She’s a very good swimmer for her age so she was able to tread water while holding onto the pier. I rush to the pier and pull her out. She’s a little scared and a little bruised up but seems to be fine. I scold her and Collins about the dangers of playing around the water without being careful and return to unloading the vehicles. This is pier episode number 1.

The next day we take the kids to the beach for a while before returning to the house for lunch. I planned to get bait and head out fishing, however, the weather had other plans. It began to rain pretty hard after lunch and did so for most of the rest of the day. Since it didn’t look like a fishing trip would happen that evening I decided to pick up a crab net and some bait. We tied the crab net to the pier with a chicken foot tied in the center in hopes of catching some delicious blue crab. Right before dark the rain stopped so I took the girls out for a night ride on the river. Tomorrow’s forecast looked much better so I would surely get some fishing done in the morning. I was wrong.

I tied the boat to the pier when we returned to the house around 9:30 pm. The tide was low so I made sure to give the boat some slack to rise with the incoming tide overnight. At 6:30 am I’m awakened by the sound of a horn from a boat outside. Who in the heck is honking a horn in a canal at 6:30 in the morning?!! Not five minutes later there is a knock at the door. I immediately know something is wrong. The neighbor across the canal from us, Robert, greeted me at the door. Robert is a commercial crab fisherman and was on his way to check traps. He was nice enough to wake me up to let me know that my boat was almost completely under water. I ran down the stairs and saw the disaster. I immediately flipped on the bilge pump and water began to drain from the boat. We used a small bucket to speed the process up and began bailing water out. At some point through the night the boat floated up with the tide and became lodged under a board protruding from the pier. The boat tipped to the right side as the tide rose allowing water to enter the vessel. After all of the water was pumped out of the boat I begin to assess the damage. The motor, which took on a little bit of water, will not crank. My ignition switch is likely fried as well as my interior light. This is pier episode number 2. With the boat being out of commission for the remainder of the trip, we result to catching crabs. The kids were able to snag 6 blue crabs so the trip doesn’t feel like a complete disaster, at least not to them! We returned home the following day, with my tail tucked between my legs dreading a trip to the mechanic. Maybe it’s a sign that I need to get off of the water for a while. At least for around 3 weeks (time period the boat will be in the shop). For the next few weeks I will have to get innovative to catch big fish. On the other hand, the Delta is calling my name.

Figuring it Out

I believe that no matter what we are doing that we should always be trying to improve ourselves. Isn’t it better to be more successful today than we were yesterday? The same goes for hunting and fishing. You try new things in search of the right recipe for success in the outdoors. I’ve recently taken two more trips along the Pearl River in Mississippi in search of that recipe for a cooler full of fresh fish. The first trip was not so plentiful in terms of flesh to return home with. The second was more fruitful in that regard. Part of that could be applying different tactics and part of it could be the river stages. I’ll just have to keep going to figure out the true reason for catching fish versus not catching fish.

My first trip of this post was taken with neighbor and friend, Dave Brooks. Dave is a Master Sergeant in the US Army and lives across the street from me. He’s the kind of guy you want close to you. I haven’t figured out much that Dave cannot do yet, aside from telling me that he refuses to stick his hand in a log to catch a fish. Give it time and I’ll have him talked into that too. Our trip began with a trip to a local bait shop in Columbia, MS called DJ’s Bait Shop. I’ve heard that goldfish make for good bait when running lines on the river and I’ve never used them so I wanted to give it a try. The owner of the shop is a rather colorful guy that we find out lives right across the river from the boat launch. The conversation turns to the recent flooding back in the early spring and he shows us pictures of his home, which took on plenty of water during the flood. It was hard to imagine the river getting that high up as his house sits high on the river bluff. It’s a reminder of how ever changing the river can be which provides me with hope that my luck from my previous trip will change as well. Dave and I get our camp site set up and get the poles in the water baited with goldfish. I feel almost overconfident in the positioning of the poles and of the bait we are using. We return to camp to cook dinner when I realize I didn’t bring anything to start a fire. Oops! I make the decision to head back up the river to run into town to get a lighter which turns out to be a good decision. A couple of other local fishermen were taking their boat out of the water and asked if we’d like to have some fish that they caught. Are you kidding? Of course I’ll be happy to take fresh fish off of your hands! It’s a good thing we did given that we didn’t catch but one fish on our poles that night. The bait seemed to work well since they were all missing every time we checked the poles. The problem was they must have been very easy to get off of the hook without the targeted species being hooked. The trip wasn’t a bust though, as I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Dave. He’s been all over the world and has great stories to tell about his adventures. His kindness to others is unparalleled and his enthusiasm for spending time with friends is something I can learn from. He wasn’t nearly as bothered by the lack of fish as I was, which reminded me that trips like these are more about fellowship than they are fishing.

The second trip of this post is one that I have been putting off out of fear of the unknown. My daughters, Mackenzie (8) and Collins (5), have been asking to go on an overnight camping trip for a while now. While I am overwhelmed with joy when they want to go do something outdoors with Dad, I am also a little apprehensive in taking two kids under the age of 10 on the river with no help from their mother, or anyone else. I finally gave in and decided we’d go with thoughts of a disaster in my mind. I figured we’d get out on the river and when nightfall came they’d be begging me to go home. Fortunately, this didn’t happen. For this trip, I also decided to change my approach again when it comes to the bait we’d use. I went to a local pond owned by a friend and caught a few bream that afternoon to use for bait. We arrived at the river and only set out 4 poles. I figured 4 would be plenty to have to check at night with two kids in the boat which was a good call. The bream were also a good decision. The bait did its job and we caught four flathead catfish on the poles ranging in size from 5 pounds to 10 pounds. A very nice haul for so few poles being in the water, especially considering my lack of luck the last couple of trips. We also cut up one bream and did a little tightline fishing from the bank. This was the most exciting portion of the trip. We hooked up to a 16 pound blue cat which provided some much needed excitement right around bedtime when I figured the girls would be begging to go home. As I laid down to sleep, somewhat afraid our tent would spontaneously combust in the South Mississippi heat, I thought about how thankful I am to be able to do this. It took me back to trips when I was a kid with my father and my uncle. I have such fond memories of those trips and hope I can provide some memories for my kids that will last for years to come. I’m not sure when they will want to go back, but I won’t worry nearly as much as I did the first time. This time I’ll gladly be ready to load up the boat and head that way.

Pearl River Bank Poling

During the last weekend of May I was introduced to bank poles for the first time. My good friend, Ben Tharp and his father Terry, joined me for a weekend of fishing on the Big Black River just south of Vicksburg, MS. We put out around 25 poles along the banks of the river in hopes of catching some large flatheads. The results were not what we hoped for as we ended up fighting alligators for our bait and our catfish. In the end, we had 4 hooks straightened out, 3 lines cut, two poles that were nowhere to be found, and only caught 3 fish. We decided to pull all of the poles for the second night and gig frogs, which proved way more productive. Even with the disappointment, I was hooked on bank poles. I’ve put out limb lines for catfish before but would always run into great looking spots with no limb to hang a line. The bank poles fix that problem and allow you to drop a line anywhere you choose. I returned home after the trip and began researching how to make these poles. After buying my boat it was my next project. I made 10 poles out of pvc pipe. The only thing left to do was catch bait and head to the river.

I finally got an opportunity to get on the river and try out my new poles. On my maiden pole fishing trip I was accompanied by former William Carey assistant baseball coach, Reggie Richardson and his son, Cole. Reggie played at Carey in the late 90’s and came back to coach at his alma mater for 2016-2019 and I’m grateful that he did. We had some really great teams during his time with us and a lot of that had to do with him being there. Cole is entering the 9th grade at South Jones High School in Ellisville, MS. The reason I give that information is if you are a sports fan, particularly baseball, you’re going to want to keep an eye on this young man. He’s already at least 6’3″ at the young age of 14 and shows the promise of being a really good baseball player. On top of that he is the kind of person we all want our children to be. I selfishly hope he follows in the footsteps of his dad and becomes a Crusader one day!

We arrive at the Pearl River in Columbia, MS late after catching our bait in a local pond and waiting out a severe thunderstorm moving through the area. Being in a tent on a sandbar with lightning popping everywhere was not how I wanted the evening to begin so we grabbed dinner and waited. We quickly got the boat in the water and set out to find a suitable sandbar to camp on. It didn’t take long and we had our tents set up and we started putting poles out. Darkness was quickly approaching so we didn’t have much time to scope out the best spots to put our poles. We did the best we could given our lack of knowledge of the area and my inexperience with bank poling. With the poles set out and baited we returned to camp to eat a bite and wait. Cole built a nice fire that accompanied a cool breeze very well. It was the perfect night for camping. There were no mosquitoes buzzing around and the cool night air made for a very pleasant experience. Around midnight we checked our poles and landed our first flathead of the trip. It only weighed around 4 pounds, but the excitement of the first fish made the trip. We made sure our bait was alive and headed back to camp to sleep a few hours before checking them again at daylight. It is possibly the best sleep I’ve ever gotten when camping on the river. I’m not sure if I was just that tired or if the cool conditions made me sleep better, but it was fantastic. We awakened shortly after daylight and went to check our poles again. We only had one more fish, another small flathead, and only had one hook straightened out by what I believe to have been an alligator. After pulling in our poles it was time to head back home. I was somewhat disappointed to have not caught more fish than we did, but my intrigue in running bank poles didn’t decrease, it got deeper. I want to know more about the Pearl River. I want to know more about putting my poles in the right places. I want to know more about how to keep those dang alligators from messing with my poles! As we were driving home my mind drifted to how thankful and blessed I am to have good friends and to live in a country where we are free to pursue the outdoors. This is what keeps me coming back and I can’t wait until the next adventure!

Flathead Fourth

I’d venture to say that Independence Day is quite possibly the best opportunity for the American male to wow his friends and family with delicious food. That’s not to say that females do not cook on the 4th, you do! However, today is the day for the macho man to get out there and prove his manliness in the outdoor kitchen. Most will take to the grill for their 4th of July cuisine, but cranking up the fryer may be more your style. After posting about catching the large flathead catfish I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Are they good to eat when they get that big?” The short answer to that is, ABSOLUTELY! 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 overseason! 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 355-365 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. Finally, dig in and enjoy the best fish the river has to offer!

Father’s Day Weekend

I’ve always thought that I should write about my outdoor experiences, but never followed through. My father has always urged me to do so, and like so many others, I agree then move on without taking his advice. It’s only fitting that my first blog be born out of a father’s day weekend adventure on the river with my dad. The trip wasn’t necessarily a well planned event, but more of a spur of the moment type thing. This is unusual for me as I am the planning type. Rarely do I ever do anything on a whim. That is a characteristic that I’ve acquired with increasing age. A few days earlier I purchased a used 16′ War Eagle aluminum boat with a 40hp motor (with my wife’s blessing) and had been eager to put her in the water. On Friday night I called my dad and asked if he could make the drive down the next morning to take the boat to a local river nearby to check a log for flathead catfish. In Mississippi we have a handgrabbing, or noodling, season that lasts until mid July. My dad said he would come down which blew my mind because he is not the spur of the moment type neither. Maybe it is an inherited trait rather than an age thing. The next day, around 1:30 or so, we headed for the Bouie River located just outside of Hattiesburg, MS. Two of my three daughters, Mackenzie (8) and Collins (5), decided to tag along with us for the trip. Neither of them have ever been on a handgrabbing trip before so I figured a quick trip to the Bouie would be the best way to break them in. The night before, they laid on the couch next to me watching videos on how the fishing technique was done. Seeing people pull large catfish from pits in the water drove their excitement and they were ready to go see it for themselves. We arrived at the river around 2:00 and slipped the boat in the water. The river level is pretty low as we haven’t had any rain in over a week or so. With the water level being down it makes for treacherous travel down the river. More than once I have to get out of the boat and pull it through the shallow water. The scenery surrounding us is nothing short of wonderful. Plenty of large trees and steep banks line the small river. The skies are blue with very few clouds as the sun beams down on us as we head to our spot. My mind grows with anticipation of what we will encounter when we arrive. I’m a handgrabbing novice so I repeatedly go through a checklist of what I’m supposed to do once I get to the sunken log. I see the bottom end of the log coming out of the river and I pull the boat onto a rock bank across the river from it. The river is only about 30-40 yards wide in this spot so it should be easy to get to from the opposite side. The water temperature is near perfect on this hot June day and I make my way across the river to the lower end of the log that is submerged just beneath the surface. I’ve been fishing this particular log with my uncle for more than 15 years and it almost always proves fruitful. However, this is one of the few times that I’ve come to this spot without him so my mind tells me that there probably won’t be a fish in it. Wrong! I wedged my body into the hole to keep any potential fish from escaping and ran my arm into the log. Almost immediately I am made very much aware that there is a fish in the log as it attacks my arm. After a couple of tries I’m able to grab the fish. My dad can’t believe it when I tell him I have ahold of a large catfish. He has since joined me in the water, mostly for moral support. The kids are standing on the rock bar waiting with anticipation of watching their dad catch a fish with his hands. I look across at them and ask them if they are ready to have their world rocked. Of course, they start to twitch with excitement and probably some doubt as well. I run my arm through the fish’s giant mouth and push my hand through its gills. Once I feel like I’ve got a firm handle on the fish I pull it out of the log. It’s much bigger than I thought it was and it explodes from the log like a torpedo knocking me backward. I’m able to gain my footing and display the fish that is larger than my five year old daughter. They can’t believe it, and neither can I. I make my way back across the river and we take enough pictures to fill up a photo album. It’s a proud moment for me as a father because I got to seemingly be a hero for the moment. It’s also a proud moment for my father who got to be there to watch his son do something he loves. We begin to make our way back up the river toward the boat launch. Looking at my watch I know that I am probably going to be in trouble when I get home. We were supposed to be back by 4:00 because my wife (Amy) and I are supposed to go out to eat to celebrate our 10th anniversary. After 10 years of marriage she undoubtedly understands by now that I am never going to be on time getting back from an outdoor adventure. Maybe bringing home a large fish will distract her from how late I actually am! Thankfully she never mentioned the fact that I was an hour and a half late. As we carefully make our way back up the river I cannot help but think about all of the times I have made trips like this when I was growing up. This is what makes getting out in nature worth it all. Catching fish or killing a deer, turkey, etc. is just bonus money. The real trophy is found in spending time in the woods or on the water and sharing that time with the people you love. I’m grateful for a father’s day experience with my dad and two of my three daughters. It is an experience that I will not forget anytime soon and I hope that they won’t forget it either.

My daughters, Collins and Mackenzie, pose with me and the 47 pound Mississippi flathead catfish