Bob Howell

Recently, I was watching TV and came across a fascinating program (at least it was to me) featuring people who choose —for whatever reason — to live off the grid in frozen Alaska.

The show was told, mostly, through the words of the folks who choose to live out on their own ... with a minimum of narration to aurally stitch together the gaps in the show's dialog.  

I was excitedly telling my wife Paula about how these outdoorsmen and women had learned to survive the ultra-cold temperatures, ice, snow and high winds. It was about that time that she reminded that there was a production crew walking step-for-step with the off-the-gridders recording all his or her significant moves. There was a sound recordist working to capture the sound of the wolves howling in the distance. And a production staff member had to be there to place the underwater shots as the off-gridder set traps for beavers. OK! I got the message. They weren't by themselves! (She's right so much of the time.)

All these cold weather adventures reminded me of once when my Dad took me speckled trout fishing along Black Creek in northwest Florida. It was nothing to compare to negative 30-degree Fahrenheit in the TV show, but it was cold enough to form patches of ice in the slow moving current of the creek. I remember clearly the bow of our small boat breaking that thin layer of ice on that early November morning. 

In a side note to this part of the larger story, I also recall my mother catching the biggest "speck" on the rarest of rare occasions that she left the warmth of the cabin to catch a fish of any size!

And then there was the time a group of my good friends and I borrowed, with permission, Mr. Dick Lewis' cabin (or large hut, if you will) down on the river at McMillan's sandbar. On this particular outing, we decided the cold winter weather shouldn't be able to slow our plans to put out trotlines to significantly reduce the catfish population along this stretch of the river.

For those of you who have never fished with a trotline, here's a brief explanation of this type of night-time fishing that needs to tried to be appreciated. 

First, you rig a long line. Some folks call it the "main line," with shorter lines attached about every 3 or 4 feet to the main line. These short lines are where you attach small weights and the appropriate sized hooks. 

Rather than take up an inappropriate amount of time on the fine points of trotline fishing, I would direct you to the internet — good videos on how to get started and, better still, how to catch the limit and have fun doing it, too.

Did I mention that lots of people do trotline fishing at night? That's a story for a whole 'nuther time.

My Daddy was one of the best fishermen I ever knew. I would have put him up against anybody who ever held a simple cane pole or the fanciest reel and rod ever made. 

I wish I had followed in his fishing exploits. He was totally content to fish for bream, shell cracker, catfish or crappie from the stern of a wooden rental boat. 

When it came to young men who practically swamped him on a lake or river with his little, over-matched 7.5 horsepower eggbeater of an outboard motor, Daddy  would simply dismiss them as "showing off in their playboy boat." 

Then he would mutter something under his breath ... always at a low enough volume for me never to completely understand what he really had said.

When I was just a youngster, I remember how "Doc Howell" — the county's only optometrist — would tell me repeatedly, "Son, don't stand up in the boat"; "Be quiet in the boat ... the fish can hear you ... and see you, too." (I had to get one in for the eye doctor, you know.) "Set your hook firmly — but don't try to snatch the fish completely out of the lake with one pull." 

He also reminded me "that snakes can climb trees" and,"if you want to catch big fish, use big bait." I always liked that one. 

And there were lots more where those came from.

Until our next conversation.

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