Some time back, say about ’70, Allen and Caroline drove to Franklin, VA, near the southeast shore to visit Peggy and me for a few days. You’ve met these people before. Allen worked for “The Atlanta Constitution” as a sports writer. Caroline was his wife, a schoolteacher in Atlanta and sister to Peggy, a legal secretary. Allen and I had a number of interests together, fishing and hunting being two of them.
One day early, Allen and I set out, boat in tow, to a fresh water reservoir serving Virginia Beach. The boat was a short, V-prow, aluminum Jon boat with a two-and-a-half horse motor. That was the maximum sized motor that was allowed on the reservoir. There were attendants at this lake that would let you fish if you had a freshwater fishing license. There was a modest charge to fish the lake.
The attendants took your license and kept it till you came back. The attendants, called rangers, enforced the lake by inspecting your catch before you left the property. Hours were half hour after sunrise till half hour before sunset. For any violations they wrote you up and kept your license. If you didn’t come off the lake before dark, they searched for you with a helicopter. You paid the fees.
What was the reservoir/lake like? It was carved out of the wilderness. They dammed up a valley that had a stream flowing through it. In these reservoirs, the trees were left standing in the water. When built, the southeast coast of Virginia was growing rapidly and drinking water was in high demand. The reservoir was about 100 flooded acres when full.
You had to bring everything you needed for fishing. There were no facilities, no food, nothing to buy at the lake. And you were expected to bring “everything” you took to the lake with you when leaving. “Everything” meant fuel, shear pins, drinking water, clothes and more. You were going into a wilderness swamp where no one lived. The rangers worked for the water authority. They were friendly and pleasant but thorough and unforgiving.
Once on the lake, we broke one shear pin. The skeletons of the standing timber were there. You could see down into their graves by looking overboard. We took two small coolers filled with ice, one for food and drink, one for fish. That day there were winds, rains and a hurricane nearby. The water level in the lake came up rapidly. We were wet and cold. And we were determined.
Allen saw what looked to be a rusty tin roof up on a bluff, so we headed toward the bluff.
Promptly, we sheared another pin. We pushed and polled our way to shore. We tied up the boat to a dead tree and scurried to the top. It was an old farmer’s shack with no glass in the windows and doors missing. We found a corner that was nearly dry. We hunkered down on failing floorboards till that band of the storm subdued.
Near the shack we came across an old garden bed with self-seeding okra, red cherry tomatoes, onions and some greens. An old, crumbling smokehouse was next to the garden. That family had eaten well.
We bailed the rainwater from the boat, started the motor and went deeper into the wilderness. Near the dam, the water was quite clear. As we got further upstream, the water was murkier. Now, we were concentrating on catching fish. We had earthworms and crickets for bait. Sometimes we used lures.
Catching was real good. The biggest problem we had was, and continued to be, those doggone shear pins. Every time we moved closer to what we perceived to be deeper water, we sheared another pin. Soon we were out of pins. That’s why I carried metal clothes hangers. They could be cut into shear pin sized pieces. And that’s what we did.
We caught those large vertically striped bream, so large you couldn’t get your hands around them. And a few large mouth bass so fast that you had to replace line and leaders often. And those skeletons took their toll on tangled and lost gear. But we kept on catching fish. The bass weighed as much as three pounds a fish.
We found a spot where you could drop bait down about twelve feet and not get hung up. It was getting late. We caught all two people were permitted by the law. We started back, and the rain got heavier. We had a limited supply of makeshift shear pins. It took nearly an hour to get back to the launch point.
And again another series of storm bands were coming in. We had to show the rangers our catch and get our licenses back…We won with the fish catch, the storm won in drenching us several times over.
And the rangers said “Nice catch.”
And a day after, having iced down the catch, as promised, we cleaned fish and the girls cooked a great meal.
It was a good time…