In addition to the annual gardening seminar for newcomers to Arkansas each April, I do a fishing seminar for newcomers to Arkansas in June.
Lots of tips. Hot new lures. Little-known lunker holes. Bait and tackle how-to’s. Qs & As.
My seminars are mostly attended by retirees from up North, eager to wet their hooks in the Natural State’s famous fishing waters, but unsure about the subtleties, the nuances of Arkansas angling. I try to be patient with them when they ask such earnest questions as those below.
Q. Tell me about this fish called the crappie. You say it’s very tasty but then you call it crappie. Which one is it, tasty or crappy-tasting?
A. That isn’t a short a – the one with a little horseshoe over it – but one with the two dots over it, which means it is pronounced ah. So the word is crah-pee, not crappy. Just think of it as another Arkansas crop, like cotton or soybeans, which in a sense it is. Catch a bunch of crappie, you’re harvesting a crop. A simple transposition will give you a fish that really does taste like crap. That would be your standard-issue carp. You’ve surely heard the classic recipe that involves throwing away the carp and eating the board you cooked it on.
Q. What is a perch? I thought it was something a bird sat on, but I didn’t know it was something a fish sat on too. In fact, I didn’t know a fish could sit at all, not having the necessary anatomical equipment for sitting.
A. Fish can sit, especially in chaise longues and beach chairs, which you would know if you’d seen the lifeguard episode or any of the beach episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants. There’s a reference in “Moby Dick” to the white whale “sitting pretty,” and Ernest Hemingway once wrote about tarpons that “sit up and take notice.” (He also wrote about sitting bulls, a different kind from the Indian.) So there’s precedent.
Here in Arkansas, perch is what you call any small panfish that you don’t know the real name of. If it’s ovate and weighs a pound or less, you can call it a perch without fear that the dock locals will laugh and call you a city feller. Don’t refer to an elongated fish, such as a catfish or gar, as a perch, however, or one of those same morons may eye you suspiciously and say something like, “Hey, hunch, where you frum?” If you plan to answer him by saying, “It ain’t none of your business, peckerhead,” then it would behoove you to get the drop on him first, and maybe send some warning No. 6’s across his bow, else “Deliverance”-type consequences might ensue. Those aren’t good.
Q. Is there a remedy for when a catfish fins you? Is that the worst pain there is?
A. Put a wad of already-chewed chewing tobacco on it. Wrap it on there with a handkerchief, if you carry handkerchiefs, or with a sock, if you’re the kind that wears socks, or with some other rag. Yes, it is the worst pain. It’s worse than the pain when somebody in your boat rares back to cast their Chugger Spook and catches the trailing treble hooks on the back of your head and heaves away, might near scalping you, or at best digging deep furrows in your skull from your nape to your eyebrow overhang. Either one of those hurts worse than a water moccasin bite or a kidney stone or being connected up to the Tucker Telephone or having a girl named Runaround Sue.
Q. What is a trotline and how do I go about running one? I’ve heard of an Arkansas railroad called the Possum Trot Line. Does that mean possums put out trot lines, too? My wife says it might refer to possum innards being used as the trot line bait. We are familiar with possum innards from the old Beverly Hillbillies shows. Are they tasty or crappie-tasting? What is the connection here with the singer George Jones?
A. George Jones is called The Old Possum because there’s such a strong facial resemblance. I promise you, if you look at face-on mug shots of George Jones and a possum, you won’t be able to tell which is which. You’ll probably pick the real possum as the one who sang “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Honky Tonk Prison,” especially if it isn’t a roadkill possum that’s already had to eat B.F. Goodrich.
The Possum Trot Line doesn’t refer to a trotline put out by a possum. It refers to possums trotting along a railroad line. It alludes to an old joke about a railroad with trains that run so slow that a possum trotting alongside would get there first. Possums just aren’t smart enough to rig up a real trotline. Their innards might attract catfish to your trotline, or turtles, but not any fish that you’d want to have anything to do with. Catfish will eat stuff that buzzards wouldn’t go near, or Rotarians either. The trot of a trotline is said to be an abbreviated or lazy way of saying trout, but no one has ever caught a trout on a trotline. My brother caught a cow on one one time, though.
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Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.