The Observer, July 26 

As you know, the catfish is one of The Observer’s favorite creatures in the whole wide world — not only one of nature’s great survivors, but also pretty darn good with a side of hush puppies and cole slaw.

That said, our ears perked up when we ran across an announcement from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in the get-your-glasses fine print area of the classifieds. Seems the boys in the big green trucks are considering allowing a new way to catch catfish on the St. Francis and Black rivers: snagging.

Snagging? Could that be anything like noodling or hogging? Our whiskers twitching with questions, we called up Mike Armstrong, the G&FC’s chief of fisheries.

According to Armstrong, snagging is a technique in which a fisherman puts a big ol’ three-pronged hook on a heavyweight line, and then casts into areas where he thinks catfish might lurk. Once the baitless hook sinks to the muddy bottom, the fisherman reels in his line “very aggressively,” hoping to snag a fish — hence the name. Currently, the only place where the technique is legal is below dams. The new proposal would establish a midwinter season — Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 — wherein fishermen on the Black and St. Francis could snag up to five catfish a day (not to exceed two of the flathead variety, which are in short supply) from deep holes in the river where the fish like to congregate in the cold months. If the Game and Fish Commission approves the proposal, fishermen could be snagging on those rivers by January 2008.

In case you were wondering about how snagging relates to other catfish gettin’ techniques such as hogging and noodling, Armstrong set us straight. In noodling, the fisherman uses a hooked lure attached to a stick by a short piece of heavy cord. By strategically flicking the lure along muddy riverbanks where catfish make their nest burrows, fishermen hope to agitate a spawning fish enough that it will strike at the lure.

By contrast, hogging is the hands-on way to get your dinner, accomplished by bodily throwing yourself into the shallow, muddy waters where catfish like to hang out, feeling along until you encounter one, then grabbing the beast with your hands and hoisting it out of the water.

And the kids say there’s nothing fun to do around here in the summertime.

And now a word about dogs.

The Observer has a yellow mutt that is a good watchdog — barks like crazy when anyone comes to the door, then is all kisses after the visitor enters the house. She sleeps in our bed, she plays with our cat, she loves other dogs. Her favorite thing is to be chased. That’s what she wants more than anything, to see if another dog can outrun her. She’s a good dog.

She’s also part pit bull, a breed the city is considering banning.

Does it make sense to ban a breed? Here’s the thing. We once knew a St. Bernard who looked like a sweetheart and ripped off a friend’s face one night; a neighborhood lab mix who tried to eat a dachshund passing by; a backyard dog of indeterminate ancestry who looks pretty scary.

Some dogs are born mean. Some dogs are made mean. Some “pitties” are pussycats, and their owners’ best friends.

Last week, The Observer marked his 33rd birthday.

Unlike some folks we know, we really don’t mind ’em. Though we got kind of bummed out by the idea near the tail end of our 20s — they mark the passing of years, don’t you know, and passing years mark the passing of life, and the passing of life leads inevitably to the grave. Amen, but we’re currently on a philosophical uptick about birthdays. In recent years, we’ve even come to love birthday parties, maybe even more than we did as a kid. These days, The Observer is always the first to don a party hat.

With age (and something we hope might be wisdom) it occurred to us that while there’s not a whole lot good about growing older, there’s definitely something beautiful about this idea of getting together to rejoice in the fact that one of our number is still alive, here, with us, on Planet Earth. It’s a whole lot better, it seems, than showing up at a funeral and talking nice about someone who isn’t there to hear you.

That, and there’s usually cake and ice cream.


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