Opinion Columns & Blogs

Memories from fishing on the flats

wmarshall@macon.com

It was cold, really cold, on Saturday morning, 7 o’clock, March 18, as Connell Stafford, our guide, Travis Harper, and I motored, in an open boat, out the mouth of the Altamaha River at Two Way Fish Camp, into the ocean flats, surrounded by many of Georgia’s treasures, its fields of marsh grass, its historic islands, and its earliest history.

I had on lots of clothes, lots of clothes, but with the wind whipping me in the face and with the temperature in the upper 30s or low 40s, it was cold. As I sat in the bottom of the boat with my back to the wind and with my eyes closed, my thoughts were not of discomfort, but warm memories of fishing trips past and people who made these parts of my life so unforgettable.

I never go to the flats that I don’t think of Cedar Keys, Florida, and one of my favorite people of all times, Edgar “Yellow Legs” Campbell. He guided my fishing companions and me many times. Sometimes we caught fish and sometimes we didn’t, but we always had fun. “Yellow” saw to it with his keen wit, sharp mind and constant chatter and showing us that catching fish was just a bonus to the trip.

Funny, but I thought of Charlie Howell from Macon, now deceased, with whom I never went on a fishing trip but one time. Charlie took Hilt Gray’s place. Mr. Hilt was a late cancellation, so I called Charlie and he went with us. Billy Bledsoe, Seabie Hickson, Charlie Howell and me.

This is true and a good story, but space limitations require brevity. The bottom line: Billy and I, with our guide, caught 130 Speckled Trout, all legal, and Seabie and Charlie, with their guide, caught 90, all legal, out of Shell Island in Florida. It’s the most we ever caught in one day. But, 35 or 40 years later, it was Charlie Howell about whom I was thinking on that recent cold Saturday morning.

I also thought about Alan Branch, gentleman and guide extraordinary, his wonderful son, Bobby, and his kind and gentle wife, Kitty, and the fun we had fishing out of the Yellow Bluff on the Georgia Coast. This was in the same part of the ocean where we were fishing this past cold Saturday. There were others, Glen Bryant and Charlie Jones, Hinesville folks, who helped provide the hospitality and coolers of beautiful Georgia shrimp as we turned from the coast back toward Middle Georgia with our memory making trip ended.

Ben Porter, another southern gentlemen and someone who was easy to be around, was also on my mind as we motored toward Little St. Simons last week. Ben had money and many material things, but he also had the common touch and too many real friends to count. Lots of folks have style, but not nearly as many have class. Ben Porter had class. I wish I could go spend one more night at Ben’s place on the Georgia coast and go fishing with him in his big, fine boat one more time. Unfortunately, it can’t happen.

Time marches on, and as Daddy used to say, “The days get longer and the years get shorter.” And, so it is. And with far too many, memories of them is all we have. Perhaps it was the cold weather and the waters in which we were fishing, but that wonderful, blistering cold morning (much colder than last Saturday morning) that I spent with Tom Murphy in a small boat in a “creek” at high tide on St. Catherine’s Island fishing for and catching many, many red fish was another memory that made me both happy and sad, and all of this as Travis, Connell and I motored to where Travis thought we could catch fish (and we did).

Billy Bledsoe. Seabie Hickson. Hilt Gray. Glea Gray. James Moore. Bryant Culpepper. Daddy. Grandbuddy. Alan Branch. Bobby Branch. Kitty Branch. Charlie Jones. Glen Bryant. Jerry Horton. Jerry Wilson. Horace Evans. Charlie Howell. Felton Jenkins. Larry, III. Wendy Walker Way. Russell Walker. John Gray Walker. Janice Walker. Connell Stafford. Buddy DeLoach. Foster Rhodes. Yellow. Travis Harper.

And, for all those who have enriched my life while fishing on the flats, I’ll try to remember you next time, just like I hope some will remember me.

By the way, we caught about 25 specs, eight were keepers, but we kept just four. When we got back to the fish camp, Travis cleaned four, the local restaurant, Mudcat Charlie’s, cooked them, furnished “two sides” in addition to hush puppies, and a drink and for $8 a plate. It was delicious and we made more memories.

I can’t believe I’ve finished this and haven’t even mentioned Suwannee, Horseshoe Point, and Steinhatchee, three other great fishing villages. Also, St. Marys, another good place on the Georgia coast. Lots of good memories of these great places.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.

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