By Roy Hawkins
Patsy squealed as she brought the big Flat Head cat to the surface. It was September 5, 1968, and we were fishing the tailrace at Grenada Lake, while also contemplating the possibility of getting married in the near future. Actually, there was very little to prevent our getting married other than our own indecision. I’d completed my Master of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary the spring before and Patsy was in her final semester at Mississippi State University. After that she lacked only her practice teaching before completing her degree in elementary education (She would later earn her Masters in Elementary Education.) So, our best projection was that between the two of us we had the potential to make at least a modest living. At the time we could not possibly have imagined how modest.
We’d left French Camp before daybreak that morning in order to be on the spillway first and insure our getting to fish my favorite spot on the tailrace, a point of rock that at that time jutted a few feet out into the river. Also, we wanted to cash in on the early morning fishing for the Striped bass, or White Bass, if you prefer, that filled the tailrace from bank to bank at that time of year. It turned out to be a day to remember. For starters, I discovered, even before I arrived at Patsy’s that one of the landmarks of the community had temporarily ceased to be during the night. The Crossroads Grocery, (Built and then owed by Joe Howard) that I’d frequented since my childhood was a smoking, smoldering ruin as I passed through the crossroads on my way from Sturgis in the predawn. It had somehow caught fire and burned to the ground during the night. Thankfully, the store proved to be exceedingly resilient, and has been built back, not just once, but twice, the last time after falling victim to a tornado in 2010. However, all that lay far in the distant future as Patsy and I lugged our fishing gear and cooler loaded with cokes and food down the river bank to the point of rocks a little while before the sun rose over the eighty foot high dam.
The fishing that morning was everything I’d hoped it would be. Patsy’s family were not anglers, and I wanted her to catch fish on that trip for many reasons, not the least of which was a understandable desire to promote my own cause. My thinking was that if my finance liked fishing, and really got hooked on it fewer problems might arise in the future when I left home for a morning’s angling, that is if and when there was a home. Again the fish did their part! The Striped Bass, notoriously naïve, and easy to catch anyway, were on an absolute rampage that September morning, and we caught them as fast as we could pull them in. The fish were of good size, and provided tremendous sport on our spinning gear. I’m sure almost any lure would have worked under those conditions, but we used small crappie jigs, dressed with yellow hair of some sort, rather than the plastic bodies now in currant use.
For most of the day, we sat together on the same rock, caught fish, and sipped cokes until well into the afternoon, interrupting our angling only long enough to eat lunch. Since it is impossible for them to get past the dam, the spillway was then, and continues to be today, a congregating place for almost every species of fish native to Mississippi. Thus, those who fish there on a regular basis are never surprised at the variety of species that may be present in the river at any given time, nor at which species may take their lure on a given day. On this occasion, for example, we also caught among others, a good number of rather large drum, fish that while not the best on the table are nevertheless always fun to catch.
However, Patsy and I were even happier to find catfish, both flatheads, and channel cat present that day, also in good numbers. Those were the fish most familiar as well as most appreciated on the table by her family since her dad sometimes caught them on set hooks. Catfish, in residence below a dam like Grenada, are often as eager to take jigs, as are crappie, and striped bass. That was certainly the case that day. We caught quite a few of them, the biggest of which was the five pound flathead mentioned at the beginning of the story. Also, we carefully counted the striped bass we caught, a number that eventually reached 165 for the trip. Keeping only a limit of 30 each, a total of sixty, we released the rest. Altogether, my bride to be and I took a good two hundred fish during the outing, which amounted to pretty good fishing, especially when you’re courting at the same time you’re fishing.
We were married just before Christmas of that year on December 22rd, and have been together now for more than 48 years. I’m not sure if the fishing trip that September helped my cause or not, but I do think Patsy, as I did, had a very good time. Several years after our wedding, I glanced into her jewelry box and noticed that two of the jigs we fished with that day were resting there, so I take that to mean our day of angling/courting at least didn’t hurt anything.