I’ve had a few folks question some of my tales about growing up in South Arkansas, and I have seen some heads shaking in disbelief. But this story and those tales aren’t fiction. They are as close as I can remember to being exactly as they happened.
During my high school years, Buddy Henley and I were hunting and fishing buddies, and whatever season it was, hunting or fishing, we were doing one or the other every weekend, and even after school. It was early June when school was out and the lakes, creeks, and river were full of spring rain water. The fishing trip was an overnighter to Buddy’s folks’ cabin on the Ouachita River where we would set trot lines and fish in the River and in Bangs Slough. The cabin wasn’t a luxury cabin, but for 15 and 17 years old boys, it was just perfect, and where it was located made it a great place for an overnight fishing trip. The cabin was up river about a mile from Lock 8 on the Ouachita River, and about a half mile from the mouth of Bangs Slough. Actually, Bangs Slough is really just a big creek, but creek or slough, it was a top spot to fish. Of course, since it was early June and the water was flowing out of the slough at a pretty good rate, the mouth of the slough, where it flowed into the river, was a top spot to catch big bream.
So that early June Friday afternoon, we loaded my Jeep and headed down to the river. Going in off the main road before coming to Lock 8 was always a little iffy. However, a few dry days had made the road passable and pretty soon we were getting our trot lines ready to set out. We had two lines that went across the river, and after a couple of hours work, we had both of them strung out with hooks about four to six feet apart. It was time to catch little sunfish and small bream to use as bait. We had some red wigglers, and fishing under the willow trees along the river bank, we managed to catch forty or fifty little fish about three fingers wide. It was time to bait the hooks. It was nearly dark when we finished, and after a long day we were ready to sack out knowing we’d be up at first light to run the trot lines.
In only a few minutes we were both sound asleep, and it seemed I had just dozed off when I noticed the room was getting a little brighter and that meant the sun was peeking through the trees. After a quick breakfast of stale bread baloney sandwiches, we got in the old flat bottom wooden boat, cranked up the Evinrude motor, and ran the trot lines. Most of the bait was gone, but we did have several small blue cats, and one pretty good size flathead. After taking the trot line catch back to the cabin and putting them in an ice chest to skin later, we headed to Bangs Slough to fish for bream and maybe a bass or two. Crickets were our bait, and we started by fishing in the mouth of the slough where it ran into the river. It was about nine o’clock when we tossed in our first cricket baited hook, and in less than an hour, we had caught half an ice chest full of good size bream. Our fishing trip was turning out great. However, as the sun beamed down, sometime around eleven o’clock, we decided to paddle up Bangs Slough, partly to get out of the sun.
We always enjoyed easing along with one of us sitting in the back of the boat just paddling enough to slowly move through the water and around the big cypress trees that lined the creek or were out in the middle of the creek. Easing along fishing as we slowly moved up Bangs Slough or Champagnolle Creek is etched in my mind as one of the more pleasurable times of growing up in South Arkansas. After about an hour, we had caught a variety of fish. One of the more interesting parts of fishing up one of the major creeks that flow into the Ouachita River is not ever knowing what you were going to catch when you tossed your cricket beside one of the big cypress trees. Over the past few years, we had caught small alligator gar, grinnell, bass, crappie, and bream.
It was toward the end of our fishing trip, when we were about to turn back down the slough and head for the cabin, when the front of the boat bumped up against an old treetop that had fallen in the water. The treetop was mostly just bare limbs with driftwood stacked up on the limbs, and I was about to push back from the tangle of limbs, which were almost hanging over the front of the boat when I saw something. It was the biggest cottonmouth water moccasin I have ever seen, and it was about to slide off a tree limb and into our flat bottom boat. We always took a 22 rifle with us when we went fishing, and since a deadly snake was about to join us in the boat, I grabbed the 22 and quickly shot the snake in the head. It killed the snake, but as we looked at it, remarking how big it was, we noticed something: there was a large very noticeable bulge about halfway down the middle of the snake.
We started talking about what it could be, and I said, “Some poisonous snakes have live births and some lay eggs. It could be little snakes or eggs.” Well, after a few more comments, we decided to get the snake and cut it open to see what was causing the big bulge. It took a few minute, but pretty soon we had it lying on the boat seat belly up, and Buddy pulled out his hunting knife. It was super sharp, and as I held the snake stretched out, Buddy made a long cut right where the bulge was.
Buddy, who was looking down hanging over the snake, said “I see something…Ahaaaa!” He jumped back as something hit him in the chest, and so did I. Then we looked down in the bottom of the boat to see what had come out of that big snake. It was a large bullfrog. It took a couple of hops, and then jumped out of the boat into the water … a bullfrog Jonah.
Well, egg on my face! After hammering gender discrimination on the State Highway Commission, over the years, I missed the Governor’s March 12 appointment of Marie Holder to fill out the term of Tom Schueck. I could say I meant to say “another” woman, or the pandemic made me miss it, or it was my editor’s fault, but I’d be lying—-I just flat screwed up. Makes me fact-check future columns a little closer. And Governor, I’m moving you up to an A minus.