Let’s go fishing!

By CLARK HICKS,

The term “Mississippi Catfish” has special meaning in my household. As a boy, I romped in spring-fed creeks and shallow ponds looking for the whiskered mud dwellers.

In one hand, I always carried a carton of earthworms, smothered in rich soil and smelling putrid. In the other hand, I held a spinning reel and rod, as a big hook dangled on the end of the strong line.

My dad taught me how to hook a wiggly worm, a double stick technique, and he showed me how to cast the line, leaving plenty of slack for the fish to swim with the bait.

After the long cast, I would wait until the line began to spin off the reel and then experience the enjoyable struggle and fight to land the catfish.

On spring days, my family fished in a small pond loaded with catfish. We stocked it full and fed them from an old milk carton.

The fish, I must admit, were like pets. We would walk to the pond, rattle the carton, and the catfish would start swarming in the water near the bank’s edge. Those fish became trained to respond to our presence. They were thinking "Dinner time!" when they heard the sounds of jingling fish food.

One day, I invited my girlfriend along for the fun. She caught a whopper and slowly pulled it to the shore. Never having held a live catfish, I removed the hook for her, and she placed both hands around the slick and slimy fish.  Of course, we had to be careful to avoid those poisonous fins that can ruin an afternoon outing. Holding the fish carefully, the big mud cat croaked loud and before my girlfriend could react, a long trail of excrement trickled down her arm and leg. She froze in disgust while I quickly used my shirt to clean the gross fish waste off her extremities.

That girlfriend became my wife, and if you know her, let’s just say she is not “outdoorsy.” Holding a stinky fish that just pooped on her was not her idea of a good time.

A catfish, living on dark, muddy bottoms, will eat anything. I have used chicken liver, hotdogs, and bread.

Skinning one, my family way, was to nail the head to a tree, slit the gills, break the fins, and then use pliers to peel the skin towards the tail. Over the years, I learned to wear gloves and get a good grip for yanking, as extra elbow grease is needed.

Once cleaned, a hot skillet with oil and corn meal were the final steps before my family all sat around the table and devoured our fresh catch.

I know most folks these days prefer to drive to a local fish house to eat fried catfish. It’s easier than fishing, and there are no mosquitoes, gnats or “no-see-ums.” But, the fellowship around a cane pole on a sunny day still lingers in my memory of childhood.

Not long ago, my wife and I traveled to California and dined at a five-star restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As the sun set on the horizon, the waiter handed me the menu with three choices. The third, to my amazement, was “Mississippi Catfish,” with some added fancy fixins.

My wife and I chuckled that for West Coast folks, the poor Mississippi bottom feeder had become a delicacy.

Never missing an opportunity, I said to my wife, “The kitchen staff might let you go hold a live one for old times' sake.”

Clark Hicks is a Hattiesburg lawyer.  Email him at: clark@hicksattorneys.com.