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RICHARD MASON: Fish story needs no exaggeration

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. This 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 luxurious, but for 15- and 17-year-old boys, it was just perfect.

The cabin was upriver about a mile from Lock 8 on the Ouachita, and about a half-mile from the mouth of Bangs Slough–really just a big creek, but creek or slough, it was a fine place to fish.

Since it was early June and the water was flowing out of the mouth of the slough into the river at a pretty good rate, it was a top spot to catch big bream.

So that early June Friday afternoon, we loaded my Jeep and headed to the river. Going 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, both were 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 40 or 50 little fish about three fingers wide. It was nearly dark when we finished baiting the hooks, and after a long day we were ready to sack out, knowing we’d be up at first light.

In only a few minutes we were both sound asleep. 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 and 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-sized flathead.

After taking the 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 9 a.m. when we tossed in our first cricket-baited hook, and in less than an hour we had caught half an ice chest full of bream. Our trip was turning out great.

As the sun beamed down, sometime around 11 a.m., 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 paddling just enough to slowly move through the water and around the big cypress trees that lined the creek. Time spent on Bangs Slough or Champagnolle Creek is one of the more pleasurable memories of growing up in south Arkansas.

After about an hour, we had caught a variety of fish. Over the past few years, we had caught small alligator gar, grinnell, bass, crappie, and bream.

It was toward the end of our trip, as 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. It was mostly just bare limbs with driftwood stacked on them, and I was about to push back from the tangle 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 brought a .22 rifle when we went fishing, and since a deadly snake was about to join us in the boat, I grabbed it 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 there was a 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.” After a few more comments, we decided to get the snake and cut it open to see what was causing the big bulge.

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 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, then jumped out of the boat into the water …a bullfrog Jonah.

. . .

Well, egg on my face! After hammering gender discrimination on the Arkansas State Highway Commission over the years, I missed Gov. Asa Hutchinson’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.

Email Richard Mason at [email protected]

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