Some of my favorite memories are about the people who became good friends and with whom I shared a passion for crappie fishing. I want to tell you a few "short stories" this month about three of my fishing buddies. All three are deceased - have been for a few years now - so you'll just have to take my word that most of the following is true.

Elmo Lyons

Elmo Lyons was a tall, thin, spry fellow for an old guy. How old was he? Well, just let me say that back when Elmo played semi-pro basketball, they shot two-handed free throws underhanded into a peach basket.

Elmo and I were fishing in my boat in a crappie tournament at Lake Washington one May. That's the month the snakes up there really get aggressive protecting their nests and young.

Elmo, fishing from the back of my bass boat, was purposely poking at a huge cottonmouth in the reeds with his long jig pole. The thing charged our boat, and I started screaming at Elmo to leave the damn thing alone. I was steady on the trolling motor up front trying to pull away from the charging snake that began to imitate a cobra, lifting half its body out of the water, striking at the end of Elmo's jig pole.

"Aw, Paul, you scared of snakes? That snake is in the water. It can't bother you. Look how fast it strikes at the end of my pole. Big un, ain't it?"

Of course, Elmo was agitating me as much as he was the cottonmouth.

My pleading to stop agitating the snake fell on deaf ears. So without much forethought, I reached behind Elmo and slapped him on the lower leg with my jig pole. You guessed it: Elmo jumped straight up, high enough to slam dunk a basketball. I fell out laughing.

"Who's afraid of snakes now, buddy?"

A few years later, Elmo died peacefully in his sleep two days after fishing a crappie tournament with his son, Elmo Jr., who had traveled all the way from Jacksonville, Fla., just to get in the boat with his dad - a cherished memory, I'm sure.

Two-shot Ezell

Millard Ezell, a real character and fishing buddy who always carried a two-shot derringer in his pocket, asked me to take his picture over at Eagle Lake one day.

"Paul, you got your camera?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Man, I've got a great big un, and I want you to take a picture so I can show my grandkids. It's in the back of my pickup."

I got my camera and walked over to Ezell's truck. Ezell picked up this huge gar, and tried to hold it up for me to get the picture. As I took a couple of snapshots, I noticed the big fish had three bullet holes in it.

"Had to reload, didn't you, Ezell?"

"Yeah, used up all my bullets. Do you know how hard it is to shoot a gar when the damn thing won't stay still? Must have shot at him a dozen times. Do you know how hard it is to hold onto a fishing pole with one hand and load a pocket gun with the other hand? Mail me a couple of those pictures, will you?"

I did. Of course, I did a little creative editing first, making that huge gar look like Ezell was straining to hold up a foot-long gar. All he could do was laugh. The picture was such a hit with Ezell and his family that it was on display at his funeral a few years later.

The day Big John drowned

I remember the day my fishing buddy Big John Williams drowned. We were pre-fishing a crappie tournament on Wolf Lake during the middle of the week. John was in his boat, and I was in mine. We fished around one another until about lunch time.

"John, get in my boat and let's run down to Sally's to get a hamburger."

"Paul, you think my boat will be O.K. if I leave it here?"

"Sure. Just throw out the anchor. It'll be O.K. We're the only people on the whole lake today. Let's go."

Well, three hours later, after eating lunch and fishing from my boat on the other end of the lake, John suggested we needed to get back and check on his boat. We made the long boat run, and as we came around the last curve, we noticed two fellows in a small john boat out in the middle of the lake close to John's anchored boat.

The one in the back was under a strain as he pulled something from the lake.

"Paul, that's two game wardens. That feller in the back is pulling on a long black rope. Hey, he's got a big treble hook on there. Somebody must have drowned. Slow down. We don't want to run over a body or disturb those two game wardens. That one in the back looks all sweaty and aggravated already."

So I came to a dead-slow crawl, and eased up to John's Bass Tracker.

"Hey, buddy, does that boat belong to you?" the sweaty game warden holding the hook asked.

"Yes, sir," John replied.

He had one foot on my boat and one foot on the front deck of his anchored boat.

"Who drowned?"

The sweaty game warden hollered over at the bank.

"Hey, Sheriff, I found your drowning victim."

The surprise and shock on John's and my faces were genuine as we looked to the bank for the first time and saw half a dozen vehicles and several people over there. Sheriffs' and deputies' cars from two counties, a Rescue Squad van and several more pickups with folks and a pack of beagles all walking the bank and beating the bushes looking for Big John himself.

Snap, crackle, pop, squeal - the sound of a microphone keying in broke the silence.

"Hey, Mr. Williams, come on over here," the Yazoo County sheriff called from his police car. John looked at me.

"How does he know my name, Paul? I think we're in trouble."

And, he was. Not with the law, but, boy howdy, his 4-foot, 11-inch, fire-ball of a wife, Kay, let him have it when he got home. And, she came after me a couple of weeks later at a fishing club cook out. Kay had me backing up into the campfire as she marched straight for me, poking a finger in my chest, giving me what for, blaming me for worrying her and the rest of Big John's family.

All my buddy, John, would say was, "Kay, Honey, I tried to get Paul to carry me back to my boat. He just wouldn't cooperate."

That night and for several days after, the word spread around Clinton that John had drowned. Neighbors brought in food. The preacher came to console his family. The telephone rang non-stop that first night. John spent the next several days thanking people for their concern and assuring them that he didn't drown.

Years later at John's funeral, one of his nieces read a beautiful poem she'd composed about her Uncle Big John. The poem was a wonderful recollection of John's life. The last verse told about "the day Big John drowned" - truly, a memory and story worth telling.

I love to recall how some of my good friends and I used to catch 'em as big as they grew.