Remembering a full moon in April with Big Joe

A box full of chunky bream was the results of a memorable Lake Naomi fishing trip with a father-son team more than a decade ago.

Partner’s dad helped fill our ice chest with bream, our day with humor

Friday was sort of an anniversary for me. The date itself, April 26, has absolutely nothing to do with it. It just happens to be the day on which the full moon falls this year in April.

That is the historical connection to this memory of an event that ranks among my all-time favorite outdoor adventures. It involves two guys with the same name — Joe Watts. There’s Big Joe and there’s Little Joe.

Well, literally, there was Big Joe and there is Little Joe. You see, we lost Big Joe Watts a few weeks ago. He was 91. But he was a spry 76 when this story took place on his beloved Lake Naomi in Madison County, just north of his hometown of Canton. Little Joe, his son, who is one of my best friends and favorite fishing partners, and I were chasing bluegills and chinquapins on Naomi on the April full moon.

It was earlier that year, on April 12 (no, my memory is not that sharp, but the Internet remembers everything). We used to do that on every full moon in the spring, starting in April and again in May and June. We would chase chinquapins in April, and always catch a few bluegills, too, especially when the full moon was late in the month. Then we’d catch bluegills on the bed like crazy in May and June.

On our April trip that year, I remember, Little Joe and I struggled to find any fish on the beds. We hit our favorite chinquapin spots and caught about 20. They were big and fat, and we hooted and hollered with every one that bit our little ultra-light gear. That might sound like a good morning, but not for Naomi. We usually could, and did, fill a wheelbarrow full of bedding bream.

We needed help rolling the fish from the boat or a pier to the cleaning shed. About noon, after lunch, Big Joe came by the lake to check on the fishing. He didn’t so much want to fish as much as he wanted his bag of fillets to take home for Mae Carolyn to fry for dinner. “That all you boys got?” he said, looking at the fish in our ice chest. “That’s pitiful.” Said Little Joe: “You think you can do better?” First and only time I ever saw Big Joe Watts get into a boat. He climbed into my bass boat, grabbed one of my jig poles and reached for the cricket bucket. “Let’s fish,” he said, and, pointing with is jig pole, added, “head over there in that cove. They’ve always bedded over there.” I idled the 200 yards across the lake while the two Joes debated. “We fished over there already and the beds are empty,” Little Joe said. “Let’s go anyway,” Big Joe said, and I wasn’t going to argue.

It was my boat, but it was his lake. I kept my mouth shut. We hit all the bedding spots, and we could see the dimpled bottom where bream have historically spawned. We couldn’t get a bite. The discussion turned to other bedding areas, and each one Big Joe suggested we told him we’d “been there, done that.” A gentle breeze was pushing us slowly across this flat, 10 to 12 feet deep, and all of a sudden Big Joe’s cork shot underwater.

He quickly pulled in a great big bluegill. “That’s odd,” both Joes and I said, all at the same time, which made us laugh. In all the years we had fished that lake we had never caught a single bluegill within 50 yards of that spot. “Not one,” Little Joe said. But then we had two, then three, then four … And, eventually, we had a full ice chest. Took us less than an hour to go through three full cricket boxes. Must have been 300 crickets. Oddly enough, even though we were fishing in deep water, we had never reset our corks from fishing in shallow water. We were fishing no more than 3 feet deep I remember all that.

I remember laughing as we caught fish. I remember us cleaning fish for two hours. But more than anything else, I remember one dry line delivered by Big Joe Watts that I will never ever forget. I thought about it again at his funeral, and actually giggled a little bit to myself as a sailor sounded the mournful  Taps in the military ceremony. That day, 15 years ago, Little Joe Watts and I kept asking over and over, as we went through all the crickets and filled the chest, “wonder what is holding all these fish here.” Said Big Joe: “That’s easy. Crickets.”

About Bobby Cleveland 1341 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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