Is fishing really about the fish?

Tommy Moss of Brandon and Jim McKay were tournament partners for several years. They’re shown here as the Magnolia State Crappie Champs in 2008.

A true friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg — even though he knows you’re slightly cracked. Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to lose and impossible to forget. It takes a long time to make an old friend.

All quotes that I got from someone else — not originated by me, but certainly appropriate for what I want to write about this month.

On Christmas morning, 2010, a good, old friend passed away. Jim McKay, 75, of Brandon was a long-time fishing buddy, and for the first time in 20 seasons, Jim and I paired up to fish the Magnolia Crappie Club’s 2010-11 tournament season.

If you’ve read past columns here, you’ll know the Jim McKay reference. For years, Jim and I made many, many fishing trips on days that didn’t have anything to do with tournament fishing. In fact, Jim and I only fished three tournaments together this season before his passing.

The last one was only a couple of weeks before Christmas. We fished at Eagle Lake, and had a grand time, although we didn’t catch many fish. On tournament day, Jim caught the only two crappie we weighed, and those two fish not only put us in the money on that particular bad-fishing day, but we moved up in the points standings three or four places.

Jim was feeling really good over at Eagle — better than he had in a couple of years. When I tried to quit around noon and head to the boat ramp, Jim wouldn’t let me.

“We ain’t quittin’ until we get five more in the boat, Mrr-ster,” Jim growled when I mentioned rolling them up and heading in.

So we fished on. We didn’t catch anymore, but we hung in there until the end.

Jim, just two weeks before his death, was still trying to figure ’em out, still fishing just as hard as he could, right up to the end.

At Jim’s funeral, I told a couple of fishing stories that I hope you’ll permit me to re-tell here. On one particularly cold January day over at Chotard, Jim balked on me when we drove up to the landing. It was bitter cold, and Jim did not want to leave the warmth of my pickup.

“Paul, I’ll launch you from here. You go on out there and see if they’re biting. If they are, you can come back and pick me up. I’ll be waiting in the truck.”

“Not a chance, big guy. You better get your butt in the boat now if you want to go fishing because I am not coming back to get you — especially if I find ’em biting,” I bluffed.

Jim huffed and puffed and cussed and grumbled all the while he was putting on his warm clothes.

We launched my Bass Cat, and didn’t even crank the big motor. Jim positioned himself in the back of the boat on the back deck seat.

“I’ll just sit back here and take your fish off for you,” he said. “Just swing ’em back here when you catch one,” he chided, fully believing that I’d never catch one. “You do notice that we’re the only fools on the whole lake, don’t you? There is no way in heck that we’re going to catch a dadgum thing!” Jim declared as he crossed his arms and cussed some more about the cold air.

I set out five minnow poles in the front rod holders, and no sooner than I was all baited up and ready to go, the first fish — a real good one — hit one of my poles.

“Well, here’s the first one,” I yelled as I swung a 2-pounder directly at his head. And, then there was another one.

“Here’s No. 2,” I hollered. “Get ready.”

And then quickly back to back to back three more big crappie hit and all were in the air swinging in Jim’s direction. More cussing from the back.

Then, after Jim finally got all those flopping fish gathered up and off the hooks and in the livewell, he moved to the side-by-side front seats.

“Slide over, and hand me on or two of them poles, Mrr-ster.” Jim had a distinct way of pronouncing “mister.”

And we proceeded to wax ’em, baby. I mean we were busy, real busy, snatching poles and landing fish, pitching them in the back livewell from the front deck, re-baiting and doing it all over again and again. All were really good fish, too.

Around 11 a.m., Jim asked, “What’s the limit over here?”

“Fifty each,” I replied.

“Well, you better get back there and count ’em,” Jim instructed.

I did, and determined we had 89 crappie in my huge livewells.

“Troll us back to the ramp. We’ll have 100 before we get there.”

And, we did, with Jim counting down to 100 with each landed fish. When we hit 100, we immediately rolled up our poles and loaded the boat back on the trailer. We were back on the levee road headed back to Brandon, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

On another trip to Chotard a year or two later, Jim and I were fishing with minnow poles from the front rod racks on my boat. I had four poles, and Jim had one pole baited with three minnows, spaced about 15 inches apart.

We started catching fish — at least I did. Jim wasn’t catching anything. I started paying attention to his pole and to him. I’d noticed that he’d re-baited his three minnows more than once, but had not put a single fish in the boat. With me paying closer attention to Jim’s pole, I saw that first bite.

“There he his, Jim. Get him!”

No movement, not a flinch from Jim at all.

Then there was a second bite.

“There he is! Get him!”

Nothing, no movement, no reaction from Jim. I looked at his face to see if he was asleep. Nope, he was just staring straight ahead, arms folded, looking at the tip of his minnow pole.

“There’s bite No. 3, Jim.”

Again, no reaction from Jim, other than to slowly bend over, well after the fish had taken his third minnow, and pick up his pole and re-bait it again.

Now, with Jim counting — “There’s one bite. There’s the second one. Now that’s No. 3” — Jim slowly picked up his pole and re-baited again.

Upset with my buddy, I barked, “Why aren’t you catching any of those biting fish, Jim?”

His answer: “Don’t need to. Just knowing they’re down there is good enough for me.”

Good enough answer for me. My buddy was getting all the enjoyment he needed that particular day not catching ’em as big as they grow.

Goodbye old friend. I’ll miss you, and you will be impossible to forget.


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