Back then on Lake Mitchell

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Things were a lot different back then.

Folks didn’t think about the lake property in the way we do today. The lake houses consisted of “summer spots” on the lake for those that could afford two homes. Others were “camps,” with bare necessities, homemade boats and few motors. I’m talking about late 40’s after the war.

Rental boats were very common; a little later things got a little better. It was very common for fishermen to have motors like 21/2-71/2 horsepower, carry it in the trunk of the car and rent a boat. I can remember during crappie season, if you didn’t get down early, you would have to wait until someone finished and rent their boat.

There weren’t many game or boating laws, so very few law enforcement officers were needed—a few game wardens, illegal liquor agents. Actually, even sheriff’s deputies wore no uniform (no Water Safety Laws).

Most targets of law enforcement officers were the whiskey stills that were pretty common. All they needed was cover and water, so it was also common for the short-handed counties to ask state and federal officers for help in enforcement of the laws. Of course, the “feds” were interested in the tax un-collected.

Those that were in the whiskey business were an interesting group that lived within a code of their own, respected by many. Of course, there was a big demand for their product, and some feared retaliation for any assistance or information that they might pass on to the “law.”

Ma Bates told me: “Honey, there is so many in the business of selling that “Hooch” they have to wear badges to keep from selling it to each other!”

There are those who will argue both ways. Was fishing better then? Of course, there was less fishing pressure, but there had been little if any control as far as stocking went. It was a long time and slow before the state got into that business. (I can remember when the government stocked the lake with crappie, old folks called them “government perch” and called bass “trout.”

Generally, everybody spoke of the water as “the river,” and it was a place to fish! I worked with a gentleman that I respected very much, Mr. Dick Scott. My friend Dick wore lots of hats back in those days. He was recreation manager (included leasing lots), he was also the water safety officer for the power company. When people complained about fishing and problems, he told me, “Folks forget that this water was put here to make electricity.”

The power company owned 35 percent of the property on the shoreline up until approximately 15 years ago. They have always encouraged use of the lakes. Some told of having lifetime leases with very low rates long before they offered the property for sale.

My friend James Spiegner told me that he and Ed Wilson used to be “guides” for those rich folks. He told me that Ed was even more lazy than I first thought. They would paddle the boats (or “skull” them as we called it); James was in one boat and Ed in the other. Ed saw this big shaded area that looked cool and said, “If they don’t bite here, they ain’t gonna bite nowhere.” The he pulled his hat over his eyes and went to sleep.

When I first came here, everybody referred to the lake as “down on the river,” and worse than that, “That bunch down on the river.” I like to think I had a part in changing that. I was writing a weekly news article and said to just quit referring to “the river” at all. I felt that “Lake Mitchell” gave it more class. What do you think?