Ode to Billy “Turtle” Moatts

Published 5:37 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

You learn a lot about a person when you go fishing with them. My friend was not the best fisherman in the world, but he was one of the best people that I have had the pleasure to know—a great person who just happened to be a good fisherman.

First of all, he was one of the most loyal or dedicated fishermen anywhere—so many days he would fish Lay Lake and Mitchell Lake in one day, before he went to work or after he got off work.

He always fished alone and always wore his “desert helmet” for protection from the sun because he fished all day! I had a chat with him almost every day; he was always looking at his old “fish finder,” studying that thing like a road map. Folks, I’m not talking high-tech here, like you might see the serious bass fishermen use. His was one of the first, a flashing Humminbird! He used his fish finder more than anyone I know, and that was one of the reasons I always wanted to go fishing with him, besides him being a great conversationist.

Crappie fishermen usually fish over some obvious cover (fallen trees, etc.), but not my friend. “Turtle” oftentimes fished out in mid-stream in deep water—all day long! In the beginning I checked him pretty close, thought he was broken down or something. I would always get an answer like, “They were here earlier; I saw them.”

We talked almost every day about football or fishing, not necessarily in that order. I wanted to go fishing with him so much that I hinted for an invitation for him to take me. Then the big day came. Having watched him all these years, I knew some of his likes and dislikes, but he reminded me, “I don’t waste a lot of time coming in for a break.” He kind of faded off as I said, “OK, fine.” (Kind of kicked myself about mid-day) I was finally going to see him find those fish!

Turtle was a very intelligent person. We talked sports, world news and finally we got to the ol’ fish finder. I think I had tried all kinds, even had one of the Humminbirds mounted on the patrol boat. Even bought one that showed you little fish swimming down there, you know the type. I never “found” any fish. “What makes your fish finder so much better than the others?” I asked. He smiled and said, “You’ve got to know how to use it. I believe in it, trust it.” Suddenly, I was reminded what the pilot once told me about the autopilot. Of course, as I have gotten older, that rule governs my life more and more.

Turtle was a true sportsman, would always have fish, usually bigger than normal, but never an abundance, never greedy, never one to fret if they weren’t biting so good. That reminds me. I hate to go fishing with someone who is expecting the fish for supper! My dad was a man of few words, and he would say about Turtle: “He’s a good man.” Miss you, my friend.