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Let’s talk fish

Since I have very quickly become one of the seniors, in years, of the lake, it amazes me how the “common” names of fish, especially the species of our local lakes, have changed.

Now, we have been introduced to the saltwater stripe and a very popular hybrid. With all the new ones, we have lost some. My all-time favorite as a young boy was the very colorful darter that was native to my branch. Hundreds would be in a school, darting about, changing colors—a beautiful pink and purple in the clean water on a sand bar. They’re all gone now.My curiosity would keep me occupied for hours. I wanted to know why fish didn’t bite on certain days, and I got all those stupid answers like, “sore mouth.”

In all my years of being a taxidermist, I began to get a slight edge, you might say. I learned about the fish inside and out, and I had a very close working relationship with the biologist on the lake. But let’s talk about fish!

My first introduction to the Coosa was on Lay Lake, the Okomo area or central part. I heard the grown-ups refer to the dam as “Lock 12”—that’s how long it has been! All bass were called trout. Sunfish were all called perch or bream, and crappie were called “government perch,” probably because they had been stocked there. That reasoning gave me headaches after I began to patrol the waterways: “You can’t tell me what to do on these government waters.” People on one side of the lake still often pronounce crappie as “crap-ee” instead of “crop-ee.”

Up until recent years, people would say, “I caught big-mouth bass and some small-mouth bass.” Of course, we have no smallmouth bass. What they were catching was the popular spotted bass, originally known as Kentucky bass. Smallmouth are native to the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

My dad and I used to catch big drum below Lay Dam using willow grubs, something that no one ever does (thank goodness). A more colorful species, buffalo, was caught on trotlines. I saw lots of them when the net fishermen were here. I don’t even see as many carp and gar anymore.

So, what do we have in our local lakes? Largemouth bass and spotted bass (probably the most popular bass caught now). Crappie, both black and white (very little difference). Stripe, the saltwater kind. By the way, the first saltwater stripe was placed in Hatchett Creek in 1969 and every year after for a while. My last figures were a total of 153,116 stripe and 244,466 hybrid. The common “stripe” that we used to have so much fun catching is not a “stripe” but a white bass! Of catfish, we have blue, yellow, flathead, channel and willow-cat.

I know we have some “mavericks.” My dad caught a walleye that weighed almost 6 pounds, up on Hatchett. The biologist tried to capture the female, strip her of her eggs or roe and put them in other places. Not only was it unsuccessful, but you don’t hear of any more on Hatchett, either.

By the way, did you know that, like birds, the male fish are much more colorful than the females? Seems that nature thought they needed that to attract the females! Maybe I worried too much about that instead of catching fish!