I was about 16 and my Uncle Cecil and Aunt Frankie were building a new home down near the Texas State line (the real one, not some restaurant by that name). If you had a really good arm you could stand in their front yard and throw a rock into the river, if you could get it over the trees. What a cool place to live!
It was July and I was down there for a week to help with construction of the house. My cousin's cousin (but not my cousin), Ronnie Joe, was there too. After Ronnie Joe and I worked for what seemed like hours, but was probably just a few minutes, we would go jump into the Red River to cool off. So we put out some trot lines and started baiting and running them several times a day. Over the course of a week we pulled off over a hundred fish from those trot lines. Drum, alligator gar, other trash fish...but mostly catfish. Frankly it was a pretty brave thing for us to do. If you've ever had a face to face encounter with an alligator gar, you think twice about going into the river again without a wetsuit on.
I was imagining our picture in the local paper, then getting picked up by the AP and UPI... even going world-wide. We were sure to be famous!
It was early in the morning - the first run of the day, and Uncle Joe was back at the trailer cooking breakfast. Ronnie Joe and I were running the lines. And that's when we found it. On the farthest line from camp, the first line we ran, we pulled off a MONSTER fish. At first I was nervous, but this guy didn't seem too upset. In fact he seemed downright tame. So we commenced to put him on a stringer.
We wanted him "strung up" before we pulled the hook from his mouth because we were in his territory and he knew the lay of the land better than us. He might just be playing it cool to try and escape. We were using those fish stringers made of several metal hooks on a chain, at about 3" intervals - you know the kind I mean. We put THREE of those stringer hooks through his mouth, and then removed the fish hook. We were so excited about this monster fish, which was actually a blue cat, that we didn't even finish running the lines. We were headed back to camp to show Uncle Joe.
If you've ever swam in the Red River you know that the Texas side is the lower side, with sandy beaches. The Oklahoma side is the cliff side, with tree roots to hold onto while you climb out. At least that's how it is by Uncle Cecil's house. So we got out of the river on the Texas side and started walking back toward camp. I was carrying 'Ole Blue, and with me holding his head up by my side, his tail left a trail in the sand - about 8 or 10 inches wide. All the while I was imagining our picture in the local paper, then getting picked up by the AP and UPI... even going world-wide. We were sure to be famous!
We got downstream to our crossing point and waded across. I climbed up the bank first, while Ronnie Joe held 'Ole Blue. Then he handed me the end of the stringer and I started to lift 'Ole Blue out of the river. I pulled and tugged, but he was heavy. This wasn't a matter of lifting, but more of dragging the fish up the bank.
OK...here's the part you've been waiting for. That fish, 'Ole Blue straightened out all three of those stringer hooks, and slid right back down the bank, right through Ronnie Joe's legs, and back to his freedom in the Red River. I'm convinced that's how he had his escape planned all along.
Maybe we should have gone back and ran the rest of the lines, but we were too overcome with emotion to think straight. We ran all the way back to camp, babbling about this "monster" fish. Later that day Uncle Cecil went down to the river with us and saw the "evidence" - the trail in the sand left by 'Ole Blue's tail. At least we had that!
So next time you find yourself driving to Dallas, as you cross that bridge over the Red River that separates Texas from the Promised Land, give a shout out to 'Ole Blue. He's earned it!