I hope you, my dear reader, will not be averse to devoting a few moments to the perusal of an account of a method of taking fish, which, in all likelihood, will be new to most of you, unlike grabbling, which most of you already knew about. Unlike grabbling, this is strictly a Southern sport, as grabbling is practiced in some northern states, to a limited extent.

In the golden and olden springtimes, the bayous and rivers, swollen by heavy rains, overflowed their banks, and when they receded left behind them in the low-lying areas that bordered their courses many ponds and shallow lakes. As the overflows receded, they left behind numerous fish. Moreover, when the Dog Days of summer came on, the heat thoroughly warmed the water of these lakes and ponds, thus reducing their volume. When that happened, it was now the season for “muddying.”

The appliances for this sport were few and simple, and any poor soul could partake. They consisted of several cotton hoes, gigs, a dip net or two, and splunges. A splunge was made by inserting a hoe handle into a hole bored in the center of a piece of wood plank, 8 or 10 inches long and 5 or 6 inches broad.

After reaching the promise land (or actually water), the ones doing the muddying entered with their hoes and splunges and waded along, kicking and splashing and stirring up the muddy bottom as they advanced. In a short time, the fish commenced to jump out of the water and made their appearance. Now was the time for the gigs to come into play.

Many used the three-pronged gig resembling the representations of the trident, as seen in pictures of Neptune in the mythologies; but those who prided themselves on their skills, used nothing except the small, single-pronged gig, attached to a cane, 8 or 10 feet long. It was by no means an easy matter to gig a bass, for they moved with great rapidity, and even when struck, often broke away.

As the water became muddier, the fish ceased jumping and appeared at the top of the water gasping for breath. The first to appear was the perch, followed by the bass and then the bream. These were captured easily with net or even with the hand. After the water assumed the appearance of a hog-wallow, the old yellow cats came to the surface and were captured effortlessly. The only fish not susceptible to muddying was the gar.

The fish thus taken by this method had rather a muddy taste. Nonetheless, in the olden days nothing was thrown away.

This was followed at a season when there was no other sport to be had, and the fish thus caught would, in the end, become the prey of the buzzard, for the shallow lakes almost without exception dried up during the fierce heat of August.

The old-timers learned this from the Indians, who used this technique to supply their larder. When asked, the Indians stated they had learned it from watching the bears, which used this method to have a fish dinner. Instead of using gigs, they used their claws and were very effective at it.

So now when someone says that someone is “muddying the water” you will know where the old saying comes from.


Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — is medical director at the University of Memphis Student Health Services. He has written four books: The History of the Millsaps Family, Red Letter Days, The Golden Age of Waterfowling, and The Golden Age of Hunting.