In my column last week I wrote about the Delta lakes and bayous that were fished before the construction of the flood control reservoirs. I failed to mention in that column the importance of Hampton Lake near the town of Webb, Miss. That fairly large body of water was one of our most important lakes back then.
I was introduced to it by my Dad and his friend, Mr. Eugene Marders, who lived in the little town of Oakland in the hill country but owned some fine farm land that bordered Hampton Lake.
Back in those “hungry” days of the 1920s and 1930s, fishing was an important producer of food. Dad and Mr. Marders made it considerably easier to procure a fine lot of fish by giving one of the tenant farmers who lived on the lake bank a nice commercial-type seine. Although seining was strictly illegal even back then, nobody seemed to care.
When the folks in Oakland felt the need of fish, they would alert the tenant on the lakeside to do a seining job late some evening and night. The next day they would drive over to Hampton and the seiner would always have a couple of wash tubs of fish, most of them crappie, but also lots of big bream and a few catfish. I must say that Dad and Mr. Marders were very generous and none of the fish ever went to waste.
A little later on when I became overwhelmed with the lure of fishing, Hampton was one of our prized lakes. In high school, my cronies (usually Claude “Brer” Fox, Bill Harris and Raymond Soseby) and I often camped for a few days and nights on its shoreline and almost lived off the land — in this case off the water. There was, however, a sizable piece of woods nearby and we sometimes added to our meager menu by bagging a couple of squirrels.
The younger generation today can hardly comprehend the primitive way we fished, hunted and camped back then. Rather oddly, we always had a vehicle of some kind — a Model T Ford and once a much-loved Star Six that would run faster than we had any business running it. This was about our only luxury. Our camping at best consisted of a tarpaulin stretched over four poles and our cooking was done over an open fire with wood gathered on the spot.
Stews were our usual main dish. We put anything that we bagged in the pot — squirrels and even an occasional soft shell turtle that one of us might have caught on a baited hook or trotline. Bill's mother had learned to can beef from the local Home Demonstration Agency, and sometimes a three-pound can of beef was the backbone of our stew. Potatoes and onions were always available. Actually our stews were really quite edible.
Coffee was made in a friction-top molasses bucket by tying up a handful of coffee in a rag and throwing it in the pot of boiling water.
At that time, I had become hooked on fly fishing as the result of a gift of a fly rod and reel from my Uncle Mabry Door. I fished for bass and bream with small black gnat flies and larger bucktails that were improved by the addition of a small spinner.
I remember once having exceptionally good luck with big bull bream. When a small boy who lived on the shoreline asked me what I had caught them on, I replied that I was using flies. A few hours later I saw him walking the bank and cane-pole fishing around the abundant cypress knees. I walked down and asked what he was using for bait and he showed me a snuff bottle that held a couple dozen house flies he had swatted and was using. After all, I had told him that I had caught those fine bream on flies.
All of that was, of course, a long time ago, but I am happy that my memories of those long-gone days are still quite clear.