Fish ‘Giggin,’ on Wickwire Creek

 

Fish gigging was a special and strangely exciting event in the 1950’s. It was partly exciting because of the fact that it was illegal, and our parents let us do it anyhow. Ol’ Joe Powell was the notorious Taylor County Game Warden, and one never knew when he would be sneaking up on you in the woods, as we stealthily gigged our fish at night. He did carry a firearm and had the authority to arrest anyone engaging in fish gigging.

The apparatus needed for gigging was a four pronged frog gig which was a device with a long wooden handle and four sharp points {like a devils  fork) with a barb on each prong, to lodge in the fish and hold it. We had coal miners carbide lanterns, a brass gadget used by coal miners that literally blew fire out of the front and was reflected by a silver disc. The length of the flame, and therefore the intensity of the light could be adjusted. This light, we wore on the forehead with a strap to keep it just above the eyes. Third and last, we carried a burlap feed bag for carrying the fish we would gig.

    We would move quietly up the shallow waters of Wickwire Creek, usually after 10:00 at night, hopefully so that Ol’ Joe Powell would be at home asleep. He was a wily coyote game warden though, and some nights especially in the spring when the suckers, catfish, and the bass were sleeping in the rippling waters by the hundreds, he would creep into the woods and wait.

The night sounds were amazing with crickets making their unique sounds by rubbing their legs, and frogs “ribbits echoing up the creek. An occasional hoot owl’ would fill the valley with “Hoo, Hoo, Hoooo” not to mention the rare but distinctive scream of the Screech Owl. The water made a beautiful sound cascading over the rocks and noisily chattering through the low rapids. Getting fish this way was really not fair since they had no defense for it.

Shining the light on their bodies did not cause them to flee, in fact, they froze in place, making them easy targets. It was not unusual to come home at midnight or 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning with dozens of fish.

Moving slowly upstream while listening for the slightest rustle in the woods (Joe Powell  moved quietly) we would shine the carbide light on a fish, stab it with the gig, and holding one side of the top of the burlap bag over the elbow and the other side with the left hand, release the fish into the bag by squeezing the arm against the body. Within a minute another big catfish or bass would be lying still and meet the same fate.

Many times during the course of an evening someone would whisper, “Dowse the lights, Game Warden,” and six or eight Wickwire boys would put out the ‘carbides in unison,’ and stand really still, waiting for those most feared words, “Stop in the name of the law.” If the words never came we would assume it had been a raccoon or an Opossum scampering around. We would then re-light the carbide lanterns, shake off the ‘chicken skin,’ a feeling of fear that even the bravest kids experienced, and heart beats would go back to normal. We would continue breaking the law for food gathering, since it was sanctioned by all of Wickwire Creek parents.

Now, on rare occasions one of the older Flohr boys or one of the Garners would know that we had planned a gigging trip and they would see the lights from the dirt road, park their car and sneak up on the other unsuspecting country boys. They loved to disguise their voice to sound like that of Ol’ Joe Powell and yell out, “stop in the name of the law.” During the rare but terrifying times that this happen there was an immediate throwing of gigs, burlap bags of fish and even carbide lanterns as boys scattered in the dark in all directions, except toward the direction of where the forbidden voice had come.

It was a time of scratched and bruised faces, elbows and egos. It was even possible to run smack into a tree during this mad race to avoid Joe Powel, particularly on nights when the moon was not full.

One night during an escape from the supposed law, Whacker Weaver, (name given at birth) ran into a barbed wire fence, flipping his body over it, and losing his glasses. The next day, his glasses hung from a strand of the fence by the ear hooks, gently rocking in the breeze, The burlap fish bags and carbide lanterns were strewn about the creek, some of the fish still flopping inside.

On evenings when neither, Joe Powell, or a pretend Joe Powell chased us off, we took the fish, the next day, to all the neighbors who shared in the bounty and we ate fish for days. We were alive, alert, driven by a purpose, and feeling the excitement of life.  NHT