The photo below is of Camden Fanning doing a little creek fishing. He is Bill Dance’s cousin and caught this great smallmouth bass on Mulberry Creek in Lynchburg Tennessee. He is standing on the very rock that I stood more than 40 years ago to catch Black Perch and there was usually a nice smallie right there over Camden’s left shoulder. See the ripple? It was the last ripple before hitting a nice hole where smallmouth bass loved to ambush minnows and crawdads and my Rebel Craw when I was there.
I remember when I moved to Lynchburg Tennessee. I was 13 years old, and you could still bump into 50-year-old men creek fishing on a Saturday afternoon. Today, there’s not too many people on the creeks. If you do happen to bump into someone creek fishing you stop and chat and admire the fact that there is another like soul that hasn’t forgotten how to have fun. Those Saturday afternoons fishing Mulberry Creek in Lynchburg Tennessee are still fresh and fond memories that I like to conjure up from time to time.
Fishing back then was a lot simpler. In place of Gore-Tex waders and fancy felt soled wading boots was some old Liberty overalls and a pair of worn-out sneakers. There was usually an old, well not so old back then, Zebco Cardinal spinning reel seated on a 6-foot ultralight rod. Tied to a rope was a floating metal minnow bucket, the rope secured to the hammer loop on the overalls. You always waded upstream to keep the mud from alerting the fish ahead of you. This also kept the minnow bucket behind you and out of the way.
There was no doubt in any serious creek angler’s mind as to what was in those floating metal minnow buckets. Aside from maybe a nice black perch or two there would be crawdads and hellgrammites. It was about as fun getting bait as it was fishing. A small seine was used and placed on a shallow shoal. The lead weights strung along the bottom kept the seine tight to the gravel while the current created a bow in the netting. Kicking up the gravels above the seine would dislodge and send the crawdads into the net to be picked out and placed in the minnow bucket.
There was always different larvae and minnows that washed down with the crawdads. There was one that we watched for. Some might call it the grey demon worm but not the creek angler. The hellgrammite was a rare and pretty site in the seine. It’s one ugly dude, but with a great personality. Its ability to attract the biggest smallmouth from the next pool down made it the favorite bait for creek fishing. Oftentimes after a creek fishing trip the first thing a friend would ask wasn’t if I caught any fish but whether I was able to find any hellgrammites. I guess it was a given that I caught fish if I found some.
Live bait wasn’t always used when wading the creek. Panther martins, rooster tails and of course the green back Rebel Wee Crawfish. The Rebel was my favorite lure on the creek. Worked up a gravel shoal was often automatic for a nice smallmouth. They would come from out of nowhere to get that Rebel craw. You could be looking at the 8-inch-deep spot in the shoal and not see the smallie until it decides to come after your lure. I’ve been startled out of a slumber many times and wonder how it was sitting there without me seeing it. Thankfully the smallie was so fast it was hooked up before I could jerk it away from reacting to the bronzeback ghost, that was my name for them, materializing from the gravel. These were more times than not the bigger bass for the day maybe 14 inches or so.
Thankfully there are a few people that are continuing the creek fishing traditions. Butch was a good friend of mine growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee. We would hit the creek after school to chase crawdads and Rock Bass, or as we still call them, black perch. I grew up in sight of the creek made famous by Bill Dance when he fished Mulberry creek as a boy. Butch is Bill’s cousin and creek fishing is in his blood. Now 40 years later, Butch is teaching his son Camden to seine for bait, set out minnow traps and catch smallmouth bass and black perch in the same shoals, deep pools, and cut banks we did as kids.
Locating holes leading under big rocks was my favorite way to catch black perch. Hook the crawdad in the tail and lower it outside the hole. Without a weight on the line the crawdad made its way into that hole and with a slack line watch closely for a twitch. It was amazing the size of black perch that comes out of a hole it barely fit in. Oftentimes, you had to maneuver your rod tip next to the hole just to get the fish out.
Black perch will clean out a hole underneath these rocks and it was possible to catch half a dozen from a rock in 6 inches of water that’s no bigger than 2 feet across. I would have never even looked at these rocks if not for my football coach Doug Price that let me in on many of his secrets to creek fishing, unselfish teachings that we might all take note of. Thanks coach. While I don’t do much creek fishing today, I assure you the memories are bright. They also mean alot to an old angler trying to keep the traditions alive.