The other morning a few days ago, I rounded the corner where Dock Street meets First, a little down from Traveling Tom’s place. A truck towing an old aluminum boat was waiting to launch at the inside marina. Two men were out loading gear and otherwise preparing the boat for a day of fishing.
The boat was old, an early version of the aluminum boats, about 14 feet long with an upturned bow of the kind you no longer see and the sides bowed in at the stern, a design long since abandoned. It had once been painted an olive drab green but most of that had flaked off through the years.
I stared somewhat in awe knowing that I knew that boat, that I’d seen it somewhere before. I talked to the men. “An Arkansas Traveler, that’s what she is,” said the owner. “More rivets in her than the years in all three of our lives, and that’s only in one seam. Look at her; built in ’54 and holding up pretty well, I’d say.”
I crossed the street and sat on the rail bathing in memories. I had an Arkansas Traveler in the ‘60’s. We had fished in it, we had hunted in it, and sometimes, we had slept in it. It was polished aluminum, a 12 footer, with a Sears/Ted Williams 91/2 horse at the stern meaning it was small and low enough powered that registration wasn’t needed.
Allen from Atlanta and I from Virginia duck hunted and fished that boat all over Tidewater Virginia and a few other places. I particularly remember one trip up a reservoir just east of Suffolk, not yet to Portsmouth, that we fished one full day or so after a hurricane had passed along the East Coast. This reservoir held drinking water for four or more towns to the east where fresh water was in demand.
They had put an earthen dam across a creek in a shallow valley some years back, and since the land was flat and the only uses for the reservoir were recreation and water storage, no one bothered with the expense of removing the trees, You fresh water fishermen can imagine the haven that created for crappie, bream, jackfish and largemouth bass.
You had to check in with the Ranger and get a day permit to fish. And you’d best have a large supply of shearpins, or wire you could cut to use as such as you would need them before the day was gone. On a good trip, you’d shear three or so pins. We went way up in there with 15-foot cane poles and spinning gear. On the way, we picked up a few bass but lost more lures than we wanted, so we went to the cane poles.
At the far end were an old road and a small dam that once housed an old gristmill. That’s as far as the Arkansas Traveler could go. We found fish about 10 feet down in the channel, those large black and purple striped bream that you can’t get one hand around to get the hook out so you had to put your foot on him to do so.
We didn’t know whether the limit was 50 per person or 50 per boat, so we put the first 50 in a foam cooler and hid it along side the road to come back to later with the car. We fished ourselves out of bait and out of shear pins, so we gradually made our way back to the Ranger’s place a half-hour after dark. We lost our fishing privileges for a month but got to keep the fish.
Then we had a challenge to find that road where the old mill once stood at the far end of the pond. We did, eventually, and we got home way too late for dinner, and we heard about it from the ladies, but that Arkansas Traveler had again served us well, and we had a great day even though we cleaned fish well past 2A.M. with the help of a few beers.
Memories and past experiences. What would we do without them? Maybe we can do some more in here with that Arkansas Traveler at another time. Meanwhile let’s go back out there looking for Trouble in Cedar Key.