Johnny B. and the Flying Snake
This was a trip to the inner area of some Kentucky wilderness on a fishing trip to be remembered.
|These articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use.|
The dust was just a flyin' as we sent the Chevy van careening down the old gravel road somewhere on the outskirts of Richmond , Kentucky . It was a weekday in late May, and I was going to meet the parents of my soon to be wife, and the further we got out of town the more I was being concerned about just what kind of folks these parents were doing to be.
As she asked me to slow down to round the last corner before turning up the driveway to her parent's house I was startled to see that she had pointed me to a driveway that revealed my darkest concerns about the depths of the Kentucky countryside. First to get my attention was the house, an obviously handmade house sitting on concrete block stilts with the porch slightly askew and sloping down towards the steps that were a staggered set of concrete blocks. Then the required pair of unused cars that had the tires removed and were also sitting up on concrete blocks, as well as an array of riding mowers that at some point in time disappointed the owner and or operator, but had been made useful as parts donors for subsequent motorized yard vehicles. Next to the house, covered with an old army tarp, was an aluminum fishing boat that was obviously not a recent acquisition that appeared to be still sitting on a trailer with one flat tire.
Out behind the house was an honest-to-goodness chicken coop with tattered chicken wire that had been repaired numerous times from a number of predator critter attacks, two run-ins with an erratic lawnmower and as I was to learn later, from my wife-to-be's first attempt to drive in the yard. As it turned out, they told me they made her pluck and clean the collateral damage for supper that evening.
My concerns were soon dispelled as her mother and father both appeared on the porch and were quick to display a down home country hospitality that I have rarely seen to date. They were quiet, unassuming and humble in their greetings and throughout the introductions to all of her relatives that had gathered to peruse this young country maiden's current (latest?) beau. The men were all in bib overalls and wore well worn work boots and the ladies wore dresses that ranged from the old type farmwife style to more modern styles on the younger girls. I was dressed in tan pants, tennis shoes and a v-neck sports shirt. I imagine they were as perplexed with my attire as I was of there's.
As I got out of the car and looked around, I was struck by a brilliant display of bright green from the wooded area beyond the house, dotted by several bright yellow, freshly blooming Tulip Poplar trees, all accentuated by a pair of large, lavender blossomed Royal Empress trees. This entire visual display was sweetened by the scent of the Royal Empress tree and the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked cherry pie.
We had gotten there rather early in the morning, expecting to return home to Middletown , Ohio right after lunch, but her Dad said he had a surprise for me but did not want to tell me about it until after dinner. I glanced at my lady to see if she could shed some light on this mystery, but she could only shrug her shoulders. A glance at her dad only revealed a broken toothed smile accompanied by deep set, but very friendly blue eyes and a constant cigarette that he somehow managed to smoke the entire length and not lose any of the ashes. I have not seen that occur to this day, and I still don't know he managed to do that.
The dinner was very good, apparently my lady had called and told her mother some of my preferences, and it was a very pleasant meal concluding with that cherry pie and home made ice cream. As we made our way to the living room I looked over the mantle at the largest fish that I had ever seen. So large that I had assumed that it was a fake that some one had received for Christmas. Her dad noticed me looking at the fish and asked if I recognized it. I am not a fisherman of any kind and I had to fess up that I didn't have any idea what kind of a fish it was, but his face lit up and I felt sure that I was in for a treat. He reached down and picked up a fishing magazine that had his picture on the cover along with a headline naming him Kentucky 's ‘Mr. Muskie'. He proudly showed me the photos that were inside as well as the part of the article where he had declined to tell them where he had caught this huge fish that he was holding up in the magazine. It turns out to be one and the same as the one hanging over the fireplace.
“That” he said, “Is where we are going this afternoon!” He was taking me, a no-way fisherman, to his secret fishing hole for an afternoon of stealth water activities. Actually, the little lady and I had a more appealing activity planned that afternoon at home, but it was not going to be, and she seemed to be taking it well. Probably because she was thinking that her dad had warmed up to me and that might her life easier for a time.
At any rate, he invited me outside to see his boat, and as he reached down to uncover it, I noticed that the floor of the boat was filled with what appeared to be patches of some kind, but also noting that it had a flat tire , I pointed that out to him. “No problem, young man” he said as he continued to uncover, then hook up the trailer to his beat up'58 Chevy pickup. It was at this time that he mentioned that the entire male side of the family were brick layers and the excessive amount of dents in the pickup bed were from errant bricks and concrete blocks and one unfortunate encounter with a drunk fella a couple of weeks ago. He did not elaborate on that statement, and I didn't ask.
After getting the trailer hooked up, he reached into the back of the pick up, pulled out a hand operated tire pump and began pumping the trailer tire up with air, mumbling something about the fact that it will probably get us all the way there before we have to pump it up again, but it will be my turn to do it by then anyway.
We loaded up a cooler that I thought had bait in it, but it turned out to be our snack for the return trip home. Beer, fatback and pork rinds, all of it home made! I have a sensitive stomach, particularly when traveling and I was not sure weather I was looking forward to this or not. He threw in a couple of good sized poles, another box of what turned out to be very large lures, and then tossed a jacket on the floor of the cab that made a metallic thud when it hit the floor. No sooner was his door slammed shut, before we were moving, and I remember that my right leg was dragging on the ground before I could get all the way in and get my door closed.
We headed back into Richmond, traveled Interstate 75 for a few miles and got off at an exit that said we were headed toward Winchester when Johnny B ,as I was asked to call him, said we're going to Bath county and to Salt Lick in particular before we would head down along the south shore of Cave Run Lake and seek out the infamous ‘spot'. As we drove, he was making thinly veiled comments intended to uncover how much of his daughter I had uncovered, and if in fact we intended to get married soon. He must have been aware of the fact that a woman's physical yearnings roughly parallel her temper, and once we both understood that we were both cognizant of that fact, the conversation soon turned to the upcoming fishing adventure.
Arriving at Salt Lick , and as we headed toward his private fishing hole, he said to keep an eye out for the fire tower at Tater Knob because we would be turning down a dirt road near there and I could see that he was becoming anxious to get started fishing. Tater Knob indeed marked the location of a very tall fire tower, and just as we passed into Manatee County he turned down the dirt road with no reduction in speed, making the trailer swerve violently and I could hear the distinct squeal of a tire at the same time he said that was a good sign that the tire was going to make it to the fishing spot without having to be pumped up. Good for me, I thought!
Shortly, we pulled up to a locked gate that he had a key to, and as he pulled thru, I noticed that the tire was very close to needing attention, but he seemed not to care, obviously more interested in getting started showing me his casting skills. We drove only another half mile or so when he pulled up and stopped. The shrubbery, trees and field growth did not immediately reveal that we were near water of any sort, but getting out of the truck you could smell the musty odor of the lake and hear the gentle rushing of the water. He backed up the trailer, we unloaded the boat and we were off on a fishing adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life. He told me to watch for snakes, not to step on the fishing poles and that the snacks in the cooler were only for the ride home, or in the event we had an emergency. Like I was going to sneak any of that food!
As I paddled this small, tattered little boat out away from the shore, he started the small motor and we headed up stream, going quite slowly as he instructed me on how to steer the boat in a manner that gave him optimum access to the shore line and that he would show me how to cast and aim for the good spots for now, and that he would let me cast on the way back down the stream. We meandered up stream for more than an hour and a half, and as I surveyed the shore line, he espoused his fishing instructions accompanied by the occasional story of his early childhood. I would alternately glance at the bottom of the boat, trying to figure out what those small lumps were, and make note of his choice of landing sites for the large, bright lavender colored lure. More than once, my mind wandered to the trip home and the expected delight I was to share with my lady! She was one ‘stone fox', a perfect blend of temptress and temper.
Johnny B. asked me to guide the boat towards the shore, as he declared that we had indeed found ourselves in an ‘emergency' situation. As I nestled the bow into the shrubs at creeks edge, he turned his back to me, unbuttoned his bib overalls and began pissing over the bow of the boat. I was in dire need of relief myself and quickly followed suit, making sure not to dilute the gas supply being stored in a gas can, sans lid that was at my feet. It was my first bonding moment with my soon-to-be father in law!
Further declaring that the state of emergence still existed, he asked me to open the cooler and hand him a beer and some pork rinds. I tossed him a small sandwich bag of pork rinds, then handed him a beer. He took the bottle to the side of the boat, caught the bottle cap on the top edge and with one swift movement, dislodged the cap and quickly took his first swallow, declaring it the best brew of the spring. I was thirsty enough by this time to take a chance on the beer, which turned out to be quite refreshing. He explained to me how the fatback was made from pig skins and encouraged me to try it. Completely aware that I would never find my way home from wherever we were, if I pissed this old man off, and not wanting to spoil my first impression on him, I reached for a sandwich bag of fatback, trying my best to show some enthusiasm. Not only was I able to eat it, I actually developed a penchant for fatback that exists to this day. I don't remember being exposed to fatback in Howell , Michigan .
It was getting late in the afternoon, and he stated that if the fish were going to bite today, things should be getting interesting soon. He turned on the trolling motor he had rigged up, and with the gas motor not running, we silently began to coast with the current. The sun glancing off the water highlighted the shoreline and some the trees, while at the same time casting shadows among the trees as the creek twisted and turned on the journey back to the landing we had left earlier in the afternoon. I had been practicing my casting of the heavier lures and had become accustomed to what I was doing, and having encountered no bites whatsoever during the entire afternoon, the quiet and calmness of the return trip was lulling me into a state of near day dreaming, as I was reeling in my lure and was about to lift it out of the water. That's when all Hell broke loose.
Within seconds of one another, I heard ‘ker-thunk 'at the front of the boat, followed by a loud ‘thud' to my right accompanied by a wall of cold water, and a sudden, violent movement of about a foot, then a God-awful loud ‘boom' at the front of the boat.
As I turning to look at Johnny, I noticed a small pencil sized fountain of water spewing upward at Johnny B's feet, as he stood up he was holding his hand over his head displaying a 6 foot long black snake with assorted splotches and marking. With a cigarette still dangling from his mouth, he calmly stepped on the small water spout, lowered his hand holding the snake and excitedly asked me if I had seen the fish. Seen the fish? What fuckin' fish? I'm standing in the rear of a small boat, wet from head to tail, shaking from the cold water, 5 feet away from a god-damned giant snake, and slowly realizing that the wetness around my crotch and upper thighs is not cold!
As I looked at Johnny B. again, he was laughing his ass off! Puzzled by his delight at my expense, and trying to appear calm, I sat down and began gathering my fishing gear and putting it in order, as I was damned sure done fishing for today. He tossed the snake in the creek, dusted the ashes off his cigarette and began stuffing the filter into the small hole in the bottom of the boat that he had just put there from using his pistol to shoot the snake. He said that the cigarette filter would minimize the leak until he gets home at which time he would repair it with JB weld.
The mystery of the irregular surfaces on the boats bottom was solved, and the source of the thud sound when he put his jacket on the floor of the truck became clear as well.
As we began chatting again in a more calm tone, he explained that it was an adult rat snake that had fallen from the tree. It was not poisonous, and he had seen quite a few of them when fishing here because they go up into the tree looking for birds and bird eggs, and this was not the first one in his boat. When the snake had fallen, he had looked up just in time to see a huge muskie hit the boat as it had followed my bait out of the water. He was adamant that it was an extra large fish that had eluded him over the years in this area. He had seen it and tried to catch it so often, that he had named it “old goose” because it was so hard to catch. As delighted as he was to share this story about the huge fish, he was clearly disappointed that it was my bait that it had gone after, rather than his, and I presumed it was this event that he had intended to share with me when he first considered bringing me here. He went on to tell me that the head of the fish had hit the side of the boat near the end of the rearmost seat, and the tail had glanced the motor sitting at an angle on the transom. All good fishermen carry a tape measure and he was delighted to finally be able to get a good estimate as to how long his elusive adversary was. Even he was amazed to find that it was almost 6 feet long, as 68” was showing on his tape measure.
Declaring this another ‘emergency', we opened the cooler and helped ourselves to another beer and more of the fat back and pork rinds. It was a welcome diversion from the last few minutes of excitement and I began to notice the colors of the trees and surrounding fauna, as well as the permeating aroma of what I assumed to be Lilac trees over riding the smell of the water, fish and the dead snake.
It was a mere matter of moments before both of us and the boat were loaded. I remembered his earlier comment about it being my turn to pump up the trailer tire and so I did so, somewhat hampered by being soaking wet and slightly enebriated. I will be eternally grateful for our safe arrival back at Johnny B's home, and will always remember this adventure as well as seeing the delight on his face as he relived my response to this event to every person that he had a conversation with that evening.
Eager to get home and engage in one or more of the activities that I had day dreamed of earlier in the afternoon, we headed north towards Ohio . ‘Sweet Thing' was doing the driving, and we had known each other long enough to know what lay ahead at our arrival home. We bantered back and forth about who was going to do what to the other when we got home. Our youth provided us the ability to accomplish all of what we discussed during the entire trip. This young temptress was the bait, and I took it hook, line and sinker. Ah, youth!