Illustration by: Sam Morton

Our minister was an avid fisherman. This was in a time when fishing in the deep South on Sunday was looked upon as a sin, so Brother Johnson had to do his fishing during the week. At least nobody ever saw him wet a hook on Sunday.

Anyway, Rev. Johnson was so concerned about us being influenced by distractions like dancing, bad language, smoking, and television that he decided to introduce kids from third grade through seventh to the joys of fishing thus directing our little minds and bodies to healthy, outdoor activities. So he made an announcement in church the last Sunday in April that he was forming the “School of Fish” which would meet every Saturday morning at 8:00 for four weeks. He announced the first get-together would be for the purpose of learning the basics with a special emphasis on overcoming the fear of making a cricket scream, getting worm guts on yourself, and an introduction to casting. Our church had a small pond over near the picnic area which would serve well for basic training.

The boys all laughed at the worm guts thing because we had no fear of anything related to live bait (except maybe Catawba worms) so we smugly understood this would be beneficial for the girls. Turned out we were wrong about that as JT Pinson fainted when he tried to put an earthworm on his hook jamming the hook under his thumbnail. JT regrets it until this day as his nickname became Wormy at that moment. In fact, when JT got married Rev. Johnson, during rehearsal, asked, “Do you, Wormy, take Maggie to be your lawful wedded wife?” (Just to worry him about saying it the next day at the wedding.) He didn’t of course, but JT sweated it out. So did Maggie…and her mama. To be such a holy man Brother Johnson had a big dose of the devil.

So, back to the fishing school which the Reverend referred to as his cast of characters (get it?). Fishing is good for the soul which is another reason there are so many fish ponds down south.
In all, nine boys and five girls signed up for the program. The first Saturday’s basic training with cane poles and live bait was at the church pond (which had been secretly stocked with a few medium-size bream).

We were all provided loaner equipment from Mack’s Bait Shop. Mr. Mack was a deacon in the church and some say he even arranged for a few Sunday fishing trips for Brother Johnson.

We started our casting lessons with rubber plugs on the church’s playground with washtubs as targets set at various distances from the casting line we all stood behind. “Ladies and gentlemen, start your casting.” That last part was the NASCAR influence on all of us in the middle of stock car racing country.

The boys and girls were separated so as not to put too much pressure on either gender. That worked pretty well and allowed all of us to make idiots out of ourselves without permanent ego damage. After all we were children who might consider marrying each other someday.

The program went surprisingly well for all of us. By the end of our final two lessons we had all enjoyed ourselves and found an activity that was fun, useful, and would stay with us for the rest of our lives.

One high school a county or two over from us had a fishing team. I wouldn’t have minded having a letter sweater with a fighting fish on it. I wonder how that would look next to a lacrosse letter? (What is lacrosse, anyway?) More schools should have fishing teams. Can I get an Amen?

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