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Texas Tales

published: April 17th 2020
by: Mike Cox

Except during a feeding frenzy when they’re willing to eat just about anything, fish must be outsmarted to be caught. When they aren’t biting, an angler has to offer something that will tempt a fish—even when it’s not particularly hungry—to chomp down on a morsel that just looks too good to pass up. 
    Beyond that skill, a fisherman occasionally must think fast to keep himself out of trouble
    In her self-published 1961 book, “Tales Too Interesting to Forget,” Willie Stockton Whisen-hunt, then a teacher in Killeen, told a fishing story about the one who got away. In this case, the one who got away was the teller of the tale, not a big fish. Whisenhunt said she had heard the story from an acquaintance who once supported himself as an itinerant cotton picker.
     Every season, when cotton growers needed to get their crops in, the Central Texas man left his community in search of work in the fields. One year, traveling in a tarp-covered wagon, the man stopped for a mid-day break. His team was hot and tired and so was he. The place he’d picked was adjacent to a small body of water. Whisenhunt didn’t say whether it was a creek or a stock tank.
    Not only was the itinerant laborer worn out after a hard morning’s travel, he was hungry. Unfortunately, times being hard, he didn’t have anything to eat. Pondering that dilemma as his stomach growled, it dawned on him that the nearby water hole likely had fish in it.
    He enjoyed fishing and always had a hook and line in his camping gear. He cut a willow sapling for a pole and then set out looking for bait. First, he caught several grasshoppers and then succeeded in knocking a wasp nest out of a tree without getting bitten. From it, he would extract larva with which to offer the fish a second menu item.
    About that time, he noticed a sign on which only two words had been painted: “NO FISHING.” With all due respect to Texas property owner rights, the man was hungry. Seeing no houses in the vicinity, he opted to proceed with his efforts to catch his lunch. Who would miss a stringer of fish?
    Happily, he soon discovered the fish were as starved as he was. Pretty soon he had landed a mess of fish. Whether they were perch, catfish or bass Ms. Whisenhunt did not relate, but whatever the species, with the right amount of salt and cornmeal he knew they’d fry just fine.
    Just as he began heading back to his wagon to start a cook fire, he saw a woman loping down a hill in his direction. She did not look happy. Thinking fast, he came up with a plan.
     When the woman lit into him for trespassing, using decidedly unladylike language to make her point, the cotton picker just smiled and said nothing. Instead, he pointed to his mouth and ears and shook his head sadly. Indeed, it clearly pained him that he could not understand what she was saying.
     The landowner’s tirade continued for a while until it finally soaked in on her that the trespasser was both deaf and mute. Then she tried gesturing, but the man pretended at first not to understand.
    Finally appearing to realize the nature of his transgression, the man pointed to his catch and silently made it evident that he would be pleased to give her the fish. When she shook her head no, he tried to hand her his pole so she could catch her own fish. She also rejected that amiable act.
    Exasperated, the wo-man gave up and stormed off.
    Meanwhile, the man cleaned his fish, washed the meat in the water and cooked his lunch. With a full stomach and a clear conscience, he broke camp and resumed his journey.

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