|T K Photography|
Some of you may have read these memories on the Dell, Arkansas site, but it's entertaining enough that I thought I'd add it to the blog for others to enjoy. . . .Big Lake is on my mind a lot these days--duck and geese in the air--hunters on the ground. . . . You'll find Daddy's (Curtis Duncan) one time duck hunt in this story. . . .
"I was working at the Farmers Gin Co. of Dell, Inc., weighing cotton (during the early 1950’s). I worked at the gin during the fall and winter months and then worked on the farm during spring and summer.
Mr. Magers hired Allen Leggett as Farm Manager. We had been planting the crops, and were about to finish, when Allen told us if we could get through with the planting today, we would go fishing the next day. We made it with time to spare. Allen took all the things necessary to cook fish, and of course, Coffee. We went to Watson's Ditch at Big Lake and fished the entire morning. We finally came up with enough fish for the meal. He, along with some of the other hands, made hush puppies, fried potatoes, and cooked the fish. Everyone was hungry and the fish, plus the other stuff, soon disappeared.
Allen really enjoyed the outdoors. When we were coming in from the fishing to cook them, he said, "Curtis I am tired (of) paddling this boat and I am going to hitch a ride the rest of the way in." I said, "You are?" (Allen said), " See that snake swimming down the ditch? "He is going to pull us down the ditch." I said, "You are kidding." He took a pole and with the hook caught the snake, and with a paddle, made it swim down the ditch, pulling the boat.
I had fished some with Daddy, but not a whole lot. So when the children got here and other expenses, I decided it would be cheaper on me to have a fishing hobby. Besides we could eat the fish. With the help of Allen Leggett, I built a fourteen-foot johnboat out of plywood. I needed something to get the boat through the water other than the paddle. Sears was having a sale on outboard motors, and I bought one on time. I think the payments were $8.00 or $10.00 per month. It seemed like the next payment was due before you turned around. I said, "GOOD LORD, Get me through this, and I will not buy any thing on monthly payments." I held to this the rest of my life. If you are getting 5 per cent on savings, and Sears is charging me 7 or 8 percent, then I am losing money by charging it. I could make 2 percent by paying for it. Anyway, I got the boat operating really well.
Arthur Penter was the ginner at the Cotton Gin, and I decided to put out some trotlines to catch some Catfish, Drum, and others. We put out about ten lines in the ditch we used to go up and down the lake. There was not a road on the levee at the time. Well, it was in February and the trotlines had not been run for a couple of days. We loaded the boat on the trailer and headed to Big Lake to run the trotlines. We got the boat in the water and the motor started and headed up the ditch (Floodway). When we came to the first curve, Arthur cut the turn too sharp, and the boat went up on its side. I landed in the middle of the ditch with rubber boots, two pair of pants, and a heavy coat on. I could feel the water creeping up my pants legs, and I was floating like a cork in the middle of the ditch. Arthur was sitting over in the boat, probably laug hing, Anyway, I asked him to bring the boat over so I could get in. He never did. I went over to the boat and got in. We headed back to the car and came home. My pants were frozen and would stand alone when I took them off. I never had a cold out of it. Also, this ended the trotline fishing bit.
I did enjoy fishing during the summer months and spring. My favorite was a bamboo fly rod that I used to catch bream (brim???????) and crappie on. I could handle the rod well and most of the time hit the spot I wanted to. One of my favorite fishing lures was a popping bug. I could drop it on a spot, and all of sudden, with a pop, the bug disappeared with a big bream pulling it under. The bream made a popping sound when it took the bug. The bream would bed up or get in one location during hot weather. When you found a bed, you might catch 15 or 20. Then they would stop biting. Move along to some other spot and fish for a while, and then come back to this bed and catch 5 or 10 more. It was fun. I usually did this by myself. During the summer, I would go up the floodway a short distance and pull my boat across the levee to a small hole. I have had good luck fishing this hole, since it was so small most fishermen would not fish it. I caught several good strings of fish. One day, I went up the lake and pulled the boat over the levee to the fishing hole, when I noticed that too much about it at the time. I pushed the boat off the bank and started to fish. Those darn snakes kept hitting the side of the boat and were going ninety to nothing. Well I decided that the snakes were mating and it would be best for me to get out of the hole. I did. But I still think about it and it had to be the mating.
Just a thought, if you have not heard a snake fall out of a willow tree, you have missed something. It makes the chills run up and down your back. The scales of the snake rubbing against the bark of the tree makes a noise that I cannot describe. You cannot look up because it might fall in your face. I have not had one in the boat but several fell close to the boat.
Allen Leggett was a PRO when it came to fishing. He really loved it and would love to have had a cottage on Reelfoot Lake. He never was able to do it. Several times, he would ask me to go fishing with him, and I would jump at every chance I got. We would put the boat in a Bar Pit. He made me sit in the front of the boat. We did not have electric trolling motors to pull the boat along. We used people power, with a paddle. He would paddle the boat along, keeping it where we could get at the fishing area. All I had to do was fish. I fished as hard as I could, but when we finished fishing, he would have twice as many as I had caught. I had the first shot at the fishing hole each time. Allen would laugh at me and say, "You have to have more sense than the fish to catch them!" Made me feel real good, but I loved it.
On Christmas Eve in the 1970’s, I asked Koehler Blankenship if I could go duck hunting with him with my cameras. He said, "OK. Be here at 4 AM, and we will see if we can find some ducks." When I got out of the car at Koehler Blankenship’s house, the first snow flakes started to fall. Koehler wan not going to let a little snowfall keep him from going duck hunting. We went to Simmon’s Field, where we crossed the big ditch and drove down the levee a short distance. Koehler had loaned me some wading boots that came up and covered the hips. So off through the darkness we went, falling through the thin ice into about 1¼ to 2 feet of water. Finally, we got to the blind and waited for a flight of ducks to come by. The wind started to blow harder, and I was shaking along with it. A small flight of ducks came by. They shot, but the ducks kept going. Koehler would blow on the duck caller, but no one answered. Some time later, another small flight came by, but no luck again. The weather was so bad, and the light so low, that I could not take any pictures. So I got in the corner of the blind and tried to stay warm, but no luck on that. Koehler had used all the large shotgun shells, but he had some 20-gauge shells. So he cut the paper off the large shell and placed it on the 20-gauge shell. It worked, but I really thought it would blow up. I was so cold. I could not stop shaking, uncontrollably cold. And I said, "Good Lord! Get me out of this, and I won’t bother you with it again." I never did, but Blandenship has told that story all over Mississippi County. He really gets a kick out of my last duck hunt.
The manager of Big Lake Refuge and I became close friends through photography. He wanted to take some good pictures of ducks and other wildlife for his personal use. He had his people build a blind and bait it with crushed grain. He let me use the blind, and I spent many a day sitting there watching the ducks swim in and eat. They would not come in to the blind but would light some distance and swim to the food. I was able to get some good shots of wood ducks and others that stayed during the summer.
Eleven thousand acres of mud, cypress trees, hardwood trees, willow trees, native grasses, yucca plants, water and islands make up Big Lake. There are sixty species of birds calling Big Lake home, plus many animals and especially the ducks. There are several deer killed each year. The Arkansas State Game and Fish Refuge controlled by the State Commission. They are closing the refuge to duck hunters using blinds to hunt. They will have to hide behind a tree or something while standing in the water. The duck hunters are upset by the ruling. In the past, the blinds were handed down to their kin or family and over time there has been many fights and lawsuits.
I have spent many days just riding in a boat, exploring the beautiful spots located on the lake. One place that is my favorite spot is at the cypress located in the middle of the lake, a row of cypress about one half mile long and about 200 feet wide. It looks like some one planted them. There are many areas that are suitable for nature photography. The cypress knees make some really good subjects. There are places that it looks like the oak trees are virgin timber and the under growth is so thick that you can’t see for some distances. I think it might look like it did when the Indians found it and controlled the area. I don’t know, but I really feel good when I find a place like that. I have used many runs that you can take a boat through. It is not unusual to see all kinds of animals there. The mosquitoes are not that bad most of the time, but one day the wind was blowing really bad, when I decided to explore an island with lots of trees. The mosquitoes had come to this place to get out of the wind. I sprayed myself with repellant. This didn’t work at all. They just covered me. The mosquitoes sound like a jet airplane. Needless to say, I got out of there and back into the wind, where the mosquitoes could not fly.
During the dry part of the year, there is a road that one can drive through an area that looks like it did years ago. Most of the time you see wildlife and the native grasses. The Refuge personnel are building trails, bird nesting boxes, and walking trails that carry people into areas that are as they were years ago. On these trails, a person can see many of the native animals. There are ducks, squirrels, coyotes, deer, skunks, birds, snakes, muskrats, and rabbits, along with the wildflowers and large trees.
Now, I like to drive the roads that are open for cars, pickups, etc. It is fun just to drive down the levee and see wild turkeys, birds, fox, and other animals. Since I am not able to use the boat anymore, the roads help me enjoy this wonderful gift to the local people."
From: Curtis C. Duncan Memories