Earl Douglass & friend Olive Yarborough, off Little Peanut Island in Lake Worth Lagoon, (1951) note Blue Heron Bridge in the background!
“A TRUE BASS MASTER”
When I think of Bass Masters, it takes me back to 1953. That’s when my Granddaddy Earl Douglass, would pick up his 4 year old grandson, at 4:00 A.M. for a day of fishing on the Big “O” (Lake Okeechobee, Florida). He would drive us the 40 miles west from West Palm Beach, out the 2 landed, washboard, State Road #80 through the rich Everglades muck land and sawgrass marshes, to the small farming town of Belle Glade. We would stop at a tiny greasy spool restaurant in downtown Belle Glade for a quick breakfast. His breakfast was always 2 eggs over easy, two strips of bacon, home fries with onions & coffee.
Granddaddy would then drive us the last mile or so, out Canal Road and up and over the Herbert Hoover Dike. We would slowly cross the single lane, Point Chosen Bridge, the 75 year old swinging span draw bridge, that still exists today, connecting Torey Island and Cramer Island to the mainland and Belle Glade. As we crossed the bridge, I remember seeing Slims Fish Camp, and the lit up, wooden covered boat docks, snuggled in a small cove, almost under the south western side of the bridge on the Torey Island. I can remember the old fashioned wiring that lit a single naked light bulb hanging over every other boat slip in the small marina at Slims. Slims small tackle store always smelled like the lake water, due to the live bait tanks full of grass shrimp, Missouri Minnows and live lake shad. Granddaddy knew Slim, because both had been in and around Belle Glade for over 30 years at that point. My Granddaddy lost a home in the 1928 Hurricane in Belle Glade, when over 2800 people perished.
Slim always had boat #4 ready for Granddaddy to hang his own 1950, 10 HP. Johnson motor on, and filled up his 6 gallon gas tank for the days fishing. The boat was a 14 foot open hand built, wooden lake skiff, painted grey. The motor was driven by hand, with the throttle on the steering handle of the motor. There were no running lights, no batteries, no electronics, no depth recorders, no temperature gauges, no tolling motors, no power poles, no live wells, no jack plates, no power trim, and no GPS, just a boat, a small motor, and six gallons of gas.
Just before daylight began to break, Granddaddy would exit Slims and head west down the rim canal, the short distance to Pelican cut, wide open throttle, at about 20 miles per hour. He would steer the small boat through the cut, following the narrow winding channel out into Pelican Bay. The channel could be seen in the early light because everything beyond the boat channel was covered with lily pads, pepper grass or hyacinths. Every quarter of a mile or so, there was a tall stake driven in the lake bottom marking the channel, as it wound north westward out to the open water of the lake. At first light, it was time to fish.
Granddaddy would choose his spot, stop the small skiff, tip up the 10 Horse, and we would begin to drift slowly across the pepper grass beds. His rod and reel of choice was a 5 foot, split bamboo casting rod, with a Plfeuger service, bait casting reel. The reel had no anti reverse, (free spool all the time), and no drag system. The drag was your thumb! His reel was spooled with 20lb. dark green nylon braid, and the only bass lures in his tackle box were several coffee colored Johnson weedless spoons, two Baby Dalton Specials, and three Arbogast jitter bugs, one black, one white with a red head, and one frog. He also had two jars of the Uncle Josh pork chunk frogs, that were his favorites.
He had a similar small rod and reel fixed up for me, with my own coffee Johnson Spoon, and his favorite green frog pork chunk on it. Granddaddy would lean over to me, put his finger to his lips and go Shhhh; to let me know it was time to be quite. As we drifted across the grass flats, he would rear back with that bamboo rod, and sling that spoon and pork junk frog almost out of sight in the dimly lit early morning light. I sat patiently watching. as the Spoon and frog lure wobbled slowly over the top of the lily pads and pepper grass beds. Suddenly, a great explosion would engulf his frog. He would set the hook firmly, and the battle was on. The big bass would pull line as Granddaddy skillfully thumb the rear of the spool, and the handle of the reel spun wildly backwards. The fish would jump several times, trying to dislodge the hook of the Coffee Johnson Spoon. Slowly, the Bass Master would subdue to big fish, and would begin to retrieve line. He would skillfully bring him along side, lift the Lunker out of the water proudly and say “that’s how it’s done Mick”.
I would sit patiently for the first few casts, watching the same game play out, several times within in the first few minutes on the lake. It seemed he knew exactly where to cast to catch the next one. He knew exactly the proper retrieve for his lure to entice those big bass. He knew the proper drag to apply to wear them out without breaking the nylon line. After boating each fish, he would show them to me and repeat, “that’s how it’s done Mick”. As a young boy, I dreamed of being able to fish like that some day.
After catching several bass, ranging from 4 to 10 lbs. or more, Grandaddy would put his rod down, and say OK, Mick it’s your turn. He picked up my rod, showed me how to hold it properly, with my thumb on the rear of the spool, and gave it a light cast. He handed the rod back to me and said OK, Mick reel it in like I do. All of a sudden, as my frog wobbled across the surface of the pepper grass, a huge explosion engulfed it. I can still hear my Granddaddy’s laugh, as I almost lost the rod overboard, and the big back lash that followed. He took my rod and skillfully cleaned the backlash, while continuing to keep pressure on the fish, He then handed the rod back to me to finish the fight. when the fish came along side, he lifted it from the water by it’s lower lip, look me in the eyes with a smile and said, That’s how it’s done Mick.
During those early morning bass fishing excursions with my Granddaddy Earl, I learned to cast my bait casting reel. I learned how to clean back lashes. I learned how to feel the rod, the fight, and to apply the correct drag to the fish. I learned where to cast. Why the fish were there and not in other places. I learned how to boat them, unhook them, and even release them if I was not going to eat them. Granddaddy never killed fish unless they were going in the frying pan.
The Johnson Weedless Spoon (Gold) – Granddaddy preferred the Coffee colored)
The Uncle Josh Pork Junk Frogs – His bass bait of choice.