Slaughter Pole Fishing
By Vernon Garrison
One time I went fishing at Grand Isle with my dad and Uncle Robert Wycliffe Garrison, Sr. Now, I don’t know why I was the only kid on this fishing trip—whether I volunteered or was volunteered—or maybe it was because I was dumb or because I was the only one who could stand this pair together at one time. You see, Daddy liked to holler and yell a lot when things weren’t going just his way, and that turned a lot of folks off. Plus this pair argued a lot when they was together. You see where this is going?
Anyway, we hied off to Grand Isle, and I was some impressed with all that water and all that beach. I didn’t get to admire it long before we got to the fishing pier.
We weren’t going to fish in the Gulf, but in the back bay. After taking one look at the boat and motor we were to rent, any dumb kid, even at my age, wouldn’t dare put it in the Gulf. Why, there are sharks out there!
That boat was wooden, wide, flat, and very leaky, and had three seats (maybe that’s why I was the only kid along). But it would look like a liner alongside that outboard motor. That motor was the shoddiest piece of work I ever saw. It must have been about 3 1/2 horsepower and had clearly worked past early retirement. But if you could find the crank-rope, wind it up and have the strength to jerk on it, that ole motor would fire up a cloud of smoke and run pretty good. No shift—just crank’er up and hope to be seated before she threw you out. Oh yeah, and you better be headed in the right direction and not at another piling or something.
Well sir, we putt-putted out to the ole fishing hole. I guess we were at the ole fishing hole because there was so much water, I couldn’t see how anybody could find an ole fishing hole. Anyway, after a while, Dad shut’er down and we prepared to catch the catch of the day, whatever it was. He switched seats with me then, I guess, because the fish bit better in the back of the boat than in the front of the boat, and he wanted me to have the best chance at catching them. As I said, we got ready to fish.
Have you ever seen a “slaughter pole”? Do you have any idea what a “slaughter pole” is? No, then let me tell you about “slaughter poles.” This was before fancy rod and reels fell into such a fad and you had to have a cane pole to fish with—only this cane pole was a little different. You take a cane pole about twenty-four feet long that’s about three or four inches around at the base, and cut off about three feet of the top end. Yes, I said cut off the top. What you have is a long, overweight pole with about as much spring as a light pole to which you tie three or four feet of stout fishing cord. Tie on a big ole hook, pop on a cork, and there you have it. A “slaughter pole....”
When you get a bite, you jerk, naturally, and if you’re lucky, you either miss setting the hook or the fish is small enough for you to hoist him in the air the length of that ole pole and swing him over and into the boat. Now that’s a pretty big order for a kid, especially when the pole and fish outweigh the kid. You see the job the kid is facing!!!
Now for the fish story! We was catching all kinds of funny looking fish, the likes of which this kid had never seen before. Or I should hope they were. Apparently, those fish didn’t know about Daddy’s theory about better fishing in the back. Anyway, they was catching red ones and blue ones and black/white striped ones and speckled ones. It was a sight to see! Their cork would go under and they’d jerk on that slaughter pole and lift a big ole fighting fish up into the air and slide'em into the boat.
Well sir, I’m sitting there watching my ole cork riding up and down on them little ole waves when it didn’t ride up the next wave. Right there, I figured something was wrong, so I picked up on my line and the next thing I know, I’m fighting something for my very life. I realized I had a fish on so I did what they did. I hoisted it out of the water with the intention of lowering it in the boat. Well sir, that darn heavy pole and that darn fish was just too much for me, and rather than fall in the ocean with all them sharks and whales and things, I elected to fall off my seat into the leaky water in the bottom of that darn boat. When I did, I naturally lost control of that ole pole, and into the boat that whole mess fell.
Now, that fish just happened to be a salt-water catfish, and if you’ve ever had any dealings with a salt-water catfish, you know not to let that thing stick a fin in you. That’s pure agony. Guess what! On its way down, that fish must’ve had enough of that kind of treatment because it landed on the back of Daddy’s sun-blistered neck and stuck in a fin and just hung there.
Right there, Daddy started doing his thing—you know—hollering and yelling. He couldn’t jump up and down as he was prone to in such situations because he might’ve fell out of that leaky ole boat, and he couldn’t get to me because Uncle Robert was in the way.
Uncle Robert calmly leaned forward and unhooked my slaughter pole from that mad fish, calmly cut the offending fin from my mad fish’s side, and threw him back in the water. Then, as calmly as he could, with Daddy still squirming, he proceeded to cut the offending fin from Daddy’s blistered neck.
Uncle Robert played peacemaker then. “Now, Charley, the boy didn’t do it on purpose. He didn't mean to. It wasn’t his fault. It was a catfish biting,” said Uncle Robert (or some such rubbish).
We didn’t stay long after that. I guess we must’ve caught our limit, or something.
Vernon Garrison lives in Denham Springs, Louisiana, and is a descendant of James N. Erwin, Jr., who was the fifth child and fourth son of James and Agness Irvine, our immigrant ancestors. -Ed.