By R.J. Smiley
Perched on the elevated bow seat of a Tracker Targa as the sun was melting into the western horizon, I was lost in reflections of the day.
Facing backward with my hoodie pulled up as the November air cooled, I re-lived my day fishing for the first time with WhoreDog.
Long ago WhoreDog became a chiropractic patient at, my brother, Doc Smiley’s clinic. For the past 25 years Doc and WhoreDog have been fishing buddies.
Jeff, the WhoreDog, is a retired never married long haul truck driver. With a detailed memory of every person (especially women) and every town he encountered in a lifetime of crisscrossing the USA, the WhoreDog is full stories. The WhoreDog is like a sailor, he had a girl in every port; his ocean was America’s highway system. But I quickly learned the term “WhoreDog” has a broader meaning than just a womanizer. A WhoreDog is a like a member of cult or fraternity. You have got to earn the right.
If Duck Dynasty held an audition for new a character, the search would stop with WhoreDog. WhoreDog graduated college with honors but never fit into the business mold. Today WhoreDog lives on 17 wooded acres hidden in the eastern Oklahoma hills with two Australian sheep dogs. WhoreDog is well read and recites scripture when the situation fits. Like most Oklahomans, WhoreDog’s political views are right of Right. He once studied to be a butcher. WhoreDog uses those butcher skills to efficiently process the deer and an occasional wild hog that venture on his property. With fresh meat and a large garden that provides fresh produce in the summer and canned vegetables (that he cans) in winter. WhoreDog spends most of his time fishin’. The beautiful cleaned fish he catches often become barter for many of life necessities.
WhoreDog knows the water. He knows the fish. He understands the weather patterns. With his genius for fishin ….and story tellin, WhoreDog could make a fortune as a fishing guide.
“Find the shad; you find the fish,” WhoreDog repeated several times as we searched in vain for illusive baitfish. For novice fishermen, shad are the small white, minnow like, baitfish that are prevalent in the Ozark reservoirs of eastern Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. Shad are to fishing what coffee is to the morning.
“Them women like my whiskers,” WhoreDog says with a big toothless grin as he strokes his beard with his left hand; in his right hand the ever present cigarette. – Smokin’ is part of WhoreDog.
We were fishin’ this splendid fall day for catfish, Blue Cat to be specific. The Blue Cat is a genetic relative to the Bullhead, but that is where the comparison stops. Blues, as they are affectionately know, prefer clean water and feed almost exclusively on live shad. Fish lovers crave the sweet taste and firm flesh of fried Blue Cat filets. The preferred eating size for Blues is 3 to 8 pounds, but it is not unusual to catch them in the 15 to 30 pound range some much larger.
“There they are! There’s the shad,” shouted Doc. “Look at all those white Pelicans.” My brother, blessed with exceptional eye site, had zeroed in on an area along a cliff in the distance. We raced toward the Pelicans like a quail hunter with his favorite bird dog on point. Our fishin’ fever was on the rise. “Find the shad you find the fish” echoed in my mind.
“Hoddamn,” WhoreDog exclaimed as he released a blue haze. “All them Pelicans are feeding on shad. That’s the biggest school of minners I ever seen.”
The graph flashed like a Christmas Tree when we drifted over a solid wall of shad. Larger flashes along the bottom indicated feeding fish. One throw of the cast net by my nephew, Travis, and our live well was overflowing with enough shad to fish all day.
I nodded my head in approval as I recalled how WhoreDog takes care of Doc, who has MS. Watching their 25 year odd couple relationship is something to behold. On their fishing trips he drives the truck. Launches the boat, Catches the bait and baits his hook.
WhoreDog grabbed his heavy duty catfish rod. “I got them all set-up with a Carolina Rig, 1oz round lead weight with a hole drilled through the middle. I hold that weight in place by an 1/8th ounce split shot, about 4’ above a #8 circle hook.”
“Why the split shot?” I asked.
“So ye can change the length of the leader easily. Them fish are finicky. Got to have that bait runnin’ at the right depth”
“Hook’em through the eye,” explained WhoreDog. “Their damn skull is bony and won’t ripe-out, that way they can swim free. With this gentle breeze we can drift slowly through them shad. Just let your weight barely touch the bottom.”
“Wop! Wop! I got something nibbling down thur,” whispered WhoreDog within a minute. Then a solid tug on his rod as he attempted to set the hook. “Sum’bitch! Them damn Blues are so full’a them shad they’r jus messin’ with them baits.”
Next, a tap on Doc’s rod. With a mighty jerk, Doc set the hook and started cranking. The fish made a quick run, then turned. In an instant, the slack in Doc’s line allowed the fish to shake off. With a look on his face that said, you got’a believe me. Doc shouted, “that was a good fish buddy. I mean a really nice one!”
My face breaks into a smile as I recall WhoreDog exhaling blue smoke out his nostrils as he joked, “Doc can’t fish! And he is real hard on equipment too.”
Travis who had not said much all morning, “there’s one that wasn’t nibbling. It’s a nice fish, not real big but a nice one.”
With the grace of a cat, WhoreDog grabbed the landing net and with one deft stroke, the first Blue of the day was in the boat. “Hoddamn Travis you done caught a Mississippi White.” Then he turned to me and explained, “they’re a mutation, you know somethin’ like an albino Blue Cat. Look at them pink eyes.”
After the first drift through the Pelicans feeding on the shad, they became oblivious to us. Unconsciously, I was re-living the feeding habits of pods of Pelicans. Four to seven Pelicans would form an imperfect circle about 15 feet in diameter. On some silent command, the Pelican posse would rush the shad who had schooled together in a protective mass of squirming flesh. In a blink the Pelicans would plunge their beaks into the blue water and come up with a full throat pouch. The Pelicans would then thrust their heads up again and again swallowing their prey. They were building strength for their journey to the Gulf, I assumed.
With a smirk, I recalled casually hooking three shad through the eye on the same #8 circle hook. Holding my bait up for all to see, I said, “this smorgasbord will get me a big one.”
I mentally pictured my covey of shad dropping slowly off a rocky shelf into a 30’ hole. A quick flash, she nailed it. No nibble. No need to set the hook. She just ate them. I recalled my right thumb loosening the drag, allowing that sound that all fisherman love, as the strong fish made her first run.
“Hoddamn, you got a good one ther’.” As WhoreDog was removing my beautiful 8 lb. Mississippi White from the net, he said as only he could say it: “Damn WhoreDog – YOU CAN FISH!” That is when It happened! WhoreDog accepted me as a fisherman, an equal.
Throughout this fantastic fall day we caught a few Blues. I earned a PHD in Pelican behavior and video photography. I completed hazing and was ushered into the WhoreDog Fraternity.
Arriving back in Minneapolis with 5 freezer bags of perfectly (WhoreDog) cleaned frozen Blue fillets, my wife turned up her nose. “I am not eating any of those bullheads!”
After a little sweet talk and a promise from her to give them a try -with an open mind. We enjoyed a wonderful southern meal of Blue Cat filets complete with cornbread and tartar sauce.
Thank You WhoreDog!