This last Tuesday while at the Westover Hills Farmers Market, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Robert J Barnhill of Barnhill Orchards made my week. After some years of me begging to go fishing with him, the self-described best cat fisherman in the world offered me a trip. Bob has been one of my farming heroes since I became a farmer. While we have different methods of growing and vastly difference political beliefs I have learned so much from him and have great respect for what he has accomplished. Bob and I both are farming as our second career, me after a fairly successful bit in the online travel industry and Bob after serving our country in the Air force. Bob won’t talk much about it, but he earned a Distinguished Fly Cross in Vietnam and his job used to be flying circles around the North Pole with a hot load of nukes waiting for orders to fly nap-of-the-earth into the Soviet Union, deliver his payload and bail out after they ran out of fuel. While our first careers were vastly different, both of us had to use our brains more than our backs. We both started our second careers in our late 40’s and figured farming would provide us a more care free and simple life.
The fishing trip started out with picking up bait at Hopper-Stephens Hatcheries in Lonoke.
Now the catfish’s favorite food is bream, so we loaded up a few hundred bluegills for our bait.
Bob’s sons Rex (on my right) and John (on my left) are his usual crew for these trips. Rex and John both have/currently served in the armed forces. Rex serving in the Army reserves and John recently retired from the Navy. In this photo there are over 80 years of commissioned service (the Barnhills) and 6 years of non-commissioned service in the Army National Guard (me) represented. I was appointed Fisherman Apprentice 2nd class.
John’s wife Elin was a gracious hostess for our evening.
The next morning we launched the boat and starting heading towards the lines. The first line did not bring in any fish and I feared that I had screwed up on baiting the hooks and would have to swim back!
Fortunately the other lines started to produce some nice fish.
After a few hours of cleaning these brutes, it occurred to me that helping them clean the fish may have been one of the motivations for my invitation. Another hour later and I had a fat sack of catfish filets, scraped and cut hands, stunk of fish and a big smile on my face.
I can’t even come close to sharing how cool this trip was on so many levels. Sharing a family tradition passed down from father to sons, catching a shit ton of fish, sharing an experience on a river that countless before me have shared. I continue to be humbled and awestruck at the small farm community and Bob and his sons are ambassador’s extraordinaire.