Friday, September 21, 2012

Fishing with Bob

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 Banana Boxes are just the right size to hold the bait bags.

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.

Rex runs the day-to-day farming operations at Barnhill Orchards and I enjoyed talking about farming with him.  It’s no wonder that when we drove past this cotton field on the way to the river we paused to talk about it.  

We put in at an undisclosed location on the Mississippi and proceeded to motor up river.  Bob has piloted many craft but I can’t help but think this may be his favorite.

If I look like I am having a good time, well it’s because I was.  A Cuban Montecristo #3, fishing on the Mississippi and a beautiful day will bring on this grin every time.

John and Rex started setting the trotlines while Bob piloted the boat expertly positioning them just at the right spot and keeping the boat at the perfect angle.  It was immediately evident that these boys and their dad have been doing this for many years.

They let me have a go at baiting the line.  Now there is a very precise way to place a live bluegill on a hook so it will stay alive.  Catfish prefer live bait and it is critical for success to keep them alive on the hook.   After several attempts and a compliment from Bob, “Kelly you’re the worst baiter I have ever had”, I think I got it right.  Others might not have taken that as a compliment, but for me, it meant that I was at least on the list and that was good enough.

After setting the lines we retired to John and his wife Elins’s house and sampled some of Chateaux Barnhills Strawberry Wine with our dinner.  I have seen what Bob has brought back on his previous fishing trips and was excited about what the morning would bring.
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.

We pulled in well over 300 pounds of catfish and as you can see, the boat was weighted down.  The live well under the bench was full and so was the 350 gallon tub placed in the boat.

We transferred the fish into two 350 gallon tubs in the back of Bob’s truck and attached an oxygen bubbler to keep the fish alive for the ride home.

When we returned Rex and I started skinning and gutting the catfish and Bob worked on fileting them.
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.

The World’s Greatest Cat Fisherman and my hero then said; “Well Kelly, you are now promoted to Fisherman Apprentice First Class”

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