The year was 1987, the heart of darkness. Women wore long skirts and shoulder-pads. Ronald Reagan was president. He told us he would cut taxes for the rich, tax revenues would boom, and wealth would trickle down to we people on the pavement. Meanwhile the poor just got poorer, and the budget deficit soared into -illions so high the names of the numbers were unfamiliar.
In whatever rung of purgatory Mr. Reagan is napping, he still wakes up laughing about how we fell for that one.
I was an assistant district attorney that summer and I had a friend named Kevin Wheeler. Kevin claimed he’d graduated from law school with me two years earlier, and although I didn’t remember him, I would have taken his word for it even if he hadn’t had a diploma to prove it.
I’m not, my family can assure you, very observant.
Kevin had a flat-bottomed aluminum fishing boat and I had this idea we could put it in at the bridge on 278 and fish our way down the Alcovy to the bridge at County Highway 213.
Someone from the Sheriff’s Department -- I seem to recall Kevin saying it was Dell Reed -- claimed that my plan was not only feasible, but that he himself had once done it.
If it was indeed Wardell, he’s probably still chuckling like Ronald Reagan with a tax cut.
So, one Friday after work, while my wife and two small children were visiting her parents in Dothan, I parked my ’67 Datsun at the 213 bridge and rode with Kevin and his boat back to the other one. Our plan was to just float and paddle, but if hauling in too many fish slowed us down, Kevin figured, we could always crank up the outboard and putter out by sunset.
We put in around 5:30 for what we estimated to be, at most, a three hour cruise.
(A three hour cruise.)
That would get us out an hour before sunset on what was near the longest day of the year, prime fishing time, but Kevin had a date and would need to clean up.
We probably should have taken the dead cottonmouth at our embarkation point as an omen, but we were no more attuned to Delphic mysticism than we were to common sense.
My only experience with river travel had been in inner tubes on icy, white-water streams in the mountains where I was raised, knowledge that would later that evening prove about as useful as my uncanny ability to conjure up and sing the theme song to almost any TV western ever made. Kevin, as far as I can recall, didn’t know much of anything, but I’m getting old and this was a long time ago.
I don’t remember how we got the boat in the water, but I do recall what it contained: a small tackle box containing fishing apparatus and nothing else, one oar, two life vests, a six pack of 16 oz. Budweisers, two large Hoya de Monterey Excalibur cigars, a Bic lighter that would later prove perversely inoperable when wet, and two over-educated idiots wearing shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes.
Around the first bend of the river, a large fallen tree left about a foot and a half clearance between its trunk and the water’s surface. It may or may not have been a tupelo gum, a tree I was later to learn is found this far north in Georgia only on the section of this river into which my companion and I had ignorantly ventured, “tupelo,” it turns out, being a Creek Indian word meaning “swamp tree.”
Here the river was deep and wide, a beautiful spot for angling. Although I knew there was a house on Elks Club Road probably less than a hundred yards away, in my mind’s eye I recall no signs that man had been there before. We decided to deal with the tree-trunk barrier later, moored up, lit up our stogies, popped us a tall boy, and started to fish.
To Be Continued