Animals In Appalachia

Catching Spring Lizards

lizard in creek

1995 Adams Come Go Home 2 We had turned over rocks in the branch so we could watch the spring lizards jump straight up and then slither farther into the mud to be as still as death.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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Back in the day us kids spent a lot of time looking for spring lizards in the creek. Even today I can hardly pass the creek without turning over a few rocks to see if I see one.

I was good at catching them. You have to be quick and not afraid to stick your hands under rocks and mossy creek banks.

Years ago it was fairly common for kids from Wilson Holler to make a few extra bucks by catching spring lizards to sell. They make dandy fishing lures, although I believe its now illegal to catch spring lizards.

Spring lizards farther up the creek are bigger, faster, and wilder. Reminds me of how Pap used to say once you get out of the settlement of people things are different in this ole world.

A few years back Gina, a Blind Pig reader, commented that she didn’t see a spring house until she was about eight years old and was shocked when she spied a small lizard running around the edge of the water.

Gina’s comment easily explains how the term spring lizard came about.

Tipper

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    September 1, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    Tipper my nephew who was two years younger than me we caught spring lizards for our spending money . We would catch 3 or 4 dozen a day. Mr Fred Barton who had the moment company in Marble would buy our lizards to sell as fish bait to fishermen. We would always put in one or two extra for fear we may have miscounted. Miss Julie always instilled in us to give a good measure. One day I ask Mr Barton why he never counted them he replied I knew you Davis kids are honest. That was a good compliment for hard worker who could catch those lizards . I wonder sometime if the branch and creeks near by had any seed left to produce . Such wonderful memories my nephew is 75 and I am 77. We always each day split our money our jean always gangles with change and marbles. Miss Julie was beginning to think she was rearing only a Tom Boy not s lady. Dad would always come to my rescue when she tried to make me into a lady(oh Miss Julie she will outgrow her Tom Boy ways)

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 29, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Tipper,
    I hate to brag but I will anyhow…I was good as any ole farm boy at catchin’ spring lizards and salamanders. We always caught a few when Dad was going to go fishing on the weekend. It was a real prize to catch one of those moddled orange ones. This was in E. TN…so back in the day it wasn’t illegal.. I guess you now know that the Smoky Mountains has one of the largest diversity of salamander species in the world and are protected…
    What used to scare me, was turning over a creek rock and a crawdad would slither between you feet backwards of course trying to get out of the way…Oh my, I sure miss those wonderful time in the creek when I was a kid..
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Tmc
    August 28, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Crawdads, and spring lizards were a favorite to those raised on a creek for fishing and springtime was the best time to catch’em, I remember when they came out with the artificial kind in the fishing stores, they were a big hit, all kinds of colors and the bass hated’em, story goes they’d eat the fishes eggs and spring was spawning season for fish, and the eggs would be a plate of delicacy to a lizard or crawdad, the fish wanted nothing to do but killem to only find a nice hook in their lip.

  • Reply
    Aaron Patterson
    August 28, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Jim’s remembrance of a family supplementing their income by selling lizards reminded me of a family in our neck of the woods who made a good living selling worms to fishermen around the Lake Guntersville area in N Alabama. They taught me how to “fiddle” for night crawlers and red wigglers. There was(is) a dark shaded area with lots of rotted leaf mold in back of my Grandma’s old homeplace; and you could go back there and “fiddle” and have a can of worms in no time. Sure beat digging them!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 28, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    I think the idea behind the name “spring lizards” was that is you found a spring with then in it, it was good water.
    We tried catching then in creeks and even fishing for them but they were best way back up in a moss covered rocky branch. We’d flip over a rock and try to catch them before they scampered under another one. They were quick! The best technique was to swipe them up onto the bank were they had no planned escape route. Then you only had to find them in the leaves before they figured out where they were.
    A great aid in catching spring lizards was a plain cotton glove on your catching hand (your dominant hand, not like a baseball glove that you wear on your opposite hand). It was better if the glove was dry when you grabbed for the salamander (they’re not really lizards). A dry glove gave you a better grip on their slimy skin but usually it was wet after the first attempt. Still, even wet, your chances of capturing the little lightning bolts was vastly improved.
    Once you turned over the rocks the moss would be underneath. That’s how you tell if the branch had been recently hunted. However sometimes, if you were hunting as a team and the rocks weren’t too big, one person would lift the rock and the other would grab the lizard(s). Then the rock would be returned to its original location. We did this (when we could) so that the branch would be a better place to hunt the next year. Kinda like no till farming or select cutting a forest. Not every lizard hunter followed that practice, though. Finding a branch with every rock turned and the banks dug out meant your predecessor didn’t care.
    Find a cool holler with a quick little stream flowing through moss blanketed rocks, with dappled sunlight and orange-yellow wild touch-me-nots, turn over a few rocks and you will likely find a spring lizard or a few or maybe a dozen or two. But, please try to leave the little holler looking the same way it did when you came! God painted that picture and He prefers that we don’t mess it up.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 28, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Tipper,
    When I was a kid, we use to catch lizards for fishing and money. That is one of the things about Appalachia that I remember the most. Me and Harold was good at catching lizards and after we got a bucket-full, we’d take ’em down to Ronnie Mason’s dad and sell them. We’d start a fishing up at Nantahala Lake and those Bass loved lizards.

    Harold was about 2 years older than me, and he could turn over bigger rocks. He’d grab a lizard in both hands and look for more at the same time. Goodness he was Fast! I miss him and my 5 brothers, I’m the Last of the Mohicians. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 28, 2019 at 8:42 am

    We called them spring lizards to and my brother and I caught them for fish bait. Since that time the southern Appalachians have been identified as having the greatest amphibian diversity in the world and species of salamander have been classed in various categories of special conservation concern. Back in the day, the Forest Service would mark up to 2500 board feet of free timber for bona fide residents within a national forest proclamation boundary. The idea of having to get a permit from them to dig ginseng or collect rocks was way in the future, much less the idea of getting a ticket for digging a shrub or cutting bean sticks. Things have surely changed in my lifetime.

    Southern Appalachianers have a long tradition of using the woods as a ‘commons area’ where gathering all kinds of things was done without thought of ownership. even further back there was no such thing as hunting and fishing licenses, seasons, bag limits, restrictions on methods, etc. I have puzzled over that more than once about how it is and what does it mean that ownership of land did not ethically include each and every thing on that land, even in the minds of very moral people. I can’t sort it.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    August 28, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I actually did not see many lizards growing up which is puzzling. Maybe they had great predators where I lived. This might explain my unreasonable fear of them, as we tend not to fear what we become accustomed to. No real fear here of spiders, caterpillars, or any of the numerous little creatures found around a home. With more knowledge has come more caution, as we see all the terrible stories about the brown recluse. In those days we just squished them and kept playing! There was a time when we once played along a mountain branch called Sherrod’s Branch, and it was clean enough back then to drink from. Of course, we never analyzed it, but there were no houses above it. We knew since we spent most of those glorious days just exploring and learnin’.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 28, 2019 at 7:44 am

    Tipper–I caught some spring lizards to sell when I was a kid, and the place I sold them, Simond’s Bait Shop, is still in business just east of Bryson City. I think it is still legal to catch salamanders and sell them, but only certain species.

    I caught them by hand but subsequently learned that the real experts, those who could put scores of them in a bucket holding some wet moss in a single outing, did their catching at night. Furthermore, they used a fishing-like technique to do so. I had a high school classmate who remains a cherished friend for whose family lizard catching formed a major and important source of income. She lived on Sawmill Creek and since the family didn’t own a vehicle, presumably their lizard catching took place on little branches and seep springs feeding it.

    In the 1950s when I was catching ’em a regular brown lizard of “keeping” size (the bait store wouldn’t buy the little bitty ones) brought three cents and a big red one with black spots fetched a nickel.

    Spring lizards were and are plentiful and if you’ll shine a flashlight around a backcountry campsite or along a branch during the warm months, you’ll likely see an incredible number of pinpricks of light relecting back at you from the eyes of salamanders.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 28, 2019 at 7:19 am

    That’s one of the things us boys used to do and my wife said she did too. On our farm there was two springs and one was a sulfur spring and the other was a sweet water spring. The sweet water spring was the one we drank from when working up the holler and it always had spring lizards around the edge. I didn’t pay any mind to that then, but it don’t sound very appetizing now.
    Last fall when our Grandson was spending a weekend with us, he said he was bored. Telling my parents I was bored was something I learned not to do for they would find you some work. Well anyways when the Grandson said he was bored I told him to go over in the holler to the branch and catch a spring lizard. In a little while him and a friend came back with a couple in one of our SOUP BOWLS.

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