Appalachia Fishing

Fishin’ Early With Aunt Avery

Today’s entry in The Week Of The Fish was written by Keith Jones.

Photo by Gary Powell


Photo by Gary Powell


Fishin’ Early with Aunt Avery written by Keith Jones

My grandmother died long before I was born, but her two sisters strove mightily to fill that place in our lives. They lived on “the Old Collins Place” where their Dad had farmed, kept store, and generally been the most progressive innovator in Choestoe Valley (Union County, GA.) He gave each of his children some land when they married, then left the homeplace to the last three single children, with instructions for them to write wills leaving the farm to the last survivor. Uncle Esley had a small bedroom just off the huge kitchen, and Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel had bedrooms toward the back of the house. Uncle Esley died when I was a small boy, leaving just the two sisters to carry on.

Aunt Ethel was short, practical, and worked outside the home in the school cafeteria. Aunt Avery was beanpole tall and thin, tough, wiry, and worked as hard as any man ever thought about doing. She taught me to ‘cut tops and pull fodder,’ to pull peanuts up and dry them, to feed the chickens and gather eggs, and many other everyday farm skills. But Aunt Avery wasn’t all about work—she really knew how to have fun, too, and her favorite pastime was fishing.

Down behind the house was a shed absolutely filled up with cane poles. I don’t remember her ever telling me the night before that we would be going fishing. I’d just wake up from a snug sleep under quilts and hand-woven coverlets to her shaking my shoulder and saying, “Get up now, jump in your clothes, we’re going fishin’!” Outside, the gray light before dawn might reveal fog all along the creek, even far up the mountains, but she knew the rising sun would soon burn all that away. We’d stop by the shed and choose our poles for the day. She’d have me carrying an old bucket while she carried a shovel. On the way down to the creek, we’d stop near the barn and dig worms out of the black muck by the side of the building.

We’d walk across the pasture, past the fallen ruins of great-granddad’s sawmill, to Aunt Avery’s favorite bend in the creek. Sometimes we’d fish near the footlog that spanned the creek, linking with the trail that led over the mountain to my granddad Dyer’s home. But more often we were a few yards downstream from there, where the creek made a sharp turn that produced a whirlpool. That vortex was Aunt Avery’s secret honey hole for fish, and we seldom had to spend more than thirty or forty minutes before we had a stringer full of fat little sunfish. I suspect that Aunt Avery occasionally caught a native trout, since my most memorable outing was when a really large brownie took my hook, made an astonishing, twisting leap far into the air in front of my startled face and threw my hook and bait far up onto the bank.

Now the stream is stocked with rainbows. I’m sure anglers with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment would love to range up that stream. But they could never match the excitement I had as a little boy hollering, “Aunt Avery! Aunt Avery! I got one!” And certainly no breakfast matched what we would have when we returned from these dawn expeditions—fried fish, grits AND country fried potatoes, homegrown sausage, streak-o-lean and yard eggs (Aunt Ethel had some hens famous for giving double-yolk eggs.) Hot biscuits, cornbread, all kinds of jellies and jams, and of course sorghum syrup.

I never really developed into a fisherman as a grownup. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anything could really match those days when I followed that bonneted awkward-graceful figure in her long plain cotton dress, as we walked through the dewy pasture to fish.


I hope you enjoyed Keith’s memories of fishing with Aunt Avery as much as I did! It makes me wish I could go visit her and Aunt Ethel myself.



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  • Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Mr. Keith,
    Great story; I loved the imagery of the “Gray morning light, the fog along the creek, the quilts and hand made coverlets.” I enjoyed being there through your words! There’s a special place in my mind for Choestoe and its people. The best breakfast I ever had was just up the road from Choestoe years ago near Blairsville right about daylight. In my mind, your story took me there again. Thanks Mr. Keith.

  • Reply
    Stephen Ammons
    July 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    I have been thinking back to the first fish I ever caught. Best I can remember it was when me and my cousin Gary headed to the Little Tennessee river. We were above Rattlesnake Creek or just above the split rock that causes a compass to go crazy.There is a large flat rock that juts out into the water about ten feet and we were fishing from it. Gary told me told hold the cane pole and when I felt a pull to jerk it. And thats just what I did. It was a small brim and it was airborne. Well Gary being right behind me caught the fish just after it slapped him thru the face. We laughed about that for weeks. Now the strangest fish I ever caught was at the pond where Ed saw the pup running from the bass. I was beginning to think there weren’t any fish in the pond and started to reel mine line in when I notice there was something on it. When I landed it I noticed I had a catfish but in a way I had never seen. The line had wrapped around its tail and the hook with the bait still on it hadn’t been touched.I wonder what the fish was thinking going thru the water backwards. I had to release it after what I had put it thru. Oh and by the way Ed was there if you think this is just another fish tail < lol

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    July 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    July 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Martina’s right. When Keith tells his story you run along behind him and Aunt Avery, brushing along the dewey chiggerweed, grasshoppers whirring up and away and snakefeeders flitting around the creekbank. You see his stringer of sunfish and smell the hot frying pan. Surely he never sees a double-yolked egg that he isn’t carried back to those halcyon mornings.

  • Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

    That was such a good story, just like being there. I had a favorite uncle who loved fishing either at Puget Sound or his lake cabin. One time I was able to spend a week at the cabin with Grandma, Aunt and Uncle. Uncle and I would go out in the rowboat at dawn and try to catch some fish for breakfast. When I caught a very large trout, I don’t know who was more shocked/happy–uncle or me. I really miss Uncle, he was a real gentleman and beloved by many.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Keith–Nicely done, and I’d gladly set down to that breakfast anytime, anywhere. I wonder if the enormous amounts of food, laden with calories and cholesterol, preceding generations consumed strikes others the way it does me. Of course arduous manual labor worked off much of the “bad stuff” (and you have to wonder how anything which tastes as good as cracklin’ cornbread or pan-fried trout dressed up in golden brown cornbread dinner jackets can possibly be bad for you.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    July 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Another word for your list…
    from Keiths story…
    “Honey Hole”…as “Where did you catch them big fish?”…”Well, I could tell ya, but then I’d have to kill ya!”
    That’s a fisherpersons, hopefully, best kept secret, except the secret lure of course!…
    “Slab”…A fish that is so large the slabs sides (filets) barely fit or will not fit in the pan…
    Used like, “I caught some real slabs this morning!”
    Thanks Tipper and Keith…

  • Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Kieth, I really loved reading this story, and you told it so well. Such rich memories you must have!Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    July 29, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Lovely, Keith, this was my favorite post from the week of the fish! I was lucky to have a grandma to teach me to fish and this sure took me back to those happy times. My daddy grew up in a family full of boys who all earned nicknames. “Cotton” and “Diggem” were two of my favorites. My daddy earned his name as a result of his curiosity and tender heart. When he was about three my Grandfather had caught a bucket full of little craw daddies to fish with. My daddy was fascinated with them and ended up setting them free at the spring. My grandmother had to rescue him from receiving a big whipping and from that day on he was known as “Bait”. My grandfather eventually cooled down and forgave him and they spent many happy hours together fishing in the beautiful Clinch. I like to think that some of the craw daddies I played with as a little girl were descendants of my Granddaddy’s pardoned bait!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 29, 2012 at 9:10 am

    It’s a long ways, in distance and time, from Aunt Avery’s kitchen to my place but I think I can smell your breakfast wafting toward me.

  • Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Aunt Avery sounds so much like me…hard work and fishing. I love to take my grandkids down to the pond and teach them to fish. I hope I leave good fishing memories with my sister’s grandchildren, as I was the first person to ever take them fishing. Their excitement was my reward.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 29, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I once picked a rather “fancy” restaurant for breakfast while on vacation — Roy grudgingly agreed but was soon delighted to see fried fish and grits on their menu!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    July 29, 2012 at 8:47 am

    and Keith…another wonderful story and so descriptive. I could see it unfolding before my very eyes…Wish you had caught the Brown Trout…but then the story would have changed. Do you think that if you had eaten that bountiful breakfast before fishin’ you could have landed him?
    I always heard that thin folks and growing boys eat more than anybody…guess that’s true. My aunt could cook a spread in no time, but like your Aunt Avery..she used up every calorie working on the farm…
    Thanks Keith and Tipper for sharing…

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    July 29, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Thank you, Keith. A far better story told and written than my own.
    How fortunate those of us who had an aunt, or uncle, or father, or mother, or the like, like your own.
    I’ve many a fond memory of a similar flavor. Not to be an old f**t about it, but I’m so glad there were no computer games around when I was a child.
    Ed Myers

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    July 29, 2012 at 8:24 am

    I really enjoyed your memory. It’s amazing how some special things we did as children stick in our minds and they can never be better than the times they happened in.

  • Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Priceless! Keith, you certainly did an excellent job describing your Aunt Avery. I wish all children had somebody like this as mentor instead of all the electronic gadgetry.
    My Grandpa was such an interesting fellow and very good with children. He was always bringing home something interesting, and thus my first and only taste of turtle. Interestingly enough I do not recall him actually fishing even though the clean Pinnacle Creek ran right by his house. Love these stories!

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    July 29, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Such a wonderful story and it filled my mind with pictures of the fishing trips. I am not an angler, but I certainly got the feeling of excitement of catching a fish and cooking it for breakfast. Thanks for the story! I wish all kids today could have those experiences and memories.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

    what a wonderful way to begin a day!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    July 29, 2012 at 7:35 am

    That’s my Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel Keith is writing about. I’m glad he had the wonderful experience of knowing them when he was very young. They had “helped to raise” me, too, as well as their other neices,nephews, and in Keith’s early days, great neephews and nieces. They all loved going to Aunt Avery’s (as she was the elder of the two, she got the top priority in being named). Every child of the mountains (and elsewhere, too) needs the experience of having some salt-of-the-the earth elders like Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel to show them the richness of life of our mountain ways.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 29, 2012 at 6:06 am

    What a great picture you painted, Keith. I especially enjoyed the trip from the house to the stream, black muck and all.
    And I’d have sure enough enjoyed a couple of those free range double-yoked eggs more than the ones I’m about to pan fry.

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