Appalachia Fishing

Fishing In The Mountains Of Western NC When I Was A Boy

Today’s guest post, and first entry in The Week Of The Fish, was written by Charles Fletcher.

Canton NC


Fishing In The Mountains Of Western NC When I Was A Boy written by Charles Fletcher.

When growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, I didn’t have many opportunities to go fishing. That is, “real” fishing. Where we lived there were no fish in the nearby Pigeon River below the paper mill. My brother and I would fish in the creeks, but we only caught small fish and sometimes a crawfish. We didn’t have any fishing equipment except the hooks we made from safety pins, line made from the string from Mom’s sewing box and a fishing pole made from the straightest limb we could find from a tree. With our hand-made fishing gear, a big can of red worms, and a couple of biscuit and country ham sandwiches that were left from breakfast we were on our way to one of the many creeks for some serious fishing. It didn’t bother us about what we would catch or how large it was, we were having a good time trying to outsmart whatever tried to make a meal of the worm on the hook.

The fish that we caught were small horney head or large branch minnows that we called “silversides.” None were ever over three or four inches long. It didn’t make any difference; we were fishing.

When we visited our uncles who lived up the river above the paper mill, they would sometimes take us to the “big fishing hole” in the bend of the river. The fish that we caught there were larger, and there were several different types. There were hog sucker, horney head, red horse, perch, silverside; and every once in a while we would catch a native trout that had wandered from the many trout streams on the mountain. There was an alligator-like “lizard” that was sometimes 10 or 12 inches long but didn’t have teeth and didn’t try to bite you. We were afraid of them, but we did catch one every so often.

When our Uncles took us fishing, we usually caught enough for a small “fish fry” when we returned home. The fish we caught were very bony, and we had to be careful not to swallow any bones when we ate them. There was an “old folk’s tale” about drinking milk with fish. It was said that this combination was poison and could kill you. This was fine with me because my Aunt Cory always had a big pitcher of some kind of drink she made from her secret ingredients to go along with the fish. She wouldn’t tell you what it was. She referred to it as “beer”. I guess that she never passed her recipe along to anyone. These mountain people had their secrets and seldom gave them away.

I got to fish in the big lake at the Methodist Church Assembly called Lake Junaluska a couple of times. The fish were bigger there, and there were lots of them. The prize fish that everyone tried to catch was the carp. We would make bait for carp by mixing flour with cotton. We made what we called “dough balls.” This was the type of bait that everyone used when trying for carp. Not only were they large fish, but they were a good eating fish.

I guess that I inherited the love for hunting and fishing from my dad. He did a lot of hunting and fishing when I was growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina.


I hope you enjoyed Charles’s memories of fishing as a boy as much as I did!



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Ron- Catalpa,Catawpa? We didn’t know which was right, but we called them Pee worms or P worms. They were a much sought after bait and I only knew if a few trees on the Little Tennessee that had them. Most of the time by the time we got to them somebody else had picked them all off.
    Ken- I had almost forgotten the old Tote and Tarry. It was the place to work long ago before those strange looking invaders in their strange looking boats. No not Vikings, they came from Ohio or Michigan or another one of them foreign places.
    And all Ya’ll! What is a minnow?

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    We had Catalpa trees that dad planted because the catalpa or tobby worm was one of his favorite baits. We would gather them and put them in an old fridge on the side porch. They would provide bait for the whole season. Dad was proud of his trees and he provided bait for a lot of friends and family. I remember my hands being stained from the tobacco juice looking stuff they would spit on you when putting them on the hook. There were times when we would get worms on the trees twice in one summer. He was a more patient fisherman than I was and he was content sitting on the river or pond bank waiting on the big one.
    Dad had a fishing buddy named Thurlow. He and Thurlow decided to go in halvers on a boat so they could fish the big waters of Carter’s Lake. They were always in some kind of predicament when they went fishing. One time they forgot to put the drain plugs back in the boat and almost sank it before they got back to the ramp. Dad was running wide open and Thurlow was bailing water with the bait bucket! Another time they were moving from one location to another and the boat was not getting full power. Dad said it just wouldn’t get up to speed. They went all they way across the lake discussing what might be wrong with it before they realized they had not pulled the anchor back in. They sold the boat after that summer because they figured bank fishing was safer!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I enjoyed Charles Fletcher’s story
    recalling his boyhood adventures.
    Some of his experiences I can relate to, like the the big lizzard-like creatures. I have killed a few while seining minnows
    with a toe sack. And while camping
    below Nantahala Outdoor Center,
    (use to be Tote and Tary’s) in the
    Nantahala River feeding Fontana,
    we caught a huge “mud puppy” about
    midnite and my buddie got scared
    and drug that thing in our fire.
    We caught lots of Channel Cat
    that night…Ken

  • Reply
    Fred Wayne
    July 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Most of my young impressionable life was spent growing up in north-east Tennessee with my life-long friend, Mike. He now resides in Texas but we spent nearly every day in the woods and fields surounding our houses. We also fished the small local creeks with a handmade rod and some thread, but our hooks were made with straight pins that we bent into hooks…caught some ‘whopper’ minnows and horny-heads, but made many memories!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    While they never said it was poison, we didn’t drink milk when we had fish either. Love the post.

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    When I was just a youngster my uncle was station agent for the RR at Lake Junaluska. I often fished behind the depot using dough balls and catching carp. Don’t recall catching anything else except poison ivy when I wandered off into the woods.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    July 24, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I grew up in middle Georgia and loved fishing in the creeks nearby. At some point my father built a small pond on our farm and I spent many a happy hour there fishing and pretending to be Huckleberry Finn.
    The mention of horny heads reminded me of my father who spent some of his youth in the mountains of Georgia and Western North Carolina. He always talked about catching them as a kid.
    For me the most exciting thing to hook on a creek or slough was the Chain Pickerel, which we called a fresh water Jack. Didn’t know it then but they are part of the Pike family. Pickerel had teeth and would hit the bait like a freight train.
    Second to the Chain Pickerel, was a War Mouth Perch. A War Mouth had the mouth of a bass but a body type more like a Perch. We rarely hooked a Large Mouth on the creeks back home but a War Mouth fought like one.
    I agree with Jim Caseda about the culinary delight with Carp. They were very bony and the taste was always a little unpleasant, sort of muddy, once you picked some flesh off the bones.
    Richard Moore
    Lexington, VA

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    July 24, 2012 at 10:56 am

    and Charles…Thanks for a wonderful story. So many memories were awakened. My very first time at fishing was on Lake Junaluska, I caught the most beautiful fish that I had ever seen. It was a fairly large Brim..with a little blue dot on the side of its face. I wanted to keep it and take it back to Tennessee. The other memory jogged by your post that I hadn’t thought of in a while was the milk and fish poison..We were sittin’ around the table at Grandmas on the hill in Marshall. Granddad had brought a mess of catfish and Grandma had fried to perfection..I begged for a glass of milk..and was told I could not have it because of fish and poison. I finally got a small glass of tea…left the fish, ate the taters and hush puppies..
    Thanks Charles for the memories and Tipper for sharing memories of fishing in NC…

  • Reply
    July 24, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I was born in Graham County and grew up in the ‘Overhill’ area of East Tennessee. I also fished the creeks with bent straight pins and thread on both sides of the moutains. Charles’ alligator-like lizard was called a ‘water dog’ where I fished.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    July 24, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Charles: Your story makes me recall childhood memories of digging red worms around the ‘outer reaches’ of the barnyard on our home place. IN the summertime, if we dug the worms and daddy wasn’t too tired from digging a well all day, we just might get to go fishing. Lake Chatuge was just a short drive away in our old Chevy! Brim and Bass were our usual catch! And Mama sure knew how to cook em!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 24, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I had forgotten about the no milk with fish rule! I always asked for milk and was promptly told it didn’t “go” with fish!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    July 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I really enjoyed your story and probably the fun memories it brought to you. Thanks for sharing it. I am going to share it with a good friend of mine who is an avid fishman here in NC. Although my son, who loves to fish, lives in South FL, I am also sharing it with him.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    July 24, 2012 at 7:50 am

    Charles, we used to have a farm pond right below our house where they would let go fishing by my self and it had so many of those perch we called punkin seed that you could catch them on empty hooks, I guess they were that hungry.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 24, 2012 at 7:41 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed Charles’s reminiscences, and my own childhood mirror many of his experiences. The major differences were that growing up in Bryson City and living close to trout streams (Deep Creek, Indian Creek, and a bit farther, Noland Creek and the Nantahala River), along with having the blessing of a father who was an avid fly fisherman, trout loomed large in my boyhood. For that matter, that has continued to this day.
    Another big difference was that catfish figured prominently in my boyhood fishing in the Tuckasegee. You’ll read a bit about it later this week.
    If Charles thought carp were good eating, I’ve missed the culinary boat somewhere along the line. The old saw about cooking carp on a plank (a common way of preparing fish in other parts of the country, waiting until it is done, then eating the plank, pretty well sums up my thoughts on dining on carp (mind you, the Japanese love them).
    One final thought, for whatever reason, silversides, once extraordinarily common, have to a considerable degree vanished from mountain streams. The same is true of knottyheads (or horny heads), although in the latter case the explanation is the great expansion in the number of otters and muskies. Both work on knottyheads in a big way.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Charles, you could have been me. Only our ham and biscuits were gone before we got out of sight of the house. So we would forage along the roads and river banks. Blackberries, wild strawberries, mulberries, huckleberries, apples, peaches, plums, grapes, snotbeans, whatever was ripe.

  • Leave a Reply