Trot Lining

Mid spring of 1952 my Dad and I were visiting Marlin, Texas close by the Brazos River. We had come up to sample some of the fine cat fishing that was available just above The Falls. My Uncle Shelly had called and said, “Boys, come on up and let’s go trot linnin’. The cats ‘r here!”

Our camp was on the bluff of the Brazos River, where over a hundred years past one of our ancestors, Buck Barry, had crossed on his way to Austin. This crossing was named “The Falls of the Brazos” because of rocky outcroppings and a fall line that in the 1830’s caused ten foot water falls, but the river changed course and today the falls are only two to three feet. In the old days, this marked the end of steamboat travel up the river. Now there was a low water, concrete drive across the river, which made two falls now and Uncle Shelly owned the land on both sides.

This land was colonized in the early 1830’s and in 1834 Sterling Robertson, one of Stephen F. Austin’s early impresarios, established a town on the west bank of the river, Sarahville De Viesca. The Comanches quickly put an end to this early settlement and in 1845, when Buck Barry had crossed here, again they had just struck the only settler at The Falls, taking off with his wife, daughter and female slaves.

This history’s fine but we’d come up to fish. Seining several of Uncle Shelly’s stock tanks, we caught two bait buckets full of small perch and minnows and headed to The Falls. The water was almost cold and jolted me when we waded out. The spot we’d picked had a good, rock bottom all the way across the river. First off we had to stretch Uncle Shelly’s trot lines across the river and there must have been a fifty, or more, hooks on each of the two lines.

With both lines secured we came back toward our side of the river and began the process of baiting up. My feet were getting cold now but I soldiered on. Holding the bait bucket while my Dad and Uncle Shelly baited up the lines they would put a couple of minnows on the hook then a perch and continued this process back across the river.

All baited up, we retired to our camp, started the fire, it was only ninety degrees right now, and began supper. After eating the stories started and my Dad chipped in with Buck Barry’s story about the Indian raid just before he crossed here. Then, my Dad said, “Let’s go check the lines.”

It was dark and our flashlights helped some, but it was still dark! We eased down into the water and, to me, it was cold, but I said nothing. I guess this was part of growing up. I was carrying the toe sack and bait bucket, more growing up? We pulled up the first line and there was a tug meaning we had a cat on somewhere. We came across a line, a stage, all twisted up and figured we’d lost one on this hook. Soon we came to our first fish, a yellow cat, four pounds and great eatin’. We flopped him into the toe sack I was carrying and soon another, but that was all for the first line. The second line produced two more, one five pounds, another four, all yellows.

Our fire was down when we returned to our camp, but using our flash lights, we cleaned the cats, walked down to the river to wash off and hit the sack (ground).