Christmas 1954

Sitting by my fire this Christmas season, I recalled a special Christmas involving fishing when I was 5. It wasn't fly fishing, but spin fishing was how I made my start at angling. Later, I was to be fishing on the fly.

In 1954 our family of four lived in a suburb of Marietta Georgia known as Fair Oaks. It was a smaller community just off Atlanta highway and just across from Lockheed and Dobbins AFB. We lived on Joiner Avenue and while the street is still there today, everything has changed. Across the road is Robert L. Osborne Elementary, or used to be. I began my school career right there. Ms. Robert Osborne was my first grade teacher. I believe that she considered me "active." Guess I still am. That is me with my dog SPOT above right.

I was five and my favorite spot in Fair Oaks was a small neighborhood pond called Booth Lake. It was at Booth Lake where I realized that I was interested in fishing. Although at the time I didn't realize it, as I look back now I know that I was in the early developmental stages of structure fishing!

Booth Lake was owned by Harry Booth, a friend in the community and one who would sit at his little bait house and watch many neighborhood kids fish in the summer. Only the remnants of Booth Lake are visible today. Swallowed up by development and "progress" Booth Lake was drained years ago to prevent the possibility of an unattended neighbor's child from drowning. I recently visited the site of so many wonderful warm days filled with wriggly worms and smelly fish.

My real mother Dot Byrd, my "second mother" Dot Anderson, and occasionally my father would take me to Booth Lake to fish. First we fished single piece cane poles, then as we became more involved, we switched to 2 section cane poles that fit in a car trunk much better. Our tackle was VERY simple -- some little pinch on sinkers, a cork float, and some size 8 or size 10 hooks. Then there was the bait. Mostly we fished worms because we could dig them up, and fill a coffee can with them. Red wigglers cost 50 cents and that was a lot to a 5 year old in 1954. In those days we really could get a bottled coke and a pack of crackers for 10 cents.

Many hours I spent on Booth Lake convinced me that I was truly interested in fishing. I cut my teeth on fat bluegills, an occasional bass or crappie, or a strong pulling catfish. I knew when I was there I was in my element.

The Christmas that I was 5, my grandmother and parents colluded to get me better outfitted for fishing. My grandmother Byrd bought me a new metal fishing tackle box, and my parents bought me a little 1 piece solid fiberglass rod and a new Zebco 66 Scottie reel. On Christmas Day 49 years ago, I opened up those presents along with a single Lazy Ike lure, and I knew that I had to go to Booth Lake to try it out.

Christmas Day, 1954 broke cold and we had snow flakes falling. It was cold and blowing and my family was headed to Dallas, Georgia to my grandmother's house for Christmas dinner. I persuaded my dad to stop at Booth Lake on the way to let me cast my new rod and reel with new lure -- the only lure I owned. After much pleading, on the trip we slipped our green 1953 Ford down the pasture road to the lake and stopped near its crusting waters.

I carefully pulled my fiberglass rod, reel, and lure out of the right rear door, bundled up well, and starting walking through the snow to the lake. The wind was blowing at least 10 mph and the temperature was in the low 30s.

I had on no gloves because I wanted to cast. Through the wooden cattle gate, to the bank I carefully walked and flung my first cast toward the middle of the pond. As I retrieved and water spattered on my hands (which were actually turning blue tinted) I hoped that some fish, ANY fish would swim into my lure and hook himself.

I had made at least 15 casts. I had caught nothing, but I was enjoying the moment. It began to snow so hard that I couldn't see the lake's opposite bank. The car was parked 25 feet behind me. Inside everyone was toasty warm with the heater running. I was freezing, but I was trying out my new fishing gear.

Finally my mother, who had decided I'd die if I stayed out there much longer convinced me to quit casting and return to the car. After my patented "oh, just one more cast please momma", and then maybe one more after that, I reeled up my line and carefully retreated to the safety and warmth of our car.

My thoughts quickly turned to being warm, plus the wooden bowl full of grandmother's buttermilk fried chicken, biscuits, and gravy waiting for us just down the road.

As fishing goes it wasn't much, and as I look back from today's perspective it seems so simple. There is however still this common thread. Every time I take a favorite fly rod to the water and hook a fat bluegill, I'm re-connected to those simple days on Booth Lake.

My mother died suddenly in 1968, my dad passed away in June of 2005, and only my "second mother" -- Dot Anderson remains. These three aren't still taking me to the water, but they are still there with me. Every time I'm on the water the little 5 year old fisher is in my boat, and he's still having the time of his life. He catches a lot more fish these days, and enjoys them more than ever. He grabs the chicken, biscuits and gravy when he can. He remembers his humble beginnings, the little solid fiberglass rod, and his Scottie 66 reel still residing in his fly tying room today, because he still has the memories and he still loves to meet fish - every chance he has!

Happy holidays!

Bill Byrd