Back when the fish were biting

Back when Jefferson County had never heard of YouTube or iPhones or even Twitter much of the land here was covered in alfalfa, barley and orchards. The pastures had more than limestones breaks and thistles. The dairy farms were many and the summer days were filled with workers baling hay and mending the fences not too overgrown with Multiflora rose.

[cleeng_content id="885616037" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]Many of those farmers and orchardists would find calendars in March or April and turn ahead to the warmer days of July or August. They would circle a week. A whole week.

It would be their time to leave the apple, cherry and peach trees. The dairymen would find a few replacements to milk the Holsteins and Guernseys that never went on vacation.

It would be time to get away for a week. Time to go to the Shenandoah River to places like Sewell’s or Big Eddy and set up a fishing camp.

Brothers, cousins and friends would go to storage sheds or corncribs where they had stored heavy canvas and large tents. All the fishing gear that was used the previous summer was collected and inspected to make sure it could catch the smallmouth, catfish and sunfish it handled just a year ago.

Provisions were collected. The week away from work would be filled with more than just fishing and swimming and trying to get enough sleep. Skillets, pots, pans and utensils were found.

Nothing was going to be fancy. Nothing was supposed to be complicated.

Gardens were raided for fresh vegetables. The staples needed for breakfasts and even suppers were found. Those staples were eggs, bacon, ham and bread.

Fishermen who were not going to shave and would use the river as a bathtub could thrive on a daily regimen of scrambled eggs, bacon and sandwiches made from the ham and the garden’s lettuce and tomatoes.

Canoes were checked for worthiness. Paddles were secured. A clothesline would be taken to hang wet socks and maybe undershirts.

If some small item was forgotten, it didn’t matter. It was a getaway. The only vacation of the year. Just as long as the crew had a few knives, bait holders, pliers, and a screw driver the week would be a success.

The occupation of the crew would be fishing. There was a chief cook along, but he would get in his share of fishing as well.

It was never discussed, but the chief cook would be responsible for cleaning the fish that had been caught and kept. He would use his iron skillet filled with bacon grease to fry the fillets gotten from bass and sunnies.

If the sun beat down too fiercely, the canvas overhangs and large tents could be used as retreats for afternoon card games or checkers matches. Rounds of horseshoes would also be hotly contested.

Of course the time would pass too quickly. But before it did, the known fishing holes were all be tried. Tried by everybody. Competition was a part of the routine. Who caught the most fish? Who landed the biggest bass? Who ate the most eggs at one sitting? Who smelled the worse by week’s end?

The Shenandoah River and the few lazy, crazy days away from milking, making hay and checking on the health of the fruit were the lures that brought the crew to Sewell’s and Big Eddy.

The long and lean rock outcroppings that lined the river bed had pools alongside that could provide habitat for the game fish. Canoes could be anchored nearby and crankbaits or lures could be dropped by the fish’s noses.

Some of the men liked to troll. Some liked to cast and retrieve their hellgrammite baits. All of them had been fishing in quarries, farm ponds, and the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers since the time they learned how to milk by hand and use a corn knife in the field.

Fishing and cleaning barns had always been a part of life.

When the week was over and the gear brought back to the farms, tall tales and talk of what would be done on the river next year dominated the conversations until deep into the fall.

In those times there was no texting. No Facebook. No Blackberry. No iPads.

Jefferson County had its many fields of timothy and oats. The farms were found from Kabletown and Summit Point to the end of Shepherd Grade Road. The orchards dotted the land from near Middleway to out back of Bakerton.

And the fishermen camped out for a week along the Shenandoah River when iron skillets were full and lightning bugs hovered over the banks.[/cleeng_content]

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