The Great Texan Fish Massacre

Gary Allen

Did I ever tell you ‘bout my uncle Alton?

Alton lived in Cisco, and was everything you’d expect a Texan to be: tall and squinty-eyed, with the cracked-leather complexion that ordinary farmers have on the back of their necks—only Alton wore it on every exposed surface. He was a peanut farmer, but the government, in the fifties, paid him not to grow peanuts. 

He was a slow-talking, serious kinda’ guy. When he said he had a sure-fire way to catch fish, we listened.

The method was ingenious, drawing on his keen understanding of the predatory instincts of gamefish, combined with the typical farmers’ unorthodox make-do-kinda’ technology. His reasoning was straight-forward: fish—especially those inhabiting murky waters—hunt more by sound and felt vibrations than by vision. To attract these fish you need to simulate the rapid buzzing of a large juicy bug that has accidentally fallen in the water. Alton—and here was where his real genius was revealed—made a truly inspired conceptual leap.


fat chance ....

According to Uncle Alton (and I am translating, for he would never have expressed himself this way), the plop-plop-fizz-fizz of the Alka-Seltzer was like Pavlov’s bell for the bass and catfish in the tanks (“tanks,” BTW, are small ponds made for watering range cattle in Texas; they’re everywhere, and they’re all stocked with fish; Texans take their fishing very seriously). Now he realized that you can’t just stick an Alka-Seltzer tablet on a hook. What he needed was an appropriate delivery system. His solution: a spring-loaded clothespin. All he had to do was attach the line and the hooks.

The size of such a rig seemed a bit awkward (at least to those of us who were more accustomed to fishing for Bluegills), but he said it was no problem for the really big fish that were attracted to this unusual bait.

Having received this blueprint for piscatorial success, we prepared for a massive slaughter of fish. We bought a whole bag of clothespins, a box of large treble hooks, plenty of extra-strong snap-swivels, and several tall light-blue-labeled jars of the secret weapon. We spent much of the night preparing our equipment. We drilled holes in the clothespins, affixed the treble hooks (which we had carefully sharpened, far exceeding ordinary factory specs) and snap swivels. We tested our lines for weak spots and knots that might fail under the strain of a truly large fish. We oiled our reels (after rinsing them in gasoline to make certain that no grain of sand or grit might cause them to seize during the blistering run of a big channel catfish). We packed everything carefully, omitting only our food—which we added, just before dawn, as we headed out to the nearest tank.

Now, grand-dad had once caught a 45 pound channel cat (and an itty-bitty 20 pounder) and served them in a spectacular fish fry for the whole town. He lived in Clyde—which wasn’t a very big town back then. Our plan was to replace that feast in the town’s memory with the most outrageous feed that the mind could imagine. We had adolescent appetites and they fed adolescent dreams of grandeur.

Alton watched somberly during our preparations and departure. I suspected he was ashamed of the fish-killing monster he had unleashed upon the world. His ability to wear the mask is still amazes to me.

We chucked a great many fizzing clothespins into the tank before deciding that there must not have been any truly big fish there. We moved on to another, larger tank. 

Same results. 

As the fact of our monumental dupery became apparent, we tried harder to make the contraptions work—our addle-headed idea, I suppose, being: “We’ll show HIM!” 

Naturally, it didn’t work. 

We thought to switch to more tried-and-true methods (with the amended plan of lying about the success of the Alka-Seltzer)—but to make room for as many of our home-made lures as possible, we had emptied out our tackle-boxes at home. 

There would be no fish-fry extravaganza.