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Reminiscing: Fishing Territory

dick-hinson1Rerun from the December 13 2006 edition of the Jackson County Times

The menu advertised that regular meals in the small café were 25 cents. If you could come up with another dime, the house special was fresh bream, shellcrackers, and all the “fixings.” Since the clear flow of Merritt’s Mill Pond was just a few yards away, there was no transportation expense. It was a short walk from the fish traps to the kitchen. Behind the restaurant the owner maintained a small zoo for the amusement of his patrons. Looking back, I can now see that I “bugged” the grownups more than I knew. Toward the end of the meal, they usually said: “Dicky, why don’t you go on out back and play with big bear?” They were not aware that the black bear and I were old friends. We would meet at the corner of his large pen and I would cram pecans into his mouth until my pockets were empty. One day, the cage was vacant and I never saw him again. If Bruno” made it to “Bear Heaven,” he’s in a pecan orchard! Now, you have already guessed that these were in the “Depression Years” of the 1030’s, and you’re correct. But let’s be fair: A hard day of manual labor might earn a dollar, and those jobs were scarce. If you really liked fried fish, dug earthworms and a couple of cane poles was they only way to go. The rivers, creeks, and ponds fed many families in those years. We were “better off” than the city folks! The game laws recognized this situation, and there were very few restrictions in fishing regulations for residents.

The old time game wardens, who wanted to fill the “chain-gangs” with hunters using bait to shoot deer, had only one major job in the fishing category. Each Spring, every fish bed they could locate was surrounded by a rope. It was illegal to cast your bait inside of this border. Dozens of fishermen would paddle up and pitch as close as the dared to these lines. However, since most of the Jackson County Fishermen were residents, the wardens were lenient.

In the Dead Lakes area, there was a different situation. This huge natural expanse of fishing territory drew large numbers of non-resident sportsmen from all over the South. Fish camps abounded, and there was a 2-story hotel at the northern end, the “Chipola Park Inn.” Guides and boats were available.

During post WW II years, a number of rivers saw construction of dams, creating bodies of water such as Lake Seminole. The migration of non-resident fishermen from other States was sharply reduced.

The Dead Lakes creation has posed many questions. Most agree that the Appalachicola River experienced a flood of record strength in the late 1860’s. This surge cut a channel over to the Chipola River, a short distance to the West. Tons of sand and sediment flowed through this ditch, forming a low level dam across the Chipola. As the water impoundment backed up and deepened, species of trees which could not survive being permanently inundated began to die. The new lake’s name was predictable…..
The time frame was established by the fact that the military maps of the early 1860’s showed only the narrow channel of the Chipola River. These maps were extremely accurate and detailed. They would have outlined any wider body of water existing at that time.

As you may recall, a low elevation artificial dam was installed in the 1960’s . This structure helped to maintain water levels for the property owners, but blocked the movement of fish from the Appalachicola River. After years of decline in fishing quality in the lake and Chipola River, the dam was removed in the late 1980’s. Much improvement has been noted, extending into our area of the Chipola…

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