In the early 70s our group was still small, consisting of Cliff, his brother-in-law Eric, Rick and myself. We did various things, but we always reserved April for a trip to Norris Lake to fish for crappie. We had to arrange our vacations well in advance, but we usually found the second or third week to be available.

We loaded up our rods and reels, tackle boxes, minnow buckets, camping gear and a week’s worth of food and went to the long since defunct Powder Mill Boat Dock on the Powell side of the lake. We rented a house boat and a john boat for the week. As it was “off season” the rental was half price, which suited our parsimonious group just fine.

We transferred all of our gear to the house boat and sat up for a fine time of catching crappie. One year Rick brought a kerosene lantern and his kerosene was in an old wine bottle which had a long, slender neck. This was ideal to fill the lantern without spilling, but the young man who operated the dock thought otherwise.

“You have some moonshine!” sez he.

“No, that’s coal oil” sez I.

He was quite insistent that we had moonshine in the bottle, and he wanted a drink. We finally realized that he thought we were being selfish and did not want to share our moonshine. I told him: “You can drink all of that you want to, but I am telling you it is coal oil.”

He took the bottle with a big grin and a wink and turned it up to his lips. He immediately started spitting and sputtering and said: “It is coal oil!”

I said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

I don’t know whether he swallowed any or not, but I bet he was a lot more careful about drinking out of a strange bottle.

Our routine was simple. We would sleep all day. In the late afternoon we would start preparing for the night’s fishing, getting our Coleman lanterns ready, making sure that our minnows were still lively and getting our lines rigged up with the proper hooks and bobbers. We had graduated to open faced spinning reels by this time. Gone were the snarls of the old bait casting reels and the monofilament line was clear and harder for the fish to spot than the old braided lines of our youth. It was also harder to tie a knot in, but we learned different techniques for knots.

After the night got dark, we motored out to a rocky point and anchored about thirty or forty feet off shore. Then we fired up a lantern and put it where it lit up the water around the boat. We had about a thirty minute wait, which we used in selecting our minnow and placing the hook. Cliff liked to put the hook in his minnow’s nose, Rick and Eric put the hook in the minnow’s tail, while I preferred to place the hook under the dorsal fin. All these placements worked, but they allowed us to argue passionately about which one was better.

The half hour also allowed insects to be attracted to the light, which attracted minnows, which attracted schools of crappie. Now the action could begin!

We dropped our minnows at the edge of the light, with bobbers set to hold them at about four feet down and as they were obviously injured they attracted crappies who were looking for an easy meal. I really don’t know how long the action could have lasted. We culled the smaller fish, keeping only those which were large enough for a satisfying fillet or who were hooked deeply enough that we thought they would not survive. After a few hours of fishing, someone would suggest heading in for the night and we would have eight to ten crappy each to place in the ice in our coolers.

This routine would continue for five days. We had time after we finished fishing for the night to sit up and talk about all the things that life-long friends talk about and in the evenings we talked some more and scouted out likely fishing spots for the night. We also found out who made the best coffee, who could cook corn bread and who could batter and fry fish. Believe me when I say that a good time was had by all. We were still young and full of dreams and had good friends to share them with.

Saturday morning found us loading our separate vehicles and going our separate ways. We had a load of fish to take home which would fill our freezers for a little while and good memories. I found that in addition to fish for myself the egg sacks from the females were a real treat for the tropical fish in my aquarium. I froze the eggs and shaved off small slices with a razor blade (do you remember them?) and the fish gobbled them up.

I have had many fishing trips in other places since then, but those first adventures with my pals hold a special place in my heart.

Don Jackson, a husband, father, veteran and lifelong outdoorsman, writes Outdoor Ramblings from his home in Greene County, Tennessee.