Whitesburg KY
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Fallen tree stirs memories of large smallmouth bass

Points East


The gnarled, exposed and long-weathered roots of the huge old sycamore had desperately clutched deep into the black bottom soil there on the edge of the field where Paint Lick Creek enters the Kentucky River for many more years than any of us have lived.

Her mostly white and pale green skin was loosely covered with planks of seasoned palebrown bark that shed into the water when an errant squirrel or woodpecker got too feisty or when the wind blew hard and strong enough to loosen them like shingles from the top of some old barn.

She towered and hovered over the creek like a brooding mother hen and in the summer months she gave cool shade to a couple hundred feet of still stream ponds where the smallmouth and Kentucky bass and bream and catfish chose to find refuge along with those of us with hook and line and some determination to leisurely fill a frying pan with fresh fillets.

One time back in the early ’90s, my nephew, Chris Adams, fresh out of school for the summer, had decided to be dull and bored and bothersome at my house instead of there at Red Star in Letcher County and I took a day off work to fish with him on the lower end of Paint Lick Creek.

The mangled roots of the big sycamore stretched out several feet at a bend in the creek and formed a deep pool several feet deep, but it was practically unfishable because the current carried our bait and hooks up into the roots and no sooner than putting a bait in the water than the hook was snagged. But we could see a monster smallmouth bass lurking at the bottom of the stump.

We broke off several jigs and half a dozen soft-shelled crawfish trying to get bait down into the roots and finally gave up because the fishing was good on down the creek and we were filling up our stringers with table fare without having to work so hard.

As dusk arrived, I came back to the truck and began honking the horn because Chris is not a quitter. All of a sudden I heard a mighty splashing that carried on for several minutes underneath the old sycamore which was just below our parking spot.

I know my nephew well and he is prone to practical jokes, but a few minutes later he came wading up the creek and he was grinning like a possum eating green persimmons. I could see the fish’s head poked up out of the five-gallon drywall mud bucket he was packing. Chris had managed to put a crawdad on his hook, reel it up to the very tip of his rod and poke it down into the roots, at which point the biggest smallmouth bass that I’ve ever seen come out of central Kentucky latched onto it. Seven pounds and change and he somehow managed to get it out of the water.

So this week, with some vacation time on my hands and more than a dozen years after that episode, I decided to go back to the scene with intentions of trying the same trick but the sycamore is gone. She is upside down and mostly washed away half a mile downstream. Her roots are drying in the sun but most of them have been sawed off to fuel the fires of campers there on the river.

And where she stood there is a muddy bank and the earth is washing into the creek after every storm and the world is not quite as wonderful as it used to be.


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