Just about a mile down the hard road from where I first learned Ditch Fishin,’ W.J. Scarborough cleared out most of the scrub and palmettos from a couple thousand acres to the north of the hard road and started some big-time ranchin’ there. I don’t know just how big it was, but after his main drainage canal was finished, the state had to deepen and widen the roadside canal to keep heavy rains, and especially hurricanes, from floodin’ over the hard road.
This wider and deeper canal was mostly about 10 feet wide except those places where some Yankee tourist had widened it out with a Packard or a LaSalle. After the car was pulled out of the canal, sometimes some of the bank would be caved in and a pool of slower water would wash out after a while. It didn’t take me too long to check out the fishin’ in the new water holes.
With the slower and deeper water, a kind of fish new to my ditch fishin’ experience began to show up. Usually about a foot-and-a-half long, almost one-third of their length was two long rows of razor-sharp teeth in a narrow mouth that looked like an skinny, extra-long duck’s bill. They were easy to see as they generally swam right at the surface of the water.
The first one I ever saw, I think I managed to catch. I sure was proud of myself, too. I quit fishin’ for the day, hopped on my old bicycle and headed home to show off what I had caught! My Dad was workin’ in a field alongside the clay road leadin’ up to the house, so I got off the bike, took that fish out of the bike basket and proudly held it up for Dad to see.
Now I have to tell you that my Dad was a man who knew how to make a person feel good with a well-placed compliment, but this time he missed the mark. “Teddy, why in the world did you bring that ol’ garfish home? The scales are interlocked so you can’t scrape ‘em off, and if you could, the meat is too bony and muddy tastin’ to eat. Just throw it across the road into those blackberry bushes, ’cause I sure don’t want the dog draggin’ a stinkin’ three-day old fish onto the back porch.”
There were other garfish that came into my life as a ditch fishin’ country boy, but I’ll never forget that first one, and I never brought any of the other ones home.