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Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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Minnows, memories, and magic

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

We have some huge minnows in the little hole next to our driveway tile. 

There are also almost always crumbs of some sort in the toddler’s car seat. So, when I take the garbage down to the end of the road, or stop to check the mail, I’ll clean out the area underneath the cushion and throw the crumbs to the minnows. 

Today it was popcorn. But sometimes it’s peanut butter crackers, Pop Tarts, cookies, or cheese puffs. Potato chips, like French fries, are a big favorite because they send an oil slick across the surface that really seems to trigger a feeding frenzy. They’ll make the surface boil, looking almost like a school of feeding piranha in films from the Amazon. But, instead of stripping livestock to the bone, they’re going crazy over Chex Mix. 

I keep saying I’m going to throw a minnow trap in there, for bait, but the truth is I haven’t been fishing in years. Not really, anyway. 

I buy my sportsman’s license every year, so I usually have a fishing license as part of that package. I’ve thrown a line in the water a couple of times. I’ve even caught a couple of big bluegill on a crappie jig while checking to see if there was anything in a farm pond.

But I haven’t done any serious fishing. The kind where you catch a bucket full of minnows, and a cup full of worms, and have nothing else on your schedule. 

We used to do that kind of fishing when we were kids. We not only set minnow traps, we’d use a seine to catch minnows and crawdads in the shallower water. We’d even catch eels in the side branches of Tygart Creek back then, at least sometimes.

It was probably a seasonal thing, to be honest. Like in the spring, when the seasonal flood waters would back up from Tygart and the white bass would run up into the side creeks to spawn. When the water went back down, there would always be some large fish stranded in those smaller holes until the otters, and the birds, and us boys made short work of them. But while I remember when the white bass would come up the creek, I don’t remember exactly when the eels showed up. Or if it was really even a seasonal thing, or just so sporadic my juvenile brain couldn’t put a pattern to it. 

There was one other thing that happened on the creek, that I’m sure was seasonal too. But I don’t remember exactly when it happened. I was very young, and I’m sure it was sometime in the summer or spring. But one night, on a bright moonlit evening, when the weather was warm enough for us to be out wading the creek after dark, my father and I saw what must have been a group of minnows spawning. 

It’s the only thing it could have been, in hindsight.

I don’t remember why we were out so late, or why we were at the creek. Maybe it was to check our minnow traps before an evening of night fishing on the Ohio River. I just know that as we rounded the corner, the moon reflected off an undulating mass of flashing silver and iridescence. The creek bottom, even where the water was so shallow you could cross in tennis shoes without getting them wet, wriggled and moved and shimmered in a way that was otherworldly and beautiful. 

It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and like nothing I’ve ever seen since. And I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what species it was or when I might see it again. 

Maybe that’s part of what made the whole experience almost magical. It was unexpected, and wonderful, and rare. A truly once in a lifetime experience, at least so far. 

I’d love to see it again though. Maybe someday, I’ll be blessed with a repeat performance. Creek shiners in all their natural splendor, egged on by the pull of a full moon, dancing an encore just for me. 

I’d like that. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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