I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on chub poaching, but after almost seven decades, I’d like to clear my conscience:
As a kid, I caught creek chubs illegally.
There was no limit on chubs; you could catch all you wanted. The hitch was, I didn’t have a permit to fish for them in Byrds Creek that forms Cumberland Mountain State Park Lake.
I don’t know what a permit cost, but it was more than I could afford with my berry-picking proceeds. Besides, keeping an eye out for lurking park rangers added to the excitement.
The rangers were serious – they once cited my Uncle Bud and his pal L.B. Seagraves for fishing in Byrds Creek without a permit. You didn’t mess with The Man.
It kept our little gang of desperados – me, Tony, Tommy and Ralph – on our toes as we waded along in the clear, cool water, casting worms into deep pools.
A few years later we would spend our summers hanging around the park’s swimming area where pretty girls sun-bathed, giggling and glistening with Coppertone.
But at the time we were more interested in chubs than girls.
Chubs are sliver, cigar-shaped minnows that live in shallow streams and grow about six inches long. They have blunt, stubby heads, and during the spawning season the males grow little knots on their noggin – hence the name “horny-heads.” (Stop snickering.)
Chubs are fun to catch, and not good for much else. Their flesh is mushy and spoils fast in hot weather. We would put them on a stringer, trailing along in the water, and at the end of the day all that was left was a stringer of chub-heads.
Chubs make good bait for bigger fish, like the monster jackfish Tommy Thurman and I caught one summer in Daddy’s Creek.
Are chubs edible? Depends on how hungry you are.
Fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I fried a panful of chubs on a trout-less trout-fishing trip to Tellico River one spring. We headed and gutted the little fish and fried them bones and all, crisp and golden, like French fries. They weren’t bad, but the next night – still trout-less -- we drove into town to Burger King.
Looking back, the fun of chub fishing wasn’t about catching chubs. It was about boyhood buddies, freckled and sunburned, wading along, cool mud oozing between our toes, boasting about what we’d do if a park ranger got after us. (Run through the tangles of poison ivy and dare him to follow.)
And also speculating about why all the teenagers congregated down at the swimming area where our hometown Annette Funicellos held court. (Ah, Annette, princess of the Mouseketeers; decades later, I’m still attracted to girls with big ears.)
So now, finally, I’ve come clean: I once caught creek chubs illegally.
Somewhere out there a grumpy old park ranger may read this, get out his ticket pad, and start tracking me down.
I hope he catches poison ivy.