Wilson Post Blogs
What is it about Hills?
BY JOHN L. SLOAN
One of my favorite outdoor writers is Gene Hill. One of my favorite archers is Howard Hill. One of my favorite smallmouth lakes is Center Hill. What is it about Hills that attracts me? I guess some of it may be mystery. You never know what a particular Hill may hit you with. It may be a trick shot, a surprise phrase or a fish that you did not expect. Some too, may well be sheer beauty. An arrow etched just perfectly against a blue sky or a “set” of words that become a picture or fog, low on the water that suddenly becomes a rock bluff.
I have spent a lot of time at Center Hill. Starting with the early 70’s, I fished it whenever I could. I liked fishing it so much, for a while I lived there in a trailer house above Cove Hollow Dock. Before the dam came, I would have been within sight of the big cave in which they use to pitch horseshoes on rainy days. I wonder how much water is over the cave, now?
The work on the dam has caused them to draw the lake way down. Many of the docks are out of the water. I have not fished it in a couple years. I have thought about it, I just haven’t done it. Percy Priest is just too handy and the smallmouth fishing is good.
It is the weekend after the Fourth of July. The year is 1976, lots of celebrating the birth of our nation went on but the crowds are gone now. Even during the day, the lake is not crowded. We start, oddly enough, on Smith Fork creek, Harold Dotson, Chuck Wilson and I. We float the creek catching plenty of fish, keeping enough for each of us to have a good mess or two. Hard to believe they are both gone now. Pulmonary fibrosis and a car wreck.
It is a Wednesday morning, hot and sunny and we wade the creek as much as we float it. We lunch on a gravel bar we call Rosie’s Diner and take out just above the confluence of the Smith and the Caney.
Dinner that night is composed of huge steaks, baked potatoes and green beans. Chuck has to go home but Harold and I spend the night. We slept well.
It is so foggy we have to idle out of the mouth of Cove Hollow. I have seen it foggy you can’t see Hurricane bridge as you pass under it. It is a weekday morning and we do not hear another boat. We keep the left bank in sight and when we hit the second “cut”, we break out the rods. This is in the day of the glass rod, before they gave way to Lamiglass and that in turn to graphite and in turn, some sort of composite.
I have a 1/8 ounce white doll fly with a yellow twin-tail pork rind. I am fishing 4lb line. We start just where the drop off begins and cast tight on the bank. It starts with my third cast. As I let the fly slowly fall into 15 feet of water, I feel a light tap and set the hook. It is a smallmouth of over four pounds, my largest to date. From then until nine o’clock, we catch fish after fish. I have no idea how many we caught but I would guess close to 30. We suspect the turbulence from all the boats has stirred up the banks and fish have come to feed on the forage fish.
Dusk is giving way to darkness and we idle past the no-wake buoys. I turn the black light on and we make the short run to the rounded bank straight across from what is now Edgar Evins ramp #2. I have a ¼-ounce, black spinner bait, a Bumble Bee on one rod and black on black doll fly on another. Harold has the same. We are going to try and duplicate that morning’s fishing after dark.
Dark is a prime time to fish clear water lakes once it gets hot. We once fished eight straight nights, sleeping during the day. We caught a lot of fish. I suspect on the upper end of the lake, Harlan Howard and Curly Putnam are putting out, too. They do a lot of fishing and songwriting at Center Hill. They headquarter on Curly’s house boat at Sligo Dock.
There is a log that lays parallel to the bank. It has been there a long time and we know it well. It is 15 feet off the bank in three feet of water. It is a favorite ambush spot for bass. My spinner bait drops four feet behind the log. I swim it quickly, making a wake as it crosses the log, then I slow the retrieve and let it drop. WHAM! A bass hammers it and as I set the hook, I feel Dotson do the same. It is game on.
We never changed lures that night. We fished until around two in the morning and then called it quits. We had at least as many fish as we caught that morning-mostly smallmouth. After hot showers, we slept well.
That is a sample of what was available back then. I hope I make it to see Center Hill filled back to normal summer pool. I have a feeling when that happens the fishing is going to be superb.
Until then, I guess I can read some Gene Hill, maybe some old Hill Country stories. I might watch some of the old Howard Hill movies of his shooting.
There is something about the Hills.