LARRY Dadjack

Tom Thurman, left, and Larry Woody with their Daddy's Creek jackfish caught in the summer of '64.

Battle of the jackfish - 

Efforts are underway to restore the big, ferocious fish called jackfish by generations of mountain folk who wrestled them out of clear, cool streams on the Cumberland Plateau.

One memorable summer morning in 1964, I wrestled out one myself. More on that in a minute.

By the 1970s, jackfish were widely believed to be extinct, victims of pollution, poaching and low water levels that virtually drained the deep pools they inhabited.

In the 1980s the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency launched a restoration program, stocking streams with hatchery-raised musky, a pike-family cousin of jackfish. The stocked musky are thriving. But are they really jackfish?

Nobody knows for sure. Fisheries biologists theorize a few jackfish survived and cross-bred with the close-kin musky.

I hope the biologists are right -- that descendants of old-time jackfish are still finning in streams like the Obed and Daddy’s Creek where past generations fished for them.

As a kid, I thrilled to stories about my great-grandfather Jim Van Winkle catching jackfish. He used a stout pole, heavy line and a strip of raw bacon on a big hook. Easing up on a jackfish hole, he slithered the bacon strip back and forth across the surface (much the same as modern pork-rind lures) to entice a strike. When a jackfish blasted the bait, it was yanked onto the bank with a mighty heave and pounced on.

Mountain folk fished for food, not sport, and a big jackfish could feed a family for a week.

I became at least a third-generation jackfisherman as a teenager in the summer of ’64.

Boyhood buddy Tom Thurman, now a retired Deputy Attorney General and Nashville’s most famous criminal prosecutor, and I went jackfishing in Daddy’s Creek. We caught a bucket of creek chubs for bait, then hiked down to a deep pool called the “Baptizing Hole” by church folk and the “Jackfish Hole” by fishermen.

Up North, musky are called “The Fish of 10,000 Casts” because they are so hard to catch. Their jackfish cousins usually required similar patience.

But that morning, minutes after I cast out my creek chub, something grabbed it. I set the hook, and a three-foot-long jackfish exploded from the emerald water. It thrashed and splashed across the pool as I hung onto my bowed rod. It was a tossup who had caught whom.

Finally the fish tired, and Thurman netted it. Hearts pounding, we rushed back to town to show off our catch. The Crossville Chronicle ran a front-page photo – two kids with big ears, holding a big jackfish.

That fall Thurman and I left for college, then the Army, marriage, kids and careers. That was our last jackfishing trip.

I hope there are some genuine jackfish still out there, not just their cross-bred cousins. I hope, but I have my doubts.

I suspect the old-timey jackfish, like most of the old timers who fished for them, are gone forever, enduing only in faded photos and musty memories.