My Grandma Taught Me to Fish

Early Lessons Pay Big Dividends When Kids Grow Up
By Bernard Williams

Bernard Williams learned early lessons from his grandmother that instilled a lifelong love of fishing in him. He caught this 3.15-pound whopper crappie at Lake Grenada, Mississippi, with his fishing partner, Don Terry, in the fall of 2015.

My paternal grandmother, Alberta Williams, lived with us.  She had to in her early 80’s when I was born; don’t remember her exact age, but I do know she was around 97 when she passed away.  Well, grandmamma loved to fish.  My mom says she started taking me fishing as soon as I could walk.

I was raised on a small farm. We were poor financially, but I didn’t know it.  My parents worked outside the house as well as on the farm.  My dad raised all our food including cattle, hogs, chickens, corn, cotton, and vegetables.  In those days we only had to purchase flour, sugar and a few other small grocery items.  I would have the time of my life exploring the outdoors as a kid.  I grew up with hunting dogs, and cats––that’s right, we had cats that caught everything from birds to snakes, and a rat or two every now and then.

I remember one morning when I was about 5, she called me from the breakfast table and asked if I wanted to accompany her “down to the pond” as she would call it. We had an 8 or 9 acre farm pond behind the house.  My answer was always “yes ma’am.” In those days you never said just “yes” or “no” to an adult.  I gathered up my pole and away we went.  The pond was about 200 yards behind the house and it was off limits to me as a kid unless I had adult supervision.

Grandma had an innate ability to find a bream bed, I thought it was some kind of magic.  Little did I know, she knew the scent.  She would say, “Boy, you smell that watermelon?”  I would say, “Yes ma’am,” knowing I had no idea.  I just wanted to put my pole in the water.  She would bait my hook with night crawlers we had gathered on the way to the pond.  Dad had a worm bed he’d started long ago.  That worm bed stayed full of night crawlers on one side and red worms on the other side.

She would pitch my worm out near an old stump and then bait her hook and do the same.  This particular day, as soon as my hook sank beneath the surface, a huge hand-size bluegill swallowed my bait and the fight was on. The fish gave a tremendous pull. For a small boy, this feeling caused tremendous excitement, almost to the point of wetting my pants (which is what I did!).  She helped me land the fish and get it into the basket.  Again, she baited the hook and instantly the same thing happened––another hand-sized (or better) bluegill.

I can’t remember exactly how many we caught that day, but I do remember my little sister getting extremely mad about being left out of our fishing adventure.  I’ll never forget the look on my mom and dad’s faces when they returned home to a table full of bluegill fried up with green tomatoes.  Oh boy, it’s kinda like Jerry Clower used to say, “It’ll make a puppy pull a freight train.”

My grandma had only two grandsons.  I was the youngest.  The older one, Johnny, was almost my dad’s age.  Grandmamma looked at Johnny like a son, but looked at me like a grandson.  I’ll never forget the fishing lessons she gave me and the whippings she helped me avoid.

Guess its true, that’s what unforgettable grandmothers are supposed to do––spoil the grandkids.

My Granny Taught Me to Fish


By Everette Wall

I may never make it to Heaven but if I don’t, I’ve been close enough to have an idea of what it’s like.  It was the backseat of an old Buick, surrounded by the thick, heady aroma of lilac bath powder.

It wasn’t what you might think, though.  I was about six years old, sandwiched between my paternal grandmother and one of her friends.  “Sandwiched” is an appropriate term because both ladies were what is known in today’s jargon as “full-figured.”  I didn’t mind, however, because we – including two other women in the front seat – were heading to the coast to go fishing.  For a youngster who loved fishing and his grandma with equal passion, life just couldn’t get any better.  And, I don’t think it ever has.

Those journeys, and others that followed, were a combination of agony and ecstasy.  On one hand they seemed to take forever.  Those were the days before four-lane highways and bypasses in eastern North Carolina and our route wound through the middle of towns like Beulaville and Chinquapin.  Not only that, but the driver didn’t believe in exceeding 45 miles per hour, regardless of the circumstances.  I thought we’d never get there and, if we did, every fish in the ocean would have already been caught.

In Granny’s scheme of things, the time to go fishing was whenever she and her buddies got the notion.  She would just leave Granddaddy a note that said, “Gone to the coast.”  That was his signal to fend for himself until she returned.

For Granny and her cohorts, fishing at the beach was a reprieve from doing laundry, cleaning house, and the other things that made up their day-to-day existence.  It wasn’t that they didn’t love their families and taking care of them, but ever so often, a girl needed a break.  And the weathered, wooden deck of an ocean pier, bathed by a cool breeze as it swayed slightly in the relentless, blue surf was a wonderful place to take one.  Gulls squawked as they wheeled overhead, dipping toward the waves periodically to investigate a possible meal, or maybe just because it was fun.  Farther out toward the horizon, sleek gray forms arched above the blue water as porpoises followed schools of fish down the shore.

The Surf City Pier was Granny’s preferred base of operations.  When she and her entourage arrived, they would take positions along whichever side seemed to be most productive and arrange their rods along the rail.  Then they would settle back on the pier’s weathered benches or in folding chairs to watch for bites.  The tips of Ocean City rods with level-wind Penn reels would dip slowly and rhythmically as waves passed beneath the pier.  Every so often, one would give a quick, definitive jerk.  That was the signal for the angler closest to it to grab the rod and begin cranking.  More often than not a silvery form, sometimes two, would be swung over the rail and flopped onto the deck, to be admired and then tossed onto the ice in a waiting cooler.

Granny and her crew were no fair weather fisherwomen.  Once the battle was joined, they were in it for the long haul.  They would man their stations all day and, often, most of the night.  They knew some of the best fishing was in the wee hours of the morning when most tourists were dozing in their rented cabins and only serious anglers remained at their posts.

If the daylight hours were interesting, nighttime on an ocean pier was magical.  I would curl up in a blanket and stare in wonder at a canopy of stars that looked close enough to touch.  Sometime during the evening I would doze off, immersed in the smell of shrimp and salty air, serenaded by the woosh of waves against the pier’s pilings, and content in the knowledge that Granny was within reach if I should need or want anything.  The rising sun would be my alarm clock, that and the heavy tread of anglers coming out for the early morning bite.


Spots, Granny’s favorite species, can be caught pretty much all year, but early fall is the best time.  That’s when the fish begin to congregate to shallow inshore waters in preparation for their winter spawning migration.  It’s the time of year when they are the fattest, many of them sporting bright yellow bellies – evidence of their elevated hormones.  Eventually they make their way offshore to breed. The eggs hatch at sea and the fry, barely a millimeter long, slowly wash back into the estuaries and begin the cycle all over again.

So it is with fish – and sometimes with little boys.  They eventually grow up, move to distant shores and assume lifestyles that insure their existence and that of future generations.  Before it’s all over, however, they return – if not physically, at least in their hearts – to those places that were most special in days gone by.

In one lad’s case that’s an ocean pier, right beside Granny.  It might be a great place to spend Mothers Day.

A Cane Pole, a Catfish and Great Grandma


Bobbers, Patience and that Twinkle in Grandma’s Eye

By Kenneth L. Kieser

My great grandmother grew up in a simpler time when fishing meant feeding your family.  She was old, bent over and gray by the time I came along in the early 1950’s, but she always had a smile and a twinkle in her eyes for me.

Our farm pond was easy to access in my great grandfather’s Model-A Ford, the only car they ever owned. We bounced over the pasture while grandpa tried to steer around sticks or other obstacles, creating quite a bumpy ride for me in the dusty, musty-smelling, black leather backseat.

Cane poles and my great grandfather’s old steel rod that had a J.C. Higgins red baitcast reel were tucked neatly to one side with his Sears tackle box that was about the size of a loaf of bread.  I could hear hooks, bobbers and other fishing stuff rattling as the car bounced.  Grandma occasionally glanced back at me to make sure I was surviving the sometimes wild ride.  She always returned my big grin.

The pond was surrounded by pasture so we drove up to the shoreline. The air smelled sweet on the spring mornings when we went fishing, unless you walked by a cow pie or two.  But that was just part of country life and we paid little attention, unless a misstep landed in the squishy mess.

Grandpa pulled out all the equipment and carried it to an appropriate spot on the pond dam.  He always gave us the best fishing spot.  He made sure grandma had a can of worms, then smiled at me and walked to the opposite end of the pond.

Then grandpa found a quiet spot to fish in peaceful solitude.  I learned later that he had bouts with depression earlier in life.  His quiet fishing moments became therapy, a term that did not exist for Missouri farm people in those days.  They just solved problems their own way.

Grandma loved to let me hook an earth worm.  She would smile at my struggles with the squirmy worm and always took over before frustration set in.  Soon the worm was firmly threaded on a genuine Mustad hook, the kind sold in round metal boxes in those days.  I always turned the red and white bobber over and over in my hand as she patiently waited for me to hand it over.

The bobber was added about a foot up the nylon line.  She stepped closer to the shoreline before leaning forward to expertly flip the rigging with a long cane pole.  The hooked worm and bobber seemed to always be perfectly positioned at the end of our thoroughly stretched-out fishing line.

“Now honey, you sit and watch that bobber,” she said in a soft voice.  “Hold the pole still and don’t move the bait.  You never know when a great big catfish is going to eat that worm.  But don’t move it.  You might take it away just before he takes a big bite.”

I had no idea that she was giving me a lesson in patience, an important aspect of fishing to be used the rest of my life.

Then we sat and waited.  Both of us held canes poles and studied our bobbers that drifted on the surface.  I occasionally got impatient and started lifting my fishing pole.  She would lay a hand on my shoulder and reassure me.

“The bait is fine, just wait and watch,” she said in a patient voice.

Sometimes she would slip me a Lifesaver, green or red because they were my favorites.

We generally caught small bluegill, commonly called sunfish by their generation.  Grandma always got a smile out of watching me pick up the long cane pole to drag the fish ashore.  I always held the fish up for grandpa to see before tossing it back to grow.  You could see his smile from across the pond.

Then one day my bobber slashed under the surface and stayed down.  I picked up the cane pole and felt more pull than a three-year old could handle.

“Take the pole grandma,” I urged. “I’m afraid the fish is going to pull me in.”

“No honey,” she said in a calm voice. ”You hang on and I’ll help.”

Grandma stepped behind me to grab part of the cane pole and we fought the big catfish as it ran back and forth.  I did not know to set the hook so the fish apparently hooked itself through a savage strike.  The fish had a lot of power, sometimes pulling me forward even though grandma was holding the pole too.

Grandpa heard the commotion of a good fish slapping the surface and came to help.  Somehow we all three grabbed the pole and dragged the five-pound channel catfish on shore.  I remember jumping up and down as my grandmother smiled at my youthful energy and excitement.  He held the fine fish up for me to see and proclaimed it my first catfish, even though I had plenty of help landing the good fighter.

We decided to leave. The commotion and excitement of landing the fish and my jumping around no doubt spooked the other fish a bit.  Besides, that catfish was enough to feed our family.  Other fish in the pond meant more meals later, my first conservation lesson; although in 1956 I didn’t realize what that meant.

Grandpa cut up the catfish and then grandma took over.  Few will ever fry a fish better, generally in fresh hog lard.  My grandparents arrived later with my mom and dad to enjoy a beautiful catfish dinner with friend potatoes, peas and a fresh blackberry cobbler.  Everyone, of course made a big deal about me catching dinner.  I wish they were all here so we could talk about that day.  Maybe they were with me as I wrote this memory.

Great grandpa and grandma were gone a few years later.  I wonder if their fishing spirits have prompted me to make a living writing about their favorite sport.

Somehow I think so and I’m trying to pass the same on to other youngsters too.

Author Kenneth L. Keiser was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 2010 as a Legendary Communicator, he pays homage and love to his great grandmother for getting him started on fishing and the outdoors as a very young boy.