Lessons from "Topwater" Jerry

I have spent countless hours reading magazines, watching fishing shows, talking with various professional anglers, all to try and learn everything possible about bass fishing. I have read the book by Dr. Keith Jones, fisheries biologist for Pure Fishing, to try and better understand these darn little green fish. I have spent a small fortune on various rods, reels, and other tackle. I own everything from braided line to fluorocarbon to plain ol' monofiliment. But, I know, should I make another trip back to Texas, my friend Jerry will once again whip my butt when we go fishing.

Now I don't mind getting shown up on the water . I'm used to it by now, but for Jerry to whip me is humiliating.

Jerry can whip just about anyone on the water, but he goes against everything we have learned about bass fishing. If he were on Denny Brauer's show to be rated for his fishing prowess Denny would be on the floor laughing so hard he would wet himself watching Jerry break out his Zebco rig. But, once on the water, Denny would be heading for the house with his tail tucked between his legs and thanking his lucky stars that Jerry doesn't fish the pro circuit.

Jerry is in his mid-fifties, served as a Marine in Viet Nam, is a simple country boy who loves a good practical joke. He has respect for his parents, enough that he still hides his cigarettes and his Coors when his father visits. In the summer, if Jerry is wearing a T-shirt, he is on his way to meet his banker, otherwise, why wear a shirt. When you talk with him your ears will be filled with colorful Texas slang. Y'all know what I mean?

When I first met Jerry he owned a small bait and tackle store on the banks of the Brazos River, just south of Lake Granbury. We became fast friends despite his placing pig poop in the back of my pickup as a joke.

In the spring he likes to hunt rattlesnakes that he would turn loose in his store at night to, "guard the place." He kept trying to get me to go snake hunting with him, but I figure if I see one, I'll try to kill it, but I'm not going looking for the scaly critters.

Of course, he does have a sense of humor. He didn't even get mad when I got together with another friend one morning and drank too many beers then decided it would be a good idea to put an old wood boat that was full of holes up on the roof of his store. We did paint it though -- bright, neon yellow. Being the kind of person he is Jerry made lemonade out of lemons and used the boat as a billboard to advertise the store. It stayed up there for years until God got sick of seeing the blasted thing and blew it off with a tornado.

The first time Jerry asked me to go fishing with him I was excited. Everyone told me that Jerry knew where the best fishing holes in the county were. I gathered up all my gear the night before, put new line on my freshly lubed reels, organized my tackle box, checked the weather, then got a good night's sleep. I met Jerry at his store about 6 a.m. We loaded up into his old Scout and headed out across a peanut field.

I noticed Jerry only loaded up a $10 fiberglass rod with old 10-pound test line and a tiny little plastic tackle box. That seemed strange, I had enough tackle to fill three stores.

We came to a stop and Jerry told me to follow a small trail down a steep slope to the river. I carefully picked my way down the treacherous slope and finally reached the bank.

I quickly decided to tie on a Zara Spook. Jerry opened up his little plastic box, the kind you would buy for kid, it was full of Tiny Torpedos. There must have been 20 of them in the box, but only three colors. Clear, Chrome and Baby Bass. He chose a chrome one and made a cast. BAM! A two-pound river bass slammed his Torpedo.

I worked my Spook all over the place . nothing!

Jerry made a second cast. POW! Another bass, slightly larger than the first one, broke the water and was soon on the bank.

In a few minutes, Jerry had landed five fish while I hadn't got a bite. He walked over with his fifth bass and held it up under my nose and said, "Y' all want to remember what they smell like?

Ha Ha . yeah, Jerry's a funny guy.

I tried different lures with limited success. I even broke down and tried a Tiny Torpedo. Zilch! Nada! Nothing!

We broke for a bite to eat and while we were sitting there enjoying a stale sandwich and warm beer, Jerry pointed back up the trail.

"Y'all see thet damned 'ol hole bout midways up thet trail?"


"Well, thet's the best damned rattlesnake den in all of Sommerville County. Hell, I kin git bout 50 snakes out of there any time I want."

"What? And you let me walk over that hole and didn't at least warn me?"

"Didn't figger it mattered none. Sides, if you had knowed it, you might of stayed in the truck and then youda missed all this great fishin'."

Yeah, great fishing for Jerry - the only thing I was doing was providing Jerry with comedy relief.

"Well, when we go back you're going to lead the way," I stated flatly.

He just shrugged his shoulders, but swear I heard him laugh under his breath.

Later in the afternoon, we decided it was time to go. Jerry's arm was tired from pulling in all those fish and I was tired of him asking me if I wanted to sniff them. I did catch a couple of bass and one Alligator Gar, but Jerry must have caught more than one hundred fish - up to five pounds.

Being a good friend, Jerry took the lead and bounded up the trail. I took my time, holding my fishing rod in front of me, using it like radar, and was ready to beat the daylights out of any reptile that attempted to slither by.

By the time I reached the truck, Jerry was sitting on the hood with a fresh beer. I sighed a sigh of relief because I had just survived the largest snake den in the county. We jumped into the Scout and headed back across the peanut field. Jerry turned to me and said, "You know, there's sumthin funny bout rattlers . the first person to walk by 'em just stir 'em up. They usually bite the second person who is dumb enough to walk by."

What a pal!

In all the years I fished with Jerry, I never saw him use anything but a Tiny Torpedo on a cheap fiberglass pole and a Zebco 202 reel. And, in all the years I have fished with Jerry, he has always caught at least twice as many fish as me. I even know a few local professionals that Jerry has frustrated. They show up with $400 poles and $300 reels, $30 lures and line that requires taking out a mortgage on the house to purchase, only to have Jerry walk up to them several times a day and say, "Y'all want to remember what they smell like?"

Sometimes I have wondered if the reason Jerry could always whip me was because I was always on edge, waiting for another of his practical jokes.

I was getting ready to go duck hunting for the first time in my life. The afternoon before my big hunt Jerry asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him while he checked on some cows. We took off down a dirt road and he started asking me about my duck-hunting trip. I told him about the decoys I bought and that I was going with a guy who owned some great retrievers. We were going to Lake Whitney first thing in the morning.

"Do y'all have a duck call?" he asked.

"No, I was going to buy one tonight."

"Hell son, save your damn money. I kin show y'all how to make one. It's easy."

Now let me explain, Jerry can build anything. Everyone in the county knew that. He built his own Jacuzzi out of a boat mold. He built the finest barbecue grills and smokers around out of old propane tanks. There was nothing he couldn't build . so why not a duck call?

He slammed on the brakes and the truck came to a sliding stop. He jumped out and popped open his toolbox. I stood on the other side of the truck, leaning on the rail, listening intently, trying to remember everything he said. He pulled out some wire, some metal strips, needle-nose pliers, a wrench, and a small cutting torch, and then fired up his welding rig. For 20 minutes I watched and listened, wishing I had brought a tape recorder. He told me about what gauge of wire to use, which angles to bend the wires, how to bend the metal strips just right and what heat to set the welder on. I was fascinated. Finally, the work of art was finished.

"Now remember, the gauge of wire isn't jest rite so it'll be a bit off," Jerry said.

"No problem," I said, wondering what gauge should have been used. "Let's hear it."

"All righty . here we go."

He held the contraption up to his lips, took a deep breath and then said, "Here ducky, ducky, ducky."

I should have known . sucked in again!

Two days later I stopped by the store to see Jerry and tell him about the hunt, which had gone well despite not having a duck call. There was one of the local girls behind the counter and I asked her where Jerry was.

"Ungh . he went out on a delivery. He should be back in a few minutes. You can step out back and wait, Jerry's cooler is full of beer," she said.

That worked for me, a few cold beers in exchange for his joke seemed a fair trade. I stepped through the back door and there was Jerry, with ten of our friends, all looking at me and saying, "Here ducky, ducky, ducky."

I wasn't always the one on the receiving end of one of Jerry's jokes. When he was in the Marines, he made friends with a 'city slicker' from New Jersey named Fred.

Fred made his living as a police officer in New Jersey but would make at least two trips to Texas every year to see Jerry and work on his cars. Of course, every time Fred worked on the car Jerry would wait until he left and then take the car to a mechanic to repair Fred's work.

On one such trip, Fred heard about 'telephoning' fish. This doesn't mean calling up a bass or catfish, to telephone fish requires the help of a small hand crank generator, a couple of lead wires, and a good head start on the local game warden.

By turning the generator and placing the leads in the water, fish of all species are shocked and float to the surface. They are only stunned and usually come to life the second you touch them . or so I've heard.

Fred thought telephoning fish was a grand idea and asked Jerry to take him somewhere where he could give a few a call.

"Y'all caint do thet. It's agin' the law you dumb city boy," said Jerry.

"Yeah, but it will be o.k. because I'm a cop."

"You're damned cop in New Jersey. Thet don't mean crap in Texas," Jerry laughed.

"Aw, come on Jerry. I want to try it."

Then I noticed a glint in Jerry's eye and knew he was up to something.

"Well hell. If you want to do it thet bad I reckon I got to take you," Jerry said.

Jerry ran home and dug around the garage until he found a small hand operated generator. Why he had it, I'll never know. He came back and picked Fred and me up. Of course, a couple of other guys at the store wanted to watch too. Benny and Ted followed us down to the banks of the Brazos River.

"Now Fred, what y'all got to do is wade on out an throw the leads into the water. Then just start turnin' the handle on the generator," said Jerry.

Fred waded out and threw the leads into the river. When he started turning the crank he began to visibly shake. The more he shook the faster his hand would turn the crank. On the bank of the river, four full-grown men were rolling in the sand in hysterics. Finally Fred couldn't take the jolting any longer and threw the generator half way across the river. He turned to us and yelled, "Damn . you Texans are tough!"

Later, Fred and I became friends and were even thrown out of a grocery store together. We weren't doing anything too bad. Sure, we had downed a few drinks and then decided we needed to have a barbecue. When we were at the store, we noticed that Cornish game hens looked a little like footballs so we started a two-man game in the aisles. It seemed harmless, but for some reason, Jack Daniels has a tendency of distorting what is considered acceptable behavior. The manager actually became angrier when we asked him if he would be interested in playing center. Go figure!

So, maybe the true key to success in the fishing industry has little to do with your boat, your rods, reels or even your lures. Maybe a fiberglass rod, a Zebco 202 and a Tiny Torpedo is all you really need, but to beat your competition you need to plan some great, practical jokes.