Clyde Beal: The joy of talking with God while fishing

August 12, 2018

Webster’s Dictionary gives a watered-down definition of a fisherman as someone who catches fish for a living or sport. Its definition fails miserably when you consider a true fisherman is addicted to the sport beyond mortal comprehension.

A bona-fide fisherman might be better understood with a little humor like this: Jim and Frank were out fishing when a funeral procession passes by. Jim takes off his hat and puts it over his heart until it passes. Frank says, “Gosh Jim, I didn’t realize you were so respectful.” Jim replies: “It’s the least I could do, we were married 43 years.”

Fifty-two-year-old West Hamlin resident Chris Browning says that example might be a little on the extreme side. However, he does consider himself to be an avid longtime fisherman who enjoys time at water’s edge with a fishing pole. In fact, he’s been involved with the sport for more than 41 years.

“I suppose it’s true, I am pretty much addicted to fishing,” said Browning. “Ever since that first time my father took me fishing as a youngster to Mud River. I brought home every fish we caught that day and put all of them in the creek near our home so I could have the pleasure of catching them again. I’ve long since discovered that fishing is also a great time to have a relaxing one on one conversation with God.”

“I will also admit that I like deep-fried catfish, everything tastes better when it’s deep fried. Bluegills are not that big of a fish, but they do have a sweet taste that I enjoy. I never did try eating carp, but I understand in some areas of Asia they are considered a delicacy.

“Around these parts, they are just considered pigs with fins because they eat mostly from the bottom. There are a couple of lakes at Green Bottom that have bowfin fish - if you ever catch one, be careful, because they have a mouth full of sharp teeth.”

Browning likes fishing at Lake William in Barboursville because it’s clean when compared to the local rivers. He’s also fished from a kayak with his brother along the Elk River. And he enjoys slipping on a pair of high hip waders and fishing along the Greenbrier River. There are a couple of pay lakes he enjoys; Pine Lake in Wayne and Sky Lake in Chesapeake, both cost $20 for 12 hours and have a catch limit of 10 fish. Biggest fish he ever caught was at Sky Lake, a shovelhead catfish that weighed in at 40 pounds. He released it back into the water after a few pictures because he wasn’t allowed to keep it. He feels that because lakes are mostly stocked with farm-raised fish they have a better taste.

“I like early-morning fishing,” said Browning. “There are people who say catfish bite better at night but I’m not one of them. There are so many things to consider that determine the difference between just drowning worms and catching a few fish. During the summer, water temperatures are warmer where it’s shallow and colder in deeper water. Some fish like warmer water, some don’t, and it’s important to know the difference. Many believe that fish just eat what they can smell but they have great eyes too; also the type of bait you use is very important. Something else to consider is metabolism; some fish are more active in warmer water. Active fish eat more often.”

Browning is one fisherman who’s most particular about his bait. In fact, he’s so particular that he goes to great length in processing it. During his early stages of harvesting and freezing this special bait, the freezer section of the family refrigerator begins taking up more space for fish bait than food. Over time, this became such a problem with his wife that she forced him to buy a separate freezer to maintain harmony in the family.

“I planted catalpa trees in my back yard,” said Browning. “These trees are fast-growing and you have to cut them back every so often to keep them under control. The catalpa worms come from larvae that hatch on these trees and will eventually transform into a caterpillar. I have a few thousand catalpa worms in my own freezer that I’ve handpicked from the back yard trees. They are great for fish bait, especially catfish.”

So how good are these catalpa worms that he uses for fish bait? During this interview, I watched Browning catch three catfish. He admits to catching 45 at one outing; of that number he kept four which was the limit. He did catch a 39-inch carp at Lake William once and happily released it.

“You can get into fishing without investing too much money,” said Browning. “I’ve got about a dozen poles and they each have a special purpose. A good rod and reel can be had for about $50. Artificial lures are good for bass and can be found in most flea markets. Go cheap until you decide if you like it. I’ve taken nieces and nephews fishing, even kids from our church.”

Aside from fishing, Browning enjoys turkey hunting in the spring and hunting deer in the fall with a bow and arrow. For now he has freedom to enjoy a little spare time. He had been employed in Huntington by Flint Group Pigments for 24 years until the plant closed completely last year, that’s when he lost his job. He’s completed several job applications and is looking for new employment. He’s hoping for something to materialize this fall. In the meantime, he enjoys working around the neighborhood, fishing and his church.

“My wife and I attend Salt Rock Community Church, where I’m a deacon and adult Sunday school teacher,” said Browning. “I also help teaching kids one day a month at church. Our Bible school recently had 150 kids in attendance which kept many of us adults quite active keeping the kids occupied. God has blessed me my entire life.”

Browning did mention that hunting is also another great time to chat with God.

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email archie350@frontier.com.

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