NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Remember when the encore to a 60 degree November Monday was a shivering Tuesday with the first snowfall of the season? That Monday-Tuesday connection was Nov. 11 and 12. I know this because only a few days before the radical weather shift, the bass were biting so good on the Cumberland River that I nearly applied for Tennessee citizenship.
My daughter, Stacy, lives in Nashville with her husband and my three grandchildren. Her husband, Rudy, is a brick mason currently building new dormitories at Vanderbilt University where Stacy is a professor. When Dr. Stacy Clifford Simplican was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability Conference in Adelaide, Australia, the babysitting bat sign flashed across the Southeastern Ohio sky. I immediately headed south with the clothes on my back and a bass boat on the back of my truck.
My primary duty in this babysitting gig is twofold. First, I have to make sure the kids board the school bus in the morning. Secondly, I need to be home when the bus returns the broods to the ranch. Once the kids were under the supervision of the greatest babysitting service in the world, free public education, I turned my attention to making sure my boat realizes it greatest potential.
When Rudy’s boss gave him a couple days off, my solo fishing plans quickly transformed into two guys hitting the water like a modern day Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer duo. Even though Nashville has two excellent lakes with modern boat ramps on nearby J. Percy Priest and Old Hickory reservoirs, I prefer fishing the Cumberland River.
The Cumberland winds its way through downtown Nashville. The boat launches on the river run from modest to downright dangerous. Rudy has pinpointed two that are safe to launch a boat. One is the ramp at Cleece’s Ferry Road. The other launching area is known as the Lock Two ramp, and that’s the one we chose. I convinced Rudy to use this ramp, but I was not fully truthful as to why I wanted to launch here.
Several years ago, Peggy and I rented a VRBO home on the Cumberland River at Easter time. We had all the girls and their families together for the holiday. The house was beautiful and so was the time our family enjoyed. With children in Nashville and Chicago, our family always treasured those rare chances to be together. The kids stayed until jobs required their presence, leaving the house to Peggy and I for one more night. Even more importantly, we had the boat all to ourselves.
Despite threatening skies, I found a place where the bass were stacked on the edge of a rock ledge that fell off into 15-feet of water. The clouds finally made good on their threat of rain, but I was still catching smallmouth bass up to four pounds.
“If you’re going to keep me out here, I’ll need that raingear you’re wearing,” was the only request Peg made. We laughed outloud as she transformed into a green cocoon with eyeballs in my oversized raingear.
After allowing myself to relive that memory, I realized Rudy and I were very close to the area where I had caught so many bass that day with Peg. “This is the spot, Rudy, let’s try it here for awhile.” It didn’t take long for the fish to make that decision the right one.
I caught a 21-inch largemouth bass that couldn’t resist a well placed spinnerbait. We were catching quality fish on blue/black jig and pigs. When an 18-inch smallmouth bass ambushed my spinnerbait as I pulled it past a rocky point, Rudy was twice as excited as I was.
I hadn’t fished this section of the river since the day Peggy and I had been there that Easter weekend years ago. Rudy and I had a sunny and 71 Tennessee day for our fishing day. That’s a far cry from the chilly temps and rainy day Peggy endured so her husband could catch a few fish.
Nov. 8 marked three years since I lost her. I have traveled to places all over the country where Peggy and I visited. The places are still there, but not the smiles, or laughter, or conversations. As precious as those memories are, they come with the pain that knows no mercy.
“What a great day of fishing, Doug!” Rudy’s sudden summary of our time on the water ended the daydream I had allowed myself.
“Yep, this has always been a special little spot for us.” Rudy agreed, but he had no idea it first belonged to Peggy and me. Love you, Peg.
Always have. Always will.