Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fish Stories

by David Parmer
Catching the Big Ones
Catching the big one has always been the dream of every fisherman who ever dropped a line in the water. This dream begins in early childhood, lasts a lifetime and usually gathers slight, or perhaps large, embellishments along the way. Many Orlando youth and adults tested the fertile Oil Creek waters in their days. This is a story about fishing in Oil Creek as told by the most honest men alive.

Oil Creek
Oil Creek is a tributary of the Little Kanawha River. A small stream, Oil Creek heads on the southern slope of Arnold Hill, near Roanoke, and flows in a southwesterly direction toward Orlando which is about six miles from its headwaters. From its source, several small creeks flow into Oil Creek, including Clapboard Run, Ford Run, Bear Run, Redlick Run, Little Bear Run, Second Big Run, Rag Run, Threelick Run, and Clover Fork, the latter being the major tributary of Oil Creek. After flowing through Orlando toward Burnsville to the west, Oil Creek picks up waters from Road Run, Posey Run, McCauley Run, and Dumpling Run. The mouth of Oil Creek at Burnsville is about four miles from Orlando. The total length of Oil Creek overall is about ten miles. Although not an overly impressive watershed, Oil Creek has been noted as an excellent fishing stream for as long as people have lived along its banks.

rt above: some of the species of fish pulled from Oil Creek & its tributaries, from the top down: blue walleye, muskie, catftsh, smallmouth bass.

lt above: map of the Oil Creek watershed as it is today. When the events in this entry occurred, Stonewall Jackson Lake, Burnsville Lake with the Riffle Run camping area and I-79 did not exist. Click on the map to read it more easily.

Spawning Season
In the late spring of the year, Oil Creek becomes lively with spawning fish. Largemouth and smallmouth bass, Northern pike, muskies, and perch join the various catfishes, sunfishes, suckers and chubs which are in plentiful supply in Oil Creek, seeking a placid stream for egg-laying. Most fishermen agree that the time to catch the big one is during the spring spawning season.

A Passion for Fishing
Besides the first hand accounts of the types of fish which frequented Oil Creek waters, a valuable resource discussing central West Virginia fishing waters is W. E. R. Byrne’s Tale of the Elk. This book, published in 1940, was written several years earlier and was serialized in magazine stories by Byrne, a prominent Sutton attorney who, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, “practiced law when he had to and fished when he could”. Born in 1862, Byrne began practicing law in 1884 in Sutton, and fished the biggest part of the time. His book is replete with his tales of fishing the Elk River and a description of the types of fish he encountered with his line or his gig. Byrne died at his fishing camp on the Elk River in 1937 at the age of 75. The span of Byrne’s life fits neatly with the time frame of the settlement of Orlando and its growth as a railroad town and of the earliest fishing days on Oil Creek.

Oil Creek was the home to a remarkable array of fish. Whether the fish were large or small, long or short, many Oil Creek anglers enjoyed the thrill of the catch.
lt above: more of the species of fish pulled from Oil Creek & its tributaries, from the top down: chub, largemouth bass, northern pike, carp.

rt: even more of the species of fish pulled from Oil Creek & its tributaries, from the top down: shad, 'backer boxes bluegill and sunfish, redhorse sucker, crappie.

lt: snapping turtles and frogs also made for good hunting and good eating.

Gaver Allman
Telegrapher and station agent Gaver Allman of Orlando was an avid fisherman during his three score years of residency in Orlando. According to his grandson John Allman, Gaver fished in many of the streams of West Virginia, including the wilds of Webster County and the more placid water of the Little Kanawha. John also recalls a memorable trip with his grandfather to the Blackwater River in Tucker County to fish below Blackwater Falls. The trip was noteworthy also because of the rattlesnakes which infested the stony shores. John also remembers trot line fishing with his grandfather below the pump station in Burnsville and the many turtles which they caught. John’s grandmother, Misha Allman, was a real culinary genius when it came to preparing turtle for the dinner table. John remembers turtle as a delicious delicacy.
John’s two favorite memories of fishing with his grandfather however were on Oil Creek. Around the month of June in 1939 or 1940 when John was around six or seven years old, one evening after work at the Orlando depot, Gaver gathered up his fishing pole and told John to come with him to do “some casting.” Of course, to Gaver and John that meant fishing. They walked down Oil Creek below the ball field beside St. Michael’s Church to a favorite fishing hole. Gaver cast his line softly into the deep hole and promptly set a hook into a huge Northern pike. He skillfully landed the huge fish and they promptly took it home and put in a large washtub. The fish filled the tub and then some, from corner to corner. “Shaking like a leaf,” according to John, his grandfather told him “where there’s one, there’s another,” so Gaver and John set out for the same fishing spot to try their luck again. True to his prediction, Gaver set his hook into another gigantic identical pike which again was quickly brought to bank and taken home to the awaiting wash tub. John reckons the pair of fish each measured around forty inches long. Needless to say, John was both quite impressed with his grandfather’s skill in landing the fish, and his grandmother’s ability to prepare a delicious fish dinner.
lt: John Allman with his infant son and grandfather Gaver Allman.
rt: Gaver Allman takes his hat off
Another fishing excursion on Oil Creek with his grandfather occurred just below the mouth of Clover Fork. John and his family, who were Pittsburgh residents, were visiting his grandparents in the fall of 1959. Wading the creek, Gaver and John struck a fish bonanza in a school of white shad. They landed fish left and right and soon ran out of bait, so they began cutting bait from the smallest of the fish they had already caught. Altogether Gaver and John took home about fourteen or fifteen fish for the dinner table. John vividly remembers his grandfather telling him at the conclusion of that successful fishing trip that the experience would be “something for you to remember me by.” Perhaps the words were prophetic; Gaver died the following year. John will always remember the companionship of his grandfather in fishing for the big ones in Oil Creek.

Reminiscing further about his grandfather, John brought to mind another fishing experience with him. Prefacing his story, John recalled that his grandfather was a devout worshiper in the Orlando Methodist Church and was very strict in observing religious scruples. John had never heard his grandfather utter any off-color word in any situation until the day in question. John, his step-father James Walther, and his grandfather Gaver were fishing in Oil Creek between the mouth of Threelick Run and the Orlando bridge. Gaver was wearing hip boots as were his fishing companions. Feeling the call of nature, Gaver had turned away from his fellow fishermen to urinate. Just at that time a large fish struck Gaver’s line which was in the water, creating a panic situation. Losing his balance at this critical juncture, Gaver fell backwards into the water. Arising from his Baptist-like immersion, John was shocked to hear his grandfather say, “Aw, shit, I peed myself, I lost the fish, and my boots are full of water.” John didn’t say whether he reported the incident to his grandmother.

John Allman loved to visit his grandparents in Orlando which was also John’s home early in his youth. John not only enjoyed fishing with his grandfather and his friend John Gibson, but he also enjoyed playing baseball for the highly successful Orlando team. On one visit to Orlando, John suited up to catch for the Falls Mill team at a baseball game at Falls Mill. (Several Orlando boys and men also played for Falls Mill, including Claud Mick, the Orlando postmaster and lanky first baseman.) After the game, John returned to Burnsville where he met his grandfather and the two decided to return to Falls Mill to try their luck in the Little Kanawha waters. Gaver fished the river downstream from John. As John was fishing, an ominous figure in the form of a rough looking fellow with a shotgun made an appearance on the river bank and gazed in a hostile manner in John’s direction. John acknowledged the bank-watcher with a wave of the hand, but otherwise tried to ignore his presence. After a while, Gaver, who was moving upstream in his fishing efforts, arrived at the spot of the shotgun-toting observer and spoke briefly with him. Curious about the conversation, John later inquired of his grandfather about the encounter. Gaver told John that he was acquainted with the man who happened to have a still close by, and, since John was unknown to him, he had to keep an eye on the young stranger.

Gaver’s fishing expeditions on Oil Creek did not escape the watchful eyes of Uncle Zeke who lived about a mile and a quarter downstream from Oil Creek on the banks of Oil Creek. Uncle Zeke frequently mentioned in his newspaper columns which he wrote from 1915 until 1936 that Gaver Allman was trying his luck in the fishing holes of Oil Creek. “Chick” Mick also remembers the dedicated Gaver fishing Oil Creek and recalls that the first fly-fishing rod he ever saw was wielded by Gaver Allman.

Uncle Zeke
Uncle Zeke loved to watch from his porch as his neighbors fished in Oil Creek. He also loved to report on their successes, or the lack thereof, either of which was entertaining news to the readers of his Buzzardtown news columns.

rt:P. N. "Newt" Blake, aka Uncle Zeke

Ezra Posey, C. O. Skinner, and Burr Skinner
In his August 22, 1916 column, Uncle Zeke reported that Ezra, C. O. and Burr “left West Virginia and went up into Braxton County to fish. They returned the next day having caught nothing but bad colds.”

Ed Ball
Although not strictly fishing, frog gigging is so closely akin to the fine art of fishing that it deserves mention in any article about rod and reel. On July 3, 1917, Uncle Zeke reported, “Ed Ball, while hunting jug-a-rums recently, fell into the creek and got his feet wet. J. R. Posey says it was the first time his feet have been wet for over a year.”

Marshall Posey
Undoubtedly, Marshall Posey developed a sensational reputation as a carp fisherman after his neighbors read Uncle Zeke’s column of November 26, 1918 . “Marshall Posey set a steel trap to catch a muskrat. He baited it with hog liver. The next day he visited his trap and found a fourteen inch carp in it.”

Red Beckner
Red Beckner got special attention from Uncle Zeke in April and May of 1921 when Zeke regaled his readers with Red’s prowess with hook and line. On April 19th, Zeke reported that “Red Beckner, the champion angler of our town, succeeded in landing four dandy suckers recently, the largest being nearly three inches long.” To highlight Red’s improvement as a fisherman, Zeke reported on May 24th that “Red Beckner, the chief fisherman of our town, still lands a little “tobacky” box occasionally.”

Pan fish like sunfish and pumpkin seeds were called "'baccer boxes," because they were as small as a Prince Albert tobacco tin.

rt: William "Red" Beckner

Red’s grandson Bill Beckner recalls that when he was a boy, he would often accompany his grandfather on Oil Creek fishing trips. Describing him as the “most patient man in the world,” Bill recalls that his grandfather could sit for hours without moving when his line was in the water. Bill also remembers that his grandfather would often stop and visit with neighbors while he was fishing. On one occasion, Bill was fishing with his grandfather on Oil Creek and had fished the stream all the way from Orlando to the railroad cut near Posey Run. Bill recalls that his grandfather caught two nice bass, one of which was fourteen inches long and the other twenty-one inches long. On this outing, his grandfather took Bill out of the water near Road Run in order to visit with Bill McPherson and measure the two fish. Bill remembers the pleasure that his grandfather received from talking with his neighbors on their porches and then heading back to the creek for more fishing.

Sonny Conrad
To mix a little fishing levity with his disdain for the efforts of the State Road Commission, Uncle Zeke mused on June 29, 1922 that “Sonny Conrad wants to know if he has to get a fishing license to fish the mudholes in the county road between Orlando and Burnsville.”

rt: Sonny Conrad
lt: Fred McCord

Fred McCord
Fred, the son of Oliver "O. P." McCord and Della (Hyre) McCord, spent many an hour fishing the waters of central West Virginia. His mother’s parents, Benjamin and Mary Stewart Hyer, lived at Gillespie on the Elk River and Uncle Zeke mentioned in several of his columns of the 1920’s that Fred was off visiting his grandparents and fishing on the Elk River. Obviously, Fred had a little luck on Oil Creek as well when Uncle Zeke noted that on September 1, 1927, Fred “caught five pike ranging from seventeen to twenty five inches.”

Denver Barnett
Denver Barnett was another noted fisherman of Orlando . Denver, at times, would forego wading or sitting on the river bank to fish and instead, elect to ride in style in his john boat ( a flat bottomed boat) which he kept moored at the Orlando marina. Uncle Zeke reported sadly however on June 27, 1935, that Denver ’s “john boat washes away in a flood.”

lt: Denver Barnett

John Patrick Bragg –
Orlando’s Answer to Huckleberry Finn
The most animated teller of fishing stories this writer has spoken to has been John Bragg, son of Pres Bragg and Jessie (Riffle) Bragg. John’s fish stories start early in life when he was just a child. Perhaps he derived his love of fishing from his mother Jessie (Riffle) Bragg, daughter of Joseph Emery Riffle and Betty Alice (Skinner) Riffle.

How to Lasso a Fish
John recalled a story that his aunts and uncles told him about his mother’s inventiveness in catching fish in Oil Creek near the old bridge location at Threelick. It seems that there was an old willow tree which grew on the creek bank with a sturdy tree limb extending over Oil Creek. When Jessie was a youngster, she loved to fish as much as her brothers, and was perhaps a little more clever than they were. Suckers thrived in Oil Creek and particularly liked to lounge in the shallow waters near the mouth of Threelick. Fishermen are aware that fish are spooked in low waters by intruders and are therefore difficult to entice by standard fishing practices. On a good fishing day and with knowledge that suckers were sunning themselves near the willow tree, Jessie rigged up a wire hoop, and holding it, she shimmied up the willow tree and out on the limb over the resting spot of the suckers. She skillfully lowered the hoop into the water near the head of the sucker and as the fish ventured into the trap, a quick tug of the wire snugly secured the fish in the wire trap. The device was so successful that Jessie took home a burlap bag of suckers that day, as told by her brother Jack to his nephew, John Bragg.

How to Grab a Fish
John Bragg recalls another instance of his mother’s inventiveness in corralling a nice fish. He recalls that when he was eight or nine years old he was fishing in Clover Fork behind the Bragg home. He noticed a nice fifteen or sixteen inch bass in the deep pool and attempted to coax the fish to take the bait. The sly bass however was aware that the efforts by young John meant trouble. With each attempt by John to snag the fish, the finned swimmer would take refuge in an old tree stump on the water’s edge. After several fruitless tries to capture the fish, John went to his home and complained to his mother about the lack of cooperation by the crafty fish. Jessie told her son that if the fish returned to the hole in the tree’s trunk to put his hand in the hole and grab it. Fearful of snapping turtles or perhaps evil snakes, John declined to follow his mother’s advice. Recognizing her son’s fear of the unknown, Jessie followed John to the spot in the creek where the fish was hiding. She went into the water, stuck her hand into the hole, and, murmuring once or twice that she felt the fish, deftly grabbed it and pulled it from its hiding place. John recalls that the Bragg dinner table included filet of bass as the main course that night, thanks to his mother’s fearlessness of the unknown. As a young child, John learned many valuable lessons on the fine art of fishing from his mother which served him in good stead in years to come.

rt above: John Bragg's high school photo
lt above: Jessie (Riffle) Bragg, John's mom.
lt: Pres and Jessie Bragg's sons John and Joe Bragg in front of their home in the 1950s

Catching a Muskie
John recalls that around 1961 or 1962 a flood occurred on Oil Creek. Near the low water bridge at the mouth of McCauley Run, John was in the company of Larry Casto, Ronnie Riffle, and either Keith or Jennings Dancy, when they spotted a large musky which had been isolated by a flood-created gravel bar in a pool about thirty feet long by five feet wide. The water was about three feet deep. This pool was separated from the main course of Oil Creek by the gravel bar. The fish was a tempting target but the boys could not figure out how to stampede the muskie out of the corral. Ronnie, who lived on upper Clover Fork, said he would go home and get his fishing pole to catch the fish. Making good on his promise, Ronnie left and returned with his fishing pole equipped with a white spinner and fuzzy feathers as a lure. On the second cast, the muskie took the bait. After a lengthy pulling contest, the muskie gave up and was dragged out onto the gravel bar. That evening it graced the dinner table of Tom and Ruby Riffle.

A Really Big Bass
When John Bragg was around fifteen or sixteen years old he was visiting his friends, the Dancy brothers, who lived a short distance upstream from mouth of McCauley Run in the former Mart Posey house. John had just become the proud owner of an old Nash Rambler which his father, Pres Bragg, had used on his rural mail route and which he sold to his son for fifty dollars, the purchase price of which was to be worked out at the rate of twenty cents per hour in the hay field. At the Dancy home, the boys were working under the hood of the old Rambler which had about 180,000 miles on the odometer when their attention was called to Oil Creek by a large bass which was chasing chubs back and forth across the water. Never missing an opportunity to catch the big one, John expressed an interest in snaring the big bass and to forward the plot, Jennings Dancy handed John a fishing pole with an artificial lure. In short order, John had the big bass hooked. After a tremendous tussle, the bass was landed. So excited by the huge fish dangling from the lure, the boys set off for Burnsville on a publicity tour. The first stop was the local barber shop which was being manned by Vance Collins who had just taken over the shop formerly operated by Roy Stout, an Orlando native. Vance suggested the boys take the fish next door to Marple’s Store to be weighed on the store scales. After a formal measurement of the length and weight of the big bass, John had bragging rights to a twenty two inch, six pound bass. .

above, right: John and his six pound bass on than wonderful day in June, 1967.

Lee Skinner Outfoxed
Lee Skinner lived in a house on stilts near the mouth of Threelick. His property included the best sucker hole on Oil Creek, according to John Bragg. Lee was very zealous about keeping poachers from coming onto his land to fish for the huge white suckers which visited this spot on Oil Creek. Frequently, Lee would chase away any of the neighborhood boys who had the audacity to trespass on his property with intentions to fish.

One nice day around 1958 or 1959, John Bragg and his neighborhood friends Rodney Henline, Jimmie Riffle, Larry Casto, and John’s brother Joe, decided that the fish behind Lee Skinner’s house needed thinned out.

rt: Alfred Lee "Lee" Skinner

The problem, of course, was Lee Skinner’s vigilance in protecting the fishing hole from the neighborhood youngsters. Lee had previously caught the boys three or four times when they were fishing in this favorite hole which produced white suckers reaching twenty four inches in size. The boys knew that they could outrun Lee who was advancing in years, but if he sneaked up on them through the high weeds which always blanketed the bottom between Lee’s house and the fishing hole, he might capture and hold one or two of the poachers for ransom. The boys, realizing their peril, decided that they would post lookouts on the hill above Lee’s house. From this vantage point they could see Lee if he exited his house in the direction of the fishing hole. If that were to happen, a warning whistle would give the boys a head start in the pending foot race with Lee. Even though Lee did not make an appearance on this day, the boys who served as lookouts made the catching of huge white suckers a pleasant, thrilling experience for John and his fishing companions.
Don't Shoot Fish in New Tennis Shoes
The largest bass which John Bragg ever saw was lazily swimming in Oil Creek along the old B & O Railroad bed near the ford leading to the Henline place. John swears the fish was at least two feet long and would have weighed from eight to ten pounds. On that day John and his friend Larry Casto had been groundhog hunting on the Pres Bragg property on Clover Fork to earn five cents for each groundhog killed, a bounty offered by John’s dad, Pres Bragg. As the boys walked along the creek their sharp eyes saw this monster of a bass. Their problem in going after this leviathan was that the only fishing pole they had was Larry’s twenty gauge shotgun. Not to be deterred by the lack of a hook, line and sinker, Larry took aim and blasted the water above the monster bass. After the tidal-sized waves created by the blast subsided, the bass was left rolling belly up in the middle of Oil Creek. Larry excitedly told John to go in and get the trophy bass. Forgetting that he was wearing brand new tennis shoes, John leaped from the bank and landed in squishy mud up to his knees. He was locked tight in this muddy quagmire while the fish, still alive, was slowly regaining its equilibrium just out of reach. John struggled to free himself of the gripping mud which devoured one of his brand new tennis shoes. Finally getting free of the mud, he waded the waist deep water and reached for the fish. However, once he touched the side of the huge fish, it righted itself in the water, and with a flip of its tail, escaped John’s final grab, and swam into the murky depths of Oil Creek. Perhaps to this day, John’s new tennis shoe and the big bass that got away are still somewhere in Oil Creek.

rt: Larry Casto

Fishing with a New Zebco 33
Around 1957 or 1958, John Bragg was ten or eleven years old and although an avid fisherman up to then, had done his serious fishing with an old cane pole. Recognizing his son’s love for fishing, John’s dad, Pres Bragg, bought John a brand new Zebco 33 spinning reel and a new pole. John was excited to try out his new fishing weapon and he knew the right spot to go to inaugurate its use. Just past the Orlando hill, a swinging bridge is suspended across Oil Creek, leading to the Henline place. The abutment of the swinging bridge was a dandy fishing hole and that was the spot John elected to try out his new Zebco 33. Arriving at this intriguing fishing spot on his 24 inch, fenderless bicycle with a basket attached to the handle bars, John took up his position to try his luck. Using a white ‘Shyster’ plug with black dots, John sent his cast toward a sand bar upstream. John fished only briefly but not without reward. Making only four casts, John pulled in four bass, the largest and last being eighteen inches long and weighing four pounds. Excited to show his parents the results of being the recipient of a new Zebco 33, John put the fish in the basket on his bike and set out for Clover Fork. As he was passing Brown’s Store, Deck Brown was standing on the porch of the store. John slid his bike to a stop to show Deck his trophy fish. Deck was quite impressed with the large bass that John was proudly displaying and offered John a dollar for it. In those days a dollar was a lot of money and would buy lots of candy, ice cream, and soda pop. However, John was not even tempted by Deck’s generous offer and put the bass back in the basket and pedaled on home. John’s better reward that evening was a nice fish dinner prepared by his mother Jessie, with thanks to the new Zebco 33.

lt: John Bragg in Deck & Lila (Gregory) Brown's store. Bea Brown, wife of their son Ford is behind the counter.

Fishing for Turtles in Oil Creek
Two of the most knowledgeable fishermen known to John Bragg when he was growing up on Clover Fork were his Uncle Jack Riffle and Orlando resident, John Gibson. Not only were Jack and John knowledgeable about the finer arts of fishing, they were also very helpful in passing their skills to novice fishermen such as young John. John remembers his Uncle Jack and John Gibson both taking the time to show him how to bait a hook, how to tie a line, and how to fish.

However, the most unique instruction he received from his fishing tutors was how to catch a turtle. Simply put, turtle fishing takes more courage than guile. The only equipment needed when going turtle fishing is a gunny sack and a steady hand guided by courage. The courage requirement comes from the need to put a bare hand into a hole under a bank feeling around for the tail of the turtle. Once this protuberance is felt and secured by hand, the turtle must be swiftly tossed onto the bank and placed in the gunny sack. John once saw John Gibson catch eight to ten turtles at a time by this method.

Not only was John Gibson an expert at catching the turtle, he was also an expert at skinning the turtle, and a gourmand when it came to describing the different tastes of turtle meat. Catching the ugly turtle has already been described, and as interesting as the catch might be, the skinning of the turtle adds a new dimension to the culture of fishing for turtles. John Gibson would drive a large nail into the head of the turtle which he then hung from the wall of the barn or outhouse. This made the de-shelling of the turtle much easier than if it were on the ground. After the de-shelling and gutting, the turtle was ready for the pot. John Gibson delighted in telling his culinary listeners that turtle meat had seven distinctly different tastes. John Bragg and John Allman, grandson of Gaver Allman, speaking of Oil Creek turtles, both indicated to the writer that turtle was a real delicacy.

above lt: Jack Riffle in the 1940s
above rt: John Gibson the turtle expert with his prize fox hound.
rt: business end of a snapping turtle

Clover Fork Turtles Weighed a Ton
When John Bragg was still a little shaver, he began fishing Clover Fork waters. On one occasion John and his mother Jessie Bragg were fishing with cane poles in a favorite fishing spot between the Bragg home and the Homer Mitchell place. This fishing hole was a deep hole which ran for about twenty five yards. The two had bobbers attached to the black fishing line attached to the cane poles. Jessie’s bobber was a little larger than John’s. Having to go back to the house for something, Jessie told her son that if her bobber went under it would be his responsibility to land the fish. After his mother had been gone for a short while, he noticed her bobber submerging in the water. Grabbing her pole, John tried his best to bring to the surface whatever it was that was attached to the end of the line, but without result. John couldn’t budge whatever it was holding the other end. Running toward his home and yelling for his mother to come quickly, Jessie came running back to the set pole. After a great deal of effort, Jessie pulled the largest turtle John had ever seen to the surface. Jessie carried the turtle back to the house and put it in a large zinc bucket with no room to spare. Jessie then dispatched the turtle with her .22 rifle and sent the turtle by her son to John Gibson in Orlando. John remembers that he was worn out trying to get that huge turtle out of Clover Fork. It must have weighed a ton.

The Little Kanawha
John Bragg enjoyed going to visit his grandfather John Bragg who lived in Burnsville on the banks of the Little Kanawha River, opposite the pump station. John recalls that the pump station had a water discharge pipe which released warm water into the river. This spot was much frequented by smaller fish and by larger predator fish looking for the small fish. John’s grandfather was a great fisherman and had set trot lines in the Little Kanawha at intervals from his home to the mouth of Oil Creek. John went with his grandfather many times to run the trot lines and recalls the many catfish and muskies who had stuck around after sampling the chicken gizzards on the trot line hooks.

Night Fishing
John Bragg recalls many nights of fishing on Oil Creek. One prerequisite for night fishing is to have some old car tires to burn to provide some light and a little suspense for the occasion. John recalls landing many catfish on these nocturnal fishing trips, as well as frogs and other nice fish. His favorite spot to night fish was behind St. Michael’s Catholic Church, which was also great place to catch redhorse suckers. John remembers that he would often be joined on night fishing by his Uncle Jack Riffle, Cecil Skinner, John Gibson, Larry Casto, Ronnie Riffle, Rodney Henline, and by John’s brother Joe.

There was as much delightful story-telling as there was fishing on these enjoyable nights on Oil Creek and are a source of good memories to John Bragg.

Don’t Throw Rocks When Someone is Fishing
In the early 1950’s, Judy Burkhart lived with her Aunt Ethel Mathews and her grandmother Nina Skinner in the two story house beside the Orlando Methodist Church. This house had originally been the Methodist parsonage and later, after Ethel Mathews and Nina Skinner had died, it became the home of Cecil and Kate Skinner. Opposite the Mathews-Skinner home, across the road to Burnsville, the railroad tracks, and Oil Creek lived the Henline and the Coleman Jeffries families. A swinging bridge allowed foot traffic across the creek. Just to the upstream side of the swinging bridge was a good fishing hole which Judy Burkhart visited regularly with fishing pole in hand. One of the Jeffries children who lived across the creek was son John who at the time in question was probably about five or six years old and possessed a mischievous bent. During the evening of warm summer days, the Henline and Jeffries family liked to sit on their front porches to talk and while away the evening. As all fishermen know, this is also a good time to fish. Judy Burkhart was sitting on the bank of Oil Creek trying to catch the big one when young John Jeffries thought Judy needed company. John took a pocketful of rocks to make his presence known and took a position on the bridge above Judy who was fishing below. John tossed a rock into the water near Judy’s fishing line much to Judy’s chagrin. Judy asked John to stop tossing rocks, which of course, sounded like a challenge to young John, who promptly tossed another rock in Judy’s direction. Immediately Judy sprang to the defense of all reverent fishermen and cut John off as he tried to run to his home for safe haven. Judy was a teenager and much larger than her bedeviler and was easily able to apprehend the culprit and give him a good thrashing. Helen Jeffries, John’s mother was sitting on the porch of the Henline home, and saw the commotion. Helen says all that she could see was her son’s legs in the air above the tall uncut grass, waving surrender to Judy’s on-slaught.

This story is still told today after more than fifty years to the amusement of the Jeffries family, but perhaps not to John, the rock thrower.

lt above Judy Burkhart
rt above: Judy's home
lt: John Jeffries

A Big Muskie
Nelson and Stanley Mitchell were sons of Homer Mitchell and Lula (Henline) Mitchell and lived off and on in the Orlando area, as well as for a time in Webster County. Both Nelson and Stanley died relatively young and are not available for first person accounts of the big musky which they caught in Oil Creek near the Mart Posey residence between Posey Run and McCauley Run in the 1930’s. An old saying tells that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” and the photo at the beginning of this entry of Nelson and Stanley Mitchell holding their trophy muskie says it all.

rt: Stanley and Homer Mitchell as young adults.
.Death by Stoning
Mae and Linzy Strader, with their family, lived on Road Road, just west of Orlando. The mouth of Road Run, where it joins with Oil Creek, is not far from their home. In the late 1940’s, Richard Strader, the teenage son of Mae and Linzy, was surveying the shoals in Oil Creek at the mouth of Road Run when he spotted a huge muskie treading water. Without the usual fishing gear, Richard took a quick assessment of some way to catch the big fish. His options were few. Spotting a nice round rock which he thought he might be able to throw toward and reach the fish, Richard liberated the rock from its bed, and heaved it with all his might toward the unsuspecting fish. Much to Richard’s surprise, the rock landed squarely on the muskie’s head, killing it on the spot. Richard took his trophy and tale home and became an instant celebrity. Richard’s sister Mina swears that the fish, after it was cleaned and cut up, filled two one gallon crocks.

One Last Fishing Trip
Most men love to fish and never become too old to relish the opportunity to feel the heft of a nice fishing rod and to sense the smooth action of the line, releasing from the reel, and landing into a nice spot in hopes of catching a big one.

Arthur Williams of Bendale was married to Lura Barnett, sister of Orlando ’s Bill Barnett. Arthur and Lura were friends of Coleman and Helen Jeffries of Orlando. Arthur and Coleman spent many a night coon hunting in search of “old Ringeye” in their late years. Arthur enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. Arthur equally enjoyed the thought of dropping a line in the water in search of “the big one,” but his hunting companion was no fisherman. Arthur had not been able to wet his line for many years, mostly for lack of a fishing companion. In the early 1970’s, Arthur was in declining health, along with advancing age, and longed to go fishing in Oil Creek. On a visit to the Jeffries home on Oil Creek one day, Arthur expressed his desire to go fishing in Oil Creek. Coleman and Helen’s son John happened to be at home from Glenville State College on the occasion, and, being somewhat of a fisherman himself, volunteered to take Arthur fishing in Oil Creek. Happily, Arthur accepted the invitation and on the appointed day, met John at Orlando for their fishing expedition. The two fishermen decided to wade and fish downstream. The day was a good day for the fishermen but a bad day for the fish. John recalls that he caught around seventeen bass and Arthur caught around fourteen between the railroad bridge in Orlando and the home of Fred and Ruby Bee, just below the first railroad crossing below Orlando. Arthur was happy and especially satisfied with perhaps his last fishing experience. He died in 1982 at the age of 76.
A Sure-Fire Fishing Bait
Modern day fishermen know all about scented fishing lures guaranteed to attract the ‘big fish.’ Bill Beckner has his opinion about the identity of the original inventor of the scented fishing lure. When Bill was a boy growing up in Orlando, he and Larry Casto would often become spectators when Heaterhuck Henline would walk to the fishing hole above the swinging bridge in Orlando with the intention of dropping his line in the water.

As Bill and Larry watched in awe, Heaterhuck settled in on the bank, patiently put a fish worm on the hook, and then, much to their amazement, would expertly spit tobacco juice on the worm. No sooner than the nicotine-scented worm hit the water, out would pop a huge sucker, firmly snagged by the hook holding the scented worm. Heaterhuck explained to the boys that his method was a sure-fire way to attract the fish. We have no report whether Heaterhuck patented his invention.

lt: Ernest Roy "Heaterhuck" Henline

Bill Stutler – Vacation Fisherman
As did many Orlando youth after finishing school, Bill Stutler moved to Michigan for employment. An inveterate fisherman when he was growing up in Orlando, the fishing bug never left his system. Becoming a resident of Redford, Michigan, Bill took his Orlando-inspired love of fishing to Lake Michigan where he fished for the fish of the colder clime. Bill Beckner recalls going on a lake fishing trip with his uncle Bill during which his uncle landed a twenty-two pound coho salmon.

More vivid in Bill Beckner’s memory however are the earlier fishing trips on Oil Creek that he took with his Uncle Bill when he would come in to visit with his parents, Oras and Edith Stutler, on his three week annual vacation. Bill Beckner recalls that he would be his uncle’s fishing companion for that time and that they fished most every day up and down Oil Creek from Orlando to Burnsville from early in the morning to late in the evening. Bill also recalls that his grandmother Beckner’s sole condition for letting him fish with his uncle Bill was that he take his nephew to the barber shop in Burnsville for a short haircut.

lt above: Bill Stutler with his folks Oras & Edith (Skinner) Stutler on a summer vacation visit in the 1960s. (They are in the yard of their their home, the former Dolan Hotel, with Bea & Ford Brown's house in the background.)

Another Female Riffle Fisher of Fish
We have noted above, the adeptness of Jessie (Riffle) Bragg in thinning out the fishing holes around Orlando as she was growing up. Jessie’s sister Grace Riffle also was no slouch when it came to catching fish. Grace recalled her youthful fishing experiences on Oil Creek to her daughter Cindy Kostka. Grace told her daughter that she would frequently fish with her younger brothers, Jack and Claude, mostly during the summer time. Usually they would dig their worms at the Joseph Emery Riffle place and “would head over to the crick.” The daily take would often be sunfish and catfish which were taken home where their mother, Betty Alice “Pet” (Skinner) Riffle, would clean and cook the critters. Grace also recalled that her brothers Ned, Eugene and Claude were quite adept in the art of frog gigging which put many a fried frog leg on the dinner plates in the Riffle household.
lt above: sister Grace (Riffle) Reynolds
rt above:brother Claude Riffle, from a school photo taken in the late 1930s.
lt: bull frog

Fred Henline, Fishing Bait Connoisseur

Fred Henline, son of Orlando native but long-time Parkersburg resident Polar Henline, often visited family in the Orlando area in order to fish. Frequently accompanied by his brother Charles, the two fishing connoisseurs disdained the lowly fish worm as bait in favor of the more regal minnow. Fred and Charles would often spend an entire morning seining for “minnies,” as they called them, and fish the entire afternoon with the lively bait. Swearing that the “minnie” was the premier bait to land the big bass, Fred and his brother often brought the proof back from the creek for the next morning’s breakfast.

The Fish Must be Thick in Oil Creek
There was, it seemed, never a shortage of fish in Oil Creek fifty years ago to delight every angler’s visage. A wide variety of fish in various sizes was available to the patient fisherman with the desire to experience a pleasant day matching wits with the wily bass, the watchful muskie, or the hungry sunfish. In those by-gone years, Oil Creek was crawling with boys and girls and men and women in the quest for the “big one,” to satisfy the craving for fish at the supper table. Even in those days, the creek was never “fished out,” judging from the honest recollections of the fishermen quoted in this story. Today, video games and television have replaced fishing poles and trot lines as the daily pastime. Meanwhile, the bass, musky, catfish, and crappie are multiplying many-fold with each insertion of a new video game in the game player. Wily fish have no fear of boys and girls, more intent on what’s on MTV than the meanderings of the huge fish that are swimming back and forth in Oil Creek without any natural enemies. The opportunity to “catch the big one” awaits the Oil Creek angler who most likely will have the creek to himself.

. . . . .
comment 1
Uncle Zeke spent much of his time sitting on the porch just west of Orlando observing who came and went. Uncle Zeke also kept a keen eye on Oil Creek to see who was fishing. On April 17, 1930 , Uncle Zeke wrote: “The creek banks are now decorated with the small boy and the fishpole.” On May 29, 1930, he observed that “Charlie Given and ‘Short’ Bennett, two noted anglers of Orlando, were in our vicinity one day last week endeavoring to lure their choice of the finny tribe. And b’gosh, they got ‘um.” “Charlie caught two skillets full.”

Uncle Zeke was also interested when Orlando people went fishing elsewhere. On August 8, 1929 , he noted that “A. J. Barnett and family have been visiting and fishing up on the Little Kanawha River the past week. Alva says he had good luck. He succeeded in catching a little turtle.”

rt: Alva Barnett, on a work day. Alva Barnette was a mail carrier. When weather was good an auto would do fine, but in the winter and spring, the carriers went back to their horses and saddlebags.

comment 2 from John Bragg
When I was just a little boy, my parents, Presley and Jessie Bragg, went to Burnsville for an Eastern Star meeting. My older sister Margaret was left in charge as babysitter for me and my older brother Joe. As I recollect, I was given permission by my sister to go fishing in Clover Fork below our home. I was pulling in some bluegills when I thought I saw my parents’ automobile drive past on the Clover Fork Road toward home. A short time later I heard my sister Margaret calling my name in a not so friendly manner. When I responded, she came quickly down the field and grabbed me by the ear and marched me home. At home, my sister advised my parents that I had left without permission whereupon I received a good whipping because of my trip to the fishing hole.

I prefer to refer to the episode a “clash of memories” with my older sister, and at every family get-together we get to re-hash whose memory is the better.
comment 3 by Wesley Riffle
Wesley Riffle, grandson Daniel Floyd "Flukey"Posey, recalls his grand-dad with much admiration. Wesley was raised by his grandparents and recalls that Flukey “possessed the wisdom of Solomon.” One day Wesley had planned on going night fishing with four friends. Wesley had gotten all of his chores done, had dug his fishing worms, and was gathering his fishing pole when his grandfather asked him where he was going. Upon advising his grandfather of his fishing plans, Flukey said that he couldn’t go. Being the obedient grandson, Wesley sat aside his fishing plans. The next day, Wesley learned that his four friends had spent the night in jail in Burnsville for illegally fishing with gill nets. Wesley says that but for the wisdom of his grandfather he would have been sitting in jail also.

comment 4 from Doris (Riffle) Snyder
My family, the Bertha and Layton Riffle family, lived near Gaver Allman in Orlando. Our home had two large catalpa trees in the front lawn which was visited each summer by ugly green worms, easily the size of a finger. These worms could strip the leaves from the tree in no time at all. My brother Ronald knew that Gaver Allman was quite a fisherman and prized these green worms for fish bait. My brother frequently would gather up as many of the worms as possible and take them over to Mr. Allman for his next fishing trip.

Doris' mother's parents were Wade and Ida Bell (Myers) Mick and her father's parents were Marion and Cora (Reynolds) Riffle.
comment 5 by Dale Barnett
When I was growing up in Orlando during the 1920’s and 1930’s, I frequently watched Gave Allman fishing in Oil Creek. One day around 1934 or 1935, Mr. Allman was trying his luck in a fishing hole behind Tom Godfrey’s house and caught a nice pike. He wanted to keep on fishing so he asked me to take the trophy pike to his home and to give it to his wife, Mishie. At that time I was just old and big enough to carry the large pike to his home.

I also watched Gave Allman go turtle hunting around Orlando. During the spring of the year, Gave would visit marshy areas along Oil Creek and carry with him a long steel rod with a hook on one end and plain on the other which he would plunge into the wet mud hoping to hit a sleeping turtle. If he would strike what he thought was a turtle, he would turn the hooked end of the steel rod around which he would again plunge into the same hole and hope to snag the turtle and pull it out of its muddy nest. The steel rod was about 3 or 4 feet long.

rt: A snapping turtle couple

Some Orlando residents would go “turtle grubbing” a different way. I recall John Gibson go “grubbing” by feeling along the water line of Oil Creek for holes which would be searched by hand hoping to find a turtle. I have been told that turtles, which are in holes in the bank of the creek, go in head first and so if a turtle is located, it will be its rear end which will be grabbed. There should not be an opportunity for the turtle to bite the “grubber” since it will be pulled out by the tail or rear leg. At least that is what I’ve been told.

Night gigging was also a popular way to fish in Orlando in the 1930’s. When the water was clear, giggers would wade or go by boat carrying a carbide light. When the fish was spotted by the light, it would then be gigged. Many large fish were gigged in this fashion.

Many fish were also taken with the use of illegal carbide bombs. Charley Knight sold carbide at his store which was normally used for night lanterns. To make a carbide bomb, a large can with a lid would be loaded with chunks of carbide. A small hole punched in the can would allow water to infiltrate the can. When the water came into contact with the carbide, a gas was created along with pressure in the can. When the pressure built up high enough, the can would then explode in the water and the resulting concussion would kill or disable the fish which would float to the top of the water.

Another popular way to fish for suckers in Oil Creek was with loops. This involved using a regular fishing pole and line, at the end of which would be tied a copper loop about eight or ten inches in diameter. It is necessary to shine the copper so it will be visible in the water. Suckers are very placid fish and are usually oblivious to a copper wire which is slowly moved by the fishing pole until the loop is about midway up the fish’s length, at which time the rod is jerked. Hopefully, the jerk of the pole flips the fish out onto the bank. Redhorse suckers were a favorite fish to loop because they are generally larger than regular white suckers.

Besides Gave Allman, two Orlando residents I recall who fished all the time were Red Beckner and Cecil Skinner. After Red Beckner retired from the railroad, I recall that he fished all over Oil Creek. He was so expert at fishing, he could it seemed, even catch fish on a sand bar. Cecil Skinner was good at looping fish and frequently went night gigging.
comment 6 by an Unknown Person
In his July 2, 1925 column of the Buzzardtown News, Uncle Zeke reported that “a certain person of our town says that owing to the enormous size of the fish he catches he is compelled to use a thirty-three foot section of B & O railroad rail for a fish pole.”

comment 7
Marshall Posey, who Uncle Zeke noted was the famous catcher of carp with a muskrat trap, was the son of Willim Sanford "W. S." Posey and Sarah (Riffle) Posey. He worked as a well blower for the Philadelphia Gas Company. He died at the young age 35 from influenza in 1918. His 13 year old son Vinton died of influenza the previous day.

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