By Taylor Wilson, Art by Aiden Griggs
MSHFN started an Outdoors Originals column last issue which is to feature sportsman or outdoors characters from the region that people are likely to wish they have hunted or fished with if they had ever had the chance.
In this issue we feature the colorful Buck Woods from Pyburn, Tennessee. He was a commercial angler and outdoorsman that also helped at, and frequented the one-time Bill Bellis Botel, a landmark near Pickwick Dam.
Hall of Fame angler Bill Dance knew Woods and confirmed imaginative stories about the angler still linger years after Woods passed away.
One story involves Woods’ plan to catch a load a of catfish on leopard frogs.
Dance said the fish story goes like this:
First, Buck and his buddy, Ed Parker, wanted to go chop some chestnut blocks to basically use as floats…because chestnut wood was known to float higher in the water. Well, they worked for a long time to cut up chestnut blocks. And then they got some line and hooks.
Next, they went up in one of the hollers and spent a lot of times catching some leopard frogs, which Dance confirmed jump, “as if they are on a pogo stick spring.”
This, like the wood-cutting, took a long time. They spent quite a while with flashlights chasing frogs around, but finally had them in minnow buckets.
Having rounded up all their materials, they began paddling a wooden boat, with no motor (more work). The idea was to paddle way above dam, bait the wooden blocks with frogs and have basically a floating chestnut-block armada—baited with frogs—going down stream toward Pickwick Dam.
How could big catfish resist? It was a guaranteed way to load the boat with big cats, right? Wrong.
They put the blocks up the lake above State Line Island and Yellow Creek, which is a long way.
Back then water flow through the Dam was much more consistent and easier to predict. The idea was sling out their baited blocks and then go back down downstream to sit and wait for them to arrive when generation began at the Dam. Surely the frogs would be replaced with monster cats, and the blocks would be bobbing when they came into sight.
Well after a lengthy paddle trip, they finally got to Pyburn Bluff and sat and waited for their catch-to-be.
The venture had been non-stop activity (wood chopping, frog-catching, paddling, etc.), so Woods and his friend simply laid down on the bluff and waited for the baited chestnut blocks to come to them.
Eventually, Woods began asking his partner if saw the blocks yet. With both anglers keeping their eyes peeled and even climbing a little higher on the bluff, eventually the chestnut bobbers came into sight.
“Can you tell if anything is on the lines?” Parker asked.
“No, none of them are bobbing” Woods confirmed. “But something just isn’t quite right. They do seem tilted a bit to one side.”
Woods and his partner had staggered the lines a little so they wouldn’t all arrive bunched up, which might cause a problem should the lines reach the Dam before they gathered them all.
Still hopeful, they paddled out quickly to begin retrieving the blocks…and they saw the problem. The first bunch of blocks to arrive had frogs sitting on top of them, with hooks still in their mouths. Other than the hooks, the frogs seemed fine and fit.
They had neglected to put weights on the lines, and the amphibians, hooks and all, had climbed up on the floating blocks and taken a ride downstream.
As all the blocks came in, the anglers discovered frogs on every chestnut block. There was discussion on who was the culprit that forgot to put weights on the lines.
Gluttons for torture Woods and partner rushed to retrieve all the lines before they got to the Dam. They even managed to keep the frogs alive. Then, they went and got some weights, and gave it another try. But it was a doomed project from start to finish.
“Buck would always tell me they didn’t catch, ‘Nare a one (catfish) on that second float either.’ And when I would ask him what exactly ‘nare’ meant, Buck would always confirm that it meant, ‘NONE—NOT ONE!’” Dance said, laughing at the memory.
Dance also said Woods could skin a catfish quicker than a minnow could jump a dipnet. Woods had a memory like a steel trap and he once reminded a Botel customer that he hadn’t seen in 20 years, that the customer owed him $10 for a 20-pound catfish.
Woods’ truck also once accidently ended up going in the water off the ramp, Pickwick tailwater. And when those in the Botel heard Woods yelling, they went to help. Woods was found sitting atop his truck, with Tennessee River current going through one window of his vehicle and out the other.
“When we got there to help, Buck was on top of the truck with a salvaged gallon of whiskey, and that seemed to be his only concern,” Dance laughed. He added that Woods was indeed an outdoor original, and the tales of the angler made a unique region and time even more special in his memory.