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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Search for the World's Finest Fishing Hole

Dr. Bill and the Monster Buck

My friend and one of my favorite fishing buddies, Dr. Bill, was a Dentist. He was also a master yarner. I don’t think he liked anything better than fishing, but story telling had to be second place.

On this particular day we were drifting down the storied Shenandoah River in western Virginia in a canoe, fly fishing for smallmouth bass. It was early Spring, the air smelled of apple blossoms and virtually vibrated with the urgent sounds of life in Spring. On both shores were farms - a hayfield on the East and an orchard on the West.

The smallies were eager to eat our poppers, but ran rather small, as river smallies often do. We didn’t care. Bill and I were in love with fishing and the spirited fight of the 8" to 12" fish was very satisfying.

One of Bill's quirks was something near narcolepsy . . . he had attacks of irresistible sleepiness that could only be handled by a 10-15 minute nap. He had one of those attacks, so we guided the canoe to shore under a huge old apple tree and spread ourselves out on the fresh green grass amidst the perfume of the blossoms. Soon we were both in the arms of Morpheus.

I woke to find Bill sitting up watching a whitetail doe wading across the river. It was quite shallow and slow in this particular spot. “Did I ever tell you about the monster buck I found swimming across Lake Ouachita years ago?" He queried. (Bill had grown up in Arkansas, where his Dad was a College Professor). I admitted that I had not heard that tale.

"Well, it was Fall, and I was getting in one last trip for crappie before it got too cold to have fun fishing. I noticed something moving . . . it looked like a tree branch but it was moving much too fast to be just a tree branch, so I fired up my outboard and motored over that way to see what it was. As I got closer I realized that it was antlers! Biggest antlers I ever saw. This monster buck was swimming across the lake where it was nearly a mile wide."

Besides being a great fisherman and yarner, Bill was also a terrible practical joker.

"I had this great idea. It was only a few days before deer season. I thought it would be great fun to paint "COW" on that buck’s flank and turn it loose. So I took my anchor line and made a noose in it. Then I pulled up beside the swimming buck and dropped the noose over his rack. What a rack! There were 12 points by Eastern count (both sides). Then I guided the buck to shore with the idea of tying him to a tree and going home to get paint, to paint COW on him.

Things got complicated at that point. The buck objected, not only to being tied to a tree, but having the noose over his antlers. He lowered his head and knocked me into the lake with holes in my arm and thigh. By the time I recovered enough to climb out of the water he was gone and I was bleeding like a stuck pig. Well, I did some first aid and decided the whole thing was a misadventure, so I went on home."

As he finished his tale we launched the canoe and resumed fishing. It was a post card scene and a post card day. The smallies were eager to bite and fought with classically smallmouth bass ferocity.

We reached the spot where we had left my car and hauled out. As we tied the canoe down on my rack Bill resumed his yarn.

"You know, a couple of weeks later I went in to get a haircut. I still had a limp and a bandage on my arm. The Barber asked me what had happened. I told him I had been attacked by the biggest whitetail buck in Arkansas. Of course he wouldn’t settle for that and insisted on details, so I told him the whole story of my misadventure. Bad idea, very bad idea.

The guy in the next Barber chair got up and came over. 'I am the Game Warden for that area, Dr. Bill. A hunter found a huge buck with a rope around his antlers so tangled in brush that he couldn’t move. He killed the buck and reported the situation to me. Harassing or abusing wildlife is a felony and you are under arrest.' "

Dr. Bill was silent as we drove upstream to where we had left his car.

"They let me go," he explained, "because the prosecutor said he could never prove that was my rope or that I had put it there."

(JB Cornwell writes from "The Hideout" in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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