The Garfish That Haunted My Dreams

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Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

It was one of the few times Dad did not want to take me fishing. Every day me and mom drove by a little gully on the way to school and every time we passed it I wondered what might lurk in its waters-perhaps garfish lived there. I asked Dad to go there all the time but he wanted to go elsewhere.

“The water’s too dirty,” he would say.

Now, Dad took me fishing a lot but he just didn’t know why it was so important for me to go down there.

One day he relented.

We went down to that gully and I will never forget soaking a piece of dead shrimp with the brand new “Fish Formula” a spray on attractant that claimed to help get fish bites whether you used lures, live or dead bait. We ordered it off of television.

I will never forget within a few seconds of putting it in the water, seeing my blue, white and red bobber go under.

It was a big spotted gar which means it was about two feet long and I could not have been happier.

What Dad did that day by taking me down there was unleash a desire to seek out fishing on my own and to this day have a deep appreciation for all opportunities to fish.

Some of my best days fishing were at “The Gully” especially in pursuit of garfish.

And the stories below were crucial to my childhood, especially “Big John”.

This was an alligator garfish that allegedly lived in a tiny branch of Adams Bayou that crossed under Newton Street we simply called the “The Gully”.

Big John was very much like Bigfoot as sighting reports traveled quickly and the eyewitnesses met with a mixture of skepticism and fanfare.

Claiming you saw Big John would garner you a following among the dozen or so boys in the neighborhood and jeers from the girls who all thought we were off our rockers for pursuing such a thing if it did indeed exist.

This gully is where I spent much of my after school time and during summer vacation. And while the fishing was rarely outstanding; we did catch our fair share of spotted gar, grinnel, sun perch and mud cats.

At times, it was quite the social gathering as it was common for at least half a dozen of us to be wetting our lines and talking about whatever the current hot topic was.

One day it might be whether Gene Simmons from Kiss really had a cow’s tongue implanted to replace his own so he could look cool wagging it onstage and the next it could be a heated debate over who was going to win the title at the next Wrestlemania.

The conversation, however, would always drift to Big John and his latest exploits.

One kid swore to have seen him attack a calf that came to drink on the water’s edge while another claimed to have had his rod broken by the beast on three occasions. None of these occurrences ever happened when we were together, but no one questioned them aloud.

The stories gave us something to talk about and looking back, a unique means of bonding.

I never had an official sighting but once a kid named Joey was fishing with a hand line from the bridge that crossed the gully. I was on the other side of the road with two big lines set out when I heard frantic splashing in the water.

Joey was clinging on to his line and as I rushed over to see what was going on, his line snapped. I could see a large, dark shape move through the water as whatever it was swam off with Joey’s bait. That could have been many things, but of course, we thought Big John had struck again.

High school sports and fast cars now dominated the lives of the boys in my part of West Orange. For a while, I would still occasionally fish down there, but when I got a car, it made more sense to drive out to Lake Sabine or the Neches River. The angling prospects were vastly superior there.

I still drive by that gully every day.

Now, there is a “No Fishing” sign on the bridge and there were no kids there angling for garfish and dreams. No matter what happened in our lives, we always found sanctuary down at the gully fishing for “Big John”.

Wealthy, poor and middle class kids got along just fine with our attentions focused on finding our own white whale of sorts in this murky East Texas bayou branch.

Those early days were formative in my love of the outdoors. The gully provided so many fun experiences and lessons that taught me much about fishing and in my life I have been blessed to have some amazing fishing encounters.

I wrote this story to inspire you to take your kids down to the local “gully” and maybe encounter a “Big John” of their own.

Chester Moore, Jr.


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