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Caddo Lake ~ Texas
by Ray Maxie



Just a mile or more east of Jefferson in far northeast Texas and only a stone's throw north of Karnack is the great mysterious Caddo Lake. The lake lies between Marion and Harrison counties and extends across the state line into Louisiana. It and adjoining Caddo Parish, Louisiana, were named for the Caddo Indians who once inhabited that area many, many years ago. Uncertain, Texas, is on the south side of the lake in Harrison County near Caddo Lake State Park. That park is really very pretty and has a super convenient boat launch.

Caddo is a unique lake in that it has an abundance of shallow water with great cypress trees growing both along the shore as well as in the shallow water swamps. These cypress trees produce many little "cypress knees" (a stump-like sprout growing from the roots of those trees). The "knees" are prevalent under the trees and in the shallow water. The cypress tree has pretty bark, but, in my humble opinion, the prettiest Southern symbol radiating from those cypress trees is the long, thick Spanish moss streaming down from the limbs. Just picture in your mind the large cotton plantations in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi with all their symbolic moss filled cypress trees. Then place those beautiful moss-laden trees in and around a scenic lake -- and you have Caddo Lake. The Louisiana side of Caddo Lake has the deepest water and the Texas (shallow water) side has more of the beautiful trees. Also, many waterfowl, large and small, can be found around the lake almost any time of the year.

Oil City, Louisiana, is on the east end of Caddo Lake. As a young lad growing up in deep northeast Texas, I had a great-uncle who lived in Oil City. He was a good commercial fisherman. He and my father fished the deep water Louisiana side of the lake quite often. Now, just take a guess. Who sometimes accompanied them? Yes, they have frequently frightened two years growth out of ME on that lake. That was back long before unsinkable aluminum boats and the strict enforcement of wearing life jackets.

Uncle Frank, in his quest to catch lots of marketable fish, used the large hoop nets. They worked well in the deep water. The hoops were about 4 feet in diameter with netting stretched over them. The length of those nets was maybe 50 to 100 feet, with many hoops. They were pretty heavy, especially when loaded with fish. Frank and Pop usually harvested fish from those nets in late evening and early night after they both had put in a hard day at work. Using a semi V-bottom 16 foot aluminum boat, they would pull each section of the net up alongside the boat and flop it over just inside the front of the boat, unloading all the "keeper" fish from the net. This, combined with their body weight on that side of the boat, caused the boat to dip low near the water's surface. As a highly frightened kid, especially at night, I just knew that boat would tip over and be swamped with water and sink, drowning us all right then and there. Of course, thankfully, that never happened. Only caused me to have bad dreams and reinforced my eternal fear of deep water. (My mother always advised us kids to never go near the water until we learned to swim. So, to this day, I'm still not an Olympic swimmer.)

Mysterious Caddo Lake is said to have been caused by a large sinkhole appearing there in the ground overnight many years ago. You've seen sinkholes, but probably not of this magnitude. With sinkholes, the surface of the earth sinks to fill a void space deep underneath. Then it fills quickly with water. Can you imagine a sinkhole so large as to cover thousands of acres in two states? This is an interesting phenomenon and is best seen from a boat with a lake guide or perhaps via the paddleboat excursion.

The two main streams flowing into the lake from Texas are named . . . what else? Big Cypress Bayou and Little Cypress Bayou. The color of the water is "dark tea" -- a light brown caused by all the cypress trees.

Now gigging is not really fishing -- only another easy technique to land a fish, and it's not legal in all places. My dad taught me how to gig fish in the shallow waters of Caddo Lake. A gig is a fork-like spear with barbs on each prong. It is mounted on the end of a long and strong (maybe hickory) handle, longer than a shovel or rake handle. It is most used at night from a small boat or while walking along the water's edge. A good strong headlight or flashlight is needed. As you search near the water's edge for a large catfish, grenal (grenadier), pike or buffalo fish feeding or lurking there, hold the light on the fish and spear it quickly with the gig. You have to be fast with that gig or the fish will see your movement and be gone in a flash. Do try giging if you ever get a chance. It is tremendous fun and exciting to get a large fish on the end of that gig pole, flopping and thrashing in the water.

Yes, all these experiences were a lot fun -- a part of my growing up in deep East Texas. I must admit that the dressing (cleaning) of the catch isn't all that much fun. But Uncle Frank always said we have to take the chafe along with the wheat. (Often, when you try to give people some fresh fish, they will ask, "Are they cleaned?" Say what? Do you want me to cook them for you, too?)

But then, when you sit down to a great family meal of your own catch prepared to your liking, with all the trimmings, that is what really makes it all worthwhile. My dad, who ironically became a much, much wiser man as I grew older, once told me. "Catch a fish for a friend and you will feed him one meal. Teach him how to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime."

Well, I must assure you, I do like the outdoor experiences of Caddo Lake -- fishing, camping out and cooking out. I do have a great liking for deep fried catfish, hush puppies, fries, onion and Cole slaw, with my favorite beverage.

As a friend of mine told me recently, "You might be a redneck if the only kind of seafood you like is catfish."

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N. Ray Maxie is a former Texas highway patrolman and Special Texas Ranger. Following his long service with the state of Texas, Ray worked in loss prevention for the nation's railroads. Now retired, he enjoys writing personal essays and memoirs (no fiction) about his youthful experiences growing up in northeast Texas, the Ark-La-Tex area. Ray also shares his tales of career experiences from Texas highways, southern backroads and "pig trails." He lives near Houston with his wife of almost fifty years and five precious pets.

Write Ray at this address: piddlinacres@consolidated.net


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Two more Ray Maxie stories at USADS:
* Dangerous! Bulldogs and Strays
* Don't Go Near the Water...

And here are stories from other publications:
* Wanted for Murder
* TexasEscapes.com

Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.

Thanks!

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