Fish Tales

A recent phone call from my friend, Larkin Vandeventer, opened a floodgate of memories for me. He invited me over to his workshop where he has a fine collection of fishing gear. The collection includes an old tackle box that once belonged to my dad, Roy Warren. Dad, like many in his generation, loved to fish. When he died in 1962, his tackle box was left undisturbed on a shelf in the old family garage and was sold to Mr. Vandeventer some years ago in a garage sale. 

When the box was opened, I saw a neat array of fishing lures, some nylon line, lead sinkers, fishhooks, a cork, two books of matches and many more things fishermen collect over time, but one thing caught my eye. There was a small box with a three-cent stamp. Dad had ordered a special lure from a dealer in Fla., and the postage was only three cents! That really dated the box and its contents. How many years has it been since you could ship a package or mail a letter for three cents? 

Needless to say, digging through that old tackle box brought back memories of my dad and fish stories from Frisco’s early days. Let’s dabble into some fish history.

Fish have been with us for a very long time. In fact, since the fifth day of creation. In the Bible’s story of creation, within the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 20, it says, “Then God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with fish and other life.’” Later, in the New Testament, fish and the fishing occupation was mentioned frequently. We know that at least four of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John, were professional fishermen. 

Now, for some stories about fishing in Frisco’s early days. Our fair city was “born” in 1902, after the Frisco Railroad built a line through this part of the country. The thirsty steam engines needed water, so Stewart Creek was dammed up, making “Frisco Lake.” For years, it was said to be the largest body of water in this part of the country. It soon became the area’s favorite “fishing hole.” People came from all around to fish, swim, trap and hunt in and around the lake. 

But, nothing lasts forever. In 1928, the Garza-Little Elm Dam was built, making a much larger lake just west of Little Elm. It was called “Lake Dallas,” the forerunner of Lewisville Lake, and had 43 miles of shoreline with a 194,000-acre foot capacity. 

Construction of the Garza-Little Elm Dam and the road being built atop it naturally attracted a lot of attention. I was 6 years old at the time, and one Sunday afternoon, our neighbor, John Thomas, invited my dad and me to ride with him and his son, Jack, my best buddy, to look at the dam. We, of course, welcomed the chance to see the project, jumped in their Model T Ford and chugged over to the new lake. The road on the dam was still under construction and very rough. At one point, we ran up on a high mound on the driver’s side, leaving the car leaning perilously to the passenger side. Mr. Thomas hurriedly asked my dad to get out and hold the car up while he drove off the mound. We made it safely and enjoyed the rest of an otherwise faultless trip across the dam … a trip I will never forget.

Lake Dallas soon became the area’s favorite fishing hole. It was well-stocked with fish, especially crappie (for whatever reason, people around here called them “white perch”). White perch season in Texas began every year on May 1, and that date soon became like a local holiday. On the evening of April 30, men, women and children swarmed to Lake Dallas in a festive mood, visiting and partying (a predecessor to tailgating) while they anxiously awaited the stroke of midnight. As the hour neared, people jockeyed for a position along the lake shore with their fishing poles in place and their hooks baited, ready to hit the water. After that, it was a contest to see who could catch the largest and the most fish. 

There was a very active game warden making the rounds to see that no one’s stringer held more than the limit or had any under-sized fish. Word spread rapidly when the warden was spotted. That dampened the party only temporarily and fishermen soon resumed their good times.

In the 1940s, the area saw the need for an increased water supply and additional flood control, so Lake Dallas was expanded and renamed “Lake Lewisville.” The new lake had a 183-mile shore line, which was 140 miles larger than its predecessor. Thus, the name “Lake Dallas” ceased to exist, except for the town now known by that name. By the way, the town site was first occupied in 1852, and in 1881, it adopted the name “Garza” for the Garza-Little Elm Dam. The town’s name was changed to “Lake Dallas” when the lake was impounded in about 1928. 

My “serious” fishing days started after WWII, when I went to work in the Texas Gulf Coast. While living there, I had plenty of good fishing spots with a bayou in walking distance and only a short drive to the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing in the Gulf waters was new to me. A group of us guys liked to go to the beach, rent a long seine (net) and walk out as far as we could. We would make a big sweep with the net and bring it to the shore, hoping to find it full of shrimp. We sometimes found, mixed with the shrimp, a few fish and other “critters” like jellyfish and stingrays. But, when the stingrays got too plentiful, it was time for us to get out of the water and take our shrimp home.

I soon became addicted to the sport of fishing, and as my family grew, I made sure our children learned to fish. We enjoyed camping, and many of the campsites were near good fishing places. I remember trying to teach our youngest daughter, Tami, how to bait a hook when she was about 5. We were using earthworms for bait. I baited her hook, let her catch a sun perch, took the little fish off the hook and threw it back. I did that several times then said, “OK. It is your turn. Here is a worm. You put it on the hook.” She drew her hand back, wrinkled up her nose and said “noooo.” I asked her why and she said, “The worm might lick me.” She never became an angler.

Fishing has changed from the early days of cane poles, cork floats and lead sinkers, which we clamped on the fishing line with our teeth, but it is still a great sport. And, if you live in this area, you are no longer limited to one or two nearby fishing destinations. Through the years, lakes Sam Rayburn, Texhoma, Lavon, Ray Hubbard and others have been added to the list of excellent places to “wet a hook.”

So, grab your rod and reel and your old tackle box and head for the nearest lake. It is good clean fun … and you might even catch a fish.