Catfish on the Flatbed
by Anne Adams
It was a momentous day at an Athens area club in August 1947. This was because three club members were facing “impeachment” as they called it and it was all up to Rev. S.H. Maples, Frank J. Davis, and Earl Youngblood.
So what was the offense? Just that these guys had a picture that showed one of the largest catfish ever caught and so big, in fact, that it covered the entire platform of a flatbed truck. The Athens Liars Club was lost in disbelief!
According to an earlier Athens Review article the Athens Liar Club was composed “exclusively of tellers of tall fish tales” and now in 1947, the group was in the news again. This time it was in an article from the August 14, 1947 edition under the headline “Three Athens Liars Face Impeachment After Big Catch.” And while the newspaper was skeptical it was still supportive. “The Review is of the opinion that the three Liars are innocent of telling the truth” was the caption on the accompanying picture.
It all apparently started when the three anglers – Maples, Davis, and Youngblood - called back to Athens seeking help after they had lost their motorboat. Apparently the watery culprit was well known in the area as “Old Joe” and had a slippery reputation. Other anglers had claimed to have hooked and lost the old guy. Also, according to the reporter, “others had mistaken it for a foot log across the stream and when walking about midway on the assumed log it would swim away leaving the pedestrian struggling in the water.”
These three fishermen had started out well equipped with a three-point fish hook made from a Model T axle, and a 200-foot steel cable. Thus equipped, they baited their hook(s) and set out their lines from their motorboat that they fastened to a pine tree.
That night as they dozed at their campsite, they were awakened by a deafening noise from the creek bank and discovered that the pine tree had been pulled loose. And not only that, tree and boat were fast disappearing downstream “behind a big struggling object that surged to the surface several times and looked bigger than the creek itself …” That’s when they had to call into town and ask for a truck and another boat. Once the new boat arrived they set out, heading downstream to where they witnessed “…the peculiar sight of a tree and a boat dancing together on the surface of the wide place in the creek.” After they released the boat and tree they discovered on the creek bank was a big fish so weary from the struggle that he was easily secured. Then the fishermen, along with some of the growing crowd, pulled Old Joe into the back of the recently arrived truck and secured him with log chains.
“That’s sure him,” said one onlooker. “I’ve seen signs of him here for nearly fifty years and way back when Mr. Davis and me hoed taters together.”
After that, the details about the fish’s weight and whereabouts begin to become hazy since Davis, Youngblood, and Maples weren’t talking. Still, said the reporter, there was the picture to prove their story.
However, that wasn’t the end of it because in the same paper relating news of the catch was a note from Tyler resident Fed [sic] S. Barton who had heard about the catch and he had an offer. He wrote: “I am consumating [sic] a deal with Ringling Bros. Circus to use the skin from your mammoth catfish as a fireproof tent for their circus.” Barton stated that he wanted a price quote not only for the skin but also for the fish fins which he intended to use as tent poles. ”I will appreciate this information by return mail,” Barton wrote, “as I am afraid the Burlington Liars Club will turn up a larger fish, depriving me of this sale.” He also asked for applications for the Athens club.
The letter went to Youngblood who declined to reveal the whereabouts of Old Joe, “which has been something of a deep mystery since the fish was landed.” However, some speculated that the fish was being kept undercover to take advantage of offers like Mr. Barton’s.
Then about a year later in the July 8, 1948 issue of the Athens Review there came the account of Rev. R.S. Marshall, seeking membership in the Athens club. He had claimed to have caught a fish known as “old Oscar.” Curiously enough, the picture he provided strangely resembled “Old Joe” in place on the large trailer. However, according to Marshall, there was a reason for the similarity. It seemed that “Old Oscar” was the brother of “Old Joe”! Also, Marshall related, “…there was another big fish in those parts that kept breaking our line and which we were never able to land.” That fish he dubbed Lula Belle.