OUTDOORS COLUMN: You never know who you're going to meet

Herald Outdoors Columnist

Herald Outdoors Columnist

I came upon Mr. Brinley near a scenic bend in the Toccoa River called Deep Hole. I was fishing for trout while he and his companions were out for a day’s sightseeing in the north Georgia mountains. He owned a small vacation cabin near Woody Gap.

Like most folks I meet on riverbanks, Mr. Brinley was a friendly sort, engaging me in interesting and pleasant conversation. We spoke of our mutual fondness for the Southern Appalachians and how we never cease looking for excuses to go there.

I told Mr. Brinley I was from Southwest Georgia by way of southeast Alabama and was surprised to learn he called Geneva, Ala., home. Small world. When he learned my name, he even admitted to having read my writing from time to time. He was also acquainted with some kinfolk of mine. By the time we parted company, I felt like I’d made a friend. A gadabout fisherman never knows who he might run into during his travels.

One day later, on another stream, I made the acquaintance of a true character, an avid outdoorsman from Centre, Ala. This fellow, whose name I never caught, spoke fondly of the crappies in northeast Alabama’s Weiss Lake, near his home. Like Mr. Brinley, he, too, loved the mountains. He was particularly fond of Rock Creek and Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area.

I asked him how long he’d been encamped on the WMA and he told me he’d been there since early April. After some quick figuring, it dawned on me it would soon be three months since he’d left Alabama. Knowing there was a two-week camping limit on this Fannin County, Ga., trout stream, I asked him how he came to be there so long.

“Aw, shoot,” he replied, “that limit just goes for one campsite. We just move to another one every 14 days.”

He went on to explain how his wife had even managed to procure a cashier’s position at a little country store down the road to help pass the time and make herself a “little garage sale money” for the duration. I never learned just when the couple might be contemplating going back home to Centre, but surmised it probably wouldn’t be anytime soon.

And then there was Shorty.

Shorty was a bandy-legged little old mountain man born and bred near Hiawassee. Most likely, judging from his nasal twang and overall demeanor, he’d never ventured more than a few miles from the Southern highlands and the shadow of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak.

I met Shorty at the checkout counter of a little convenience store. I stood in line behind him for a full 15 minutes as he negotiated with the clerk over the price of half a bag of ice.

He was vehemently (and quite entertainingly) expressing the fact that he didn’t need “nairy” whole bag, “jest” enough “fer” three or four “dranks” “atter” he finished work. “Work,” I surmised, had something to do with the conglomeration of rusty, greasy automobile parts in the bed of his dilapidated pickup, which dated itself with “Datsun” rather than “Nissan” on the tailgate.

Negotiations continued until the lady behind the counter, giving up on logic, walked over to the fountain drink dispenser and filled a small plastic bag for the old man. The fact that the store employee was wearing no shoes was not lost on me.

The woman charged Shorty 50 cents for the ice. Grumbling, he tossed a dollar bill onto the counter and told her she might as well take out the price of a local newspaper while she was at it. The line grew steadily behind me and one man (a Yankee tourist) voiced an impatient complaint.

“Welcome to the mountains,” I turned and said.

Fish-wise, that particular mountain trout trip was not one of my best. The rainbows and browns just didn’t cooperate as they usually do. But, hey, I wouldn’t take a gold nickel for it.

After all, all the trout in the world could never make up for the time I got to spend with Mr. Brinley, Shorty, and the Centre, Ala., Flash.

Hmm. Thinking on that, I wonder if ol’ Shorty ever bought half a bag of ice from the Flash’s wife at that country store.