My sister Melissa tagged me and our other siblings in a Facebook post this past week regarding a man from Brandon, Mississippi, who hauled in a 131-pound blue catfish while fishing on the Mississippi River near Natchez.

The man, Eugene Cronley, was fishing with a rod and reel and said it took him 40 minutes to land the monster catfish — which has been certified as a state record blue catfish by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife.

Along with some photos she posted, Melissa commented “Wow. Can you imagine daddy’s face if he landed this one?’

I can not only imagine his face, little sister, I can almost hear the ensuing lies that would follow.

I never heard my dad fib about anything that truly mattered or would hurt someone, but when it came to stretching the truth about his fishing adventures, he was the undisputed champion of the tall tale.

Dad served in the Navy during World War II and Korea, and later went to work on the railroad. He retired at 55 and lived six more years.

He was an avid trotliner before he retired, but once he no longer had a pesky job to deal with, he stepped up his game and decided it was up to him to keep the catfish population from overtaking Watauga Lake in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee.

Dad didn’t have to lie about his fishing prowess. He was a legend, and I’d put the number of catfish he hauled over the side of his old, green fishing boat during the last 15 years of his life up against the totals of anyone who ever drowned a worm in that lake.

But, pulling up to a marina after a week-long stay at his favorite fishing spot and simply showing off the massive load of catfish to gawking admirers wasn’t enough for dad.

Showing off the fish was the main course. The ensuing tall tales were dessert.

He once told a little boy the 15-pound catfish on one of our stringers had actually jumped into the boat while we were running the trotlines that morning. When the boy asked why, dad said. “I didn’t ask him, but he was probably trying to get away from the 20-foot alligator that was chasing him.”

The lake had recently become a popular spot to water ski, and my dad had declared war on those who dared to ski close to his trotlines. The fib was his way of making sure the youngster never let anyone strap a pair of skis on his feet and drag him around a lake that was home to 20-foot alligators.


My favorite memory, however, was the time a young couple in a fancy boat pulled up beside dad’s houseboat and struck up a conversation.

They were curious about trotlining, and had been told by folks at the marina if they wanted to see a bunch of catfish and become educated on the art of the trotline, be on the lookout for a green houseboat and ask for “The Elk River Hermit.”

Since they were polite — and after surveying the boat to make sure there were no skis — dad invited them onboard the houseboat and poured them a cup of coffee. The professor then gave a quick “Trotline 101” lesson, explaining how to prepare the lines and the hooks, the best locations to place the lines and how often to check them for fish.

They finally got around to asking to see some fish, and dad strolled to the end of the houseboat and lifted a rope that just happened to be holding a 40-pound flathead we hadn’t cleaned yet.

The young couple was in awe, and the man asked what kind of bait he had used to haul in such a monster.

“Cricket,” my dad said.

The young man spit coffee from his mouth and stammered, “You caught that big fish with a cricket?”

The hook was set, and my dad — without even smiling — said, “Sure did. Of course the cricket weighed 8 pounds.”

We didn’t get many visitors after that, but we did get a nice letter from the Chamber of Commerce asking us to quit scaring tourists with stories about 20-foot alligators and 8-pound crickets.

Dad was so proud.


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— Jack Stallard is sports editor of the News-Journal. Email:; follow on Twitter @lnjsports