A Crappie Birthday

By Caleb Miller

Rob hated her. The “her” was my dad’s first wife, Tammy. Rob was my dad’s friend back in the 80s, and he knew that she was bad for my dad. Rob had a keen eye. He was a golf pro at the local course, not one of the stiff, brisk, Michelob-drinking ass-clowns infesting today’s golf courses. Rob was more of a Caddyshack kinda guy. He loved golf, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and fishing.

As luck would have it, my dad’s birthday is in mid-April. For those not in the know, April is prime crappie fishing season in central North Carolina with spring being spawning season. Each January, Rob, Dad, and their buddies took all of their Christmas trees and lashed them together, tied in concrete blocks, and sank them in strategic locations in the lake. These structures provided prime fish habitat come springtime.

The year was 1984. My dad had just bought himself a brand new Pontiac Firebird, and his 30th birthday was right around the corner. Rob called and said, “Hey, man. You wanna go fishing for your birthday? Let’s go in the early afternoon, and, if they aren’t biting, we’ll head home before dinner time. We’ll take the Ranger out and hit a couple of the tree piles.” My dad agreed and offered to bring the beer if Rob brought the bait.

Saturday came, and Rob rolled into the driveway in his black Dodge Ramcharger, Ranger bass boat in tow. Dad loaded up the beer, and they set off in search of good times in honor of his birthday. 

They launched the boat and hit the first pile of Christmas trees. After an hour-and-a-half with nary a nibble, they decided to try another pile.

The second pile was a jackpot. They reeled crappies in one after another—hand-over-fist action. As fast as Rob and Dad could bait a hook with a golden shiner minnow and cast, they were catching them. By 5:00 pm, they caught more than 75 white crappies—at least 40 of which were keepers (8 inches or more).

“Joe, we need more minnows. I know I said we’d leave around 5, but this is some of the best fishing I’ve ever had. We can’t stop now,” Rob said. 

“Yeah, let’s head over to the marina, get some more bait, and come back to this pile,” Dad replied.

They ended up fishing until dark. Rob and Dad caught more than 80 legal crappies that afternoon. 

They turned into the driveway a little after 8:30 pm. Tammy was standing on the back porch. “What have I done this time?” Dad mumbled out loud. “Ohhhh, I have a feeling I know,” replied Rob, smirking.

According to Dad, Tammy “came off the porch with a 12-gauge in one hand, tossing grenades and dynamite with the other. It was hard to make out the words as she was screaming and flailing all over the place, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t asking if we’d enjoyed our day fishing.”

See, this was my dad’s 30th birthday. Apparently, Tammy arranged for a surprise party. He was supposed to be home at 6:00, but Rob purposely kept him fishing well into the evening. All the party guests left after waiting an hour or so. Tammy’s inability to control her seething anger didn’t make her a very good hostess—or a very good wife.

Dad asked Rob if he knew about the party. “Oh, yeah. I was actually invited and told her I’d have you back by 6:00. I just wanted to see the look on her face when you missed it,” replied Rob, musingly.

In the weeks following the missed surprise party, Tammy threw away Dad’s heirloom collections of both fishing reels and Buck knives then lied about it when asked. They eventually got divorced and not without good reason. Dad and Rob remained fishing buddies until Rob’s recent passing. Rest easy, troublemaker.

From the FE Films Archive

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