The recent death of Mistoe Griffin of Conway at age 93 further thins the ranks of the anglers who caught impressive strings of fish from the day Lake Conway was filled.
In his working days, Griffin was a corporate pilot for the Ward school bus enterprise. In his off time, he fished Lake Conway, and he told about it – amusing stories often passed around at Sportsman’s One Stop, the Harkrider Street business of the late Dwight Matchett.
Matchett himself was one of those early Lake Conway practitioners who brought in impressive amounts and sizes of bluegill and largemouth bass, along with catfish. Crappie came along later.
Some techniques those fisherman of the early 1950s used are worth looking at today. Some methods are forgotten. Some are pushed to the side in the never-ending quest for the latest bit of magic that will fill the boat with fish.
One that sometimes causes head shaking was the use of fly rods on densely timbered early Lake Conway. How in the world could they fly cast in those circumstances? What was closer to the truth was the fly rods were used for a different purpose, not the space-requiring back and forth with the line then dropping into a precise spot.
Fly rods and reels were, and still are, handy for three things. One, they are light, limber and can help put extremely small lures and baits into tight places, like small openings in lily pads and other vegetation. Two, they are good for quiet fishing with no click, no whir of the reel. Three, line can be paid out before the lure hits the water, another strategy of precise positioning.
A common lure used in those early days of Lake Conway was the popping bug. Yep, they are available today at many fishing tackle outlets, but you seldom hear about them. A popping bug is a small piece of cork or other light material decorated with a few whiskers and some gaudy paint. It is supposed to look like an insect on the surface of the water.
Popping bugs are so light that you can’t cast them even with light, 4-pound or 6-pound, line. But you can get them into a spot with a long and limber rod using an arm’s length of line in addition to what is on the rod. Popping bugs catch bream – and sometimes bass.
Some early Lake Conway bass fishermen used the doodle-socking technique.
Doodle-socking has some other names in some other areas. You put a lure on heavy line on a stout rod. You toss it into the likely-looking spot then you work the rod in a figure eight pattern, making considerable noise and splash. And some anglers say they use a circle pattern, not the figure eight.
Doodle-socking is useful for heavy cover bass fishing. Some years later, a California bass tournament fisherman, Dee Thomas, modified it a bit and created the “flippin’ technique.” There is no G on flippin.’ Today, nearly any bass chaser, amateur or professional, uses flippin’ from time to time and catches fish with it. Thomas and flippin’ came to prominence in 1975 when he won a national event on Bull Shoals Lake in north Arkansas.
The early Lake Conway fishing set another pattern that is still with us. Many catches were made close to trunks of trees in the water. Over the years, those trees became stumps, and today you hear of fishing around stickups and stumps. Some Lake Conway fishermen as well as those on other waters use a pattern of dropping a lure or bait on all four sides of “structure” then mothing on to the next one.