Whenever another trout season approaches, my mind seems to drift back to my first exposure to these wily fish in the North Georgia mountains....... and
I was excited that first morning and couldn't help but hear a rustling sound outside the pup tent, so I popped my head out of the old Army sleeping bag into the brisk coolness of the spring morning. As I peered through still sleepy eyes, I could see the familiar outline of a tall, thin man. His name was Bob Moon, but he had always been just Uncle Bob to me.
From my vantage point in the tent, I watched as Uncle Bob disrobed and eased into the ice-cold waters of the mountain stream to bathe himself. Even though I was just a lad of ten at the time, I couldn't help wondering why being clean was important enough for Uncle Bob to endure the extremely cold water.
The proud son of one of Robert E. Lee's officers during the War Between the States, Bob Moon believed that "cleanliness is next to godliness". Besides, he had learned the hard way while serving his country in the trenches of France during World War I. He had been subjected to living in filth for months in those terrible man-made "hell holes" in the earth, and had promised himself that he would never be unclean again. A man of convictions, Bob Moon kept his word to himself and others.
I learned many other things from this quiet man that molded my life and gave me a healthy respect for the outdoors and its creatures. He was conservation minded long before it was fashionable, but never thought it was wrong to catch or kill a reasonable amount of fish and game for food. He foresaw problems with certain species of fish or wildlife even before any public concern was shown about their welfare.
While fishing with him in the quiet serenity of a small mountain stream once, we were having a terrific time catching tiny eastern brook trout or "native specs" as the locals called them. I wanted to take home a limit of the scrappy little fish, but Uncle Bob wouldn't hear of it. "These are the only mountain trout that are native to Georgian waters," he said. "Their habitat is slowly diminishing, and because of the growing human population, there won't be any left before you die. So, let's just keep the ones that are hurt badly with the hooks, and let the others go."
I thought to myself, "He must be wrong. There are plenty of these fish." However, Uncle Bob was right. Even though I am far from the end of my allotted time on this earth, most of the "native specs" have already disappeared. Only knowledgeable mountain people and a few biologists are able to find enough of the diminutive fish to fill a bucket.
Though he saw it coming, if Bob Moon were alive today, he would still be appalled by the blatant abuse in the mountains. The beer cans and pop-tops laying on the bottom of our previously unspoiled streams reflect the sun's rays. Those reflections would bring tears to the eyes of Bob Moon.
Yes, I learned a lot from Uncle Bob. He taught me about cleanliness, godliness, conservation and how to hang onto what you have and enjoy it for as long as possible. The simple pleasure he derived from wading the Peach State's trout streams is indelible in my memory.
Several years ago, Bob Moon passed away. There were no fanfares or rowdy parades. He left as he had lived ...... with quiet dignity. At first, even I didn't realize how much I missed him, but like the "native specs" that he loved, there aren't many Bob Moons left. So, whenever I look up at my family room wall and see the World War I helmet hanging there that he so proudly wore into combat, or catch a glimpse of a lone trout fisherman wading the north Georgia streams, I think of Uncle Bob..... and remember.....
Bill Vanderford is the Outdoors Editor of the Gwinnett Daily Post, has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Fishing Guide.