The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Camping and Eeling On The River Dan

By Y.O.C. © 1984

Issue: July, 1984

In the teens and twenties, this was a great thing for lots of folks to do. Several families had moved out of parts of these mountains a few years before and some of them liked to go back in slack times to fish, camp, hunt ginseng and bees and cookout. Some of these folks were my relatives; all my friends, so I got started going with them when I got old enough that my parents would let me.

It sort of grew on me, and I continued to go for several years every chance I got. To eel, you had to go below the Big Falls [in the Dan River Gorge], as the eels could not get over them. From there to below Kibler [Valley] was our range. I might say now this is a thing of the past as the large dams down the river have cut off the eels from coming up this river from the ocean. At that time, the older families that lived in those mountains and near those creeks depended on the fish in the streams and the game in the woods to help put food on their table. The ginseng could be sold and a little tobacco and ammunition bought, as well as other things. Anyway, I would like to describe one of the many expeditions as I remember it. This was in the mid-twenties.

One afternoon at the store [Mayberry Trading Post], my cousin said he and some of his friends were going eeling. They were going to take his truck to the Jim Vipperman barn and leave it and go down the South Cove and camp overnight at the old Splash Dam or the Big George Spring. I wanted to go very much but I could not go Saturday morning as I had some work that had to be done. I thought I might come down later that eve, taking some short cuts through the hills. He told me who was coming along - O.A.Y., W.S.C., J.H.B., D.S.S., Chatham and himself. These were the best fishermen and campers in our neighborhood by far and I did not want to miss this completely.

Saturday I got my tasks done and gathered up some grub and a frying pan. I would not have taken a pan, but I thought there was a small chance I might miss them and it ought to help out anyway. I got started just past mid-afternoon. I traveled fast across country and landed on Pinnacle Ridge and dropped down the South Cove. As I hit the foot at the path that leads up or down the river a little distance from the river, I saw a beggarweed or hogweed broken and pointed toward down river. So, I knew that was the way.

I started on down this path and over to my left, as I traveled, about 15 feet through the tall weeds, I saw a snake. I stopped and looked closer and there were seven big copperheads and one large rattler, all dead. The others had killed them as they went all at this small rock pile. That was the most poison snakes I had seen together. Poison snakes are one danger that you have to watch out for on these trips. There used to be lots of copperheads and rattlers in the area of the Dan River.

I knew I must be getting close to the camp and soon saw the sacks of grub and camping things in sacks swung up in trees. This was where we were going to camp. It was in a good patch of short grass close to the branch and spring. I hung my bag and dropped down to the river to start fishing for horney heads and chubs. I also wanted to set a hook or so for it would soon be dark. We had medium luck. Everyone came in to camp about 10:00 and set around for a while and listened to some snake stories. I remember O.A.Y. telling that he and W. Cockram was fishing back of the Pinnacles the year before and had come across a bee course that went up the back side of the Pinnacles. They followed it and came to a cliff. He, being in front, scrambled and climbed to the cliff's edge and caught hold of the edge and muscled himself up. As his head came even with the top edge, a rattler was laying about 2 feet from his face, coiled looking him in the face, ready to strike. He turned all holds loose and dropped. His partner caught and helped break his fall. He thought that was his closest call. They put off chasing bees for that day.

We did have one of what we thought was the world's best coffee makers along. I never tasted any better or as good as Will Cockram could and did make on all these trips. We snacked and had coffee that night as we told tales. Afterwards, we found suitable rocks to use for pillows and laid down on the sod to rest. Some used a little penerial rub on to keep the gnats and skeeters off. The next morning a little late, we were all up. Some were dressing eels and fish. Some were cooking, some making coffee.

I was on the crow watch. When on these trips, we had a sort of watch set up. I heard some people coming up the river out of sight. When they finally got in sight, I only knew one, Sam, as he had once lived on the mountain. They were seining. I turned my head to report to them that there was a very large deep hole just below me but from where they were, they could not see me. I saw that Sam had one end of the seine and had started to carry it around in that hole. I turned to tell them this but when I looked back at them, Sam was gone in the hole. Where he went in, there was a hat floating. It seemed like a long time I watched, scared. He came out the lower end of this hole still holding his end of the seine. I don't think Sam could swim, but he just walked across the bottom. They went back down the river. By this time breakfast was ready.

This was a real breakfast - good fish, bread, bacon, coffee. I guess on a trip like that most anything is good for you sure have a good appetite.

We fished a little and pretty soon it was time to start back. The older ones started thirty minutes earlier up at the regular path. L.H.C. and I were the youngest. We raced one another up the mountain, straight up, and got there almost as soon as the ones that had started before. We got up on the truck beside of O.A.Y. to rest. As we sat there, he looked over at me and said, "You know that you have some grey hair?" I said no. He said, you have two or three in your temple." I said, "When I left home yesterday eve I did not have a grey hair. This company must have caused it, I guess!"