U.S. Highway 72 is an old route in north Alabama, stretching from Bridgeport, Tennessee to Memphis on the other side of the state. Over the years I’ve caught a lot of fish in streams and lakes near this road, where it meandered near the Tennessee River and the backwaters of one TVA dam or another. Sometimes I’d just stop the truck and fish from the side of the highway.
That was another day though, before progress in the way of road expansions changed forever the picturesque sites of quite a few successful fishing expeditions. Changing old highway 72 into a modern 4-lane speedway has either destroyed entirely or ravaged beyond recognition, my once special roadside fishing spots.
I remember one warm spring afternoon as I was returning to my home in Huntsville, Alabama, from having fished at a place named Second Creek on the old highway 72 west. My buddy and I had caught a few crappies that morning and as we approached a little stream named First Creek. There wasn’t a lot of thought going into selecting creek names back then.
This stream was one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen because it was nestled between a little spit of land filled with trees and the huge outcropping of a sheer rock wall. The water was always calm and in the spring had a hint of green pollen lying placidly on top. The whole pool couldn’t have been more than 50 yards long and about 25 yards wide, but it was fed by the river, which kept the water clean and moving along.
Our first casts, up against the rock wall, netted us both a nice smallmouth bass. It didn’t really matter what kind of bait we threw at them, it worked! We fished there for about an hour, catching one fish after another until the rest of them left for safer ground. It was a beautiful afternoon that is forever etched in my memory.
About 80 miles east on highway 72, there was an old bridge about 10 miles west of Scottsboro, Alabama, where state highway 79 crossed the road. I’ve spent many pleasant spring and fall evenings sitting under that overpass in a boat, fishing from the light of my Coleman lantern.
During the spring, I and whatever fishing buddy I had at the time would catch baskets full of crappie there. In the fall, we would tie a lantern to one of the support beams and let it hang almost to the top of the water. When bait fish would swim through the light, we would catch striped bass and sometimes an unexpected largemouth bass, as we listened to the sound of drums from a high school football game about 3 miles away from where we were fishing.
Every once in a while an automobile would cross the bridge, shaking loose a few small pieces of aged debris each time. Nothing heavy every fell, though there were a few times when we prayed that a truck wouldn’t try to cross that bridge.
After a business trip to the Midwest that lasted four years, I returned to the south and one pleasant autumn evening, I loaded up the boat and headed to the old 79 bridge. It was gone!
During my absence it had been demolished and hauled away. A new highway had been built about a hundred yards from my old fishing hole, diverting the flow of water away from the place I used to fish. It was if the bridge and my evening fishing memories had never existed!
There’ll always be progress. If you don’t have it, you’ll soon atrophy and die. I wish though, that progress would leave my fishing holes alone.