Mosley Makes Most of Trips to Tombigbee
By DAVID RAINER
A hardscrabble life growing up in the hills of Choctaw County pretty much determined how Gray Mosley goes about anything these days, including his fishing trips to the Tombigbee River.
Self sufficiency was the model Mosley learned and continues to follow, whether it’s sawing and milling his own lumber to catching his own bait for a fishing trip. From his axe and chainsaw to his trusty boats – a 1972 Ouachita bomber-style boat with a 50-horsepower Mercury and a 1981 Polarkraft jon boat with a 40-horse Evinrude – Mosley’s tools may not be the latest and greatest, but they suit him just fine.
When fishing is on his mind, the obvious goal is to catch enough fish to eat. But to allow the number of fish in the box to determine the quality of the fishing trip is a mistake, according to Mosley.
“You don’t catch them every time you go,” Mosley said. “It’s just not going to happen. People get caught up in how many fish they catch. A mess of fish is really all you need. If your catch eight or 10 crappie big enough to get a good fillet, that’s enough to feed several folks.
“What I do is just old-fashioned fishing – an old man and old boats. They have been used several times. But I take care of them. That’s why they still run so well to be as old as they are. I don’t have anything new but fishing tackle. Boats don’t catch fish.”
Bait does catch fish, though, and it’s hard to find it any fresher than what Mosley takes to the river.
“This community we live in is called Red Springs,” he said. “I guess whoever named it was because of the red sand and there’s a spring in most every hollow around here. Of course, they feed down through the hollows and create bigger streams as they go along. These streams are filled with what I call branch minnows. Some people call them creek minnows, but some people call a creek what I call a branch, too. I just put a little barrel trap in there and catch enough bait to go fishing.”
Mosley said he has made minnow traps, although the ones you can buy for $6-$7 each might be a more feasible alternative.
“It’s just a wire mesh barrel trap about 6 inches in diameter with a funnel in each end,” he said. “I put a piece of light bread in them and in about 20-30 minutes you’ve got enough minnows to go fishing. You’ll end up with three or four dozen, depending on how many traps you put out. You walk up to one of the little holes in the branch and you’ll see if there are any minnows in it. If you see minnows, put the trap in there and in 30 minutes, at the most, you’ll be ready to go fishing. I can’t tell you the name of the minnows, but some have gold stripes and some have a dark spot on their tail. We called them spot-tailed minnows. There’s more of that species than any others.
“One reason I like a branch minnow is they are much livelier than what you get out of a minnow vat at the bait shop. That’s just the way I came up. I’ve pretty much always caught my fish bait. I have bought bait over the years, but if it’s convenient I catch my own. The ones I catch are much more durable than a minnow out of a tank.”
When Mosley catches bait, he takes water out of the stream to fill his minnow buckets.
“It’s a lot better to take water out of their environment,” he said. “That water is much colder. They are accustomed to that. You obviously can’t put tap water out of a commercial well on them because the chlorine will kill them. Water out of natural well is OK, but I always use the water out of the branch I catch the bait out of.”
When Mosley launches his boat, he goes on a “milk run” to the spots that have produced for him over the decades.
“Probably 20 percent of the water holds 90 percent of the fish,” he said. “You learn these places that are productive. That’s what I concentrate on. I look for structure. If you’re fishing in the river, you look for a good tree top – oak or hickory that’s been there for some time. The leaves are all off and the branches are clean. Water depth, especially in the river, is important. If you can find treetops up on a shelf, which was the old river bank before they built the Coffeeville Lock and Dam, that’s ideal.
“Fish feed out of the deep water into the shallow. They’re coming out of 30 feet of water into 15. That’s my favorite spot, especially in the fall of the year.”
Current has a great deal to do with where Mosley fishes.
“When I’m fishing the river, you don’t want much current,” he said. “Otherwise you can’t fish because you stay hung up. The current will wrap you up in the structure. Calmer water is best.
“I fish sloughs in the spring of the year when the water temperature rises. The fish come out of the river in the shallower water into the lakes to spawn. That’s when you catch them in 2-4 feet of water.”
Especially in the spring of the year, Mosley gives the fish the opportunity to hit artificial baits, as well.
“I fish the small tube jigs, and small Beetle Spins are productive in the spring of the year in shallow water,” he said. “But I don’t go without a bucket of minnows. I’ve been out there when they wouldn’t hit anything but a minnow. That may be because I concentrate more on minnows. That’s my mainstay.”
And to maximize his efficiency on the water, there are always around a dozen ready-to-fish jugs in the bottom of the boat.
Mosley said he doesn’t really understand why some fishermen launch their fancy rigs and run miles and miles before they wet a hook.
“They’re passing some of the best fishing there is,” he said. “That’s my opinion, but I don’t think you need to run 15-20 miles to fish.
“The main thing is to find fish close by and concentrate on that. That’s the way I operate. I don’t know a lot, but I catch enough to feed my family and share with my neighbors.”
PHOTO – Gray Mosley of Choctaw County unhooks a nice “slab” crappie that hit a Beetle Spin in a slough off the Tombigbee River.