Trip to Ascertain Bend
Jackie and his brother, Stephen, had grown up fishing in the various creeks, ponds, and lakes that populates the Bibb and Perry county area. While growing up in Marion, they fished at Shady Grove Lake in Bibb County with their father and grandfather. Now grown, Jackie and Stephen often traveled over to Lakeland Farms. They spent hours fishing on the numerous lakes that characterize the large dairy farm.
Jackie Brandon decided that he had enough as he closed his Dell laptop. He was in court for the last nine weeks. He was ready for a weekend of fishing. Jackie was one of the best lawyers in Perry County. He practiced from his small office in Marion. He worked hard to become a lawyer and assume his father's role as an influential leader in the black community. Jackie graduated from Westside High School in 1982. After graduation, he attended the University of Alabama for his undergraduate and graduate studies. He graduated in 1990 from the law school and opened his practice on the corner of Washington and Jefferson Street in Marion three years later.
Jackie retrieved the light brown canvas rucksack from the floor of the closet in the hallway. He packed his fishing gear earlier that week. They were lying on the floor of the closet beside the rucksack. He picked up the gear and rucksack and headed for the front door. Jackie really loved to fish. He dreamed of and planned this fishing trip for two weeks and nothing was going to stop him from going. He picked up the maps and keys from the wooden table by the door, turned off the lights in the den and closed the door to his house on West Lafayette.
Jackie jumped into his dirty brown pickup and started the engine. He slowly drove the truck to the shed to hook the trailer hitch to the chromed rear bumper of his pickup. He carefully secured the silver boat trailer to the back of the truck and checked to make sure that the cover was tight on the boat. Jackie purchased this fishing boat three day ago just for this fishing trip. He carefully pulled out of the driveway and headed across Marion to pick up Stephen.
Stephen lived on the corner of Davis Street and Tutwiler Road. As the boat and truck pulled up in the circle driveway, Stephen came out of the brick home and ran toward the truck. "You are late, Jack. I thought you changed your mind." Stephen said as he placed his fishing gear in the bed of the pickup. After Stephen got into the truck, Jackie replied, "Quit complaining. I had to gas up and pick up a few things but at least I made it. Do you have the map?" Stephen fished the map out of his blue gym bag and handed it to Jackie. After looking over the map, they drove the thirty miles north on Highway 5 to Tabor Mill Road.
Jackie carefully followed the instructions that Stephen had given to him. During the entire one-hour trip, Stephen constantly talked about this secret fishing spot way out in the county. "This is known as the best spot to catch blue catfish. Jack, I heard a story about a prized catfish that no one can catch. I think Galloway Branch Lake in Ascertain Bend is the best spot to catch Big Old Joe." After reaching Tabor Mill Road, Jackie continued to drive his 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 four more miles down Highway 5 before he reached Wisdom Farms road.
Not the only one on Galloway Branch
The historic Wisdom Plantation is an abandoned and forgotten two hundred and thirty- five acre farm located in rural Bibb County off Highway 5. The small town of Ascertain Bend was named for the owner of the plantation, Ascertain Wisdom. He was one of many settlers of Bibb County in 1820. He was also one of the prominent farmers of rural Bibb County. The large Galloway Branch is located in one of the many bends in Schultz Creek, as it turns to flow into the Cahaba River.
The silver boat trailer and dirty brown truck noisily entered the almost abandoned town. Jackie slowly drove the truck and the small bass fishing boat down the gravel road leading to Galloway Branch. As Jackie drove over the first hill, he caught a glimpse of the Galloway Branch and Schultz Creek. A few minutes later, the truck carefully turned down a small well-driven path to a spot where they could put the boat into the water. Jackie turned the truck in a tight semi circle pattern and shifted the transmission into reverse. Slowly he backed the boat trailer to the edge of the bank of Galloway Branch. The boat trailer jerked to a halt with the rear tires slightly submerged into the water.
"This is a perfect day for fishing. Stephen, take the tarp off the boat and I will get the gear," Jackie said aloud as he looked at the time on his watch. It was now 9:30 a.m. and the sun was just rising over the top of the trees. Jackie grabbed his rucksack and their fishing gear from the bed of the Dodge. By this time, Stephen had jumped out of the truck and had taken the tarp off the boat. This was the first time Stephen saw the boat. "Wow, Jack how much did you pay for this boat. It is beautiful." Jackie placed the stuff in the floor of the Allison XB-2003. They slowly pushed the red boat off the trailer and into the murky water of the creek. Using the heavy oak oars, the two brothers paddled the boat away from the shore. The Mercury 200 quickly came to life and the red fishing boat headed for a day of fishing. The view was magnificent as the Allison rapidly traveled across the swollen Galloway Branch.
Galloway Branch is just one of the many famously unknown fishing spots in Bibb County. Somewhere in the sparkling blue waters of Schultz Creek and Galloway Branch lived a gigantic blue catfish named Big Old Joe. The gigantic fish remained uncaught for many years. Hundreds of great anglers have traveled to Ascertain Bend trying to catch Big Old Joe. The legendary fish was thought to be at least 90 pounds and maybe more. He was the biggest catfish ever spotted in Galloway Branch or in this part of Alabama. Everyone has returned with unwanted tales of failure and defeat. Some have been lucky to get Big Old Joe to bite their hook. However, he would just bite and run quickly to the bottom of the lake and break the line. As of the summer of 2008, Big Old Joe remained uncaught.
As the boat came upon the center of Galloway Branch, Jackie noticed that they were not alone. There were a few other anglers out on Galloway Branch this morning. Jackie stopped the engine to let the boat drift. He retrieved the Browning rod and reels from the floor of the boat, and carefully walked to the rear of the boat. After baiting his hook, he cast the enticing bait as far as he could to a spot near a fallen tree in the dark waters of Galloway Branch. The bait flew quickly away from the boat. He quickly reeled in the slack, held the rod high to let the lures sink and watched as the float drifted aimlessly upon the top of the water.
The time went by slowly as the two brothers waited for a nibble on their lines. Jackie retrieved two cold beers from the small ice chest that he kept on board and tossed one to his brother. Later, he inserted a CD into the Pioneer radio on the boat and adjusted the volume as the sounds of Earth, Wind and Fire flowed out of the speakers. The bait had not been in the water for 10 minutes before a school of blue catfish swam towards the meal bait. The shadows of the fish became visible through the water as the sun reflected off the surface. Suddenly, Stephen could hear the load whirl of his reel. The Remington 75 pound test fishing line was quickly shooting out across the water with tremendous force.
Big Old Joe
"I got a bite!" scream Stephen. He fixates his attention on the fish that bit his bait. As the fish nibbled on the bait, Stephen gave a well-practiced controlled jerk of the rod. He pulled hard enough to set the hook into the mouth of the fish and quickly but steadily reeled his prey in. "Look like we got dinner" Jackie said. "What you mean we. I do not see you reeling anything in," Stephen replied. As the fish came closer to the boat, Jackie carefully scooped the nine-pound silver blue catfish out of the water. He skillfully took the hook from the mouth of the struggling fish and held it up for Stephen to see. "I got him out of the water and it is my boat. Like I said, look like we got dinner." He laughed and tossed the fish into the opened fish bucket.
With renewed anticipation, Jackie retrieved his fishing line out of the water. He carefully re-baited the hook and hurled the bait out across the water. The meal bait sailed high up in the sky. "Fore! Oh, sorry that is the wrong sport." Jackie said with a laugh. The bait landed about five feet short of the submerged tree. "That is a good spot." It took awhile to retrieve the slack in his line. By the time Jackie got his rod high in the air, the bait had sunk down about twelve feet. It sunk right where Big Old Joe was waiting for his next meal. Jackie slowed the reel to a crawl and waited. Suddenly, he felt the tension of the rod and then it happened.
The line snapped tight and the reel began to whirl loudly as the line shot out across Galloway Branch. The line grew taut and the Browning fishing rod folded and bent as Jackie perfectly set the hook in the prey's mouth. Big Old Joe took off for his usual race toward the bottom of the water. Stephen laughs. "Look like you've got the big one!" His excitement intensified as Jackie continued to fight with his prey. He struggled to control the rapidly spinning reel. Stephen loudly hollered, "You've caught Big Old Joe." He quickly stepped to the aid of his brother. "You have caught Big Old Joe," he exclaimed again. "Bring him in!"
Jackie and Big Old Joe continued to fight against each other. Each was determine to win their battle. Jackie was determined to reel in his prey. However, Big Old Joe was determining to stay in the water. They continued to fight this tug of war for fifteen minutes and Jackie was getting nowhere. Nevertheless, he was determined to bring the fish into the boat. About five more minutes into the struggle, the fish seem to be tiring and Jackie could roll some of the tight line in on the reel. Quickly, he spun the reel and watched as the form of the fish came closer to the boat.
With his left hand, Stephen gripped the handle on the rail of the Allison while extending the fish net over the water with his right hand. They could clearly see the outline of the huge fish as he came closer to the side of the boat. Suddenly, Big Old Joe stopped and retreated to the bottom of Galloway Branch. "Damn, here we go again." Jackie said. Again, the reel whirled loudly as the fish continued to struggle for its life.
By this time, the noise and excitement had attracted the attention of the other anglers on Galloway Branch. Slowly, they drifted closer to watch this epic struggle of man against beast. Some cheered as Jackie struggled to retrieve this prized catch. Other shouted instructions on how to bring the fish in. "Let him run until he is too exhausted to fight," the anglers shouted. The battle continued as the sun traveled slowly across the cloudless sky. Forty minutes pass as the battled continued and Jackie still could not bring the fish any closer to the boat.
Big Old Joe strikes back
About an hour later, Jackie began to grow tired and the fish was still fighting. Slowly an old angler approached the boat. "Hey, son, why don't you just cut the line and let him go. He is not coming up today," the old man said. Jackie was not a quitter and he was not going to start now. He was determined not to let this fish win. "Thanks but no thanks, old man," Jackie replied. "I will bring this one in." He continued with his struggle against Big Old Joe.
The struggle continued for another forty-five minutes. Big Old Joe would let Jackie reel him in close enough to be seen, and then suddenly he would return to the bottom of Galloway Branch. The crowd had drifted closer and continued to cheer and Jackie continued to struggle. Again the old man advised, "Son, there is no shame in cutting the line. Big Old Joe will always be there, but he will never be caught. Cut the line before he takes the rod and reel from you." Jackie just looked at the old man as if he was crazy and continued to fight.
Again, Jackie was able to reel the line in some. This time the fish seemed to have lost all of its fight. The line came in quickly and much easier than before. Stephen yelled, "He is tired." When the rest of the anglers heard this, they became excited. Quickly Jackie reeled the fish in toward the outstretched fishing net. Closer and closer the fish came. They could clearly see the huge fins on the blue catfish. Jackie continued to bring the fish to the boat. Then suddenly the line retightened.
Big Old Joe did not run for the bottom but he would not come any closer. He just stopped. No one expect what happen next to happen. Some people that have heard the story retold have replied that it could never happen. However, those that were there that day reported that suddenly Big Old Joe leaped high into the air. The gigantic blue catfish soared four feet out of the water and then back straight down to the very bottom of Galloway Branch. Because of the tension on the line and the unexpected descent of the fish, Jackie without warning fell harshly into the murky waters. "Jackie!" Stephen screamed as he witnessed his brother helpless frame fly into the water.
Suddenly, a very loud splash was heard. For a few seconds, the murky water of Galloway Branch enveloped Jackie. Suddenly and quickly, he resurfaced to the top of the water and swam to the boat. After climbing out of the water, Jackie exclaimed, "Did you see that? He came out of the water and took my rod and reel. I can not believe it." As the old man turned to start his boat and leave, he replied, "Son, I told you that he did not want to come in. You should have cut the line and you would still have your rod and reel."
The splash felt around the world
In the first years of dedicating my life to ministering to the unsaved, I enjoyed the excitement of the chase as I sought out the unsaved to evangelize and tried to convince them to come into the body of Christ. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to save those who had become lost in the murky waters of sin. I experienced many great successes. However, I have also experienced many scathing defeats. Nevertheless, during the thirty-three short years of my memorable ministry, I have come to learn one valuable lesson.
Although, our Lord and Savior call us to be fisher of men, this is far from an easy calling. It is filled with the struggle of witnessing to people. Some of them do truly desire salvation. Nevertheless, there are those like Big Old Joe that would rather stay hidden by the veiled murky waters of sin. As we try our best to convince them to come out of their sin and find safety in the body of Christ, they often fight and resist our best efforts. They fight and resist because their life of sin has became a safe haven for them. It is the only thing that they know. It has become a place for them to run and hide from the troubles and cares of the world.
I have come to realize that sometimes as we struggle to evangelize the unsaved, they continue their fight not to be saved. We often find ourselves spending many irreplaceable and valuable hours fighting a helpless cause. All of our pleas go unheard and the well-meant convincing words fall upon deaf ears. This is when we must realize the error of casting our precious pearls before the swine. There is wisdom hidden in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 7:6. "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."
Nevertheless, we unwisely spend energy, time, and money trying to catch the chief of sinners, Big Old Joe. They are the life long sinners that continues to fall back into their sin regardless how much you council them. They are the hopeless masses that in spite of the convincing appeals refuse to change their ways. Often, the best thing that we can do is to just cut the line and let the unrepentant sinner go. The reason for this revelation is during the fight to save those that do not want to be saved we lose valuable time and exhaust precious resources. These irreplaceable pearls could have been cast somewhere they might have done some good.
Though my constant study of the word of God, I have discovered that God to will sometime cut the line and let us go our separate ways. It is not that God desires to see us destroyed and sentenced to death because of our sins. He truly desires to see everyone saved. However, as time passes, we continue to struggle against the evident call to repentance. God cuts the line and turns us over to a reprobate mind. This is the fate facing most in our country and world today. God has sent many powerful messages to the masses that our walk is wrong. Our economy is quickly sinking and our nation is going broke. However, we still chase after the sins of greed, power and idol worship that have gotten us into this predicament.
As the time quickly passed, our nation plunged deep into the despairs of the current global economic catastrophe. However, the call of God goes forth for us to repent. The voice crying out in the wilderness slowly drifts upon us. He loudly proclaims, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." However, caught up in the struggle and the fight to survive, we continue to be overtaken with greed, lust, and sin. God advises us to cut the line to our sins. If we do not heed his call, we will be thrown into the lake of fire or the second death. Nevertheless, this divine call continues to go unheard. The unheeded call of God proclaims, "Child of God, cut the line before your sins drag you in. Repent, Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."
However, we continued to ignore the call and God's plea fall on our deaf ear. We continued our struggle trying our best to reel in the great American Dream. Then suddenly, the stock market crashed creating the splash felt around the world. As now as we face the uncertain future that lies ahead, let us finally heed the call of God. At this important time in the history of our country, we need to cut the line that attaches us to our sins. We need to cut the line that connects us to our greed and stop worshiping the creature before we worship the creator. Regardless of what we believe, there is a reality we must to understand. This reality is the Great American Dream will never be caught. When we chase after this capitalistic fish, we are actually chasing after something never meant for the child of God to reel in. If we do not cut the line, the Great American Dream will pull us down into the depths of sin.
Pastor Reginald Levi Walker