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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Got Mullet?

One thing leads to another.

Last month I wrote about Aunt Roscoe and her “falsie.”

Aunt Roscoe lived down on the Gulf Coast with Uncle Leon.  Their home was back on the bayou, where Uncle Leon fished for mullet. With a cast net.

Mullet are plentiful, pretty easy to catch, and when fried fresh, they are as good as anything you can pull out of a river or pond.

If you go to the “Redneck Riviera” in search of redneckery, you won’t find much of it among the high-rise condos, gated communities, and upscale eating establishments that serve stuff sautéed.  However, if you go to a place where fried mullet is on the menu, there is a good chance redneckery is lurking about.

Now some say the mullet is not a fish at all.

Back in the 1920s, three men were arrested for fishing for mullet without a license.  They got themselves a lawyer who knew something about mullet and together they devised this defense.

“My clients,” the lawyer told the jury, “cannot be convicted for illegal fishing because a mullet is not a fish.  It is a bird.”

Then he brought in a biologist who testified that in his professional opinion, only birds have gizzards. The jury, carefully selected to include at least a few men who were familiar with mullet, knew that a mullet had a gizzard.  So, it followed logically that a mullet could not be a fish. It had to be a bird.

Not guilty.

Uncle Leon would have applauded the verdict.

According to family lore, he would go down to the bayou with his cast net and bring home fish for frying.

Now I don’t know how much you know about fishing with a cast net, but it is critical that when you cast the net, it flares out in a circle so you can catch as many fish as possible.  There are many ways to accomplish this, but old-timers like Uncle Leon used a technique that involved holding one edge of the net in your teeth.  The trick was to release that edge just a click after throwing so that the net forms the circular pattern so admired by cast net aficionados. It took some coordination, but Uncle Leon had it down pat.

Unfortunately, Uncle Leon, like so many of his class and circumstance, did not practice good dental hygiene.  So, in the fullness of time, he began to lose his teeth.  Unwilling to spend the money to get professionally crafted dentures, he bought a set of choppers at a local store and went about his business.

Which included casting his net for mullet.

You can see where this is heading.

He went out on the bayou as he always had.

Took up the net as he always had.

Put one edge between his teeth, as he always had.

And threw, as he always had.

Only the false teeth did not release as his real teeth had.

So net, with teeth attached, flew out into bayou.

Not in a neat circle, but in an embarrassing splash that scared off any mullet that happened to be nearby.

Uncle Leon hauled in the fishless net.

Put his teeth back in his mouth.

Hung the net in the shed.

And never took it out again.

“As ye sow, so shall you reap.”

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.