Meet a Faculty Member: Don Haynes
Don Haynes, associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, grew up fishing in the Smith River, which cuts through his hometown of Bassett, Virginia, and is downstream from Philpott Dam, a source of hydroelectric power. Below are a few excerpts from an essay he wrote called “Fishing Days on the Smith,” an account of some of his first encounters with fishing that grew into a passion for conservation.
On respite from hot days in Bassett: “What we called the Old Keaton House stood just by the first rapids, and downstream a ways was ‘Lemon’s Cabin,’ named after the game warden who lived there off and on. He sold licenses, hooks, sinkers, worms and cold drinks from a little stand in his front yard. Just in front of his cabin was a great fishing hole. When I was older we would wait on hot days for the river to subside after power generation, wrap a six-pack in a fish net and refrigerate in the icy water. We would drink it, fish and cool off. ...”
On fishing behind his father’s store: “My father had a grocery store on Main Street and the river was right behind. A short scramble down the bank and we were standing in the Smith [River].
In the ’50s and early ’60s, Bassett was a thriving town. There were lots of stores downtown and there were houses in between. ... It was a great place to play and to fish. There was a small island behind the store and it seemed like every soft drink bottle thrown in the river ended up in the chute [of water] between the island and the bank. There was a $.02 bounty on bottles then and I could make a couple of bucks by just scooping them out and returning them to the store.”
On his first fishing win: “I achieved my first fishing notoriety on the Smith fishing in a deep hole just behind the funeral home. I was 11, I think. The local hardware—Blue Ridge Hardware—ran a fishing contest on opening day [for trout fishing season] with prizes awarded [for] the largest fish.
There was an under-12 group. On opening day I caught an 8-inch rainbow and marched down the street to enter it in the contest. ... After 6 p.m. I stopped by to see the winners announced in the window. Lo and behold I was the winner of the 12-and-under bracket. I got five shares of stock in Bassett Furniture, a new baseball glove, a Mickey Mantle model Louisville Slugger baseball bat, a case of Dr. Pepper and a few other prizes: real loot in those days. It seems no one else had bothered to enter. The next year the hardware store announced that there would be minimum size requirements to enter—sore losers, I guess.”
On the dangers of the river: “The Smith did try its best to kill me once. ... I was wading just upstream from Philpott and kept hearing a roaring in my ears. I couldn’t figure out what it was. It got progressively louder, and I turned to see a wall of water rushing downstream from an early release at the dam. The best I could do was lumber over to the bank, toss my rod up, reach up to grab some tree roots and pull myself up the bank. By the time I got up the water was over my feet and dragging hard. From then on I checked the release times before I went out in the day.”
On what drew him away from—and back to—the water: “I joined the Air Force in 1971, prodded by a draft notice I knew was coming any day and didn’t fish again until my 40s. Then other obligations to family and career drew me away from fishing again. A few years ago I talked my wife into taking a class. She loved it and we have been fishing since. We primarily fish the Gunpowder [River] and tributaries but the limestone creeks of Pennsylvania are only an hour away so we go there as often as we can.”