Maddie Gordon would fish for a living if she could. When she’s not busy at Clinch Life Outfitters in St. Paul, she can be found at Greystone Manor, an assisted-living facility in Castlewood, Virginia where she is the owner/administrator.
In her scarce “free” time, Maddie catches a few winks then heads to the Clinch River with her tackle. Recently we visited her store and this is what she had to say:
Q: When did you start Clinch Life Outfitters?
A: July, 2017…a few months ago.
Q: When did you start fishing?
A: Twenty-eight years ago (laughs) when I was born!
Q: Who took you fishing?
A: It was my grandfather [the late Ronnie Gordon]. He loved to fish the Clinch River, for sure, as often as he could. I think he had more fun catching “bait” than he did catching fish. And, of course, I would NOT touch the crawdads – that was a biggie for me. He caught a lot of fish off them, but I wouldn’t touch them. So, I always made him grab them and get the pinchers off for me.
Q: Tell me about some of the fish you’ve caught – the fish you’re proud of, and where you caught them.
A: Everything I’m proud of has come out of the Clinch River. It’s my favorite place to fish. My best was probably a twenty-four-inch walleye caught last year at the St. Paul Falls. I was bass fishing and thought I’d snagged a rock. The next thing I knew, I’ve got this monstrous, toothy critter coming at me. It was great – the walleye was fun to catch. Also, several smallmouth bass have come out of there.
I caught a pretty nice catfish a few years ago. I was fishing for bass again and thought I’d caught a log. Then the log took off with me and the kayak! Down the river we went.
There was one fish that my grandfather and I got at Cleveland. We were fishing in a little inflatable PVC raft. We put in up at Artrip, then came downriver a little ways. We were going to picnic with the family when we got out. We got about halfway through there – we were trolling with some chicken livers on the back of the raft – and all of a sudden, something hit it. Grandad gave me his other fishing pole to reel everything in and said “Start padding! Start paddling!” He was reeling as hard as he could and that fish dragged us all over the river. For half an hour he was fighting that thing. I was trying to paddle and keep us out of the brush. He finally got it [the fish] out of there. It was supper that night, actually.
Fishing is a bridge that spans generations. Scenes that become treasured memories are played before its backdrop.
Q: If someone was fishing here in the St. Paul vicinity, as far as types of fish and places you might find them…where would that be?
A: Anywhere there’s a pull-off on the side of the road, really. The Clinch is loaded with everything – catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, a lot of little rock bass, the occasional largemouth bass that’s washed out of Oxbow Lake. There’s talk of muskie in the area, especially just below Old Castlewood. The last one I’ve heard of was a forty-two-inch muskie that was caught in the Clinch outside of St. Paul.
“We do a lot of ‘catch-and-release’ any time we can because the Clinch really needs to build up the fishery. There are people who do not adhere to the regulations of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. When they take more fish out of the river than allowed, it hurts everybody that’s sport fishing.”
“We’re friends with several of the game wardens around, and we keep creel limits posted here at the store. If you’ve got any questions we can make you a copy so you’ll know what you can and can’t do.”
“This is a great area to fish. Right under the Hwy. 58 bridge we had some massive smallmouth bass taken out. Some of the people who bought bait from us last year would literally just walk from here to the bridge and caught big smallmouth bass.”