For Beulah native Tharnell Thomas, fishing means much more than that. Thomas, who is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, has been fishing all of his life, as he and his late brother Gregory grew up around it.
“It’s a good sport, and my brother and I picked it up when we were little,” Thomas said. “I passed it on to my sons, and it’s a good sport. Bowfishing is a challenge, and I’ve always loved it. Even when I was seven or eight years-old, I used to catch those big fish.”
Thomas, who graduated from Rosedale High School in 1976, is currently stationed in Birmingham, Ala. Every year, he comes home when the Mississippi River rises during the spring and does some fishing along Beulah Lake. In his most recent trip in April, he caught 35 fish using his bow over a three-day period. The weight of the fish ranged anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds. Among the fish he caught were Buffalo carp and garfish.
This year, he ended up fishing with his father Richard, 80, his two sons Dominique, 33, and Marcus, 30, and his grandson Donovan. Donovan is Dominique’s son, and he’s 10-year-old. Marcus and Dominique currently live in Memphis, Tenn. Marcus helps his family run the farm in Beulah, while Dominique is a police officer.
Thomas said he feels blessed to be able to fish with all of his family.
“It’s great,” Thomas, 55, said. “A lot of people didn’t have fathers, but to see me today do something that my father taught me 40 years ago is great. To be able to pass it on and see my sons do it and now my grandson likes to do it, it’s a great feeling.”
Thomas said his father and his sons had their share of luck in the water.
“Marcus caught a few, I couldn’t remember how much he caught exactly, Dominique caught a few and my father caught at least three one day,” Thomas recalled.
The military man of 33 years said Donovan had a ball trying to fish.
“He didn’t catch any, but he was excited,” Thomas said. “Maybe next year, he’ll be at the age where he can concentrate and get’em.”
Thomas fishes with a bow and arrow and a rod and reel. When he fishes in Beulah in the spring, he uses his bow.
Thomas loves the experience of bowfishing the most.
“With the rod, you’ve got lures and you’re out there trying to get the fish to bite the lure and then you hook him and then you’ve got a fight on your hands,” Thomas said. “With bowfishing, you have to try and camouflage yourself. You’ve got to wear clothing that’s dark. You can’t wear white or pink clothing a fish can see. You’re pretty much almost stalking the fish or waiting in ambush for the fish to come by you and that’s when you take your shot.
“The good part about it is you can pretty much choose what size fish you want. With polarized sunglasses, you can see underwater. You pretty much pick the size of the fish you want.”
One thing that Thomas loves to do while he is home on his fishing trip is give away the extra fish to the residents in town.
Thomas said giving fish away is a family tradition.
“We’ve been doing that for years, since I first started,” Thomas said. “We only keep a few of them, and we’ve always been encouraged to give’em away. I used to have a bicycle, I used to have a little mini trail, mini bike. I would ride around with my brother on the back of my mini bike, and we would carry the fish. Sometimes, we would make it on one trip and other times we would have to come back and get the rest of them.
“We’d take fish to people’s houses, and I would ask them if they would like to have a fish. The first thing they would ask is ‘How much?’ I would say ‘They’re free.’ They would love that. You would see the smile on their face. I’ve never charged for a fish — I never have. People look forward to that every year, because they know the Thomas’s will be bringing them some fish.”
Thomas is also quick to point out giving away the extra fish away helps out his mother Orlando.
“She has her hands tied with cleaning,” Thomas said. “The secret to Buffalo fish is when you butcher the Buffalo fish, you have to cut it into approximately an inch wide rib. That’s why you don’t get many bones. It’s just a solid white flesh of meat with bones in it, and she knows how to cut’em up into ribs. All we do is get the scales off of them and pretty much gut them, and she takes care of the butchering and the cutting it into edible pieces. When she gets tired, everything goes out the door. We don’t bring anymore in.”
The fact that Richard was able to fish was a joyous occasion for Thomas as Richard recently had hip joint replacement surgery.
“He was a little shaky at first,” Thomas said. “It took me about a week to convince him, but after he saw me bringing those fish in he got his fever back. When he shot his first fish, he was a little rusty. He shot a little low and then a little high and then finally got his first fish. He was good to go after that. We were glad to see him out there doing what he likes to do.”