Catfish and Content Marketing

A Fish Tale

Billy Martin worked with me at a lumber plant I managed in North Alabama.  He had grown up on the Elk River, a tributary that ran into the Tennessee just west of Athens, the town where we lived. His dad had been a professional drinker and story teller, who sidelined as a commercial fisherman, stringing “trot lines” across the Elk and venturing up the Tennessee in search of bass, crappie, and catfish. Billy grew up in the backwoods, knew where the Indians had lived and how to find arrowheads.  Self-taught, he could fix anything, and he shared his dad’s love for fishing and spinning yarns.

TN River FishermanBilly looked like a fisherman.  He was missing a tooth or two and bald underneath his black Caterpillar hat.  He attributed this condition to “too much break dancing.”  I don’t have a picture of Billy, but I expect that now he looks a lot like the Tennessee River fisherman in the photo here.

A fishing trip with Billy could be an adventure.  Fishing for catfish at the bottom of a TVA dam when the turbines come on can be exciting, especially in a jon boat. Billy could usually catch fish, but even if the fishing was off, there was always a good tale to tell. One of my favorites had to do with a monster catfish, caught in a retaining pond below the Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant.

“I was cold natured when I was younger,” started the story.  “My dad would make me go out to check his lines early in the morning, and I’d near ’bout freeze.  Weren’t no amount of clothes that would get me warm.  I hated wintertime.”  Billy actually looked cold when he started this story, but then his eyes lit up, “I have to tell you . . . I found the cure!”

“You know they catch big catfish on the Tennessee,” Billy continued.  I did know this, having seen some unnaturally large fish that Billy had extracted from beneath the TVA dams. Smiling, he continued, “Well, they don’t catch none any bigger than right there beneath that nuclear plant.  They only open it up a couple ‘a weekends for fishin’. I used to work there and I got to go a couple of times.”

“Them ol’ boys was catchin’ some fish out of that cooling pond, ya’ know, and I saw some big ones that’d take two men to haul out of the water, but they wasn’t nothing to the one I caught that night,” he said with a smile.  Leaning back, he spread his arms out.

By this time, I was completely engaged in the story. I encouraged him.  “That was a big fish,” I said.

Big Catfish“That wadn’t the half of him,” he continued, “that’s just what I saw when I got his head out of the water.  It took a few of us and some gaff hooks to get him onto the bank.  The sun was going down about then, and I began to notice the strangest thing.  As the light faded, that big fish began to glow! We fileted him out and put the filets in the cooler, and it let out just a faint green light when you opened up the top.”

Knowing that there was no avoiding it, I bit. “Billy, you didn’t eat that fish, did you?”

“Why I shore did.  You know, them filets were real good.  They didn’t taste muddy like some big fish do. I soaked ’em in milk and fried ’em up.  Had some of that fish in the deep freeze for nearbout a year . . . there was so much of him that he took a while to eat.”

“Now I ain’t sayin that fish was radioactive or anything,” he chuckled. “After all, I’m sure we couldnt’a fished there if it was dangerous.  You might not believe this, but I ain’t been cold since.”  He winked, “And I don’t need no night lights neither, because my feet glow in the dark.”

 Why Stories Are Important

Where do the ideas come from?  This is one of the most frequently asked questions when I talk with small business owners about blogs, social media, and content marketing. The answer is simple – you just tell a story.

Billy frequently comes my mind as I begin to write.  I picture him leaning back in the boat, eyes sparkling, about to begin a new tale.  He was good at it, and took as much joy in the telling as I did in the listening.

We all have our stories and we accumulate new ones every day.  The whole “content marketing” concept is as much about telling stories as anything else. People like to listen and to learn, especially if the story that you tell is both entertaining and educational.  Running a small business provides lots to write about. Just pay attention to what’s happening around you:

  • Who did you meet today and what did you learn?
  • What problem did you create for yourself today? How did you solve it?
  • Did something funny happen?

Your experiences are great source material. Write it down so you don’t forget. I used to carry a small spiral notepad in my top pocket to take notes.  Now, it’s been replaced with an IPhone and my notes are digital.

Finally, think back to the tales you’ve heard, the lessons you’ve learned, and how they relate to what you’re doing today.  Share them with a smile and a chuckle . . . they’re wonderful stories!

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