Friday, May 9, 2008


Not everyone has a namesake- that is to say, being named for an actual person. I happen to have one- though until today, I'd never seen an actual photo of the man. His name is Mark Cathey, and his are some big shoes to fill.

When my parents were young, one of their routines involved my mother reading to my father in bed each evening to help him wind down from the day. My mother had a style and a voice well designed for narration, and enjoyed reading immensely. She would seek out stories that would interest my father, and each night she read from a wide range of literary sources- from Reader's Digest condensed stories to magazine articles to full length books. One such book was an underground classic by a gentleman named Jim Gasque.

Jim Gasque, as far as I can tell, wrote only two books in his life. One was a full-length treatise on bass fishing; the other was the truly transcendent "Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smokies". The book goes into rich detail about the bygone days when hunting and fishing lodges dotted the streams of the Smokies and the pursuit of local bear, bore and wild mountain trout was essentially unregulated. The book features an interesting array of characters, but one in particular, a hunting and fishing guide from Bryson City, NC, rated an entire chapter devoted fully to his exploits. That gentleman's name was Mark Cathey, and my father clearly idolized him.

Cathey was almost as well known for his peculiar southern applachian dialect and colorful stories as he was for his unmatched prowess as a hunter and fisherman. It was that latter skill that most fascinated my father, and he listened rapt each night as narratives of Cathey's various adventures were rendered in my mother's soft Memphis accent. Cathey's most notable skill was a technique he'd perfected for "dancing" a dry fly across the surface of a mountain pool with such dexterity that the trout were powerless to resist it. Cathey would frequently wade into a single pool and catch what he referred to as his "leemit" of trout within just a few minutes. He was a mountain legend that loomed large in my father's mind, and when I was born, my father gave me his name. When I turned 18, my father also gave me his (very rare) signed copy of Jim Gasque's book (my mother had procured a copy from Mr. Gasque's widow with the help of local author Carson Brewer) and it remains to this day my most prized possession.

Neither my father or I ever saw a picture of Mark Cathey. However, today my friend Tom sent me a link to an article describing the publication of a new edition of Jim Gasque's book, and the cover of the new book features a photo of Cathey himself, along with one of his trusted hounds. I'm happy to say I'm a little better looking than he is, but all in all, he looks exactly how my father and I had always pictured him. I just wish Dad could have seen the picture.
Four years ago, on my birthday, I drove to Bryson City and actually located Cathey's grave in the town cemetery on the hill. The tombstone reads:

Mark Cathey
Beloved Hunter and Fisherman
Was himself caught by the Gospel hook
Just before the season closed for good