Dycus v. Sillers

Decision Date10 January 1990
Docket NumberNo. 07-CA-58271,07-CA-58271
Citation557 So.2d 486
PartiesJames DYCUS, Jimmy Dycus, Roger Dycus, a Minor, Tommy Dycus, Charley Allen, and Allen Ford, and all Persons Unknown to the Appellants Having or Claiming any Legal or Equitable Interest in the Subject Land v. Lena R. SILLERS, Mary S. Skinner, Evelyn S. Pearson, Lilian S. Holleman, John L. Pearson, Evelyn P. Weems, Vernon W. Holleman, Jr., Florence H. Schoenfeld, Alice K. Jones, and Merigold Hunting Club, Inc., a Mississippi Corporation.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Willard L. McIlwain, Greenville, for appellants.

Gerald H. Jacks, Jacks Adams & Westerfield, Andrew M.W. Westerfield, Jacks Adams & Westerfield, Cleveland, Robert S. Crump, III, Jacobs Eddins Povall Meador & Crump, Rosedale, for appellants.

Mike C. Moore, Atty. Gen., Helen Wetherbee, Timothy L. Waycaster, Jayne L. Buttross, Sp. Asst. Attys. Gen., Jackson, for amicus curiae.


ROBERTSON, Justice, for the Court:


This is a case about a fishin' hole. It lies in western Bolivar County near the River, and at birth was named Beulah Crevasse, though many have long called it the Merigold Blue Hole. People who can get there without trespassing on land want to enter and fish. Landowners and their long time lessee hunting club want just as badly to keep the public out. The relative scarcity of good fishing spots, Landowners' bona fide needs for protection of their valuable timber and water resources, club members' desire for undisturbed aesthetic and sporting enjoyment of the blue hole they have long thought theirs, the violent life of Old Man River, notions of fish as ferrae naturae, and, as well, the human penchant for confusing want with right, desire with entitlement, and the familiar with the necessary--these and more form important background forces driving this civil warfare which we are charged to channel within the levees of the law.


This is also a case about a people, the waters they fish, and a unique culture and lore. These form an ambiguous but real part of our life whose pulse is preserved in the product of our poets from the famous to the obscure. 1

Many think fishing the most leisurely of leisure activities, the positive pursuit of the lazy. In describing his childhood in Yazoo County, Willie Morris recalls

We did cane-pole fishing, both to save money and because it was lazier, for we seldom exerted ourselves on these trips to Wolf Lake or Five Mile. 2

It was a leisure to be consumed and cherished, a spot in the shade preferred, and whether the fish were biting was secondary.

When the biting was good, we might bring home twenty or thirty white perch or bream or goggle-eye; when it was bad we would simply go to sleep in the boat. 3

But there was always a Miss Julia Mortimer, the local school marm, revered in time but then the scourge of every young Willie Morris, Miss Julia who'd "get behind some barefooted boy and push," said Uncle Percy. "She put an end to good fishing," 4

Outside the home, we boys was more used to sitting on the bridge fishing than lining the recitation bench. Now she wanted that changed, 5

Uncle Curtis remembered of Miss Julia.

Fishing is a part of the very life and being of many in Mississippi, as with Eudora Welty's enigmatic Billy Floyd, of whom "it was said by the old ladies that he slept all morning for he fished all night," 6 and who Jenny noticed when he walked down the street because "his wrist hung with a great long catfish." 7 Ellen Douglas' Estella, who had just given birth said "Baby or no baby, I got to go fishing after such a fine rain," 8 the same Estella in whose fishing style Douglas sees poetry, Estella who

addressed herself to the business of fishing with such delight and concentration.... She stood over the pool like a priestess at her altar, all expectation and willingness, holding the pole lightly as if her fingers could read the intentions of the fish vibrating through line and pole. 9

Then there is Walker Percy's Anna Castagna, Binx Bolling's mother, who "looks like the women you see fishing from highway bridges," 10 who sits on the porch overlooking the water at Bayou des Allemands and

casts in a big looping straight-arm swing, a clumsy yet practiced movement that ends with her wrist bent in in a womanish angle. The reel sings and the lead sails far and wide with its gyrating shrimp and lands with hardly a splash in the light etherish water. Mother holds still for a second, listening intently as if she meant to learn what the fishes thought of it, and reels in slowly, twitching the rod from time to time. 11

Many Mississippians, including our own Chief Justice Roy Noble Lee,

feel that a person who has never ... angled for bass or caught bream on a light line and rod, or taken catfish from a trotline and limb hook, has never lived. 12

Still, some of us are like Faulkner's Lucius Priest who at age 11, when Uncle Parsham asked, "Do you like to go fishing?," thought "I didn't really like it. I couldn't seem to learn to want--or maybe want to learn--to be still that long," but said quickly: "Yes, sir." 13 Lucius, being led to Mary's fishing hole,

sat on the log, in a gentle whine of mosquitoes.... Then I even thought about putting one of Lycurgus's crickets on the hook, but the crickets were not always easy to catch.... [When nighttime finally fell and Uncle Parsham returned,] "had a bite yet?" [Lucius finally confessed,] "I ain't much of a fisherman," I said, "how do your hounds hunt?" 14

Binx Bolling was of Lucius' mind, though it is doubtful they had anything else in common. "You know I don't like to fish," Binx said to this mother.

"That's true," she says after a while, "You never did. You're just like your father..... He didn't like to fish?" 15

And so of Preston Cunningham, 16 even though his unwitting son, Carroll, had had a pond dug for him beyond the yard "stocked with bass and perch."

But even for those who warm to it so much more than Lucius and Preston and Binx, and maybe even Binx' father, fishing is not the central motion of our outdoor life but is always second fiddle to the hunt. Not quite the afterthought, it is the interlude, the escape, relaxation, almost taken for granted until you can't fish, not nearly so enobling or paradoxical as hunting the deer, with its ritual rite of passage of adolescence and loss of innocence as when the old half-Indian Sam Fathers "dipped his hands into the hot blood" and marked young Ike McCaslin's face teaching him humility and pride. 17

Perhaps it is because the fish is less like us--and more plentiful and more familiar, it is not the centerpiece but the analogy, the simile, as Ike thought as the bear disappeared into the woods:

It faded, sank bank into the wilderness without motion as he had watched a fish, a huge ole bass, sink back into the dark depths of its pool and vanish without even any movement of its fins. 18

Or Eudora Welty's "[m]uscadine spread under the waters rippling their leaves like schools of fishes." 19 Will Barrett's "knee leapt like a fish." 20 Gary, Larry Brown's lonesome night hawk, found Connie "cold as a fish" 21 And from Beverly Lowry: Might have been pleasant. Looking at his white behind-the-ear skin. White as a cooked perch, Emma Blue wistfully thought after she had refused John Robert's offer of a ride to school. 22

Fish furnish less pleasant images. Again, Welty, describing the house after the floodwaters had receded:

"That slime, that's just as slick! You know how a fish is, I expect," the postmaster was saying affably to both of them, ... "That's the way a house is, been under water." 23

Mississippi's game fish are of many stripes, their personalities as different as our people. There are the bream, Nash Buckingham's "matchless little marauders" 24, but the biggest, little bigger than the size of your hand, 25 to any objective observer "the sweetest eatin' there is." 26 There are the perch and crappie, but little poetry about these.

Then there is the large mouth bass, Buckingham's "leviathans," 27 "placed in the waters of the South so that fishermen have a preordained reason for idleness and spending money." 28 Outdoorsman Jim McCafferty says of bass: "This savage fighter will attack the right crank bait with all the fury of a treed wildcat." 29 Fishing for white bass on the oxbow lakes in the Delta, McCafferty exaggerates only slightly when he talks of "his duels with bruising white bass tak[ing] on an image of a sheriff looking for the outlaws." 30 David Chapman Berry, who grew up in the Delta, encounters the bass and is moved to poetry:

Stump in the pond, stump in my eye, My fly pops inches from the stump. Bass, all wrist, roiling deep in thought, wedge from the bottom of the headpan, and buckling the surface under the fly, blur through their tunnel of scales, shattering the mirrory surface, the fly engorged, the fly, the fly leading the bass by the lip. I break their heads with the butt of the Buck knife. They stiffen shimmering. Scaling rakes the silver off mirrors--my raw eye a dump of shimmers? I eat fish to keep my head stocked. Some fellows refinish mirrors, but I eat fish to restore ponds. Don't believe it that life's only a matter of how you look at it. Smell my hands. 31

Finally, is the ubiquitous catfish, of the family ictaluridae, the blue, the channel and the flathead, of whom legends transcend the fact-fiction dichotomy. A gargantuan catfish bumped into Marquette's canoe, almost prompting the French explorer to believe what the Indians had told himabout the river's roaring demon. 32 Huckleberry Finn and Jim caught a catfish that was as big as a man and "weighed over two hundred pounds." 33 Hodding Carter claimed to have "gigged a catfish that measured almost five feet in length." 34 Though still regarded rough fish, channel catfish farming has become the nation's leading aquaculture industry with Mississippi producing an estimated 200,000,000 pounds of...

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7 cases
  • White v. Thompson
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • October 17, 1990
    ... ... We enforce this limitation, however, only where the fact finder has applied the correct legal standard. See Dycus v. Sillers, 557 So.2d 486, 503 (Miss.1990); Leatherwood v. State, 539 So.2d 1378, 1387 (Miss.1989); Woodward v. State, 533 So.2d 418, 427 ... ...
  • Ryals v. Pigott
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • November 28, 1990
    ... ... See Miss. Const. Art. 4, Sec. 81 (1890); Dycus v. Sillers, 557 So.2d 486, 501 (Miss.1990). The suggestion below that the River is not navigable, if it invokes Section 1-3-31's 200 ... ...
  • Southern v. Glenn
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • October 3, 1990
    ... ... 3 See Dycus v. Sillers, ... 557 So.2d 486, 504 n. 70 (Miss.1990); Tricon Metals & Services, Inc. v. Topp, 516 So.2d 236, 238-39 (Miss.1987); Pace v. Owens, ... ...
  • Potters II v. State Highway Com'n of Mississippi, 90-CC-1096
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • August 26, 1992
    ... ... "Many exchangeable values may be destroyed intentionally without compensation," 3 Dycus v. Sillers, 557 So.2d 486, 497 (Miss.1990), quoting International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215, 246, 39 S.Ct. 68, 75, 63 L.Ed. 211, ... ...
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1 books & journal articles
  • State Water Ownership and the Future of Groundwater Management.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 No. 7, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...that groundwater is not susceptible to absolute ownership." See Memphis and MLGW Reply, supra note 185, at 24 (quoting Dycus v. Sillers, 557 So. 2d 486, 501-02 (Miss. 1990)). While true, this contention misses the point about why Mississippi's ownership claim should be immaterial in the con......

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