Laura Dean Bennett
These days, modern anglers often bring a plethora of tactics and equipment to the meandering streams of the Appalachian Mountains, where our trout can give even the most skilled fishermen a run for their money.
And many share the stories of the excitement of catching their first big fish.
Such is the case with George Triplett, Sr.
It’s from the most humble beginnings that his love affair with the sport of fishing evolved.
Triplett has had a storied career as an attorney, Assistant United States Attorney and Circuit Judge.
He’s still practicing law in Elkins with his son, Jefferson Triplett.
Triplett is the author of Our Proud Mountain Roots and Heritage, a well-known compilation of life on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River during the heyday of the logging industry.
Born in 1935, Triplett grew up at Cheat Bridge, on the formidable mountain called Cheat – which some say was so named because so many men had been cheated of their lives there.
The logging town of Cheat Bridge was named for the nearby bridge that was built before the Civil War to serve the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike.
The current 1934 steel-truss bridge – a half mile north of Cheat Bridge – brings drivers across Shavers Fork on U.S. Route 250 as they enter the magnificent wilderness of the Monongahela National Forest.
Triplett’s growing up years in the 30s and 40s were typical of that time and place – hard times, liberally dosed with irreplaceable outdoor adventures.
He loved to hunt on the mountain and fish in the river – from which have come some of his fondest memories.
“I had a million dollar childhood, growing up as I did on the Upper Cheat Basin,” Triplett said.
“I grew up catching trout – both legally and illegally,” he added, with a chuckle.
There were several dignitaries who came quite frequently to Shavers Fork of Cheat River for fishing vacations, and they stayed in tents.
As it turns out, many of them were government officials and one was a lawyer who made quite an impression on the young Triplett.
He would never be forgotten.
“One time when I was just a little guy, I ran into some of those gentlemen who came to Cheat Bridge,” Triplett remembered. “They were big fishermen.
“That day a man by the name of Bill Thompson from Montgomery, West Virginia, came along.
“He saw the birch cut fishing pole I was using. He asked me what kind of pole I’d like to have. And I told him I wanted a rod so I could to fish the river and the creeks, and a line that didn’t tangle.
“And he told me he thought that was a very intelligent answer.
“Well, he bought me that rod,”Triplett continued. “It was a real nice telescoping rod, line and reel.
That act of generosity and kindness established the trajectory of Triplett’s career.
“I’ve always had a high opinion of lawyers,” Triplett said. “That’s why I decided that that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
A few days later that fine fishing rod proved itself.
“On the first day of trout season – back then that was the last day of April – I took that rod out, threw out with a worm at the big hole, and all of a sudden, I’d caught my first nine-inch native brook trout.
“I’ll never forget it. It was 1940. I was five years old.”
The Department of Natural Resources stocked brown trout on the Upper Shavers Fork, and Triplett liked to fish for them about 10 miles above Cheat Bridge at Big Run Bridge.
“There was a big old crabapple tree growing on the right hand side, just below the bridge.
“It grew over the section of riffles where I used to catch nice trout. There was a large brown trout I hooked several times but it always either broke my line or got off the hook.”
Another big fish Triplett tried for, but could never catch, hung out at a nice fishing hole below the Cabin Fork railroad river bridge – about four and a half miles above Cheat Bridge.
“I used to always see this big old rainbow trout there. He was more than two feet long, and he was always there at that big hole. I tried everything, but he never would take any bait or hit anything. I could never catch him.
“He was just too smart to be caught.
“One time, about 1949, some adult friends of mine and I were fishing on the first day of trout season,” Triplett related.
“We were fishing, and I was having good luck. I filled one of my drunken friend’s creels with fifteen trout I had caught while he was sitting on the railroad track.
“I was beside this monstrous rock below the railroad track, and fishing a heavy riffle and any trout that was less than six inches in length was stuffed in my hip boots, and there were quite a few.
“All of a sudden, I heard voices calling out from above: ‘How are you doing?’
“I turned to look and saw two bright silver badges, glinting in the sunlight. There were two game wardens standing about fifteen feet above me on the railroad grade. I crouched down on my knees at the rock, covering my hip boots with my heavy duck-back coat and answered them:
“’Doin’ okay. Come take a look.’
“I started showing them the ten or so trout in my straw fish basket,” Triplett said.
“They told me they hadn’t seen such a fine catch. They had crossed the mountain searching for violators from Valley Head down Beaver Creek.
“After admiring the trout they just went on. Fortunately, I don’t think they had any idea what I was doing,” he chuckled.
Triplett remembers another anecdote that might not strictly qualify as a fishing story, but it was certainly an adventure.
“I was about ten years old,” he began. “We were living in Elkins then. I got permission to travel to Cheat Bridge to stay a few days with the family of a man who worked for my daddy on the railroad section.
“I rode the bus from Elkins to Cheat Bridge. I remember it cost 90 cents.
“I had my same telescope rod and reel with me, and I promised my parents to stay with Brooks Davis and his family at Cheat Bridge.
“Well, I met up with three guys – a doctor, a dentist and a well-known old mountain man. I went with them to their cabin about eight miles above Cheat Bridge at the remnants of an old Mower Lumber Company camp.
“We rode in a motorcar from Cheat Bridge to Beaver Creek.
“That night, due to the influence of some intoxicating liquors, the three older men kind of passed out. They had a hot fire, and I was sharing a bunkbed with the brother of the doctor, who was also “skidded” and sleeping on the lower bunk underneath me.”
Things took an unfortunate turn when the dentist got sick.
“They got even worse when a deer snorted outside the cabin, and somebody roused up and shot at the deer,” Triplett continued. “Shortly thereafter, I decided to vacate the camp. It was dark, but I managed to find my way to another camp.
“My parents didn’t hear of the violation of my promise until many years later, thank goodness.”
Although all of these fishing anecdotes seem to have taken place on the first day of fishing season, Triplett assured me that he did fish on lots of other days during the season.
In fact, he probably fished on most days during most fishing seasons.
Pocahontas County native and noted West Virginia author Tweard Blackhurst was teaching conservation at Green Bank High School when Triplett was a student there, and Cal Price was the famous editor of The Pocahontas Times, known for his interest in history and his editorials about local outdoor lore.
That’s when Blackhurst gave Triplett the moniker, Cal Price, Jr.
“I was fifteen or sixteen years old, and I went bear hunting a lot, and I had to feed my bear dogs and it got expensive,” Triplett recalled.
“So I’d take people bear hunting, and they’d pay me ten or twenty dollars, or sometimes more, to go bear hunting.
“And each time, I’d miss two or three days of school.
“I’d sit around and tell these stories about what I’d see while I was out in the woods, like watching two flocks of turkeys coming together or big bucks fighting in the moonlight or catching big fish.
“I guess my stories would remind Tweard of Cal Price and his panther stories. He called me Cal Price, Jr.,” Triplett remembered fondly.
One of Triplett’s sons, Dr. George Triplett, Jr., a retired anesthesiologist, remembers many adventures up on Cheat Mountain with his father.
“From the time I was young, especially when my grandparents were still alive, we took lots of fishing, hunting and camping trips up there,” Dr. Triplett said.
“One time, when I was six years old, we were up there at Cheat Bridge. I remember this time because it was the time I met a beaver.
“It was a Saturday in April, around 1961 – the first day of trout season. There were no roads back up in there at that time, so everything was a long walk.
“We walked about five miles to a stream called Cabin Fork,” he recalled.
“We started fishing. Dad was standing down in the stream, and I was up on the bank.
“All of a sudden, I looked up and about three feet away from me was a beaver – and I guess I was between it and the water.
“It stood up on its hind legs and looked hard at me.
“I hollered at Dad and about that time that beaver ran right between my legs and into the water.
“That’s one fishing trip I’ll never forget,” he said.
“And we caught plenty of fish, too,” his dad added.
The water flows on, fish come and go, but childhood memories, family ties and fish tales last a lifetime.