This month, as I write this, my heart is broken. A man that I was proud to call a brother has gone on to fish and hunt in the next life. No, we didn’t have the same blood running through our veins, but we both felt like we were born 200 years too late. I feel like the old trapper hunter life you read about in the history books would have fit us perfectly. His name was Jack Howard Parrott, Jr. He was born January 1967 in Haywood County where he would spend his whole life. Jack was the middle child, and according to his two sisters, was the apple of his mother’s eye. They always used to refer to him as the Golden Child. He raised two beautiful children, Kori and Hannah. Both of these girls have spent countless hours fishing with Jack and me. He always made sure they got to share in the love of the outdoors as much as possible. In all my years, I can honestly say that I’ve never known a better hunter or angler than Jack.
I met Jack probably 30 years ago as we both were working at Lea Industries in Waynesville. We were standing in the time clock line and Bill Hoyle, my father-in-law, said, “Ronnie, have you met Jack? He likes to fish and hunt about as much as you do”. Jack’s first words were, “Do you have a boat?” And after, I said, “Yes!” he said, “Lets go walleye fishing Friday night. All week, we planned like two little kids. Every time he would come up to me he would say, “You will back out like everybody else I try to get to go”. Well the third guy, Wendell, who was going to go, did back out but Friday after work, found us on Fontana Lake casting night crawlers to the shoreline and working them back slowly. I grew up fishing this way and was sure I was about to give this Haywood County boy a fishing lesson. It took me about 30 minutes to figure out I was going to be playing catch up this night. We fished ‘till around 4 am before deciding to call it in and go home. After cleaning two limits of walleye, I was so sleepy I couldn’t hold my eyes open, so I went straight to bed figuring I would sleep most of the next day. I probably hadn’t slept more than five hours and the phone woke me up. Guess who it was…Yeah, Jack! He had done woke up and ate walleye for breakfast and was asking me if I was gonna sleep all day or get up and get the boat ready so we could hit the lake that night. We did exactly that and had a repeat of the night before. Those were the hay days for walleye on Fontana; anytime we went and didn’t catch a limit, we were disappointed.
Over the years, we taught each other so much. I know he made me a better deer hunter and I was proud to teach him to call turkeys, which was a struggle, because every time I would try to get him to go, he would say we’re missing out on some great walleye fishing messing with these turkeys. But like every turkey hunter will tell you, once you get bit by the turkey bug, you’re hooked for life. Jack was a notorious prankster and we love pulling tricks on each other. Usually, I was on the pranked end. I got him really good on one scouting trip to Wolfpen. We both carried packs with our lunch and a place to put our Ginseng, should we run into good diggin’. Every time I got a chance, I would stick a rock in Jack’s pack, and anyone who knows Wolfpen knows it’s as steep as a horses face. Finally, around mid-day we stopped on an old cliff face to eat and Jack discovered the rocks; needless to say, he would spend the next several trips getting even. Timex has been the standard, in the everyday working man watch, but Jack had his own system for time. I don’t know how many times I would tell him to be at the house at 5AM for our morning smallmouth trips only to have him beating on the outside of the house trying to wake me at 3AM.
Over the years, we took so much pride in being able to provide food from the wild for our families; maybe that was the way we justified spending so much time in the woods. On one turkey hunt, we found a patch of woods loaded with Morel Mushrooms and were able to gather both of us a Ziplock Bag-full. Jack asked several times, “Are you sure these are the edible ones?” To which I would reply, “I’m pretty sure that’s what they looked like in the picture.” I got home and cooked a good frying pan full and ate them. Afterwards, I had some wood to work up which took a few hours. After calling it a day, I came back in the house to find my wife laughing herself to death. I said, “What’s so funny?” To which she replied, “Well Jack called and wanted to know if you ate your mushrooms.” She said, “Yeah, Ronnie ate his.” Jack said, “Did he get sick?” She said, “No.” Jack laughed and said, “Well, I’ll cook mine then.”
Anyone who knew Jack would always have a funny story, or 20, to tell you about their times with him. After a short battle with cancer, God called Jack home this past Saturday. He spent his last days surrounded by his family and friends. Our hearts are broken knowing we will never hear that laugh again in this life. I will see my brother again one day I know. I’ll never go in the woods or hit the creek or lake that I won’t think of my brother. If Jack’s life being cut short has taught me anything, it’s to never take another day, or anyone, for granted. Live each day like it’s your last and always let the ones you love know every day how much they mean too you.
Ronnie Parris is owner and head guide of Smoky Mountain Outdoors Unlimited-Fontana Lake Fishing Guides, headquartered in Bryson City, N.C., heart of the Great Smoky Mountains www.smounlimited.com; (828) 488-9711).