The small, sleepy town of Athens, Texas (pop. 5,300) has the enviable reputation of producing more millionaires per capita than any other place in the U.S., but, unlike most small towns whose local sons have gone away to make good, the rich ex-Athenians can't stay away. No matter how big they become, the handful that has earned Athens its reputation is helplessly drawn back by the lure of a few days' "brim fishin' " at the Koon Kreek Klub (opposite)—an angler's paradise which, though peopled by millionaires, has managed to remain as cultivatedly unpretentious, in a luxurious way, as its members.
Among the old Athens residents who can never stay away for long when the bream (pronounced brim) are biting at Koon Kreek are Clinton Williams Murchison and his oilman crony Sid Richardson, who are firmly convinced that there is no other kind of fishing.
Like its members, Koon Kreek does, of course, have its little luxuries...such as guides to bait the members' hooks and remove the fish therefrom—"gives a man time to do a little figuring," Murchison explains—but a stranger coming upon the club in the east Texas wilderness might mistake it for the summer headquarters of the Salvation Army. This suits Clint and the other Koon Kreekers fine. There he and Richardson and such close-knit Athenians as Oilmen Ike LaRue and George Greer spend many a weekend just loafing around the place in old clothes, playing a wild Athenian version of gin rummy, doing a little drinking and a lot of fishing—for bream, of course.
The club was founded in 1901 when gentlemen anglers from Dallas would drive the 75 miles to Athens by horse and buggy for a weekend's sport. Members who have fished around the world maintain against all comers that Koon Kreek has the best fishing in the world. Teddy Roosevelt was entertained there often, although his cousin Franklin, said a founding father recently, could never get in the front door.
Koon Kreek has a fixed membership of 140, who pay a relatively modest $2,500 initiation fee and dues of $240 a year for the privilege of fishing in one of the club's three superbly stocked lakes and eating simple food at a communal table in the main house, which is in slight need of repairs. Forty of them own their own wooden cabins on the lake which are so simple that they make Lincoln's look like the Dallas-Hilton.
Vacancies turn up only via death, and Koon's waiting list is longer than a man can cast. Murchison himself is one of the club's newest members. A few years back he got tired of hanging around waiting to get in, so he walked down the road 15 miles and found himself a nice piece of property, about 2,000 acres, which looked pretty fair, and decided to build himself a lake on it. Then he put up a model-T octagonal ranch house, a landing strip, brought in 10,000 magnolia bushes, 2,000 dogwood trees and 10,000 pine seedlings—"Clint does most everything by the ten thousands," a friend once explained—stocked the lake with 100,000 bream and invited the boys to drop by for a little fishing.
Bream buffs like Murchison maintain that these fish, which run a mere pound to a pound and a half, fight harder per ounce than any other fish around. All it takes is a rowboat, a cane rod with a wiggly worm, a small hook and infinite patience.
"With brim it's either feast or famine," Murchison says, eyes shaded by an ancient straw derby. "But once you get over a bed of them you can't work fast enough. And then there's the eating...." Doak Roberts, another Koon Kreeker, is the bream fillet expert. (Gladoaks, Murchison's Athens place, is the compound name of Sam Gladney and Doak Roberts, both dedicated bream men.) Roberts does his precision filleting with a complex surgical instrument which Ike LaRue brought him last Christmas from the Mayo Clinic.
"After filleting," Roberts says concisely, "you just fry 'em like doughnuts in an iron pot with half a pound of butter, half a pound of Crisco and a pint of whisky all around."
Bream is a disease with all the Athenians. Some years before Clint put up his Athens place, the bream weren't running so well over at Koon, so Sam Gladney went out and built himself a bream lake. Murchison used it so much that he finally began to feel he was imposing, so he took out an oil lease on Gladney's property at a dollar an acre, the proceeds to go toward restocking the lake. They didn't get around to drilling on it for quite a spell, but one year, for the benefit of the stockholders, they put a rig on it and promptly brought in a well.