One of the good things – maybe the only good thing – about these miserable February days is using them as an excuse to sit by the fire with a favorite old book, with each musty, tattered, dog-eared, coffee-stained page a nostalgic delight.

The other day, I dug out a classic, Ed Zern’s “How to Tell Fish from Fishermen.” It was published in 1948, but the yarns are timeless and as rib tickling as the day they were spun.

“An angler who bragged about catching big fish celebrated the arrival of a petite baby daughter. According to his scales, the little lass weighed 19 pounds, 8 ounces.”

I also re-browsed a collection of Zern’s “Exit Laughing” columns, which ran in Field & Stream from 1958 until his death in 1994. They are as zany as ever, still good for a guffaw.

One of the columns is about a big-game hunter in Africa who, while sitting in his blind, became so engrossed in a book that he didn’t notice two lions sneaking up on him from opposite directions. They crept closer and closer as he kept reading. When they charged, it was too late.

The moral was “That’s what happens when you read too much between the lions.”

Ed once came across an old backwoods squirrel hunter who didn’t have a gun. Said he didn’t need one – he could ugly them to death. Ed was skeptical, but minutes later, a squirrel hopped out on a limb. The old man made a horrible face, and the squirrel dropped dead.

When Ed expressed his amazement, the old geezer shrugged it off. He said his sister was even better at it than he was, but she eventually had to stop. She was so ugly she tore the squirrels up too bad.

Zern wrote a review of D.H. Lawrence’s steamy classic, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” about an English lady’s affair with the gamekeeper on the estate of her nobleman husband.

Ed said it was OK if you skipped over the mushy parts, but he read many books more informative about professional game keeping.

He said a friend gave up potato farming to become a fishing guide. When Ed asked why, he said, “Because I don’t have to hoe fishermen.”

Zern wrote President Calvin Coolidge said he fished “to get away from it all.” Ed said he fished to get away from politicians.

He said nature abhors a vacuum. So does his wife.

A fisherman walked into a fly-tying shop and asked the saleslady if she had any vices. “None of your business,” she snapped.

Zern once spent a long day casting for trout without a single rise. Finally, he gave up. He broke down his fly rod, collected his tackle and started to trudge back to the car. Then, for some inexplicable reason, he changed his mind. He decided to go back and make one last cast.

He didn’t catch a fish on it either.

Longtime outdoors columnist Larry Woody is a three-time winner of the Tennessee Sports Writer of the Year award and is the author of several books, including “Along for The Ride.” Woody covered NASCAR from the early 1960s until late 2007 in addition to SEC sports, minor league baseball, the Tennessee Titans and the Vanderbilt Commodores.

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