Just north of Whiteville at the curve of farm-to-market road, a sign across a swinging gate told passers-by that it was the entrance to Cripple Creek Farm. Someone who blinked at the wrong time could easily have missed it. But on this Tuesday in late August, the gate had been flung wide open to allow members of the 5 F club and their guests to enter and drive the winding lane leading to an old farmhouse.
“I bought the farm in 2005,” said Sidney Gibson, 68, a semi-retired dentist from Whiteville. “I found the old, wooden sign that said ‘Cripple Creek Farm’ and decided to keep the name.”
Serving as a centerpiece in front of the farmhouse, which now serves as a hunting-and-fishing cabin for the 62½-acre property, is an 8½-acre lake. On the graying deck of an old, wooden pier, nearly a dozen members had gathered with their fishing rods to try their luck.
“Sidney lets us fish in the lake before our meetings,” said Bob Deans, 80, a retiree from National Spinning who lives in Whiteville. “We never keep the fish, though. We always let them go.”
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Deans baited the hook of a long, limber Bream Buster pole with a fish food pellet. A feeder on the pier and two others at other places around the lake broadcast the pellets at timed intervals to help the fish grow fat and healthy. In an instant, the float went under the water and Deans hoisted a large bluegill sunfish into the air for all to admire.
“We catch everything around the feeders,” Gibson said. “The biggest bass I caught from the lake weighed about 6½ pounds. I put some fertilizer in the pond and stocked some hybrids about six years ago. The bass ate the first stocking of 7-inch hybrids, so we stocked some 1½-pound hybrids and they seem to be doing very well.”
As if on cue, John Deans, 54, a forester from Whiteville, hooked a hybrid. Gibson dipped the fish from the water with a net, held it up for everyone to see, then slipped it back into the lake. Moments later, the group headed for the clubhouse, where dinner with a main course of pork chops and chicken wafted heady aromas onto the front porch. Soon all of the members and their guests were inside, laughing and joking, sharing fishing and hunting stories beneath the glassy-eyed gaze of mounted deer, turkeys and other trophies of the chase.
The name of the “5 F Club” came from the original group of five friends, who began meeting in a barn owned by Dave Smith Jr. in 1971. He and Bill Scott, Harold Marlowe, Joe Gore and Phil Edwards met once a month to discuss their latest fishing trips and to cook their catch and whatever other table fare they wanted eat. Over the years, as the original five members grew older and began to pass away, the club began adding other members. In 1984 the 5 F Club made a big transition. Rather than standing for five friends, the name now stands for Friendship, Fellowship, Fishing, Food and Fun. Today, its 20 members meet once a month with different members hosting it. A good percentage of those meetings take place at Cripple Creek Farm.
“It takes a pretty good-sized facility to hold this many members, plus what is typically a half-dozen invited guests,” Gibson said. “We have about 30 folks here tonight because it is a special occasion.”
Club members get together once a year to decide upon a date for the White Perch Open. The informal tournament is at nearby Lake Waccamaw, with a small entry fee for a prize money payout. What the winner primarily receives is bragging rights for the year, along with the Dave Smith trophy. This year’s tournament was on May 20.
Brad Johnson caught the biggest white perch, which weighed 1.25 pounds to take top honors. Bob Crutchfield caught the most white perch greater 8 inches long with a total of 45 for second place. Rick Neisler caught the biggest fish, a 2.5-pound largemouth bass, to win third place.
Once the winners had been announced, members and guests took turns sharing their latest fishing stories. Some had taken trips to destinations far from Lake Waccamaw to fish for denizens of the sea, while others had drowned a few crickets in the local black water creeks. Whether or not those trips had been successful, a smile was on every face as everyone caught their limit of Friendship, Fellowship, Fishing, Food and Fun.