Ponds full of largemouth, crappie, and bream, along with other mysterious critters, are special places. Whether fishing from an old jon boat, paddling and sneaking around the edges, or just standing on the bank, each time I fish a pond I have recollections of days gone by as a youngster. Compared to a large reservoir, the success rate for catching fish on a farm pond has always been higher for me.
In my early years, I can remember Dad going into a cane patch near the house and cutting the longest and straightest cane poles he could find.
Then he would tie each by its tip from a high tree limb, add a brick for weight, and let them dangle and dry. After 3 to 4 weeks he would varnish them and add some line, a hook, split shot and a cork. With a cup full of worms we had dug up around his flower beds, through the woods and off to the pond above the house we would go.
He once told me that I needed to start a worm farm to support my fondness for pond fishing. So, after returning from a successful pond trip, I counted and emptied the remaining 17 worms into a shady wooded area. Then I rearranged some mulch from a flower bed and poured a bag of dry grits and coffee grounds on it daily for two weeks. It was a responsible job for a seven-year-old.
After such time had passed, I dug up worms for an inventory, and found only 16 wigglers and no babies. Evidently, my worm farm wasn’t much of a success. But the fishing continued, and with it, a passion that would evolve into a lifetime pursuit.
After my freshman year in college, I took one trip to a mountain stream to try my hand at fly fishing for trout. Afterward, all I could think about was fly fishing. An obsession was born. And from that grew another passion; fly tying. 46 years later, I’ve never regretted these addictions. Chest-of-drawers stuffed with hooks, fur, and feathers along with an array of Tupperware boxes full of miscellaneous materials now decorate the “man room.”
Every time I see a small body of water, call it a pond, lake, or swamp, I can’t help but think about my beginning days with a cane pole. Instead of a cup of wigglers, I have replaced them with emptied Altoid boxes loaded with homemade popping bugs, nymphs, and streamers. Ponds offer me a simpler life, and a nice change of pace from waders, multiple fly boxes, and navigating mountain streams.
Recently, heavy rains forced the creeks and mountain streams I usually haunt to be too high for wading and totally unfishable. I really needed to scratch the fish itch. Fortunately, I prescribed a trip to a farm pond with a friend to remedy this malady.
I noticed an old-standing cane patch next to the shed as we unloaded the 14-foot jon boat. A quick trip down memory lane ensued. The excitement of a new pond adventure has never left this old man.
Being late February with the water still chilly I decided to throw a 10-foot sink tip fly line with small streamers. Hearing rumors of multiple brush piles in this particular pond, I crammed additional flies in both Altoid boxes, making them hard to shut.
This went against my nature as I believe ponds reflect a simpler fly fishing style and shouldn’t require all the necessities of stream fishing. But I do break my own rules now and then.
We launched the little boat and began working likely looking, “fishy” spots. Several casts later there was a hookup to a nice bass. Expectations, and the actual truth about the results, don’t always match up, but the stories usually exceed expectations. Looking at the middle of the pond, we tried to imagine the creek channel, then fish it down to the spillway. Casting off to deeper water yielded good results and kept the bass action going.
A large brush pile appeared irresistible in front of a point on the far side. We paddled over and began bombing flies around the stickups. A couple of small bass tasted some fur and feathers and then it happened.
At first, I thought it was a log and another fly lost. Then it moved slightly to the right and down. Whatever was on the other end of my fly line was big and heavy. The log started pulling our little jon boat across the pond and I wondered if a big catfish had swallowed my fly. Surely a trophy bass would have jumped several times and acted crazy. Thoughts of an extremely large fish embraced my inner being and the longer it fought the more intense the thoughts.
Then it tired and began to surface slowly. My fly rod was entirely bent in half and I expected it to snap. But I kept swapping it from the left to the right, trying to angle against candy-caning the tip. Had I worn this unknown catch out? I saw it like a nuclear sub surfacing after several months of a secret mission. Bubbles first, and then a large round shell broke the surface with colossal-sized legs violently clawing through the water. Its head reared up, looking me in the eye with disgust, mad and appearing very inconvenienced.
There was my streamer, hooked in the upper right leg. Did I strip-set the fly too fast and miss its mouth or was it just a clean snag? I spoke more of the first option, and briefly bragged to my friend that all creatures find my flies appetizing. Now, all I wanted was my fly back and I was determined to get it. But a plan was needed.
I reached over to grab its tail in order to flip the snapper for a better angle. Using needle nose pliers, I was ready to snatch out my fly. That particular streamer had been successful today and I only had one more like it, so it was important for its return.
As I reached down, I noticed the snapping turtle’s head popped out much farther than expected, with jaws that gapped open almost four inches. I jumped back, rocking the little boat sideways. A quick management decision was made to let him wear this new piece of jewelry until the hook rusted out. I wondered if I could ever have indeed landed this behemoth on a cane pole?
Taking a breather from the excitement I noticed a muskrat swimming along the shore while a pair of wood ducks circled and landed in a creek channel behind us. It was great just to be outside, and all the catching made it perfect. Several crappies later, and a few small bass caught to keep it interesting, dusk set in and topped the afternoon off.
It doesn’t matter how many streams I wade, mountains I climb, or new areas I explore; there will always be something special about pond fishing that brings out the little boy in me.
Now, where did I put those worms?