Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Pond, The Bass, The End

We simply called it The Pond, and it was one of my favorite places to fish as a kid. You'll probably hear plenty about it in this blog.

The Pond was most notable for the absurd variety of fish it contained. I've caught at least nine species of fish out of it, and I know at least one more -- carp -- swims in it. It's quantity and variety of fish made it a great place to learn to fly fish, with fish taking on most casts, and a surprise result always possible.

What The Pond wasn't especially notable for was the size of its fish. Bass ten inches long were rare, and even though I once took a foot-long perch out of it, I never expected anything too exciting (unless, of course, I could ever tie into one of the carp cruising by without ever seeming to eat).

Of course all such places have their mysterious depths, and we were certain big fish must lurk in them. We'd try various tactics at night for catfish, always with no luck. We also tried some big bass lures, thinking that hours of casting for one monster fish would pay off, and that these guys had probably never seen such gargantuan lures. Nothing ever took. Then one summer I had a pair of encounters that would change how we viewed The Pond.

I was out with my fly rod, content to catch some panfish and whatever might bite. I set the hook on a small sunnie and started bringing it in. Suddenly, not more than 10 feet away, a monster bass came up and engulfed the little fish, completely. My rod bent in half and my body quit functioning. Then, just as quickly the bass was gone. I dragged in the sunnie and took a good look at it. Scales had been knocked off and it looked, well, chomped on. I don't think it was just my imagination that it was a little unnerved. Never has a fish been so happy to have been landed by an angler.

After that, I repeatedly plied the same area with flies (never once thinking to toss something that looked like a sunfish). I also threw nightcrawlers and typical bass lures, but it seemed like the fly rod was the way to go, and a little fly of my own design with elk hair and black dubbing was my primary choice. Eventually, the persistence paid off.

The tug on the end of my line wasn't anything special, but the immediate response was. I'd never had a fish this big on a fly rod before, and I'm not sure that I have since. Several times I got him in close enough to shore to get glimpses of a staggeringly big fish, and my friends were almost as overcome as I was. Twice he made long runs into the middle of The Pond, and twice I turned him back, thinking I had worn him out (as he had me), only to be disappointed. The third time, he headed for a brushpile more than halfway across the water. I knew if he reached that, I'd lose him.

When I tried to turn him away, my line went slack, and I was done for. I reeled in my line, with the fly still on. I was too rattled to think clearly, but, ever the optimist, promptly made plans to meet my cousin at dawn the next morning to try again. My brilliant plan: casting the same fly in the same spot less than 15 hours after this encounter.

Unfortunately, the next morning was one of the worst fishing experiences I've had. After trying unsuccessfully to rouse my cousin with the old pebbles-thrown-at-the-window trick, I reached The Pond while the mist was still heavy on it. I made a couple casts, when a man appeared at the dock to my right, drinking his morning coffee. The short version of the short conversation was that he -- and not the person we had asked permission for to access this side of the pond -- was the rightful landowner, and we were only allowed to stay on the other side of the pond.

I had no legal ground, I think, but I was frustrated. We had done what we thought was right by asking the resident of the house nearest The Pond, the one whose lawn bordered The Pond, if we could fish. We always could, and had discovered that we even knew the lady's grandson, so we would occasionally stop to chat (for teenagers anxious to fish, this was a kindness, but also a pleasant part of the experience). Throughout several summers of fishing we'd never had an incident, and I still suspect if the doctor hadn't seen an idiot in an saltwater hat interrupting his morning, the arrangement would have lasted.

I still don't know the full story concerning ownership and access rights. I assume the doctor who owned the land rented the house to the lady. I should think that would still mean she had the right to say who did or didn't use her ground, but maybe they had some sort of agreement about pond usage. At any rate, it killed our enthusiasm for the place, restricting our access to maybe half of what it had previously been (and making us generally uncomfortable to be there, even legally).

Starting the following summer, people began decorating the side of The Pond we did have access to, limiting fishing even further. The last time I was by, it looked as if it might now be impossible to get to the water, and certainly the intent is that no one walk near it. I can't help but think that, restricted to solely aesthetic value and given what feels like an aggressive stamp of ownership, a once great place has gone to waste. All I needed was one more morning, but I could have done with a few more years.

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