Dad parked his Chevrolet truck off the shoulder of the road, and we fetched our rods and tackle boxes from the truck bed before easing through the barbed wire fence. It was early evening, so we were catching the last few hours of sunlight. The typical Saluda County farm pond was two-plus acres and had several willows on the dam, a few cattails skirting the perimeter, and some lily pads in the lower end.
We carried our Shakespeare open-face reels, and depending on the time of day, temperature, and bass habits, our lures varied. That early evening, Dad chose a “Hula Popper” while I utilized a “Jitterbug.” We sauntered to different sides of the pond, and I remember the pasture was lush green right up to where it met the pine trees. A blackbird with blood-red coloring on her wings was sunning herself in the diminishing twilight. Her chirping welcomed us as she fluttered from one reed to another. She finally rested, silhouetted against the remaining dusk.
Dad taught me to toss my lure to the water’s edge before I reached the bank in case the fish saw my shadow. After a few casts I eased to the water’s edge, flipped my line down the jagged bank, and worked my lure out to deeper water in a semicircle. We were invading a tranquil setting, the movement attracting a nod from a heron searching for his supper.
As a teenager, it was comforting to focus on the ripples as I reeled the lure sporadically back to the bank. I glanced over my shoulder to make certain the Angus bulls were not a threat, and as I drew my rod back to recast, my eyes met a trio of ducks just clearing the pine tops in the distance, completing the peaceful scene.
We consider any bass over 10 pounds a “lunker.” Dad taught me to drag the lure in slowly, accompanied by a jerking motion every few seconds. He showed me how letting the front dip adds to the authenticity of the bait. Though the icing on the excursion was landing a hefty fish, the cake was spending a few relaxing hours bonding with Dad.
Retrieving my green artificial lure across the calm water, my heart sped up as I anticipated the moment the bass would break the surface and engulf my bait. Marching through my mind were thoughts of high school, ball practice, the hay bales in the field, and what was for supper. When my line snapped tight and the reel screamed, I paused, then jerked the rod tip up to set the hook. It was a thrill to feel the tugging of such a large fish! As I played the bass closer to shore, I began to see glimpses of her fins as she broke the water. I squinted into the setting sun and caught the horizontal stripes of the eight pounder. I stretched my rod back with my right hand and grabbed her lower jaw with my left. I placed the largemouth on the keeper line and staked it back in the ground on the pond’s edge.
I looked across the pond and saw Dad grinning. He nodded his approval and then tossed his lure parallel to the opposite bank. A few mockingbirds landed on the cattails and voiced their disdain for our presence in their home. The breeze blew gently as they stood sentinel over the approaching twilight. I knew my dad was teaching me to fish, but I didn’t realize then that his lessons on our weekly jaunts were preparing me for life.
I pulled up the lure, removed some algae from the hook, and tried to navigate the lily pads with my next cast. Occasionally my hook would snag on a submerged limb and snap my line. I reached down, opening my scratched and faded Plano tackle box. I loved those little compartments on three trays. They held my swivels, lead shot, hooks, corks, and lures. It contained Rapalas, swimming minnows, Hula Poppers, Jitterbugs, Mepps spinners, bull frogs, and four colors of rubber worms. I selected a swimming minnow. My grandfather bought them 15 in a box, and it bothered me when I lost one — not just because they were fairly expensive, but they were given to me by my granddaddy. So as a matter of economics and pride, I tried to return with as many lures as I left home with.
Everything I needed to fish was in that box, and every attribute I need in life, I obtained from that man on the other side of the pond. He was patient, methodical, and even-tempered. He tossed his lures with uncanny precision, teaching me that if I do something correctly long enough, I will achieve the desired results. The early bird gets the worm, but the patient man gets the fish.
It was easy to lose track of time in the twilight hours and forget we must leave this tranquil setting. Over the pond, my attention turned to Dad. He grabbed a nice four pounder by the bottom lip, removed the hook, and released the largemouth bass back into his habitat.
I looked down at the bass I had tied to my stringer by my feet. It made me proud to know I possessed enough skill to land a few. It also provided me with a great connection between Mother Nature and my soul: the smell of green grass, fresh cut hay, pure air, and the scent of fish on my lure.
A few cattle headed toward the pines to bed down for the night. Life was good in the country as Dad and I immersed ourselves in our little slice of heaven. The colors of burnt orange, soft pink, and light yellow started their slow decline to meet the shadows on the horizon.
We grabbed our bottles of water, closed our tackle boxes, and attached our hooks to the bottom eyelet on our rods. Although we usually released most of the fish, Dad and I took several fish home that night to fillet and bread up for the frying pan. Back then, I took these moments for granted and thought these fishing trips and my dad would last forever. Life was simple, Dad’s words were true, his voice was kind, and his life was an example that I tried to mirror.
My father has since passed away. Those fishing trips are a distant memory, but the serenity of time spent fishing together is embedded in my heart. Sometimes when I drive by a farm pond with cattails flanking the bank and the sun setting, I look through the barbed wire to the other side of the pond, and I can almost see Dad grinning as he tosses that lure and nods his head my way.