I grew up along side a farm pond. I mean that literally and figuratively. The pond was situated two stone’s throws from our front yard, and it came into being and lived out a life cycle while I was a growing boy.
In the first year of its life cycle a pond is really nothing more than a hole in the ground that has filled with water. But after about a year an amazing transformation begins to take place. All kinds of new life begin to be drawn to it. Long before the word “ecosystem” came to be used handily, I observed one coming together.
My father waited almost two years before he announced we were stocking our “new” pond with fish. I remember the day we transported the fingerlings from the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission truck back to our farm in five-gallon buckets.
My father’s choices of species were bream and channel catfish. The bream were dark blue and no bigger than a nickel. The catfish were about the size of a man’s index finger.
When we arrived at the pond, my father tipped the buckets over gently and all those minnows rolled out into the pond water. It was an exciting time for us all.
For most of the next year my brothers and I fed the catfish every day — the same amount of fish food in about the same spot. As I recall, two more years passed before we were given the “go ahead” to start fishing. I do remember it was in the spring. It was a spring I would never forget.
I rigged up five cane poles with ten feet of black nylon fishing line, a lead sinker and an Eagle Claw fishhook. My bait of choice was red worms, dug fresh from the barnyard. I set the fishing poles late one afternoon by sticking the big end of the poles in the soft mud at the waters edge. That allowed the tip end of the cane to hover about two feet above the surface of the water. The next morning I was rewarded for my efforts.
On two of the cane poles I had snared a couple of two-pound channel cats. One of the poles was still securely stuck in the pond bank. The other catfish had managed to pull the pole out of its resting place and was towing it around on the surface of the pond.
That gave me an idea I would use for the rest of the spring and the coming summer.
From that day forward, I would lay the cane pole on the surface of the water and secure the big end by laying a big rock on it. If the fish that got on the line was big enough, he would pull the cane from under the rock and spend the night pulling the pole around the pond rather than wearing out the line all night.
Some mornings before school, I would arrive at the pond to find three or more cane poles being towed around the pond in different directions. I would take my rod and reel, rigged with a snatch hook, and carefully snare each one and bring it into the bank. Then I would load my catch on a stringer and deliver them to my father to be dressed.
To this day, whenever I think of catfish, I go back of that magical spring. And I take a stroll down the halls of my memory. There my heart rate quickens in anticipation as I trot down to the pond just after dawn in hopes of seeing those cane poles knifing across the pond’s surface. And I remember the pride and sense of accomplishment I felt as I, in old shoes, wet with the morning’s dew, lugged a stringer loaded with channel cats back to the house.
It was a glorious time in the life of a pond — and a boy.