By Tom Poland
Rain, rain, and more rain. It hasn’t been a biblical forty days and forty nights but sure seems like it. A record sopping-wet winter has creeks running high, swift, and heavy with silt. Pockmarks dapple a drift of rain-pelted sand, and more rain’s coming but that old fisherman’s chair refuses to be swept downstream. It holds wayward limbs and leaves, and for me, memories of a youth spent fishing.
This creek would have suited a fisherman by the name of Harry Hampton. He would have been right at home here. He would have taken comfort in knowing his namesake organization, the Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund, serves as a steward of woods and waters. It wouldn’t have been the best time to fish but a good time and place to think about fishing and a favorite fish of many, bream.
Folks fish for bream in some creeks but in my day I fished for bream in Granddad’s farm ponds where those greenish, bronze, deep-bodied fish darted about like torpedoes. It was there that Grandmother Poland taught me to fish. She kept red-varnished cane poles beneath the overhang of the concrete block annex where Granddad cooled green watermelons with zigzagged dark stripes. A new thing called monofilament had yet to make its way into fishing and those cane poles sported black nylon lines. And the corks? Red-and-white bobbers, of course.
We never bought bait. Grandmom taught me to dig worms beneath cow piles. She taught me, too, that you’re sure to catch a fish if a dragonfly lands on your cork. I always felt lucky. The clatter of dragonflies filled the air. Deft as damselflies they flitted over lily pads. They zoomed. They zigzagged. Then, light as ash, a blue darter would land on my red-and-white cork. Sunlight blazed up in its cellophane-like wings, and its body fired up iridescent blue. I just knew I’d catch a big fat bluegill, and often I did. The red-and-white bobber would dive beneath the surface and a bluegill would turn its broad side against me and become a ten-pound fish. When I landed it my heart beat 130 beats a minute.
I promise you the days I spent as a boy fishing were my best. Pure bliss. There were no jobs, nothing called a career, no demands, and no stress other than snagging a hook on a stump or willow. I used a cane pole until I was old enough to cast a Zebco. That’s when I graduated from bream to bass and always kept my Zebco and rod and black rubber worms close by.
I lived like a prince in Granddad’s kingdom where palatial riches—blue farm ponds—waited around the bend of every cow path. And so I associate farm ponds with varnished cane poles, red-and-white bobbers, mats of algae that betrayed snakes’ serpentine wanderings, jelly-like clumps of frog eggs, and the heavy wooden boat Granddad made with ever-present moccasins beneath—treasures like no others.
I never fished a creek, what old folks called a crik. “You fellas been swimmin’ in the crik?” Here we have a crik I’m certain Harry Hampton would have loved. Had Harry sat in that veteran of a chair might he have made a few notes about this rain-swollen creek? I believe so, and so I close my eyes for a moment as all that water rages, and I see bream skulking downstream of a sunken log and beneath cuts and overhangs. If I close my eyes a bit longer, I see Hampton’s long legs crossed and stretched out across all that dimpled sand. His feet almost touch the water. He’s got a pad and pen in his hands. He’s listening to the waters roar, watching as winds toss treetops about, and all he hears are the sounds of nature.
“Better days ahead,” he writes. “Come spring and summer this creek will be a fine place to take kids fishing, and teach them about nature. It’ll make a good column, ‘Lessons From The Old Fishing Hole.’ ”
Had Harry sat here the day I photographed that old chair, I’d have told him about Granddad’s ponds and asked him how creek fishing goes. And one more thing. Is it really good luck when a dragonfly, the old snake doctor of yesteryear, lands on your cork? I have no doubt he’d say, “Yes. Your grandmother was right as rain. In fact fishing itself will bring you good luck and more. It’s teaches you about life, and you’ll never regret it.”
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