Some children of my generation thought that there was nothing that could compare to pond fishing late in the afternoon on a summer day.
The farm next to our house had one of those classic fishing ponds down a long path away from the road, and our family had permission to fish there whenever we wanted to.
About half the pond was in the sun, while the other half was shady and comfortable, just the place to throw our line out and fish.
Daddy took us children and the family dog out to Joe’s pond on many an afternoon after he got home from work. Sometimes we went out there while Mother was getting supper ready; other times we went after supper and enjoyed the late-afternoon calm, the croaking of hundreds of frogs and the singing of birds as they wound up their day’s work.
The shady end of the pond where we most often fished was a wondrous place, teeming with tadpoles and numerous flying things that hovered around the nearly black shallows. There were lily pads and other species of plants, too numerous to name.
Our equipment was simple. We took cane poles with line, hooks and yellow or red corks that would bob up and down or sometimes just float when the fishing was poor. An old coffee can was an adequate container for our bait.
We frequently took fishin’ worms (we never called them earthworms), which we had dug up from behind our grandfather’s barn next door to our house. On some occasions we took big, juicy tobacco worms collected just that afternoon from the tobacco field. Once in a while we took Catawba (or Catalpa) worms, those black and yellow wiggly wonders that fish craved. We collected this bait from the Catawba tree in our own backyard. Other times we took grub worms that would bend double when something touched them.
When we were small children, Daddy spoiled us by baiting our hooks for us. We girls could not bring ourselves to touch the wiggly worms, while our brother was an independent hook-baiter at 7 years old.
I remember that Daddy encouraged us to learn to bait our own hooks as we got older so that he could do some fishing himself. When he got a chance to fish, he sometimes used popping bugs or crickets for bait, although we children stuck to the live-worm strategy.
We girls eventually got pretty good at picking up a fishin’ worm with a stick, laying it on the grass and spearing the poor, squirming thing two or three times with the hook until it was ready to be swallowed by a bream or a bass or some other gullible fish below the pond’s surface.
We girls were never brave enough to use this same technique to spear tobacco, Catawba or grub worms.
The more we fished, the better we got under Daddy’s tutelage. He would coach us with instructions such as, “Give him a chance to swallow the hook before you pull him in, and pull the line strong and slow; don’t yank it in.” Other times he might say, “Wait a minute. That’s just a nibble.”
We knew to be quiet and still and to keep our eyes on the cork, watching the peacock-blue dragonflies and other flying friends that were interested in the floating cork. When one of us caught a fish, someone might say, “That’s a big ’un,” or “He’s too little; throw him back.”
Once in a while, we would tell Mother that we would be back in time to have fish for supper, always having confidence in our ability to bring home a mess of fish.
Mother would stay home and prepare slaw, stewed potatoes, sliced tomatoes, hush puppies and tea and have the grease and cornmeal ready for our return with supper on a string.
Sometimes while we were fishing, we would feel so peaceful on the pond’s edge that we would speak nary a word for a spell and let the love of the natural surroundings and the anticipation of a bite override the need for conversation.
We had a neighbor who often said that when he went fishing, he didn’t care whether he caught any fish or not.
He claimed that it was fun, no matter what his luck that day.
Nobody in our family wanted to get skunked, but when we did, we went home and had things to talk about anyway, and we were never so discouraged that we gave up fishing altogether.
So did we think there was anything better than pond fishing? I don’t think so.
Especially if it meant fishing at Joe’s pond late on a summer afternoon with our family, our dog and a good supply of squirmy-worm bait.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.