Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The sun beats down in heavy rays; the world hums with the sounds of dragonflies, cicadas, grasshoppers, and frogs, like the radiating drone of a heating oven that grows all the more intense until those brave enough to be out and about are fully cooked and the day begins to cool into night.

Photo by Matthew Reilly.
    The local river offers a refreshing sojourn, and a soothing place to cast a line.  Its fish are predictable, hiding beneath the shade line, waiting for falling insects, waiting for me to slide in and lose myself in the passage of time, throwing flies rhythmically as the trance of the river flows around my bare legs—calling me its own, if only for a little while.  I may very well indulge myself in its cool water on many an afternoon covered in damselflies and sunshine—but even this iconic scene does not complete or define the summer season.

    No, in the summer time I go to play with my farm ponds—the ponds of my youth and my upbringing, where I learned, and where I still do learn.  These beloved, nostalgic settings are puddles, are an acre, are five acres.  They hold the “southern mix;” the “summertime grab-bag—largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, pickerel, and catfish.  When temperatures soar, they grow lily pads and grass, as I cut my hair short; and grass grows up around them—a jungle of broom sedge, blackberries, and nettles—and ticks.

    The rivers of my memory have fish tales and runs and riffles of wonder and tradition.  But the stillwaters of my past are storied with nostalgic stories of fish lost, caught, and mysteries still unsolved.  With every outing, more of the mystery is shaved away.  Yet, when a storm boils the glassy surface; when a fiery sunset stains it orange and yellow and purple; and when I gaze into the translucent, teasing depths, the imperceptibly-booming voice of a mystery still unsolved screams back.

    Summer in the south is slow.  Even the rivers that run turbid and aqua-colored from runoff in the spring slow to a crawl when the sun claims a portion of its body to dump over the landscape come afternoon.  And so the lazy evenings spent afloat on a canoe, hoping to bring back to life one of those long-retired mammoths of personal fishing lore, become unofficially-official periods of thought; for it is a rare time when one is so lucky as to be capable of pure, unrestrained, prolix philosophy.

    Farm pond fishing is not difficult.  The fish that fin below you, along the grassy edges, and that pop the surface to take insects are relatively unpressured by anglers; many techniques and approaches will catch fish, and that’s all that matters.  For me, it’s a popping bug and a long rod.  Plugging along, I think little of the technical aspects of the fishing, and more about the essence of the act.  As long as fish are being caught steadily so that there is a real chance of encountering one of the characters of our fishing heritage and lore, and there is enough leisure to warrant meditation, your have succeeded.

Photo by Matthew Reilly.
    Farm ponds of summer hold a special place in my heart.  They require little concentrated effort to successfully catch fish; and, to me, are the perfect settings for premeditated unwinding.  Spend the evening with one of these beauties, catch fish without a worry, and ride home through a cool sky, fireflies, and the heavy chirping of peepers, and your summer is completed and defined, and your soul truly enriched.   

Originally published in the Rural Virginian  

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