Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Catch One, Get One Free
I suppose I was one of those small town characters everyone knows. Third of five children, of an aristocratic but impoverished widow, everyone knew that I lived to fish. When I returned from an expedition with a bike basket full of fish and my pole sticking up from the bike like the antenna on the State Trooper cars of the day, I got many hails and waves from townsfolk as I rode down Main Street.
This day was like many other summer days in the late forties. Clear, still and blistering hot. Mirage rose from the roads as I pedaled toward my refuge from anything unpleasant in the world. Crystal clear water, lily fields; a place so quiet you could hear your own heartbeat.
A few miles on the highway, then off on a sandy road that turned quickly into side by side tracks through the pines and down the hill to the pond, my pond.
A heron stood in the shallows. Still as though hewn from sapphire, poised to strike. A pair of wood ducks paddled about at the upper end, by the inlet; living jewels with a group of tiny fluff–balls hugging their wakes.
Even in my early teens this was a place of treasured memories. During the war we had lived only a mile or so away and I had trekked down here at every opportunity. This is where “Uncle” Jim Willis had introduced me to fishing, where I caught my first real fish, where I hid out when I “ran away” from my Mom's anger over some infraction I have forgotten, and where I got on the wrong side of a cottonmouth and earned the scar that is on my shin to this day.
Those memories flooded back to me every time I arrived at my pond. There would be more to come.
I parked my bike and rigged up my willow pole with a small, fluorescent yellow popping bug and a trailer with a #10 black gnat about 8" behind it. It wouldn't cast very far, of course, but someday I would have a real fly rod and maybe even a boat. Boy, those bluegills better watch out then!
I tossed the flies into a pocket in the lily pads and let them sit. The black gnat slowly sank. I gave the popper a twitch and it instantly disappeared. A small rock bass had grabbed the black gnat and took off. He quickly sailed over my head into the honeysuckle on top of the dam. I unhooked him and tossed him back into the water.
As I worked my way along the bank I caught a few bluegills and a lot of small fry. Then I noticed a disturbance in the water out near the middle of the pond. It was a big swirl like a bass makes when it chases small fish. Someday I would be out there in a boat with a real fly rod and catch some of those bass. Just you wait, Mr. Bass; your turn will come.
The water swirled again, and splashed. That was strange. I never saw that before.
I took a break to enjoy some of the ripe blackberries growing on the back of the dam. Warm from the sun and sooooo sweet. I soon had a blue tongue and blue teeth as well as a full belly.
When I returned to my fishing the splashing in the pond was still happening, but getting close to the shore over on the south side. I decided to investigate.
I was very careful where I stepped when I got over there. This is where I had stepped on the cottonmouth and gotten slightly bitten. That was really scary even though only one fang got me and that got me on the thin skin of my shin. It still hurt like the devil, scared ten years out of Mom's life when I came home limping and weeping and told of being bitten by a snake and took several days to heal. It was not an adventure that I sought to repeat.
The splashing and swirling was still going on and still getting closer to shore, nearing water shallow enough to wade in. Stare as I might, I couldn't make out what it was, but it was definitely something alive.
Whatever virtues I may have had in those days, patience was probably not one of them. I paced up and down the bank, waiting for whatever it was to come close enough for me to see what it was.
Finally I could make it out. It was a strange looking fish in some sort of distress. It was long and skinny, not at all like bluegills and bass.
When it finally got into wading depth I waded out and grabbed it.
It was about 20" long. A fish known locally as a jack, that I later learned was a chain pickerel. It had about an 8" bluegill jammed in its mouth that it couldn't swallow and couldn't spit out. The bluegill was swimming one way and the jack the other way and they cancelled each other. So they just drifted to shore and were caught by hand, my hand.
I freed the bluegill and put both fish on my stringer. They were the trophies of the day, but I had a hard time convincing anyone that I caught them both by hand, and how.