Not long ago while in a little story in rural Jefferson County, I overheard a conversation between two elderly farmers.
They were talking about pond fishing. Bream fishing to be exact. One fellow declared worms to be the best bream bait. His friend claimed crickets were the only thing to catch the real big ‘uns.
I paid for my Dr. Pepper and left with the dispute still raging. As I drove home, I pondered what I had heard. Being a wildlife writer, I realized that I was obligated to research this issue.
My mind made up, I headed to the nearest bait store. I bought a dozen worms, a dozen crickets, and a fishing survival kit: six pack of Diet RC, a couple vi-ennys, and a double-decker Moon Pie.
I thought about buying some of that stuff for the “new generation” but didn’t think my old constitution would be able to handle it.
Soon as I got back out to the farm, I grabbed my old reliable Zebco and set out across the pasture toward the pond. Some big blue gills had been pulled out of this pond in the past, so I knew they were in there. Some good-sized large mouths were in that pond too, but they could wait till another time.
This winter had been mild, but very wet one. The pond was up and the water was dark. I decided to fish deep. Maybe eight to ten feet. The only draw back to that was I wouldn’t be able to sit down while I cast.
I changed my mind as to how deep the big ones were. If I set the bobber for about three or four feet, I’d never have to get off my duff. Yep, the big ‘uns were down ‘bout three feet.
My first cast wasn’t “pretty.” I tried again. This time the line arced out perfectly and the hook, worm and bobber plopped down about a foot from a dead tree lying in the water maybe ten feet from the bank.
I popped the top of a cold one, settled back against a loblolly and started to set my rod down.
Zing! Line started whipping out of the old Zebco like promises from a politician. I knew from the side-to-side runs that it was a bream, but I couldn’t believe a bream that had kind of power. The line zinging out of that old reel sounded like Roseanne Barr doing the National Anthem. A real loud screech.
The drag on the old Zebco wasn’t enough to slow this fish down, so I had to grab the line with my fingers. Like most sunfish, he settled down to little short runs quickly.
As I started to reel him in, it struck me as to how big one must be. When we first broke the surface, I was amazed, never having seen a bream like this one. He certainly was a beauty, a blue gill, and the biggest one this ole boy had ever seen.
A nuclear mutant. Or maybe caused be all that acid ran or cattle growth hormones washing into the pond. It didn’t matter where or what he had come from, I just had to land that monster. I cranked slow and steady. Oh please, Lord, don’t let this one get away.
Slowly, very slowly. Closer and closer. The fish would thrash every now and then, but the fight had gone out of him. I was praying that the hook would hold.
It was hooked through his bottom lip, point down. Knowing how delicate a blue gill’s lips were caused me real worry. I just knew that hook was going to pull out. He stopped fighting altogether now. It was as if the fish had resigned himself to his fate. Just a few more feet.
There were some old dried reeds and cattails between the fish and the bank. All I had to do was get this monster through the dead cattails and onto the bank. I would have to lift his entire body out of the water to get him over the reeds.
Very slowly I began to take in the slack line. He was almost up against the reeds now. I cranked in more line. The blue gill began to rise out of the water.
He was clear. Just a little higher. Almost over the reeds. Only a few more inches.
It’s hard to tell what, if anything went through the fish’s mind, but all of a sudden, he seemed to realize the end was near. He gave a great heave, first to the left then to the right.
The hook tore through the thin tissue in the comer of his mouth and come singing towards my head. I ducked under the bobber, but the hook caught me right behind my left ear. It set itself into my flesh in a way I’ve never Been able to set a hook into the jaw of a bass in my whole life. Deep, and snugly attached. Maybe to an important body part. A tendon or such.
Screaming for help, even though I knew no one was within miles, I grabbed my ear and spun around to look upon the biggest, prettiest bream of my life. He was flopping around on the muddy bank of the pond, not a foot from the water.
Apparently realizing that salvation was at hand, the fish began to thrash about with a vigor he’d not displayed so far. I knew no one would believe me about this one. Ignoring the pain from the hook embedded behind my ear, I had to get that fish!
Ripping the hook and at least a pound of flesh out of my neck, I threw the rod down and leaped on the flopping bream. The mud was slippery and led to the edge of the pond. This pond was very deep, over twenty feet. We were at the dam end where it was the deepest.
I grabbed the blue gill, but he slipped out of my hands. I sloshed about and grabbed him again. This time I got a good grip on him and even managed to stick a finger up into the gills. Just before we fell into the pond.
I hadn’t planned on going into the water so my nose and mouth were wide open. I started to yell and swallowed seven or eight gallons of water. That not only made breathing difficult, but swimming too. I must have sunk ten or twelve or twenty feet before I flailed back to the surface.
I came up spittin’ and thrash in’. And cussin. Miraculously, the prize was still held in an unyielding grip. I gave the fish such a heave that I was driven several feet down into the water again. When I came, spluttering, back to the top, I saw him flopping about way up on the bank.
Confident that the fish would never make it back to the water, I started to swim to shore. Not an easy thing to do when you have five unopened cans of Diet Rite in your pants pockets and another one, already opened, in your left hand.
Long before I reached the bank. Scooter showed up.
Scooter is my usual fishing buddy. He hadn’t been anywhere around when I left for the pond this morning. Scooter is an ugly, brownish, tangle-haired, yellow-eyed dog. He’s not really my dog; he just hangs around with me and allows me to feed him.
Scooter always went to the pond with me. He loved to grab those little bream I threw up on shore and haul them off to play with until they quit flopping. He had his eyes on the giant bream and was zooming in on it at his best speed. I started screaming.
“Roll over!” “Play dead!”
“Leave that $@%$# fish alone, you @#$!!% mangy-haired mongrel!”
It didn’t matter what I said. Scooter had never seen a bream that big before either. He wasn’t about to be denied. Without even slowing down, that home for unwed fleas scooped up my super-fish and disappeared into the brush. I heaved the open can at that miserable cur but missed by a mile. I forgot that I wasn’t buoyant and sank once again swallowing several more gallons of water.
I finally made it back to the bank.
As I pulled myself out of the water, I swore that dog would eat nothing but dry food the rest of his life. Cheap, dry food! I dumped the rest of the bait in the pond. Let those bream develop A taste for store-bought food. I’ll be back. Only next time that fish stealin’ gravy-lappin’, dog pound refugee will be chained to a tree. Soaking wet, I headed home.
Of course, by the time I got home, that @#$!!% Dog was already there dancin’ around the back steps. The low-life even had the nerve to run up and lick me. Right on the mouth. With the smell of my giant bream still on his breath!
Jerry can be reached at email@example.com for any comments or personal stories about the outdoors.