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Part One hundred seventy-three

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Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

A week ago one of my co-workers invited me to go fishing. His son is beginning to experiment with fly-fishing, and I've tied up some flies for him over the the year. They live in farm country in the southern end of the county, and have several farm ponds his son fishes over the course of the summer. I had heard stories all summer about multiple 18-20" bass days, and my interest was piqued.

I left work an hour early and drove down to his house. I sorted through my flyboxes, straightening out a summer's worth of disorganization. It was a losing battle, to be sure. His son had been off from school for Columbus Day, and had just gotten back from a duck hunt where "he couldn't hit the broadside of a barn." He grabbed his fishing gear from the house, and loaded it in the back of the van. We loaded up and drove down to the bridge over Fishing Creek, where one of his friends was waiting for us, and loaded him into the van as well.

"Let's fish King's pond, it's got the best fish. The one by the house is no good. Come on, let's go."

We drove up to the first location, a set of two ponds on the property of the King family.

"There's HUGE bass in here. In the lower pond, I don't think there's anything in the upper pond. Maybe sunnies, I've seen fish or frogs or something jumping in there."

We unloaded from the van to the yipping inspection of a half dozen rat terriers. The mother of the family was working in the garden, and told us her husband was out at the storage shed. He knew the kids from previous fishing trips, but the news was bad. He had given a couple of gentlemen permission to hunt the area just a half-hour previous, and didn't feel safe having us down where they were hunting. He said that if we wanted to come back tomorrow, he'd make sure it was open for us to go down. We thanked him for his concern and his time, and loaded back into the van.

"It's all right, this pond has been slow lately. We should go somewhere else. Maybe the Smithgall farm. The cows broke down the fence around the pond a couple of days ago, so it might be muddy, but there's good fish in there."

The second pond is on property owned by the Mayor of Lancaster, PA. A weapons aficionado, he leases the land to an Amish family, and keeps a small parcel for his ordinance "play." He owns one of the nation's largest collections of functional Civil War era cannons, along with numerous other weapons. On a warm summer evening, it's not unusual for the blast of cannon volleys to echo through the valley.

We met up with the farmer and two of his sons out in the upper field. We were accompanied to the field by a collie and another small dog. We exchanged greetings with the gentlemen and got permission to fish the pond below. We moved the van off the main roadway and unloaded our gear. We worked down the hill to the pond, which was fairly stained.

"Aw, man this place is muddy. But, we'll still catch some good ones. They're in here."

I rigged up a deerhair diver and worked the edges of the pond. Signs were good, as I took a 12" bass tight to the bank on my second cast. That was to be it for me on this pond, even working a full circuit of the pond with various flies. My friend took a couple of bass and sunnies on bait, and his son got one on a plastic worm. The catching pace was not suitable to a 12 year old frame of mind.

"Dad, let's go to the pond by the house, it'll be good. It's got a bunch of fish."

We broke down our gear and headed up the hill towards the van.

"I bet we'll catch a lot up there. 5 fish per person, at least. 5 good fish."

We packed up and headed back to the house, and up a block and a half to the pond. We unloaded, clambered under the electric fence, and out into the cow pasture. The cows eyed us lazily and returned to cropping the grass as we walked up to the pond. Under a second set of wires, and there we were.

I had a Lite-Brite baitfish pattern on and my first cast shot out over the water. I retrieved the fly with short hops. As the fly came into view, I let it settle towards the shallow bottom, when it got knocked sideways in the water column. I cast again, closer to shore, and let the fly settle. As it fell towards the bottom, the line jumped and I set the hook. Line sliced out of the water as a chunky bluegill leapt airborne, turning and tossing. I brought the fish in and unhooked him, sliding the bull 'gill back into the water.

Well . . . with bluegill like this, why stay underwater? I clipped the fly and tied on a #12 yellow Skip's Predator with orange legs. The first cast landed on the water, and summarily disappeared in a roiling swirl. I was still trying to catch up to the slack in the cast, and missed the fish. As far offshore as I could see with my polarized glasses, the pond seemed to be no more than a couple of feet deep, with a consistent weedy bottom, olive green and not too thick. As I went to lift the fly from the water, I could barely make out a shape, olive on olive, and left the fly on the water. I twitched it gently, and a flash of blue punctuated the olive as the fish swirled up on the hapless bug. After a couple of dogged runs, I brought the 'gill to hand and slid the hook out of his mouth. Back into the water, to race off for safer locations.

As I looked out over the surface of the small pond, I saw several more boils, the swirling, roiling traces of panfish coming to the surface in pursuit of prey. A third bluegill jumped on the Predator, and my friend's son was under the fence and out into the field, running back to the van to get his fly rod.

A few minutes later he was flailing the water beside me as I released another thick fish into the warm waters of the pond. He took a fish quickly on a dry caddis pattern, then picked up one or two as the fish got more active with the falling sun. I pulled a green foam gurgler out of one of my boxes and handed it to him, he tied it on, and immediately tied into a fish. A 14" bass came, head shaking, out of the water, splashing and running. He flipped the bass back into the pond. We worked one side of the pond for an hour or more, catching fish into the darkness. These were thick, hearty fish, 8-10" long, and wide slabs. They hit and fought with strength, putting a good bend in my 6wt with the biggest of the bunch. We lost count of the numbers of bluegill brought to the shore and returned, and he added a couple more bass on the gurgler.

"I told you. At least 5 per person."

For me, a native Southern Californian, it's strange enough to be out in weather cold enough to make your breath steam. I stood on the shore of the pond, white clouds puffing in front of my face with each breath. My fingers tingled with the numb chill of the air and water, and I marveled that the bluegill continued to rise to the surface and splashily take the fly I was offering. The fun time spent here more than made up for the less productive parts of the day, and I promised to come back down next summer and fish into the evening again. ~ Jason

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