There’s a place in southeast Kansas that conjures images of loved ones, living and gone, blood relatives as well as friends who might as well have been.
I can see my grandpa in a folding chair in front of his RV, my mom sitting on the bank, pole in hand, her bobber 10 or so feet out in the water, a live worm suspended below. And I clearly recall my three brothers and me roughhousing on the banks while my dad backs his 1966 Chevy pickup to the water’s edge and lowers the tailgate.
As a youngster growing up on a 160-acre farm in Middle America, I made some of my fondest memories around the 3- or 4-acre pond about a quarter-mile from our house. That farm pond is where I learned to hunt for crawdads and bullfrogs, and where my brothers and I discovered what nature could provide if we were diligent and patient. In its heyday our pond was chock-full of crappie, a tasty panfish that fights with the best of them.
My passion for fishing has taken me from the Deschutes River in Oregon to northern Arkansas and beyond — but no single location makes me feel more childlike joy than a small pond under a huge Kansas evening sky.
It’s not adventure fishing, but working a soft bait or a popper on a warm summer evening is a nice way to unwind.
I’ve lost my share of good fish through the years on some travel trips, but I can’t recall beating myself up over a crappie or pond bass that shook itself free. There’s always plenty more where that one came from.
It seems I’ve always carried a travel rod in my Toyota 4Runner just so I can swing into my favorite pond for an hour or two. I pull right on down to the water’s edge, peel off my T-shirt and go after it. Sometimes I might have to dig a little deeper into the truck for a stringer, but often it’s simple catch-and-release fishing for the joy of it.
The nice thing about a small pond you fish routinely is getting to know it really well — its structure and bottom, its quirks, its moods and the fish. Other times, I’ve been surprised by the relationships I gain by stopping at a private landowner’s house, knocking on the door and asking for permission to frequent his or her pond. A mess of fillets later, and who knows where things will go? I’ve even gained deerhunting access this way.
To some, a farm pond is simply a watering hole for livestock or a drainage area for a pasture. To me, these ponds are their own little worlds, with their own characters and idiosyncrasies, places well worth learning over time.