By Mark Taylor
During a visit last summer to the stomping grounds of my youth, the family and I found ourselves not far from one of my favorite fishing spots, a small pond at the site of a long-ago razed lumber mill.
“I want to show you guys a
place where Grandpa Steve, Uncle Greg and I used to fish,” I said, turning the car onto the curvy road that led to the pond.
A few minutes later we pulled up.
The pond was gone.
Or, rather, it was empty. What had been a pond was now a 5-acre depression filled with weeds and brush (above).
As the rest of the crew sat in the car I got out and snapped a picture, and couldn’t help thinking about some of highlights we’d had there, including the day a gunshot sent my brother and me fleeing for our lives down a dusty driveway.
It had started a couple of weeks earlier, when Dad, Greg and I were trolling for crappies in our little aluminum jon boat. We spotted one of Greg’s classmates on the bank, holding a stringer of fish.
And not just any stinger. It was loaded with hefty largemouth bass.
We weren’t happy.
“Why did you kill all those fish?” one of us asked the kid when we got close enough.
“Oh, I didn’t catch them here,” he quickly replied. “There’s another pond over yonder. It’s full of these things.”
At school the next week Greg pressed the kid for more info. The bass nirvana pond, it turned out, was a small pond nearby on private property.
Bingo! If the guy let this other kid fish he’d let us fish, right?
A couple weeks later we convinced Dad to take us to the new pond. He had something to do so was just going to drop us off and pick us up in a couple of hours.
We started the walk up the dusty driveway toward the house, eyeing the pond as we went.
The landowner soon appeared.
Carrying a rifle.
Twenty or so years later a spitting image of him would star as one of the villains (the guy on the left, below) in the video game Redneck Rampage.
Greg and I were uneasy, but we’d come this far.
“Hello, sir,” I started, somewhat hesitantly. “We were wondering…”
The man raised the gun to his shoulder.
“Never mind,” I quickly said and we turned to leave.
He took aim and pulled the trigger, sending what I am pretty sure was a load of .22 birdshot into one of the mangy dogs that had been following him around.
The dog let out a yip and ran into the brush.
We let out yips and ran down the driveway, half expecting loads of .22 birdshot to pepper us at any second.
Fortunately there were no more shots.
Dad hadn’t gotten too far and had turned around when he heard the shot.
“What the hell?” he said when we saw us running up to the truck.
“That guy just shot one his dogs!” I blurted. “Get us out of here!”
The next week at school my brother sought out his classmate and asked if he know that the guy who owned the pond was a rifle-wielding, drunken maniac.
“Uh, yeah,” the kid said. “That’s why I’m always really careful when I sneak in there to fish his pond.”
We stuck to fishing the public pond after that. And, I’m not going to lie. That incident soured my exploratory spirit for more than a few years and I was satisfied to do my fishing and hunting on public waters and lands.
I’ve since regained the courage to ask permission from time to time. I do, however, prefer to introduce myself in writing first.
Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. He grew up in rural southern Oregon, home of some good trout and steelhead rivers and one less good bass pond.