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Coming August 26th – SCOF 52 Ascofalypse Now

Farm Ponds - SUMMER 2013

It smells of Southern summer. Sticky sweet scents of fresh-mown fields, fragrant honeysuckle, and moist cow pies. Dixie tang so thick you might swim in it. Antebellum aromas anchored in the oppressive heat and humidity of Carolina’s pungent pressure cooker.


Grasshoppers rise from our feet and fly before us, helicoptering heralds, scattering in waves, pushed as if by wind, though there’s not a blessed breath. Lord, we could use one. The kids chase the whirlies without restraint, oblivious to the stifle, leg-whipping weeds, and bovine landmines. Thank God for their rubber boots. Ol’e Bessie looks up from her browse. Unimpressed.

In the back corner of Old Man Johnson’s pasture it sits, roughly triangular; near to two acres of rain-fed respite. The longest shore lies open to sun, shallow edged, well-trodden, marked deep with the hoof prints of countless drinks and cooling cattle dips. It’s mostly mudflat, but an easy avenue for lowing, lumbering loads to retreat from the heat. You could lose a shoe, or worse, in the red clay mire when approaching from this side. I can testify.At midday, the short shore, too, sears in summer’s swelter though it’s deeper of bank and goes undisturbed by the herd. Cattails rise out of duckweed and lily, bright green water simmering like a pot of Momma E’s butterbeans. Turtles and bullfrogs rise, then fall, like chunks of fatback in the slow boiling soup; cooked to dang-near mush, like Momma, and we boys, liked them. Her big slotted spoon would strain bass, like beans, rolling under the steaming surface.

We look, though, to the third bank. Deepest of the three, five feet of sweet-tea water and refuge beneath a canopy of white oak, remnants of a field break planted long before I was a twinkle. It’s here that the kids stop, instinctively, bank worn to dirt by generations of brogans, bare feet, and upturned buckets. There might as well be a sign.Ragged pieces of styrofoam hide in the weeds, torn from the carcasses of ancient bait boxes, beer coolers, and greasy spoon takeout, discolored white forms like small faded skeletons of field mice or ‘coon or possum. Scattered scraps of Redman, Lucky Strike, swear to this ground’s tobacco heritage; tatters as discolored by years as the golden leaf at suckering time and the teeth of those who partook. Other things, too. Random, senseless, detritus. A sock. A torn seven of hearts. A doll’s head and rusted old 9-iron. Undecipherable items that speak to this pond’s past in a language we don’t understand; drawl so thick it drips like sorghum. We pack out what we can but the relics lie deep, rising in layers after each summer storm like repressed rural memories and family secrets. Fisherman’s flotsam.

A cool bead of sweat trickles down my back.

I set aside my glass 3wt, a New South nod to the venerable cane pole, and check the kid’s Zebcos. They’ll fly fish in time, Lord willin’, but I’ll start them as slow as a late summer yawn. For now, one hook in the air is enough. In their cage, the crickets chirp happily, yet unaware of their roll in this outing, though most will be released to the fields as young attention fades from fishing to the divination of creatures and shapes in rolling clouds and the surrounding kudzu topiary.But for awhile, they’re into it. Bluegill, redbreast, greenies, crappie. If bream grew to be five pounds, I stay away from these waters. Pond piranha, they are, as they nip at freckles and moles while you take a cooling dip. On crickets, they’re brutal, and the kids happily pull myriad bits of brilliant sunshine from the stained waters.

I leave the 3wt alone, choosing instead to lie back and look across farmland, little changed from the time that it was the Blue and the Gray, not the Red and the Blue, that pulled our country apart. The Confederacy lives in humidity and scents, in steamy farm ponds, if not in its politics, and the new rebel in me is okay with that. Collards, chard, and turnip greens keep the South alive well enough, I believe.

In time, the sun drops and the short-shore bass begin to rise as long shadows creep their way. But the kids are done. That’s why we’re out here, after all, so I’ll get ol’ bucketmouth another day. He’s got nowhere go. We follow the herd back to the barn at a more leisurely pace for we’re short one bright rubber boot. It will, no doubt, turn up again, years from now, as yet another mysterious layer of pond archaeology emerges for those who take the time to look.But, for now, it’s home to check for ticks and have a good scrub for the redbugs.

The Southern way.Mike Sepelak writes in a way I wish I thought. We have not fished together yet but when we do I will havd him recite me his prose by the stream bank, while I cast dry flies wearing a Tilley hat. Check out more of Mike’s writing and photography at