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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Shepherd's Heart: A pat on the back can live forever

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Recently, as I sat on the bank of a pond somewhere in Saline County, I was reminded of a day long ago when I ventured out on a trek that would set my destiny as a fisherman.

I was all of 10 or 11 years old staying with my grandparents on their small homestead of a farm in the hills of northern Arkansas. On the back of my great-grandfather's farm -- which was adjacent to grandpa's place -- was a small farm pond that lay undisturbed for most of the year. On occasion a few of grandpa's cows would break through a string or two of barbed wire and find themselves quite thirsty for their efforts, ending up at the little oasis at the edge of the woods. But most of the time the pool sat silent.

One summer day, when there wasn't fence to mend or cows to gather or potatoes to harvest, I stole away to the far side of the farm to sit in the shade of the willow tree on the bank of that pond. As I sat, I noticed a healthy population of bull frogs and dragonflies disturbing the silence and, from time to time, wresting me from my reverie.

During one such interlude, I saw a dragonfly disappear into a swirl of water. Minutes later, another dragonfly was there and then gone, and this time the vanishing act was accompanied by a resounding "slap" and "splash" on the surface of the pond. For about the next half-hour I sat and watched a feeding frenzy develop on that little piece of clear water, far from the city streets I called home during the school year. And I determined right then and there to make this trek again the following morning, immediately after morning chores and breakfast were finished.

That evening, I asked grandpa if he had a fishing pole I could borrow. And maybe something to offer as bait, explaining how I had seen the fish so readily feasting the dragonflies. He took me to the closet that held his fishing gear, picked out a spin-cast rod and reel combo he felt I could use, and opened up his tackle box to see what I might be able to offer the hungry denizens of the deep living in the old watering hole at the back of great-grandpa's farm. He also explained a bit about how to best use the "plug" he had chosen for me.

As I recall, I didn't sleep much that night. And I can almost bet you the morning chores were finished in record time the next day.

By the time I arrived at the pond, the sun had risen just slightly in the east and was beginning to cast its lazy summer beams through the trees at the top of the hill overlooking the pasture. The surface of the pool was calm and reflective -- like a deep forest looking glass. Whippoorwills and bob-white quail sang their morning songs as I walked quietly to my predetermined spot.

The first cast was not so great. The little frog-colored top-water plug almost landed in the branches of that willow tree I was sitting under the day before. I scolded myself for being such a bad fisherman, and then twitched the tip of the rod, just like grandpa had told me to do. The frog spat a couple of times and then became silent once again. I shook the tip of the rod a second time, nerves on end, waiting for I didn't know what to happen.

Suddenly, the frog shot from the surface atop the large wake created from somewhere beneath it. I was so surprised that I started reeling the plug in. After a few turns of the handle, the water erupted again. I yanked back on the rod, and the hooks seated deeply into the jaw of a good sized largemouth bass.

The warrior bolted for the cover of the willow branches, but I managed to keep him from getting hooked up in the vegetation. I reeled as fast as an 11 year old with a Zebco 202 could reel, and after a few more runs toward cover, the beast finally gave up the fight.

Quivering with excitement, I carried my quarry back across the pasture, over the barbed-wire fence, across the branch and up the hill to grandpa's house.

The pat on the back from grandpa still resonates through my memories to this day.

And, as the saying goes, I was hooked!

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BOB G. STEWART, Columnist
The Shepherd's Heart