THE TEACHING POND

small pond

A few years ago, I rented a house in the country in a small unincorporated community in Alabama. It was surrounded by woods and horse pastures and had a small drainage pond on a vacant lot beside it. The owner said there were fish in it, but nothing of any size worth keeping. I thought I would walk out there and see what I could learn about fish.

Taking my walking stick and a few leftover bread crusts, I donned my polarized sunglasses and headed over there. The pond was small, with an inlet at one end which allowed water drainage from the lot next to it. I stood there for a few minutes and saw nothing beneath the surface with my polarized shades. Then, I tossed a few breadcrumbs into the water. Suddenly there was activity. Small fish began to surface for an easy snack. Delighted, I threw some more crumbs into the water. The feeding continued until I was out of bread. Well, that day I learned that fish are not shy about free lunch.

The next day, I walked out with a lawn chair and some more bread. More of the same response. Throughout my time there, when I had some bread crusts, I would go feed the fish.
They began to expect it. When I would get to the edge of the pond, they would be lined up in ranks by size. I realized that they got used to the vibrations of my footsteps approaching and would come to the edge. First would be the little hatchlings right on the edge. Behind them would be the larger fish looking about two inches long and last would be the larger fish measuring about three to four inches. I guessed the larger they were, the more they felt like prey, eating fish, so they were more shy. I was not a predator with no fishing rod in my hand, but one day a predator showed up.

It was a snapping turtle. It’s shell measured about a foot across. This dinosaur came boldly to the edge to snatch some free morsels. The problem was, it scared the little hatchlings close to the edge. So I smacked it on the shell with my walking stick and it swam off. Five minutes later, it was back in the same spot. This time, it was oblivious to my stick, so I put the end under its shell and gave it a flip. Well, this turtle had never been flipped backwards before, so it scurried off. After gaining its nerve, back it came! Apparently, this was one tough turtle. So we played the game a few more times and every time it came back in shorter time intervals.

I learned a few things about fish during that experience. First, they are always up for free lunch. Second, they will learn to expect it. Third, they will get used to you and fourth, something will come to crash the party. Oh, and if you ever see any eating-sized fish? Soften them up with all of the above and then bring your rod and reel!

George Robinson