Fishing in time


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

I was standing on a wide limestone shelf that overlooked a couple acres of weed-fringed water. Opaque water that resembled an algal-green soup— rich and potent…and maybe a bit primordial.

Such places are not typically on my list of everyday angling haunts. But this was more than a simple bass-fishing foray.

I grew up not too far away—call it a long bike ride—from this old quarry. Even back then, it was obvious the place had already been abandoned for decades.

Good-sized trees were growing in what had once been the long dirt lane that led from the rural road back to the water-filled pit. The bits of iron machinery rusting amongst the weeds all looked antiquated, early-1900s primitive era.

Not many people knew the place existed. But somehow, along the networking line of us adventurous-natured boys, someone in our coterie became privy to its location.

As quarry ponds go, its water is not particularly deep, except on the west end where the bottom drops abruptly. On even the brightest summer’s day, with the sun high overhead, this portion lies shrouded in mystery. A dark, unfathomable drop-off—jade fading to a malevolent yawning darkness as the light fails to penetrate.

The “Black Hole.” The place where I would start this nostalgic outing.

When it comes to bass fishing preferences, I’ll invariably choose smallmouth over largemouth. Because I’d almost always rather fish creeks and rivers than lakes or ponds.

Noisily zooming around in a boat that costs as much as a pickup truck doesn’t have half the appeal to me as wading up an untrammeled winding creek nestled in picturesque farmlands or some remote timbered hollow down in the hill country.

All I need for a day’s fishing can be carried in a vest or small tackle bag. Stepping into the flow, I can feel the water’s weight and temperature and connect with the bottom material underfoot; I can hear its voice, the subtle whispers and babbles; smell the fecund mud, the leaves and blooms, and sun-warmed grasses and blooms along the banks.

Wading, I instantly become part of this thriving dynamic. Immersed at a more fundamental level. Fishing is, ultimately, a personal endeavor—and the old “different strokes for different folks” rule holds true.

I’ve always better found my solace and delight—what draws me to go a’fishing in the first place—by the mystery and energy of a stream.

Streams are alive—restless travelers with a past and future. They’ve already been somewhere and now continue onward, as if eager to find out what adventure lies around yonder bend.

I understand this impetus. It resonates with my gypsy soul.

But don’t get me wrong—my stream predilections are more moderate than absolute. I might prefer a ribeye or porterhouse, but a sirloin or T-bone is still great—just as I still readily fish lakes and ponds.

Often they’re exactly where I want—and need—to be. And this is a prime example.

A few days earlier, I’d been reminded about this old quarry… then couldn’t quit thinking about it. Was it still there or worth fishing? Such notions kept nagging at me until I decided to go see.

Now, standing on a limestone shelf a yard above the water, looking into the Black Hole, I felt that same old gnawing in the pit of my stomach, unrest and heightened alertness, accompanied by a smidgen of fear and the need for necessary carefulness.

Even as a kid, I remember only a few of us wanted much to do with this ominous drop-off.

Our parents had warned us about such places, of course. But for once, there was probably little need for their cautions, even considering the reckless bravado of wild and foolish youth.

Plain and simple, the hole scared us into uncharacteristic sensibility. One look into the shadowy abyss and we instantly recognized its deadly possibilities. Innate caution kicked in—a sort of primordial wisdom or survival mechanism that also appears the first time you encounter a big, triangular-headed timber rattler afield. You simply don’t need anyone to tell you the thing is potentially lethal.

Now I just wanted to know if it harbored a good fish. I made an exploratory cast and allowed the little twister-type jig to sink deep before I began a retrieve.

Halfway back I felt a strike—and when I set the hook, there was a weighty tug on the other end. The light rod bent into a pleasing arc.

It turned out what I thought was my day’s first bass was instead a dandy bluegill! Chunky, saucer-sized, probably pushing a pound. I love catching big bluegill. After coaxing my prize in, I spent a moment admiring the fish’s incredible shimmering colors before returning it to the water.

Others of his kind and size followed. Maybe a dozen, though I didn’t keep count.

I also hooked, landed, and released three largemouth bass—the biggest possibly two pounds on a friendly scale. Nothing for a largemouth bass addict to get excited about.

The truth is, I didn’t put too much effort into my fishing. Mostly I just kicked around the quarry—fished from a handful of locations, puzzled anew at the rusty items in the weeds, and peered thoughtfully into the 20-foot long stone fissure which we boys used to employ as our “hideout,” though from whom or what was never quite specified.

Much of my time was spent simply sitting on various blocks of limestone, watching the water, thinking and remembering those days decades ago.

“You Can’t Go Home Again” is the oft-quoted title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe that came to mind. Wise words—though I still seem to regularly need to test their validity for myself.

Alas, time is a one-way stream. We’re carried along on its current whether we like it or not. And home? Well, home is no longer a physical destination, but a place found deep in our hearts.

Yes, we can sometimes revisit a fondly remembered location, but we can never truly return. Should you decide to do a little fishing in time, I’d advise leaving whatever you catch where it rightly belongs.

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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