Dad's Pond

By Kathy Etling | February 2, 1996
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 1996

We'd built the pond for Bob's dad, built it 10 years before, where an always-soggy bit of ground betrayed its suitability as a lake site. My husband and I built it because each year this marshy covert shrank, as if the woods were impatient to reclaim the tiny wetland.

When the dam was finished, the rains had come. The pond filled in a single season, and we took that as an omen. Soon, deer and turkeys drank from the muddy water. Then the first frogs and dragonflies appeared.

This wasn't our first pond. We'd built one years before and recalled how gullible bass can be when first they encounter a popper or fly. Just once, we wanted Dad to experience action like that.

"Just wait," we told him. "You won't believe how many bass you'll catch."

We released bluegill first; then, six months later, bass and catfish. We released our bass at high noon on a hot, muggy day and watched as they swam strongly away. They disappeared, and we felt sure that soon our bass would weigh 2 pounds and the bream would be slab-thick.

Although it was on our property, this was Dad's pond, he would fish it first. He could wet his line in virgin waters and perhaps catch, in turn, each of these bass before it grew wise in the ways of anglers and lures.

As the months and then the years slid by, the water in the pond remained strangely turbid.

"How can bass grow in a pond that muddy?" Bob wondered. And I worried with him as we tossed hay on the water, hoping to clear it.

"Maybe the catfish are rooting up the bottom," Bob muttered, perplexed. "Or maybe it's insects, burrowing out of the mud."

We tried everything to settle the particles of clay that floated in the water like dust motes in hyperspace. We planted a nurse crop of wheat and followed it with orchard grass and fescue. We struggled to grow something on the barren patches of ground, anything to cushion the droplets of rain so they wouldn't displace the earth and carry it down to the pond. But nothing worked.

When we'd built the pond, Dad was already 72 years old. He'd spent his entire life providing for his wife and children and still went to work every day and worked all day. His one other passion was fishing.

We'd give him fishing tackle as presents for Father's Day, birthdays and Christmas. He kept a rod in the trunk of his car, just in case he could slip away during one of his business trips.

Dad didn't catch a lot of fish, but he had fun. He never caught a big fish, but he continued to try. He had one goal in mind. And that was to catch a lunker bass.

By the time our pond was fishable, Dad was 75. "I'll fish that pond soon," he'd say, but still he waited. Family duties and other obligations still took much of his time.

Finally, the suspense was too much for Bob. "Where are you going?" I asked one day as he walked out of the house, rod in hand.

"I'm going to see if there are any fish in Dad's pond."

We fought about this plan, but Bob won. He cast tentatively near the cattails and caught nothing. He used crankbaits and worms, topwater lures and spinnerbaits, but he caught nothing.

"The pond is a bust," he announced when he returned that evening.

Bob fished the pond a number of times. Eventually, even I fished the pond. Occasionally, we would land an anemic-looking bass not even 12 inches long. To see such fish made us lose even more hope. Thin, pallid and with faded lateral lines, the bass looked more like shiners than largemouths.

In the evening, as we sat in the darkness beneath galaxies of stars, we'd hear bullfrogs croak and think of the pond. "I wonder what went wrong," Bob would say quietly. After a few more years, we rarely spoke of it at all. As a fishing hole it was a failure. But Dad never gave up on it.

"Someday, I'm going to fish my pond," he'd promise.

"There aren't any fish in the pond," Bob would reply, "at least none worth catching."

Two years ago, Mom was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. As she went downhill, Dad's face showed the strain. After Mom died, we took Dad to Kentucky Lake because the whole family knew that the type of rest Dad craved most was the kind he could get while fishing.

Everyone else caught big fish, but Dad didn't.

"I think I'm jinxed," he sighed.

Two weeks after Mom died, Dad announced that he was going to fish the pond.

He was 81 then - a good, long lifetime - but 81 years take their toll. Dad's legs weren't as good as once they were, and he needed cataract surgery. Still, he wanted to walk the quarter-mile to the pond.

"Will you be okay?" I asked anxiously.

"I'll be fine," he reassured me as he gathered his gear. I didn't like leaving Dad alone, but I had an appointment in town. I justified my absence by reminding myself I'd be back in an hour or two. As I left, Bob started the tractor and pulled into the pasture. I watched Dad walk unsteadily down the path to his pond.

In less than 2 hours I was back. As I drove up I noticed the horses galloping across the pasture. They'd stop and look towards the pond. I wondered why, but walked to the house anyway. I put my key in the door and turned it just as I heard a faint cry.


I dropped everything and ran towards the sound. What if he'd fallen and broken his leg? What if he'd slipped into the pond and couldn't get back out? The thoughts ran wild through my mind as I hurried down the hill.

"Dad, are you okay?" I managed to scream when I finally saw the pond through the trees. I could see him lying on his stomach upon the bank and feared the worst.

"Bring the camera," he suddenly yelled. "A bass! I've got a big bass." Dad was so afraid of losing his fish he was sprawled on top of it.

Just then, Bob drove past on the tractor. I motioned him over. He shut off the tractor and ran towards the pond. "What a bass, what a bass," Dad kept repeating, beside himself with excitement. "Isn't she a beauty?"

The bass was a beauty, 20-inches long and hog-fat, colored the way God intended bass to be colored with a mossy-green back and gleaming dark stripe running down its side. Its mouth was huge, its gills flaring red in the fading light.

Bob and I looked at each other. Then we looked at the pond. Some things are meant to be, even if there are no logical explanations. The pond - just as we once hoped and planned - had made Dad's greatest dream come true.

Dad's gone now, passed away quietly. We buried him with the rod, reel and lure he'd used that warm July day. When sorting through his personal effects, the objects that had defined the life of this man we'd loved, Bob and I claimed the memento he'd prized above all else. Today, his trophy bass hangs on our wall, next to a photo of Dad and his fish on the bank of Dad's Pond.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Paul Childress
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer