Stevens: Going fishing, finding turtles

tim.stevens@newsobserver.comAugust 15, 2012 

The neglected pond was hidden in the woods near the hill. The hill was where the tobacco plant bed was located.

Years ago, my grandfather and his boys went deep into the woods and clear cut the hill and pulled out the roots and stumps. He wanted new ground, a spot that was not infested with weeds, for the plant bed.

There was a creek on the far side of the hill and apparently Native Americans had lived in the area long before my ancestors started farming there more than 200 years ago. I found arrowheads and pottery shards in the field and once kicked up what is in my imagination a stone axe head. Others guess it was a 6-inch long grinding stone.

It is green, has indentions along the side and a notch at the end and I still think it looks like a big axe head despite what experts say.

I was visiting my grandparents one day when Uncle Fletcher announced we were going fishing. He had poles for us and led us through the woods to the hidden pond. He was a fun-loving sort who could tell tales so I was unsure if we were really going fishing.

I had worked in the surrounding fields for years, chopping and picking vegetables, priming and topping tobacco, tossing big watermelons and filling pickup trucks and trailers with silver queen corn, but I didn’t know there was a pond just yards away.

Uncle Fletcher, my grandmother’s brother, recently had moved into the small house where I spent the first five years of my life. By the time Uncle Fletcher moved in, the house had running water and the outhouse had been torn down. It was a cozy house for my uncle and aunt, whose blue Maxwell House snuff cup I can still picture on the wooden floor near a pot-bellied stove.

Uncle Fletcher led us to the shallow, leaf-filled pond. My grandfather, when he was a boy, helped scoop out the pond along a small creek branch. The dam eventually was breached and was rebuilt, but apparently had failed again, leaving just the little pond.

But as soon as our lines hit the water our bobbers began to twitch. The pond was apparently filled with small green sunfish. The fish we caught were not much longer than a finger. There may have been bigger fish, but the little ones were the quickest to our red wigglers.

Occasionally, however, our bobbers would slowly drift and never submerge.

“Turtles,” Uncle Fletcher said with a glee that made me wonder if this was more a turtle trip rather than fishing expedition.

We pulled in several eastern painted turtles, most of whom were not hooked but who stubbornly refused to open their mouths once the they had taken the bait. A couple were hooked in the foot.

Uncle Fletcher got excited when the big turtle bit. The rod bent almost into a U as my uncle wound in the line. “Snapper,” he said.

Gradually, we could see the turtle as he was dragged into a lighter patch of water. His front legs were extended into the mud at the bottom of the pond and he was grudgingly giving ground. “If he bites you, he won’t let go until it thunders,” Uncle Fletcher said.

No sooner than the words were uttered, the turtle seemed to rear back on its hind legs and the line snapped. He defiantly stared at us for a moment – I imagined him coming on up and biting me – before he slowly swam away, looking sort of like a submerged dinosaur with a spiky tail.

“Now that was fun,” Uncle Fletcher said as we wound our lines in and headed for the house with no fish, no turtles, but quite a memory.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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