Clouds in the distance foretold the ever-present chance of summer thunderstorms. This was a day when an angler could stay close to the shore and still get in a bit of fishing, able to duck any rain that arrived.
Under cover of a boathouse at the end of a long pier, Vinson Bowers loaded light spinning gear and a fly rod into a wooden boat. The clacking of a metal winch seemed shockingly loud considering the idyllic surroundings as he lowered the boat to the water. The only other sounds were the hoots of a barred owl and the quacking of a flock of mallards.
“I haven’t fished The Mill Pond for years,” said Vinson Bowers, a 69-year-old heavy equipment salesman from New Bern. “My father built the Big House over there, and we moved into it in 1958 when I was ten years old and I began fishing with my grandfather when his buddies could not go.”
Once the boat was in the water, Bowers set a 12-volt battery in the stern and clamped on an electric trolling motor. Soon, the boat hummed underneath a bridge that connected an island with the mainland in front of a smaller, one-story house.
“My mother built the bridge after she came home from a trip to the orient,” he said. “That smaller building is the camp house where my grandfather and his friends used to gather for hunting, fishing and playing cards.”
Not many kids are lucky enough to have a 68-acre private lake to fish in their front yard, let alone one with a hunting camp on its shoreline and while living in a “Big House” with floor-to-cathedral-ceiling glass windows overlooking the sparking water.
Bowers’ grandfather, Ernest Vinson, acquired The Mill Pond after the Great Depression. The pond was built by Valentine Richardson before the Civil War to provide power for a sawmill and a gristmill. It remained a lumber mill until the Great Depression, when it was idled. At that time, Vinson ran the mill’s company store in the community called Brunswick, which gave him the financial wherewithal to acquire the lake and property on which he eventually built the Big House.
In 1928, the camp house became the home of the Brunswick Walking and Drinking Club, where Ernest Vinson and his friends gathered to fish, hunt quail and socialize. Noted members included Chick du Pont and George Weymouth of E.I du Pont De Nemours and Company, Sid Scott Sr. of Continental Can Company, Bill Denham of General Motors corp., Josiah Marvel, a Delaware Attorney, Bruce Thomson of Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and Dr. Richard Whitaker, a local surgeon. In the years since, the camp has hosted many famous people for hunting and fishing and its gardens have served as venue for many local charity fundraisers and other events. In 2015, Bowers wrote a book, “The Mill Pond – A Southern Legacy” to showcase and preserve its place in North Carolina history
“The original boathouse was in front of the camp,” he said. “Rick Edwards bought the property several years ago and built the new boathouse where he could see it from the Big House. Now, I am a member of The Mill Pond hunting club.”
Back in the day, Bowers was along to provide paddle power, as his grandfather used fly rods and bait casting rods spooled with Dacron line to catch bass and sunfish.
“I was impatient,” he said. “But, he said it would happen, just wait. He was serious about fishing, so we spoke in low tones until a fish struck. Then he would shout ‘Get your hands on the net!’ and I would net the fish. He mostly fished for sunfish first – copperhead bream, redbreast sunfish and warmouth –with a fly rod and a popping bug. When it got close to dark, he switched to bass tackle. He would save a certain stump until he had fished some other spots for an hour or more. Then he would say a bass was waiting over there and go to the stump and catch a bass, most of the time.”
Other fish they landed included bowfin, chain pickerel, catfish and crappie. Sometimes his grandfather would point out a snake resting on a stump, or an alligator or turtle.
Bowers cast a beetle grub spinner around the bridge with no luck. Switching to a fly rod, he soon caught a bass. He also caught a warmouth and several bluegill sunfish. One of them was an adult male with characteristic copper colored head scales.
“This fish really brings back the memories,” he said. “It was a wonderful place for a kid to grow up.”
The wind grew powerful, billowing the Spanish moss curtains hanging from the enormous cypress trees. The sky turned inky black and thunder rumbled overhead as lightning streaked the sky. Bowers headed back to the boathouse, secured the boat and stowed his gear in his SUV just before the rain came. A whale of a thunderstorm would make his drive home memorable, another event shaping The Mill Pond’s legacy.