I had dated the girl for a couple of years when it was time for the big test.
We were heading from Virginia to her family reunion in South Georgia.
Her brother pulled me aside to prepare me for what I was about to experience.
“Bring your fishing gear,” Jimmy said.
I knew their dad lived on a lake. But it was the farm's ponds, not the lake, that offered the best fishing.
Ponds can spoil a person, and these little potholes took that to the extreme. They were filled with heavy bass and hand-sized bluegills that would wantonly smack poppers like they’d never felt a hook, which most probably hadn’t.
That girl and I eventually got married, and we’ve been back to Georgia quite a bit over the past 25 years.
The complexion of those trips has varied. Often they are celebratory. Sometimes they are not.
The ponds are always there.
Our most recent trip to Georgia was of the happy variety, prompted by a family Christmas party.
It was going to be a quick trip. Would there be time for fishing? I hoped so. I threw in the gear.
Even in the ponds, December fishing can be challenging. So I hedged my bets by hauling along some standard tackle, not just fly gear.
I was also thinking about the rest of the crew. Mary and the girls can and do fly fish, but they’re more comfortable with standard gear. And that’s another thing about fishing down there. It’s usually not a solo deal.
I have gone out on my own, but it’s more fun with company.
No day has been better than the one on which the twins caught their first fish.
They were not quite 4 years old and it had been tempting to take them fishing before that trip. But I waited. Their grandpa, Chick, was a fishing nut and I knew it would mean a lot to him if the twins’ first fish came from one of his ponds. When he helped the girls reel in bass that hot July morning I’m certain he was prouder than I was.
That same trip he and I went back to the farm because he wanted me to check out the patch job he’d done on an aluminum jonboat he kept at one of his ponds.
I affixed a junky electric trolling motor to the boat and set off as he watched from solid ground.
The patch seemed to hold but I needed to give it some time.
I had fishing gear so started making a few casts and catching bass, which seemed extra gullible in the section of the pond reachable only by boat. How gullible?
As I motored from one spot to the next, a bass smacked a lure dangling next to the boat and yanked the rod and reel into the water.
Without thinking I dove off the back of the boat and lunged for the disappearing rod. I nabbed the rod but, having neglected to turn off the motor, watched helplessly while standing in the waist-deep water as the boat powered away unmanned and eventually lodged against the far bank, the little motor churning up mud as the prop continued to spin.
After reeling in and releasing the 2-pound bass I slogged over to the boat, climbed in and sheepishly made my way back to shore.
“At least we know the boat doesn’t leak,” said Chick, shaking his head in mock disgust.
That’s the pond we went back to this time. Chick wasn’t with us. He passed away about 5 years ago.
The boat is still there.
“Do you guys want to go out in it?” I asked the girls.
They looked at the dirty, dented craft, shook their heads and said in unison, “Uh, no.”
Instead they stood on shore, casting far out into the pond and hooking bass with almost unfair regularity.
Eventually I would make a few casts with the fly rod and try to dredge up a largemouth or two with a marabou jig or streamer.
But for a while I was content to just watch and smile.