When I was a kid, in the '40s, I lived and played sandlot baseball in the small village of North Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod. Just beyond rightfield glimmered the blue, gemlike surface of a pond with the grandiose name of Cedar Lake. One afternoon I quit playing baseball and simply gave in to the siren call of that patch of watery brilliance. That was enough. I watched the rest of my team's baseball games that summer while still fishing for perch and, especially, for smallmouth bass from a small boat.
Seven years later, I had pretty much forgotten about fishing, or so I thought. That was the summer of 1950, a few months before I would enlist in the Army. I was mostly playing golf in those last months of adolescent freedom. I played on a course called Coonamessett in Hatchville, a tiny village in the town of Falmouth. Although Hatchville is on the Cape, it is well inland, in scrub oak and pine country, and the terrain is dotted with kettle ponds, marvelous freshwater remnants of the Ice Ages.
From the 1st and 18th greens of Coonamessett you can see one of these sandy ponds. It's called Coonamessett Pond and it has a fringe of boulders strewn along its white shoreline.
I believe it was the hilly point on Coonamessett Pond, so reminiscent of a little peninsula on Cedar Lake, that caused me to drive the long, winding stretch of sandy road to a cottage of rustic simplicity on the hill overlooking the pond. The owner of the cottage was a woman in her 40's who lived by herself. She looked me up and down warily with bright blue eyes before she invited me inside.
When the woman realized I was not a summer person, but rather a "townie," she relaxed and listened to my proposal: I would give her half my cleaned catch for the use of her rowboat, which was hauled up on a little dock that jutted out from the point. She accepted my offer with the stipulation that I also throw the cleaned fish skeletons into a small wild animal feeding area on her property. "For my raccoons," she said.
A few days later, as the sun set gloriously, I impaled a fairy shrimp on a number-10 hook and lofted it out with my fly rod from the boat. There were several split shot pinched to the leader to take the bait down to the edge of a gravel shelf that I could see in the clear water just off the point. Then I retrieved the shrimp, slowly raising the tip of my split-bamboo rod as I drew in line.
It was d�j� vu. I felt the hard resistance that I remembered from a similar evening years earlier on Cedar Lake, where I had caught my first smallmouth. The line began to pulsate and steadily move away from the boat. I brought the rod tip up sharply, remembering the touch that would set the hook without putting excessive strain on the knots and leader.
The loose fly line on the bottom of the skiff paid out. The big fish ran straight away from the boat, the length of a wedge shot, and burst through the surface shaking its head. The bass was in control and I could only try to hang on.
The fish doubled back and suddenly I had slack line coiled about me, the sure sign of a tyro. Now the big fish passed by the skiff, not more than two feet under the surface; it was huge, with barred sides of golden and olive hues. I had never seen such a large bass.
The slack line in the water and at my feet in the boat disappeared again as the fish moved off on another long run. Soon the 90 feet of fly line was stripped from my reel and I could see the backing.