No one in our family could fish very well. We hoped this might change after Daddy hired a bulldozer operator to dig a new pond for our expanding cattle herd in the early 1950s. The pond was dug between two gently sloping hills in the cow pasture, sure to get a lot of runoff from our rains.
Sure enough, before long the filling pond was several feet deep and Daddy and my older brother Nolen Robert stocked it with about 500 bass fingerlings. As the fish grew so did our hopes of a steady fish supply to supplement our supplies of homegrown beef, pork, and chicken.
But try as we might, none of us ever learned to catch fish very well. My cousin by marriage, Cragon Baggett, who lived nearby, would take me fishing and when he did, we usually caught fish. This was great fun. But when I would go fishing on my own or with Daddy or Nolen Robert, we’d usually come up empty-handed. We just lacked the knack for fishing. We were better at hunting small game, but that strays from the point of this story.
There was one memorable exception when I was wildly successful fishing. Uncle Sterling, who was married to Daddy’s sister, Aunt Edna, told me that he had a lot of fish in a pond in his goat pasture and that I should try my hand at catching some. Soon afterward I dug some worms, gathered up my gear, and walked over to his pond, maybe a mile away along three gravel roads. About fifty goats were milling around the pond, but with my arrival they sauntered off to graze and stare into the distance as they are wont to do. I was relieved that none of them came over to try to eat my shirt.
Within minutes of casting into the pond, something big hit my bait and I immediately felt a sharp tug on the line. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. Rather than reeling in the fish, I decided to put my rod and reel over my shoulder and walk down the bank from the pond and just drag the fish out of the water far enough that it could not flop back in when I unhooked it. When I got back up to where the fish was, it was about a seven-pound catfish—by far the biggest fish I had ever caught!
But sadly, it was encrusted in dried goat turds that were lying around the edge of the pond. Having no appetite for the fish at that point, I freed it back into the pond, packed up my gear in a mixture of excitement and mild disgust, and headed home.
At that time and place, we never gave a thought to the hazards we speak of today associated with polluted runoff water sustaining and tainting the fish we ate. Nor did we worry about taking a drink from a small stream or eating our lunches and snacks in the fields with dirty hands. But the big encrusted fish I caught that day went over the line in my mind.
Now I wonder if a big fish caught in a small pond is really a big fish. This could confound a philosopher.