It started at the hot ponds

John L. Sloan

It started at the hot ponds

A warm spring day and an average Center Hill smallmouth

It started with days at the Hot Ponds. I was maybe seven or eight and I ran with an older crowd. My partners were as old as 13. We fished in any weather. The main target was carp because that is what was in the Hot Ponds.
The Hot Ponds were the out flow ponds from an electric plant located on the outskirts of Lincoln, IL. That is where I started my fishing career. I progressed from a cane pole to a casting rod and to one of the earliest open face spinning reels. I caught fish with all of them.
There was a lot of competition among us for the best secret formula dough balls. That was the bait for carp. I made mine from Wheaties mixed with salt and honey. I kept it in a big lump and just pinched off enough to make a good dough ball. The carp liked it.
We caught a lot of fish in the Hot Ponds, Dead Lake, Salt and Sugar Creeks. We either rode out bikes or walked to all of them and spent quite a bit of our free time fishing, no matter what the weather. I recall very clearly fishing one day and having a rough time walking home in a true blizzard. I do not recall my parents ever worrying about me.
Then, there came wonderful days of Louisiana. I either hunted or fished just about any time I wasn’t in school or chasing girls. Still, I used either a cane pole, casting rod or open face spinning rod. My friends again were an older crowd, in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. We fished bayous, lakes, rivers, ponds and sloughs. Mostly we fished for bass, white bass, crappie, catfish and bream.
If I didn’t ride with them in jeeps or trucks and fish from a boat, I either walked, rode my bike or my horse. There was water everywhere and I got good at catching fish of all sorts. We spent many days and nights at the camp back in the swamp and we ate a lot of fish.
Then, I moved to Texas. I hated my first few years in Texas. But when I could, I went fishing and usually alone. I fished for bass and sometimes, white bass. I caught a lot of fish.
My later years in Texas, I lived in a two-room, stone house built in the 1860’s. It had no electricity or running water but it was sound and heated with a wood burning cook stove and a fireplace. It had survived Comanche attacks and prairie fires. It was in the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.
I lived there with an old rodeo hand, Bill Satterwhite. I was about 18 and tough. We day-worked local ranches Monday-Wednesday and went to rodeos Thursday-Sunday. We ate a lot of fish. As I recall, the rent was five dollars a week. Most weeks we could pay it. We called it The Fort. Deer meat and fish, Monday through Wednesday, chicken fried steak Thursday-Sunday. A balanced diet for sure. Pretty much the life of a real cowboy.
Wyoming provided a different kind of fishing for a different kind of fish. The South Fork of the Powder River was full of trout and Charlie Winters and I caught a lot of them. I met him my second day in Casper, WY and we hit it off. We were both on a rodeo scholarship to Casper College. I moved there when I was 25, and Charlie was the first person I met. Within 10-minutes he found out, I too liked to fish. An hour later, we were on the Powder, casting for trout and picking up arrowheads.
We fished different waters but the South Fork of the Powder was our favorite. We did 100% of our fishing by walking the bank or wading and used open face spinning reels and four-pound test. Mostly we caught rainbows and browns and plenty of them were in the 2 to 4-pound range. We ate a lot of trout and I liked them. That is strange because I don’t now.
I carried a spinning rod and small tackle box with me when I was on the road going to rodeos. I fished whenever I had time and passed a piece of good-looking water. A few times, I would be checked by a game warden but they never once wrote me up for no license. I guess they understood.
The first time I fished Center Hill, I became addicted to smallmouth bass. For a stretch of years, I would fish for nothing else and regarded a largemouth as a semi-trash fish. I became a 6-pound snob. If you used any line heavier than 6-pound test, you were a boor.
My two main fishing partners were Harold Dotson and Chuck Wilson. Harold owned a large mobile home parked at Cove Hollow Dock and I lived there for a while. I also fished Percy Priest, Dale Hollow and Old Hickory but the Hill was my favorite.
The last few years I have become just a fisherman, maybe even a perch jerker. I caught lunker bass and bream down at White Oak Plantation in Alabama. Here, I fished for eating fish. There is a chance the two big lakes down there, the ones that are producing bass over 11-pounds on a regular basis, may once again be available to me to do some limited guiding.
Here, my fishing now, is for whatever hits a lure. Bass, crappie, whatever hits a lure is what I am fishing for. I even caught a 34-pound drum on four-pound line some years ago.
So, that is my fishing history. It started at the Hot Ponds and has taken place all across the United States and Canada. I learned from it all and enjoyed it all. I still do and probably will until I die.
A few years ago, I made a terrible mistake. I sold my boat, thinking I would never be able to use it again. Now I am healthy and badly need a boat. I should buy one but I just cannot bring myself to spend the money. I guess fishing has made me cheap.
It is just about time to put new line on all the rods. Of course, all I use is four and six, all my rods but one is open face, and I have not used the casting rod in a couple years.

You know, this would be a fine day to sort tackle boxes and put new line on the reels. Catch y’all later.

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