he ocean is grand and the mountains are a thrill, but nice things come in small packages too, outdoors as well as in.
It's rare treat indeed to gain access to the mysteries of some little pond or patch of land, where we're left to our own devices to decide what's there and how to approach it.
We accepted with great glee an invitation last weekend to thin the burgeoning fish population of a friend's farm pond on 10 acres he owns in Fauquier (Va.) County.
This fellow, a coworker at the office, picked up the little tract a year or so ago. Since then he and his wife have developed a going business raising goats, cows, chickens, barnyard geese and fat, gruntling pigs.
The survey their little kingdom from a 200-year-old log house high on a hill. At evening the fowl scurry to roosts in old hardwood trees and three pet peacocks squawk and howl like watchdogs when anything unfamiliar stumbles into their lair.
It's a fine, sturdy place in the rolling green foothills of the Blue Ridge, and one of its best features is the pond at the foot of the hill, the second in a string of seven murky impoundments interconnected by underground waterways.
Our friend, a newcomer to country life, begged to know what was in the pond and how to "manage" it.
"A guy came by a couple of weeks ago and asked if he could fish it," he said. "I watched him. He had one of those long, whippy poles. It was unreal. He kept throwing it in the shallow end and everytime he pulled it out he had another little fish. I want you to show me how to do that."
Of course it's not quite that simple. But since he was having a picnic last weekend we agreed to try to provide fish for a fish fry.
From what he told us we deducted that the bulk of the population was bluegills, also called sunfish or bream. Hesaid there were some skinny, longer fish, too, and we guessed these were largemouth bass.
I've caught bluegills in my time, but never actually trying to. Meat fishing for these tasty, hand-sized scrappers was something new.
Bluegills have tiny mouths, so the first thing on the shopping list was tiny hooks - salmon egg size. A fishing pal said bluegills will always bit worms, and small garden worms in particular, so we picked up two dozen.
For sporting purposes we brought some tiny spinnerbaits and small popping bugs to use with a fly rod.
The pond is about 150 feet long and 100 feet across. It's 20 feet deep at the dam and about two feet at the broad, shallow end. The best sight of all was four overhanging willows with piles of brush beneath them. Perfect fish holders.
We went straight for the trees at the deep end and rigged worms three feet below a bobber. It didn't take long before the corks dipped and bluegills were making their strong but short-lived runs for freedom.
From time to time we'd hook a larger bass, maybe 12 inches at best, and we kept the biggest of these. Later we switched to spinner baits and trailed them along the shorelines, and after success with that we tried the fly rod, which proved best of all. We watched happily as the popping bug slurped across the surface, and when it passed some underwater obstruction we'd see a satisfying swirl as bass or bluegill broke surface and gobbled the imitation bug.
By midafternoon we had a handsome platter of 18 fish. From the house we heard the chatter of the guests and the blasting strains of Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt over the stereo.
We trudged up the hill with our stringer and set to work cleaning. The city visitors were properly disgusted as we stripped off heads and guts and fed them to the pigs.
Then, with a handsome platter of scaled and cleaned fish, we approached our hostess.
"What," she shrieked, "am I supposed to do with these?"
It turns out nobody believed we'd actually succeed, and while we were flailing away on the water they'd been stuffing themselves on weiners and beer.
Some fish fry.
Farm ponds bound in our area, and they can provide fantastic fishing, particularly for youngsters. These ponds are generally too full of fish for their own good, and farmers often are delighted to give strangers permission to thin them out.
So if you're driving along a country road and see a prosperous looking pond, give it a try. Just be sure toask first.