The pond sits hard by the car-clogged shoulder of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, just across from a rusting railroad yard and directly below the flight path of National Airport jets that block out the sun as they scream past.

Scenic it is not. But Roach's Run, a 120-acre tidal pond of the Potomac River, is reputed to support some very sassy largemouth bass.

"I wouldn't want my sister to marry anything that lived in here," said Bill Allman, a.k.a. Mr. Science, a local expert on Irish whiskey and Big Bang theories who had agreed to accompany me on this urban fishing trip, the last I would make as the outdoors writer of this newspaper.

For three years, since I lucked into this fur-lined job, I had planned to fish Roach's Run. The juxtaposition of fishing, the sport of rural reverie, and this brackish body of water, hemmed in by so much evidence of urban locomotion, was appealing.

But because it was so easy a story, like the plump goose with clipped wings that lived on this pond 50 years ago, I left it alone. It became my rainy-day option, a blue-chip stock in the story bank.

There are dozens of good stories I planned to do and didn't. I put each of the ideas in a thick folder that I kept on my desk. Periodically, particularly when deadline pressure demanded that I not, I would page through the ideas and imagine the sun-dappled places they would take me.

Brumley Gap was such a place. The town of 300 people in rural Virginia whipped a utility company. For five years, the townspeople battled to keep the Appalachian Power Co. from damming a valley and inundating 139 families. They held regular meetings at the Davy Crockett Raccoon Club and raised $140,000 through bake sales, turkey shoots and raffles.

"We kept them at bay. We slowed them up," said Sam Dickenson, a local schoolteacher who led the fight.

At the other end of the scale is Rural Retreat, Va., a town that has had a disproportionate share of bad luck. Last year, a fire destroyed an entire downtown block in the small town, including the drugstore where legend has it the soft drink Dr. Pepper was created.

A few months earlier, the state-owned, 90-acre lake that brought anglers and their money to the town and provided recreation for the locals, got some bad publicity when officials admitted that small crappie stocked by a fisherman had taken over the lake at the expense of the largemouth bass. The lake had just recovered after being drained for three years to repair an earthen dam.

You could learn things about winning and losing from fishing with folks in those towns.

The best thing about this job is sharing time with people who are happy to be where you find them -- charterboat captains like Jim Shupe and Mike Sullivan on the Chesapeake Bay and my favorite fishing guide, Charlie Taylor, who called me one morning after I had insulted his beloved Potomac River catfish. Taylor gave me my first aquatic tour of the Potomac and taught me that catfish deserve love, too.

The outdoors is not altogether great. The farther afield you go, the more evidence you encounter of how much we have despoiled the land. And I have met people by field and stream with whom I would not want to share a large bus.

But the great majority of folks who hunt, fish, climb and hike are made better by the pursuit. Many have been extremely unselfish in sharing their knowledge with me.

Dick Blalock, a retired State Department official and passionate fly fisherman, introduced me to the joys of trout. Ben Schley, also retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showed me how to stand and pole a canoe through rapids. The Fletcher brothers, Carl Sullivan, Dick Teehan . . . the list of people I have had the good luck to spend time with during the last three years is long.

I had time to think about them last week at Roach's Run. The water was low and the fishing slow. Tern gulls stood in the middle of the pond as Allman and I flailed at the water with plastic grubs. Thirty-five years ago, this pond was described by a local writer as a "treasure of wild life." Wood ducks, gulls, hawks, herons, ospreys, even bald eagles were counted as permanent residents.

The pond still attracts wildlife, but the jet traffic has scared most of the birds to more pleasant surroundings. We did see a half-dozen mallards as we paddled our canoe around the pond. And near the end of the day, when our fishing was fueled more by habit than expectation, Allman hooked a largemouth bass that bent the tip of his flyrod into the water.

"I think that's the biggest fish I ever caught," said Allman, after he had thrown his catch back into the pond. "God, was that a great feeling."