The freshwater fisherman's paradise isn't big. It's a little pond, secret, musty, shrouded in woods and crawline with large mouth bass.
You've heard of these places and maybe you've been to one or two, but chances are it wasn't all you'd hoped. Maybe the day was wrong -- too cold, an east wind. Maybe the local kids had sneaked in and claimed the good fish.
Maybe they told you it was going to be big bass and all you could handle, and instead it was only bluegills and crappies. Maybe you're not sure any more that the real thing exists. But it does.
At Otter Pond, the sun shines on bass fishermen every day. Take it from one who's been there, and been back again to make sure it wasn't a dream.
The first time was years ago, before I knew paradise when it lurched up splendidly in front of me. But even a fool could see this pond was heaven -- six acres, spring-fed, clear, vigilantly protected, ringed by deep forest, rich with bass.
It was in sight of Chesapeake Bay, in a private community behind a guard gate where only residents and accompanied guests could go. Because it was on the bay, locals fished the nearby tidal water for rockfish, blues and trout and left the woods pond alone.
We took a canoe that idyllic, spring afternoon and caught one largemouth after another. They were good fish, but no giants. Then toward evening, as we paddled silently along a bank littered by fallen trees, I threw a brown diving lure toward shore and an immense bass flashed out, as long as my arm. You could see it in the clear water, a green torpedo on the prowl.
The bass missed the lure but lodged itself in some permanent place in my mind.
I waited for another invitation to Otter Pond, but the fellow who took me there drifted off somewhere and my acquaintances are few in private communities behind guard gates.
So when I heard about Colin Quinn, a charming, bearded housepainter and reputed new guru of Otter Pond, I gave up waiting and phoned him. "Sure," he said last week, "I'll take you in there. I've got three fish over four pounds and one over five this year.
"Meet me at the guard gate about quarter to three," said Quinn. "I'll knock off work early. That's all the time we'll need."
Quinn was on time. He sped down dirt roads in his Volkswagen, through the woods to a hill overlooking the pond. We squished on foot through a bog to the water, lugging our tackle.
He had a funky, aluminum duck-hunting boat hidden there. The day was warm and a little breezy. "It's going to be good," he said. "This is the second straight day over 80 degrees. My buddy Andy's already out there. He said he's had two fish up to the boat this afternoon that looked like five-pounders, but they both got off."
We paddled the clumsy boat to deep water. "No motors allowed on the pond," said Quinn. "Not even electric motors." In the absence of outboard fumes, there was the old, sweet pond smell, like a boathouse rotting away in the shade.
We fished rubber worms in the deep middle without a tap, then set off toward the far side in the sun, hoping the bass had decided to move into the shallows.
It was sweaty work, paddling the rattletrap duck boat with its mismatched oars.
The shoreline was cluttered with fallen trees, just as it had been years before. You could see where the trunks made out into the water and the bare branches poked up 30 or 40 feet off shore. Bass heaven. I tied on a chartreuse spinnerbait, casted to shore and cranked it back.
Before long, a cast plopped perfectly alongside a fallen tree. I turned the reel handle evenly but the lure came to a hard halt five yards off the bank. I pulled back, felt the sweet tug of heavy life and a bass came lumbering out and shook its head, throwing spray.
"A good one," said Quinn, and it was -- more than four pounds.
It was 4 o'clock.
Two and a half hours later, we struggled onto shore in the fading light with eight bass totaling 32 1/2 pounds, including the three Andy Wendell landed alongside us. That's an average of more than four pounds, a standard no pond north of Florida would find easy to match.
The biggest, caught by Quinn on a rubber worm, was 5 1/2 pounds; one of Wendell's was 5 pounds 2 ounces, and all the rest save one were more than 3.
"That's my fault," said Quinn, shaking his head apologetically over the 2 1/2-pounder. "Normally, we don't keep anything under 3 pounds, but it's early in the year. I haven't got my eye yet."
Gaining access to places like Otter Pond is about seven parts blind luck and another three perseverance. That is to say, if anybody ever is crazy enough to invite you to a place where three people catch seven bass over three pounds in 2 1/2 hours, attach yourself by chain and padlock to the nearest tree and eat the key.
Meantime, while you wait, you might drive over to Lewes, Del., or Ocean City this week and catch one of the party boats that go out daily after mackerel. By midweek last week, docks at both places reportedly were knee deep in Boston mackerel, which are migrating north.
The run generally lasts two to three weeks, and it's the only crack mid-Atlantic anglers get at these delicious sea fish.
For information and sailing times, call Talbot Street Pier in Ocean City or Fisherman's Wharf in Lewes.