Old slough didn’t look like much, but it spawned a lifelong love for fishing

Roger George fondly recalls fishing as a boy on a slough like this one on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Roger George fondly recalls fishing as a boy on a slough like this one on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Fresno Bee file

What motivated you to be an angler? Was it just something that was there from the beginning? Or was there a point where something special happened that affected you at a deep level, and it’s still there to this day?

For me, little ponds and old sloughs seem to have been where I found the world of beauty, simplicity and wonder that fishing creates.

The slough was a very old one that was only about 6 miles from our home. It was the kind that didn’t always have water in it, but during the irrigation season it filled up, then slowly dried up as the summer wore on. Covered by gnarled old scrubby trees and brush on the banks, the slough would end up with a minimal (if any) flow of water and potholes. Each hole was usually just a few feet deep at best, but you could carefully watch the surface and see the little waves the fish and other water creatures were making. It was a paradise for a young boy.

The weir was a fairly big one – the kind where they put the boards in between the concrete pillars depending on the flow. The slow trickle of water during the hot summer months usually created a small shallow pool behind the weir shaded by the trees – a perfect spot for a kid to imagine and discover a new universe. I can still, hear, smell and feel the excitement I had each time Dad let me take the old Ford down to this spot!

I would begin my adventure by walking over the top of the narrow weir that was about 10 feet high. It was dangerous enough, but I was farm kid! From above, I could typically see a few monstrous crawdads lumbering along in the shallow current behind the structure. They were fun to catch. They would greedily grab onto a pile of worms or the tail meat from another crawdad gently flopped near them with a fishing pole. The biggest problem was lifting them up to the top of the weir – that took skill and timing.

From there the next stop was heading to the little bank area behind the weir where I could be right by the shallow muddy water surrounded by fallen twisted wood. I found that taking a small hook and putting a piece of worm or crawdad tail on it, then casting it a few feet into the slowly swirling water, would bring strikes that were shocking. The little bluegill, crappie, catfish, bass and carp stacked in the pool were ravenous and they would hit with total abandon. It was exciting fishing that I never got tired of.

One time I even caught a half-pound bass in the pool on a crawler – it was memorable and unexpected. What else was lurking under that surface?

I always put the little guys back – they were just too pretty and perfect to take home. Have you ever really looked at a little bluegill carefully? They are beautiful. These miniature, finely detailed fish captured my imagination and I loved seeing them.

I began to imagine the rundown slough as a magical place where I found new treasures each time I visited. It was “my place” – few others bothered going to it.

Catching little fish in a muddy and forlorn backwater seems like an unusual way for a child to find the magic in fishing, but I saw it that way and its rough appeal still means something very special to me.

I think that for most of us, love of fishing begins with a special dream like that – one we never outgrow.

Never give up!

Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at rogergeorge8000@sbcglobal.net,

at facebook.com/Rogergeorgeguideservice and @StriperWars on Twitter.