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Mill Pond Season

   At the risk of coming across as an old geezer (which I am), I am going to offer an observation of our modern society. It’s that, for all the technological advances and comforts we enjoy today, we are poorer in some respects. A lot of young people in America, for example, will never experience the sweet anticipation of waiting for a mixer of home-made ice cream to be churned to perfection on a hot summer day, and then indulging in the delectable concoction it produced, complete with pieces of real banana or peach mixed right in.

Most young people nowadays will never enjoy the refreshing satisfaction of drinking water directly from a garden hose after playing outside in the summer, and doing so with Mama’s blessing and no thought of evil substances that may be lurking there. In this age of “helicopter parents,” they will never relish the sense of freedom that accompanied running out the door for a day of adventure and hearing only, “Be home in time for supper,” behind them. And, fewer youngsters than ever before will experience the special charms of a day, or at least a few hours, spent at a mill pond.

Once common throughout the Southeast, mill ponds were impounded in earlier eras to provide power for grinding grain into meal. A landowner with a suitable site would construct a dam across a small stream and build an adjacent mill house. Water flowing across a large wheel would turn a series of gears attached to a mill stone which, in turn, would render corn, wheat or other grain into a consistency that could be used for animal or human food. The miller generally took a portion of the meal as his payment for services.

In many places, a mill pond would develop a character and a purpose that went beyond agribusiness. The cool shade of towering hardwoods that typically graced the mill house grounds was a wonderful place for a picnic, a family reunion or just some serious loafing on a warm day. It was made-to-order for courting by young folks who arrived in horse-drawn buggies or automobiles, depending on the decade. Fishing has always been the primary recreation at most mill ponds, though, and still is on those that remain.

Mill ponds consist of a few to as much as several hundred acres. Most of those in North Carolina’s coastal plain are fairly shallow – 4 to 8 feet – except at the dam and have shorelines that are labyrinth of tupelo gums, junipers, cypress and lily pads. In most cases the picturesque mill houses have disappeared, victims of decay and “progress.” A few have been maintained or restored, either for aesthetic reasons or to be used for tourist-oriented businesses. A few,  like Atkinson’s Mill, established in 1757 near Selma, N.C., still produce meal that is sold in grocery stores.

Although bank fishing is an option, the best way to probe a mill pond’s depths is from a small boat. A johnboat, canoe or kayak is ideal. Gasoline outboards are usually not needed and, on some ponds, not allowed. An electric trolling motor or a sculling paddle is usually sufficient.

The same bass and panfish lures that are effective on coastal plain rivers will work in mill ponds. Shallow-running minnow imitations, spinner baits, plastic worms and noisy topwater plugs will all get results with bass. Popping bugs, in larger sizes for bass and smaller for bream, provide a lot of sport on fly rods. In-line spinners, like Mepps, are especially effective on chain pickerel (“jacks”) that are staples in most ponds. No matter what’s used, the key is usually to work it as close to the standing or submerged cover as possible. Some of the best spots are around stumps, logs and other obstructions located some distance from shore.

Many anglers feel the best way to fish a mill pond is with the same methods their ancestors used in days gone by. Those folks would park their mule-drawn wagons in the shade of the trees and fish a spell while waiting for their grain to be ground. Their tackle consisted of cane poles with minnows, red worms or crickets for bait. The same type of outfit will get the job done on a mill pond today and may be the very best approach. In any case, early summer is the season to try it.

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SEOPA Awards

Eufaula, Alabama – Members, guests and supporters of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) gathered in Eufaula, Alabama Oct. 14-17, 2015 for the organization’s 51st annual fall conference. SEOPA’s membership includes many of the most talented, well-known and prolific outdoor communicators in the country, and the group is considered by many in the outdoor industry as the premier regional organization in the country. This talented group met for four days to hone their skills, learn more about the industry, and network with fellow communicators and industry representatives.

In addition to a wide variety of workshops, clinics and seminars, an important part of each SEOPA conference is the prestigious Excellence in Craft (EIC) Awards. These awards are presented each year to members whose work represents the “cream of the crop” in outdoor communications. EIC categories include newspaper, magazine, book, electronic publications, photography, video and audio programming, entrepreneurial projects and special recognitions.

At the 2015 SEOPA gathering, New Bern, NC outdoor writer, Ed Wall was presented with the first place Excellence in Craft Award for an Electronic Publication story. The award-winning article, titled “The Fishy Smell of Spring’s Arrival,” appeared in the New Bern “Sun Journal’s” online edition on Thursday, June 5, 2014. It described the art, science and magic of smelling bream beds in springtime ponds and other waterbodies.

Wall was also recognized by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative as that organization’s “Outdoor Communicator of the Year.” That award was for a three-part series on the decline of bobwhite quail populations in North Carolina and efforts being made to bring those iconic game birds back in their native range. Those articles ran in the “Sun Journal” from 12/25/14 to 1/8/15.

SEOPA EIC award winnersDSC_5585

Ed Wall – front row, second from left

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Getting Started

Getting Started cover - 1

Hunting with a retriever, whether for mourning doves, ducks, geese or any other game bird, is not a competition between hunters or dogs. It’s quiet moments spent scratching a close friend’s ears while he rests his head on your leg and you both scan the horizon for approaching birds. It’s the sudden, intense thrill when a flock of doves appears as if by magic, dipping and swerving as they sail over a picked corn field. It’s the involuntary crouch you assume when the “twee-twee” of widgeon sounds directly over your duck blind and your dog peers upward to locate the source of the noise. It’s the incredible sense of satisfaction and love you feel when a dog you trained plows through a river’s chop to retrieve a wing-tipped mallard that fell beyond the farthest decoys, or returns after a long search carrying a dove you feared might be lost in thick cover.

The competition in hunting is between hunters and the game they pursue, and well-trained retrievers are their staunchest allies. Many hunters would no more think of going hunting without their Chesapeake, Golden Retriever, Lab, Boykin or other fetching dog than they would without their favorite shotgun. The role those dogs play in the process depends to a great extent on how they’ve been trained and that is the purpose of “Getting Started.” It’s designed to facilitate a hunter in preparing a young retriever for the field or, if he wishes, for formal hunt tests such as those sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The latter are not competitions per se but rather measurements of a dog’s ability at various points and an indication of where he and his master are in their training.

“Getting Started” is dedicated to those retrievers – Beau, Duke, Murphy, Kipper, Moses and scores of others – and to the men and women who love them. It was based on notes made by John Weller, one of the nation’s top retriever trainers, over decades of producing quality retrievers, including national champions. It utilizes a format that takes a trainer through hypothetical but realistic scenarios and explains how to train for different behaviors in various situations. It is, in its essence, a work book that will help a hunter and his favorite hunting partner get the most out of their days in the field.

A limited number of copies of “Getting Started” are available from the author for $9.95 (incl. shipping and handling). Send a check or money order to 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NC  28562. The author can also be contacted by email at edwall@embarqmail.com or by phone at 252-671-3207.

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“When the Bobber Jiggles”

Book Cover - 1

Cane poles and coffee cans full of red worms; early morning in a hunting camp with gentle rain drumming on the tin roof; a bird dog, floating ghost-like through a stand of long leaf pines; tales and saddle sores, missteps and milestones you love to recall. Those and other topics comprise “When the Bobber Jiggles,” a new collection of tales and reflections of life in the outdoors by award-winning author, Ed Wall.

Reading “When the Bobber Jiggles” is akin to sitting by a campfire with an old friend recollecting how things used to be and ought to be. And, on occasion, stretching the veracity of a story to the breaking point. “Hunting With Henry,” “Bear Hunting’s ‘Other’ Challenges,” “Old Fishermen May Be an Endangered Species” – these are a few of the chapters that make up the 142-page, soft-bound book. They will take the reader back to places close to his heart in some instances and tickle his funny bone in others. Whether he is a hunter, fisherman, boater, camper, or just someone who enjoys messing around in the back forty or on a secluded waterway, there are situations to which he can relate.

Published by River City Publishers, “When the Bobber Jiggles” is written in a format that allows the reader to enjoy a chapter or two, put it aside, then pick it back up and not miss a beat. He will undoubtedly want to go back and revisit some short stories and reflections. Copies (personalized if requested) are available for $12.95 (plus $3 shipping and handling if mailed) from the author at 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NC  28562. Ed Wall can be contacted for more information or special orders at 252-671-3207 or by email at edwall@embarqmail.com.

 

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Out n’ About

Ed Wall has a Master of Arts degree from East Carolina University with a specialty in Recreational Geography. His Master’s thesis was a study of licensed, commercial shooting preserves in eastern North Carolina. That topic was selected because it would satisfy the university’s requirements and also allow the author to spend a lot of time messing around with bird dogs and quail hunters, two groups for which he has great affection.

For thirty years, Ed taught Science while coaching football, track and cross country at the high school level. During that same time, he was writing for various outdoor publications, beginning as a gun dog columnist with the Carolina Adventure magazine. Ed is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) and has produced the weekly outdoor page for Freedom Press and Halifax Media newspapers in New Bern, Jacksonville and Kinston, NC since 1997. Other outdoor periodical credits include Wildlife in North Carolina, Southern Sporting Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, Field Trial Magazine, Fly Fisherman, North Carolina Sportsman, American Field and Ducks Unlimited Quarterly. He is the author of “Getting Started: A Workbook for Started Retrievers,” published by Atlantic Publishing Co. in 1998 and, most recently, “When the Bobber Jiggles – Tales and Reflections of Life in the Outdoors.” Recognitions include SEOPA Excellence in Craft awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Married with two children (one a Wildlife Commission technician, the other a dolphin/sea lion trainer), Ed is a native of Johnston County, NC and a long-time resident of New Bern, NC. He is a product of eastern North Carolina’s tobacco fields, back roads, black water streams and pork barbecue. When not writing or playing golf (very poorly), he can generally be found hunting, fishing, boating or romping with his dogs. Visitors to this site are invited to come along as Ed explores the backwoods and byways of the southeast and occasionally other areas. The express purpose of many trips will be to bag a whitetail deer, trick a tom turkey, catch a mess of bluegills or do battle with a bragging-size red drum. In some cases, though, it will simply be to consider the merits of a really neat sunset, remember an old friend who shared his love of the outdoors, or maybe spin a tale or two. Come on aboard. Stow your gear under the bow, grab something refreshing out of the cooler and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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