The Magic of the Old Mill Pond

By: Frank Jones

It was an unusually cool July morning when I got in my car, Twin Troller in tow, to make the short 4-mile trip to the local mill pond. I was there at first light and there was a low mist over the water. Like so many mornings I have visited this pond, I was the only one there. I deposited the $6 fishing fee in the honor system box located on the back door of a long since closed local store. Then I pulled up to the primitive launch ramp and prepared my Twin Troller for the morning’s fishing adventure. I don’t know that you would call it a ritual, but before heading to one of my “sweet spots” I’ll stand for a minute on the old worn pier next to the ramp and take in it’s quiet beauty. Of all the small water locations I love to fish there is nothing quite like an old mill pond. For me there is almost something magical about them.       

Before the invention of steam and then electric power, the force of water powered the early years of the industrial revolution. During the pre-Civil War years most inland centers of commerce revolved around the local mill pond. They provided power for anything from sawmills to gristmills and were the economic engine of the communities in which they were located. Advances in industry did away with the water powered mills and mother nature’s storms and just old age has done away with the majority of the dams and mill ponds that powered them. Sadly the history of those places have also passed away. Luckily this is not the case of the local pond I was visiting this morning. It’s known as Panther Lake, is about 100 acres in size, and was once the largest lake in central North Carolina’s Wake county. I’ve seen photos of the lake from the 1930’s that showed hundreds of 

folks sharing the shade of old oak trees on a Sunday afternoon. Those glory days are long gone now, but old Panther Lake still holds those memories of a grand past.

The bright side of the remaining mill ponds is that they are steeped in similar history, and for us fisherman offer some of the best small water adventures that can be found. If you live anywhere in the eastern part of the US, you can probably locate one within a short drive, and find fishing fun for all type species of fish. For the most part I’ll be in pursuit of Largemouth Bass, or depending on the time of the year, Crappie will be the primary focus. During these trips though I’ve landed multiple types of of sunfish – copperhead bream, redbreast sunfish and warmouth – along with bowfin, chain pickerel, and an occasional catfish. When you do hook a fish you really don’t know what may be on the other end of the line until you get it to the boat. 

For the most part you’ll want to downsize your tackle to match the smaller size of the prey in these ponds. Some of my favorites are small swim, jerk and spinner baits. It also doesn’t take a great variety of these baits. Pick a couple of different colors and some spares in case you lose one, a couple of your favorite rods and hit the water. No matter the final result of your trip, you are almost certainly going to enjoy a trip to an old mill pond.

By: Mike Pehanich

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