Shirley Donnelly: For Izaak Walton Fans

With spring now at our doorstep, many of you are ready to grab rod and reel and head out to the closest water hole to get your line wet and catch some fish! In today’s Shirley Donnelly read, we hear about the history of the old Gunter fishing pond in Crab Orchard, (Raleigh County) WV.

The title of this piece confused me a little because Shirley never explains really who Izaak Walton is. I did a little reading up on the fisherman and find him fascinating. After the Yesterday and Today piece, I will also include some background on the man in the title.

I hope you enjoy the read!

Yesterday And Today –

For Izaak Walton Fans

By Shirley Donnelly

Up on the Glen White road above Crab Orchard my old friend Virgil Gunter and his wife operate a fish pond for commercial purposes. Their pond covers two acres of land and is one of the most desirable fishing projects in all this country. It is right on the highway and is beautiful for situation.

What is more the lake is well stocked. Hundreds of choice fish cavort about in the mountain water and live off what they are fed and food in the pond. Some of these fish are good sized bass. Others are catfish and other varieties of denizens of the deep.

However, there’s one big one in there that is a pain in the neck to the Gunters. He is the prize fish in the pond with a price set on his head. Dead or alive, the Gunters will pay any fisherman ten dollars in current coin of the realm if he will land the ornery fish who continues to muddy the waters of the otherwise clear pool which is fed by a spring of living water.

This pestiferous fish that plagues this pool is a big carp. Two years ago when the carp was placed in the pond he weighed in at 12 pounds. At this hour he is almost 32 inches long and gaining weight all the time.

Several have hooked the pest but the fish rears back and straightens out the hook and that is that. One day an experienced angler had the big boy pretty well on the hook and was doing his best to land him. In and in, the man reeled his catch and had the prize almost within grasp when suddenly realizing he was within a few falling breaths of the great beyond, the big carp gave a huge lunge and broke the line that was leading him. Off in the deepest part of the fishing compound swishing tail waving “ta-da” is the erstwhile tormentor.

Mrs. Gunter told me that she could have killed the carp with a club one day when she spied him in the shallow water among the reeds on the margin of the pond. There he was, swimming leisurely along among the vegetation with a school of catfish following him. As he brushed against the reeds and weeds he loosed the marine growths on them. This in turn was gulped down by the catfish as a culinary delicacy. However, Mrs. Gunter is a generous (?) with tender feelings and said she didn’t have the heart to deal a death blow to the fish that muddies up the pond.

_____

The Gunters live on a nice 30-acre estate and tell me their fish pond long ago paid for itself. It was in 1951 they had the pond ready to put fish in it. Five thousand pounds of fish were turned loose in it the first year. That made it a fisherman’s paradise and they came from far and near to wet their lines in the place.

Most fish put on a pound a year, I was told by the proprietor of the pond. Some of the pike in the place are pretty portly, it was said. A charge of fifty cents a pound is charged a fisherman for fish taken.

While I was there a man and a boy made in his own image came and were fishing to fish away. Just the evening before my call, Mrs Gunter said a woman was there to fish and really reeled them in. There are always hungry fish in the Gunter pond and one is sure to catch the fish he wants if he only has the time and patience to angle for them.

_____

It never occurred to me that it costs the Game and Fish Commission of our state so much to stock our streams. According to Virgil Gunter it costs $1.10 per pound to raise trout.

But a man does not care what it costs him to fish. By the time he buys expensive rods and reels a boat and bait, and other items that are prerequisites in fishing, a devotee of Izaak Walton has really separated himself from a sizable wad of wampum. For some reason or other I’ve never done in very strongly for fishing.

A year or so ago Basil Wilcox took me along as his guest on a little fishing expedition out at Flat Top Lake. It was a great day for the race and fish were biting that day like nobody’s business. We were out there a couple of hours or so and caught six dozen blue gills. This palatable little pan fish ran all the way way from three or four inches in length to fish the size of a man’s hand. That was the most fish I ever took in one fishing. It is all right to catch fish like that but when it comes to cleaning them, well, brother, that’s different.

_____

When I was at the Gunter place, we looked out on the pond and there was a flock of wild ducks. We counted thirteen or fourteen of them. They were taking things easy and paid us no mind. In turn we paid them but scan attention.

I’ll bet a penny if the season on ducks had been open that day we couldn’t have got in gunshot of them. Ducks are pretty smart and seem to know when hunting season is open. Sitting out there on the placid pond, under the mellow sun of the day, we saw them. These ducks looked like ships riding at anchor far off at sea.

_____

Speaking of wild life, there seems to be a sight of quail this year. One day last week when I went out to get my morning paper from the box a covey of young quail, about fifteen in number, were near the box and took wing. They were about half-grown.

Next morning as I started into town to rustle up some rations there was another covey in the road taking a dust bath. There were only ten in this second covey and they were no larger than a hen egg. Frightened by the chugging and wheezing of my conveyance the little birds took to the air in a split second.

 -
Beckley Post-Herald
Beckley, West Virginia
23 Sep 1955, Fri  •  Page 4

Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton.jpg
Izaak Walton portrait by Jacob Huysmans, c. 1672, National Portrait Gallery (London)

Now, who is this Izaak Walton that Shirley speaks of? He lived from 1593 to 1683, remains famous today as the author of The Compleat Angler, one of the most important environmental books in history. 

Per the Izaak Walton League of America website: “Throughout the book, Walton shares knowledge of natural history and ecology, advocates for methods of wildlife management and sustainable fishing that are fundamental to modern science-based resource management, describes environmental engagement as an enjoyable activity, and encourages recreational sportsmen to come together in a “brotherhood” of stewards of the natural world. The central theme of the book is a concept we embrace today but that was not well understood or widely practiced in Walton’s time: sustainability.

The first edition of his book The Compleat Angler was published in 1653. The last forty years of his life were spent visiting eminent clergymen and others who enjoyed fishing, compiling the biographies of people he liked, and collecting information for the Compleat Angler. After 1662 he found a home at Farnham Castle with George Morley, Bishop of Winchester, to whom he dedicated his Life of George Herbert and his biography of Richard Hooker. He sometimes visited Charles Cotton in his fishing house on the Dove.

Isaac Walton, by will, dated 9 August 1698, gave to the town or corporation of Stafford, in which he was born, a farm, situate at Halfhead (adjoining to Shallowford), in the parish of Chebsey, for the good and benefit of some of the said town, to bind out, yearly, two boys, the sons of honest and poor parents, to be apprentices to some tradesmen or handicraftmen, to the intent that the said boys might the better afterwards get their own living: And he also gave £5. yearly, out of the said rent, to some maid servant that should have attained the age of 21 years, or to some honest poor man’s daughter, to be paid to her on her marriage; and this being done, his will was, that what rent should remain of the said farm and land, should be disposed of as follows; first, he gave 20s, yearly, to be spent by the mayor of Stafford, and that what money or rent should remain undisposed of, should be employed to buy coals for some poor people that should have most need thereof in the said town.

If you are interested in reading his book, which although published in 1653, he would regularly update over the next few decades, you can do so as it is on Google books HERE.

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