Renn Tolman*
February 18, 1957

When I was a boy I lived in a house on the edge of Tolman Pond, so named for my family, who settled there about one hundred and fifty years ago. In the morning I could look out from my bedroom window and see the sun rise behind the black spruces of Thumb Mountain that turned the lake into a sparkling causeway of little suns dividing two blue fields of water. When I went to bed in the long summer evening the lake had changed to a great expanse of polished, black marble blemished in spots by schools of feeding minnows and by the wheeling, dipping swallows picking insects from its surface.

A little path wound down through the hemlocks that grew between the kitchen door and the shore of the pond, and at its end was our sagging, little wharf that jutted out into the shallow water of the lake amid a profusion of pickerel weed and lily pads. It was here that the Blue Heron, the little row boat that my parents had given me for a seventh birthday, was moored.

Renn in the Blue Heron (or maybe the Pumpkinseed) made locally by Bill Guillow

I liked best to fish in the early mornings. The sun crept through the east window of my room and    pried at my eyelids with delicate, warm fingers. I hurried into shorts and shirt and padded through the sleeping house with bare feet. By the back door was the casting rod already rigged with a big red and white spoon for pickerel, the tackle box, and a can of worms for perch. The lawn was covered with a frosting of glowing dew, which splashed cold against bare ankles. Often my noisy arrival at the wharf startled a great blue heron who had been stalking frogs among the cattails along the shore, and he would hoist his ponderous bulk into the air with wing beats so slow that it seems impossible for him to remain air-borne.

My favorite early morning fishing spot was a patch of lily pads near the wharf which intermingled with other water plants to make a waving, underwater forest. This forest harbored a school of shiners, which attracted pickerel. Pickerel feeding on the shiners would drive them to the top of the water, where they would jump and fall back like a sudden deluge of giant rain drops. Occasionally, if the light were just right, you could see a pickerel lying on the bottom, as motionless as a stick. It did little good to cast and retrieve the spoon just beneath the surface in the conventional manner. It had to be allowed to sink down near the bottom and then be retrieved with slow, tantalizing jerks because the pickerel of Tolman Pond were so well fed that they would seldom swim more than a few feet to strike at a spoon. If ten minutes of casting produced no results, I changed to a hook and worm to catch the ubiquitous, every-hungry perch.

Later in the day I fished for small-mouthed bass, the most coveted prize the lake could afford. A favorite spot was Lily Pad Circle, a perfectly round patch of lily pads fifteen feed across, which mysteriously reappeared every year out toward the middle of the lake, where lily pads seldom grow. For bass I used live bait, a crawfish or perhaps a delicate little silver-side shiner hooked through the lips to prevent injuring it and to permit it to swim naturally. Even on the hottest days of the summer there was always a cooling little breeze blowing out on the pond. The Blue Heron swung into the breeze on her anchor rope, and the little waves would tap, tap, tap against her bow.

Across the lake under the steep face of Hurd Hill was The Farm, the rambling house and connected barn where my grandparents lived. The lawns, which stretched down to the water, were usually dotted with people too far away to be recognized, and often there were more people swimming or sunning themselves on the diving float and wharf in front. Out on the lake you were in another world. You felt yourself invisible. The people on the land weren’t people at all but were just clever little robots moving against a beautifully painted backdrop. Sometimes I was stirred from my thoughts by a gentle tugging at the fish line looped around my finger. Quickly I pulled line from the reel and fed the slack out through the guides so as not to alarm the bass, which always swim for a distance with the bait held in their lips. When the bass stopped, I counted twenty, as my father had taught me, to give the bass a chance to eat the bait and then struck back hard on the rod. Then began the tug of war. Little by little the bass’s runs became shorter, and his leaps in an attempt to throw the hook more wearied. If I were lucky, in a few minutes I hauled the flopping bass over the side. If the bass were big, three pounds or more, my feeling of elation was tempered with regret for having conquered so proud and unrelenting an adversary. The catching of a three-pounder always ended my day’s fishing because I never could resist hurrying ashore to display the prize.

Fishing. Drawing by Fran Tolman

On some warm nights in July or August I fished for horned pout. Horned pout were easy to catch; the hardest part of fishing for them lay in removing them from the hook because not only did they frequently swallow the hook, but also they were armed with three hollow spines, or horns, sharp as hypodermic needles, with which they injected the careless fisherman with an irritating poison.

Summer nights on the lake were full of life. The calm surface of the lake was continually agitated by schools of minnows feeding on moth millers and other insects that whirled and dipped too near the surface in their aimless flight. Over in the shallow cover choked with lily pads near Sandy Beach, a grandfather bull frog started his mournful base refrain, and one by one the other bull frogs around the lake began as if they were each trying to sing louder than the rest. Then as if by common consent the chorus died away, and then there was no sound from the bullfrogs until some other grandfather in some other cove started the chorus anew a few minutes later. In the shallows feeding bass splashed like rocks being throw into the still water. Overhead bats skimmed by on silent wings, barely visible against the faint light of the sky. Over near the wharf in front of The Farm a group of teen-aged boys and girls were swimming, their voices and laughter carrying clearly across the water although they were a quarter of a mile away.

Gradually the boat seat became harder and harder, and I couldn’t seem to drive the visions of my bed with its cool, inviting sheets from my brain. I pulled up the anchor and headed the Blue Heron’s bow down the yellow path of reflection cast by the light in the living room of my house.

*Renn Tolman, son of Newton F. Tolman, grew up in Nelson, and passed away in Homer, AK on July 5, 2014 at the age of 80. Betsy Street recently found a few essays written by Renn when he was a student at UNH, in the late 1950s. This one is very slightly edited and transcribed by Karen Tolman.


From Rick Church’s Tidbits

No Trout Fishing for out-of-towners 1882:
Nelson Town Records Volume 8, page 137
March 14, 1882
Voted that trout fishing be prohibited from the brooks and streams of this town by people living outside of the town.

Nelson Fishing prohibition 1882-1888:
Nelson Town Records Volume 8, page 155
May 5, 1882
Voted to prohibit all trout fishing in said Town for the term of three years.
Voted to prohibit all fishing through the ice on Center Pond for the term of three years.
Extended an additional three years in 1885.