Fishing Adventures – Dahnert’s Lake, A Memoir
It was via the rumor mill which circulates around young boys that we learned of a potential “hot” fishing spot called Dahnert’s Lake. This rumor mill spun a story of the lake being stocked with trout, and with large and small mouth bass thriving beneath the Water Lilies in the far corner of the pond. One might even reel in a good sized perch. Now, to the mind of a more seasoned fisherman, none of this would make any sense. Dahnert’s Lake was not one of those lakes in the northwestern New Jersey hills noted for containing such desirable sporting fish. No, Dahnert’s Lake was located in a park in the neighboring town of Garfield, New Jersey. I admit I have no insight to the system used for classifying standing bodies of water, but someone apparently mis-read their slide rule, or ignored the basic principles of geometry. Dahnert’s Lake was far from being a lake, rather it was, a small murky pond with tiny island in the center of it, on which stood a single weeping willow tree. Picnic tables and hibachi style grills dotted its shoreline, however nobody dared swim in the lake. Dahnert’s was notable for being a prime place to ice skate if the winter’s chill was sufficient to make it freeze over. People did fish here though, and the rumors of real fish that you could actually boast about catching being present in the lake, filled our young minds with such fantastical thoughts, we had to go there before all the good fish were caught! Our enthusiasm was so great, our band of anglers grew to a party of eight. The number being to great to fit in any parent’s car, we decided to hoof the 1.3 miles to Dahnert’s Lake.
Because we wanted to get the jump on the prize fish beneath the surface, we set off early with our fishing rods in one hand, tackle boxes in the other. Arriving at the lake with the sun sitting low in the morning sky, we were astounded with the view that confronted us. In the shallows surrounding the lakeshore were what appeared to be thousands of fish. The eight of us had never seen anything like it, I have never seen anything like it since. However, all of the fish were carp! In various shades ranging from brown to gold, their sucking mouths were gathering in tiny flying insects that had lit on the lake’s surface. Remembering the rumor of bass being in the corner of the lake with the Water Lilies, several of us took off on a sprint. Two of members of this group of runners were the Swiller brothers, whom I’ve referenced in a previous fishing memoir. In what was becoming his trademark move, Robert Swiller began to lose his balance while running along a retaining wall and basically leapt into the pond. His brother Cliff, ever so sympathetic, just shouted, “Get outta there now!” It took him a couple of attempts, but Robert eventually climbed out. Covered in muck and pond detritus from knees to feet, he sloshed off after us. He fished in that condition for the balance of the morning.
Braking to a halt at the lilies, we saw the same phenomena we first observed, hundreds of carp scarfing down bugs. Deciding the real fish were out in the deeper water near the small island at the lake’s center, I strung a heavy one ounce sinker to my line. Stretching my fishing pole back almost to the ground, I swung my arm forward for a mighty cast. I released the line and it shot out from the tip of my rod for about 3 feet, further progress stopped by a knot in my reel. The sinker struck a goldfish near the shore right in its forehead. A glazed look came to the carp’s eyes and, stunned, it rolled partially on its side and swam slowly in a wide circle. Clearing the knot, I finally was able to cast my line to a spot where I was certain the prize fish were. In a few moments, the tip of my rod quivered ever so slightly and I felt a series of light tugs on my line. I had a hit! I set the hook and began reeling in my prize. I was disappointed to see my catch was a small sunfish, I think weighing only slightly more than my sinker. Carefully extracting my hook, I tossed the little fish back and cast out to the deeper water again. I noticed the goldfish I brained earlier had regained its composure and resumed sucking insects. My subsequent casts resulted in catching more sunfish. The carp began to abandon the shallows, but with bellies full of bugs, showed no interest in our earthworm baited hooks. One of our party, who had been fishing at another spot on the lake, came trudging dejectedly to where we sat, equally discouraged by the low quality and quantity of fish we caught. He had asked another fisherman where the trout and bass were. The guy laughed and said something to the effect of any other lake but this one. We came to the realization we had fully swallowed; hook, line and sinker, someone’s bait about prize fish swimming in Dahnert’s Lake.
Chatham Memoir Writers Group
November 18, 2022