We got there just in time to be serenaded. Ribbit, ribbit ribbit, dorkribbit, splabit dork, splabit. Dusk came quickly to the banks of the Mt. Holly Dam, home to hundreds of bullfrogs, some little, some big. We were being greeted. Dad took us (us being a brother or two) quite often to this place, Mt. Holly Dam, only 2 1/2 miles from home. Friday night arrived, he and Mom were done working for another week. No homework for the weekend. We came here frequently for a night of fishing and relaxation.
Mid-July, and the weather for this evening could not be better. The moon hid in its dark phase, as a soft, gentle breeze from the south created small ripples on the water, and gently caressed our skin.
Hooks were baited and cast into the cool mountain water, lanterns were lit, and everyone settled back into a favorite fishing chair. The not-so-lucky ones found a log or rock on which to sit. The frogs quieted down somewhat. For the most part, peace and tranquility settled along the banks that night. The sounds of water slowly spilling over the breast of the dam were relaxing. Any moment now someone may get a strike. Catfish, bluegills, eels and bass were always fair game. Occasionally a pickerel or pike would bite. We were relaxing and fishing, not a bad combination. I may have even given thoughts to checking out the goody bag. After all, two long hours had passed since this young boy of 15 had eaten, and fishing is tough: you gotta keep your strength up.
Occasionally the silence was broken by a slap, slap, slap of something flat being beaten against the surface of the water. We were not far from the dam and knew that a beaver, upset, or had found a beaver smorgasbord, could be sending signals to another beaver. Beavers use their big fat, flat tails for a lot of things.
Suddenly there was a rush of warm wind, which awoke the sleepy frogs. Ribbit, ribbit, dork, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM sounded to our left. I jumped up, and immediately shouted “Dad, Dad did you hear that.” Of course he did, sitting right next to me. Again BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM sounds came from our left. A big bullfrog, taking a stand and letting its presence be known, came even closer than we expected. As I stood there, Dad burning more Prince Albert in his pipe, and with a twinkle in his eye, began to reel in one of his cast-out lines. BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, this dam, big bullfrog wanted some attention. Dad is going to oblige him.
Mt Holly Springs Dam has quite a storied past. In the 1800s, Mountain Creek was dammed to supply water to generate power to the paper mills nearby. In 1863, Confederate soldiers marched into nearby Mt Holly Springs and raided the town for paper machine parts, on their way to defeat at Gettysburg. 1900 saw the area turned into a recreational park and preserve with people coming from miles around to ride the Trolley to Holly. This lasted for 15 years until the automobile became a reality. The park closed in 1928. Still the town continued to flourish as other paper mills were built and made use of the water.
The name Mountain Creek is sweet music to my ears. It is the supplier of all the water that flowed over so many dams. It also produced many famous fishing spots, especially for trout. I fished these waters many times, and have many good memories from the past. The creek originated in Michaux State Forest lands and mountains. The waters from this very cold, limestone stream are absolutely a perfect habitat for trout. As it winds north and east towards the mighty Susquehanna River, it’s flow is interrupted countless times. The creek flowed through Mt. Holly, thus the name Mt. Holly Dam, one of many built to use the water wisely. This is close to my birthplace and very much a part of our daily activities.
I was born in 1940 and fished in the dam waters all my teen and early 20 years, being 15 at the time. The town of Mt Holly is a hustle and bustle of activity. There were two paper mills, a shoe factory, two crystal plants, five or six dress factories and two major grocery stores. All this just two and one-half miles from my birth place. Fortunately for me, 1949 to 1965 began the era when we fished the most. In the 1980s, powerful rains flooded the valleys of the South Mountains with a lot of devastation to the surrounding landscapes. Two of our landmarks, the Holly dams were breached and it remains that way now. There is little evidence of what the little town used to be like – except for inside my mind.
For us kids, any one of three brothers, fishing and exploring the dam became an adventure. Two words describe it, delightful and intimidating. Let me explain. The dam, well constructed, was easy to access. It’s lengthy, 155 feet long and at least 6 feet wide. We walked along the edge of the fishing bank and just stepped onto the dam. In the summer it became pure delight. Removing shoes and socks, we waded across the 2 or 3 inches of water that gently spilled across the cement pads. The water, warm and delightful, tickled the toes on our young, tender feet. The intimidating part of the walk involved one cement pad that had sunk into the foundation. It appeared 8 or 9 inches lower than the level of the rest of the dam. Of course, more water flowed across this section and at a greater speed. We always stopped to look and consider if crossing appeared safe. Someone, usually me, would venture into the swifter water and make a decision. If I could not stand on my own, we joined hands and prudently crept and wiggled our way across this very dangerous section of the spillway. The other side consisted of a steep mountain range. Exploration became necessary, and, returning back to Dad, we always reported that the fishing would be so much better on the other side. He nodded and didn’t move an inch.
Let’s get back to 1955 and the bullfrog.
Hearing my alarm and the sounds of this gigantic bullfrog, Dad retrieved his one line from the water and re-rigged it with one hook. Then he did something that I knew nothing about and remember to this day. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a big red handkerchief. Cutting a 2-inch square from the corner, he attached it to his bare hook. “What’s this old man doing,” I muttered to myself. I am 15, a know-it-all. “That won’t work.” Glancing at his face I saw a slight smile and a look of “wait until you see what happens.” Slowly he worked his way along the bank to where this monster laid in wait.
Suddenly, WHAM that big frog jumped from his spot in the mud and grabbed that piece of handkerchief with the fury of a mad bull, steaming at the nostrils. It was like he got shot out of a gun. A struggle ensued like one I had never seen. This frog, as big as a watermelon and legs 3 feet long, was in a very bad mood. Kicking and jumping and kicking some more he and Dad went round and round. “Vernie, Vernie, quick, get the burlap sack out of my tackle box.” Fumbling around I got it and the struggle continued. Every time we got one leg in the bag, and grabbed for the other, out would come the first leg. It was like trying to put a 40-pound frog in a 30-pound sack. Finally in the bag, we returned to our seats for some more fishing and relaxation. As I sat there rehashing what had just happened, another soft south wind gently caressed our faces. The now lit lanterns created a soft, mellow orange glow on the water and on Dad’s face. Puffs of Prince Albert smoke surrounded his countenance, but I could see a almost angelic glow of satisfaction.
I loved and respected my dad, but that night became special. A thought occurred to me, that old man really is smarter than me. Imitating a big juicy insect for a frog – what a great idea. I had a lot to learn.
He would take the frog home and Mom would cook it for him. That’s just the way they were.
Many memories flood my mind when we return from time to time to Pennsylvania. As Route 34 winds over the mountain and comes close to Mt. Holly, I still recall the night Dad wrestled and bagged a Holly dam, big bullfrog.
God is good.
Disclaimer: Let it be known that the youthfulness and zest of this young fisherman have resulted in some discrepancies in regards to the frogs description.