No fisherman ever brags that the big fish he hooked turned out to be a log ... Patrick F. McManus
|I don't know why anybody would want to read my fishing related ramblings but if you're of a mind to torture yourself then read on ...
Tuesday, Mar 29, 2005.
Five months of celibacy will be at an end this Friday. I will exit my cave, blink at the sky, gather my gear, utter a prayer to the fish gods and head for the river.
As per usual, for the past 29 days I have been waking earlier and earlier, and when I looked at the clock this morning it was five-thirty. Plus I've been having trouble getting to sleep. My wife recognizes the symptoms. She tells me I go through this every year. She says that I tell her I can't sleep and might as well get up. It's true.
The first thing I'll do on Friday is look out the bathroom window to see whether there's any wind and in what direction it's blowing. Then I'll have a pee. While I'm peeing I'll be thinking about what fly to put on and what rod to take. Then I'll clean the underside of the toilet seat and wipe the floor.
Depending on the weather, which is why the first thing I'll do is look out the window, I'll be thinking about what to wear. On the odd occasion I'll pile up my clothes in the bathroom before going to bed, and I'll include my long johns, just in case. Mind you, it might snow, or pour with rain. Been there, done that. In which case I will wait.
Of course, I've been out of my cave a few times doing my pre-opening day ramblings to the river so I know what's going on. The little black stonefly nymphs are swimming ashore and the trout are having a feast. Most of the lake is still covered in ice but the river is free.
How I wish I could have my own personal opening day. Just me and them. Not because I want to hook a ton of fish, all of them will get put back anyway, but more because I want to observe and partake of nature in an easy, relaxed, peaceful manner. I guess I'm daydreaming. Time to clean the toilet seat again.
A salmon in the net is worth two in the bush.
I've only ever seen one unguided salmon fisherman carrying a net. I've often wondered why this is. I've always thought a net would be much easier to land a salmon than trying to tail it. That's what I thought until I was sitting on the bench beside a large Newfoundland river and watched the following event unfold ...
Charlie, an experienced salmon fisherman, had been fishing five days and this was the last day of his trip. Not one salmon had looked at his flies.
There he was, out there, casting his heart out. Changing flies like there was no tomorrow.
Joe, his guide, was sitting on the bank watching the non-action. He was downcast too, leading his sport to a salmon was a matter of pride for him.
Then, from out of nowhere, Charlie hooked into a grilse. Charlie had been looking forward to a feed of salmon and here it was, on the end of his line.
Charlie slowly started to wade his way back to shore with the grilse still fighting hard.
Joe picked up his net and waded towards Charlie.
Charlie led the grilse towards Joe and Joe dipped his net in the water.
The grilse made one last run and Joe swiped the net under him. And promptly knocked the fly out.
As they say, the air turned blue.
Joe turned red and hung his head.
Charlie stomped off through the bushes and was last seen heading for the fish counter at Sobey's.
Even though I saw this happen, I still feel a net is the way to go when it comes to salmon (nowadays you can buy a net that is rubber coated or made of a soft material that does not damage a salmon's scales). In order to tail a salmon you pretty much have to tire him out, whereas with a net you can land him while there's still some fight in him and it takes less time for him to recover. The biggest problem is that you really need someone else to do the netting, otherwise, if you're alone, you're back to square one and stuck with tiring him out before you can get a net even close to him. But what do I know, I've only been salmon fishing since 1993 and I'm still a duffer at this sport.
It's not too often that I have a sad fishing story to tell, but this is one of them.
A bad days fishing beats a good day at work
Well, I truly believed that until the 20th of October 2000.
We were in to the salmon season and I was heading for a river on the North Shore. We'd had quite the rain the day before and it was still cloudy and cool. I'd parked my car behind the only other car at the parking spot by the bridge, got geared up and headed through the hawthorns down to the pool. The river was high and coloured.
There were two gentlemen at the pool, one of them was in the water. I sat down and chatted to the elder of the two and he told me they were from New Brunswick and had fished this river before.
The younger feller fished through the pool and waded up to us. I told the elder gentlemen that I was quite happy to sit and watch if he'd like to go ahead. He said he would and off he went.
I waited until he'd fished through and stepped in at the head of the pool. I was fishing a fly I wasn't too fond of, mainly because it didn't look anything like a traditional salmon fly. It was a Lester the Lobster. I don't suppose I'd been in the water five minutes when I hooked into a salmon. From what I could see, when she rose to the surface, she was about a ten or eleven pound, dark-backed fish.
I'd had her or on for about five minutes and was making my way ashore when she threw the hook. I was really happy to see her go.
I went over to where the two gentlemen were sitting and told them that was enough for one day. They asked what fly I was using, and was it anything like the flies they had on. I looked at their flies and was kind of surprised. They had on these tiny, low water flies, exactly the opposite to the kind of flies we fish in the fall. I asked to see the young fellers fly box and selected a fairly large Mickey Finn and told him that was what he should be using.
He stepped back in the pool and almost immediately had one on. It was a grilse. He dragged it ashore and killed it. I felt sick. I hadn't asked whether he was going to kill a fish. It totally ruined my day. He'd killed that salmon on a fly I'd recommended.
I knew there was at least one salmon and four grilse in that pool. And they'd been in there a long time. Waiting. Waiting for the river to pick up so's they could head up and do their thing. And now they were one less. I was quite sad.
It was a day when I would have much rather have been at work.
The Outdoor Reader
Does anyone have an outside toilet any more? I remember the one at my Uncle Len's and my Grandfather's. There's still a scattering of outhouses in operation in the more rural areas around here but most of them are abandoned and lying on their sides.
I remember when I went into camp on Crooked Lakes with Roy, Vern and Harvey (a two-hour trek carrying a weeks worth of supplies on our backs). It was early spring, the ground was still frozen, hidden under a layer of moss and leafless lambskill.
The camp was not your traditional log cabin. It consisted of a series of half-moon plastic pipes covered in a large sheet of black plastic film. It was dismantled at the end of the season, hidden in the woods, and re-assembled on the first trip of the spring. This was the first trip. The camp didn't take long to assemble. What took the time was gathering the moss in order to make a mattress on which to lay our sleeping bags.
That first night Roy would get up every couple of hours and throw an eight-inch log into the tiny woodstove. It was so cold that we slept in our clothes. The next morning we all sat huddled around the woodstove chewing on lumpy oatmeal. Then Roy threw on his winter coat, grabbed a toilet roll and stepped outside. "Oh, right." I thought, "I forgot. Where's the outhouse?"
I waited a while and then the urge took me. I copied Roy and headed outdoors. I hadn't taken ten steps when I heard Roy say, "Morning Patty." I turned to my right and there, about thirty feet up the hill, was Roy, out in the open, pants around his ankles, sitting bare-arsed on a piece of two-by-four that had been nailed between two trees. And he was reading a book. Makes me shiver to think about it.
April 17, 2008. Grandma, my wife's mum, passed away today. She was a good old girl. I loved her dearly. One of my fondest memories is of the time we went fishing together.
She told me she'd fished for brookies, I don't remember whether she'd had any luck, but she did tell me she enjoyed the experience. This gave me the chance to offer her a trip to the U-fish, just her and me. The U-fish contained rainbows of no less than two pounds and I couldn't wait to see her reaction when she hooked one.
After a couple of hours drive we arrived at the U-fish on a beautiful day. I put the worm on for her, cast out and set up her seat. Within minutes of the bobber hitting the water she was into a fish. Her rod was bent double as the fish took her for a ride, the bobber going every which way. I had this feeling that she wanted to drop everything and run away because she kept asking me to take the rod (I don't know what she thought it was, a shark maybe). I declined, I wanted the experience to last. I kept telling her she could do it. Talk about laugh. It must have taken well over five minutes to get the fish in the net and when she pulled it onto the bank I could see it went about three pounds. I asked her to hold it up so's I could take a picture. She was afraid and didn't want to touch it. I think she thought it would bite. She compromised by sticking the nets handle through its gills and the photo is the end result. You can see how happy she is, and that's what counted. A very precious moment for both of us.
Guiding - a learning experience
Last year I guided this fly-fishing feller that was new to Nova Scotia. I let him do all the fishing but I hooked one by mistake when I was showing him how we do it over here. He is not only new to here but he's used to fishing salmon with a fifteen-foot rod. I gave him my six-foot bamboo. It was really interesting to see how he was missing that extra nine feet cos his fly kept hitting the water, forward and backward, when he was false casting. And he must have kept trying to put out fifty feet of line when fifteen feet would have done. When a fish rose to his fly he'd have this great big loop in his line and he never stood a chance. He also hooked himself and the trees several times and he lost three of my flies (one of them while we were on the walk to the river). Nice enough feller though.
I once guided a man with a wooden leg. Only thing was, he didn't tell me, and I didn't ask. I showed him where to get in and where to get out. I thought he moved kind of stiffly. There was nothing wrong with his casting though. It was beautiful to watch. It was midsummer and hot, and only two or three fish showed their noses. I repeated my previous performance and unfortunately hooked a fish while showing the man with the wooden leg how we do it in Nova Scotia. Although he got skunked we both had a wonderful time and I hope to see him again.
One day, a father and his two sons showed up at my door. I'd just gotten back from an early morning trip and was quite worn out. I'd told them, by email, that I'd love to show them a couple of spots. So off we went. The first river was quite small, as were the fish, and, although they had strikes, they had difficulty in hooking up. I could tell that their problem was too much line but they were enjoying themselves so much that it really didn't matter. It was midsummer again but overhanging spruce and pine shaded the river we were fishing. After a couple of hours we moved to a second, larger river. This river was quite open and after a short time I could tell I was dehydrated. I hadn't brought any water along and I'd had a bad experience with drinking river water once before so I had to leave them and head for home. I don't think it mattered. They were so enjoying themselves that I could tell they were in a world of their own. Watching other people fish has its own rewards and I departed with their thanks ringing in my ears.
What a brilliant Fall day. The red, orange and yellow leaves of the hardwoods coated the countryside. The sun kept popping in and out of the clouds and we encountered an occasional shower. The river was at an excellent level and cool on the legs. We couldn't have asked for anything better.
Well, what a day. We only caught one fish, but what a fish, and what a story.
Muddler was fishing a Mickey Finn downriver and I was casting a brown bug upriver (that's our usual routine, if one fishes a wet, the other fishes a dry). As we approached the lower end of one pool I told Muddler we had to creep up because the fish, if there were any, spooked easily. I stuck my rod in the tall grass lining the bank and snuck up to the head of the pool with Muddler limping along right up my butt. Using my polarized sunglasses I peered into its depth. Initially I couldn't see any sign of a fish but then a dark shape lifted off the bottom. I muttered a brief sentence that began with the word "Holy."
"C'mere and take a look," I said to Muddler. He looked, but without the glasses he couldn't see anything (thus, like I've been telling the old coot for years, the importance of polarized sunglasses). "There's a huge fish down there," I said. "Give me yer rod."
He passed me his rod and, with ten feet of leader out, I dropped the Mickey Finn into the pool. The fly was only about two inches underwater but the salmon lifted up and swirled beneath it. I moved the rod out a foot or so and he came again, but still beneath it. I brought the rod back in and this time he missed the fly but came out of the water far enough that we could see his hooked jaw and staring eye. He submerged and I could see he was agitated. This time I pushed the tip of the rod about a foot below the water and the fly went down with it. Up he came, mouth wide open, and took the fly. I set the hook. My heart was pounding.
"He's on! It's your rod," I exclaimed, and passed the rod to Muddler. We were standing shoulder to shoulder and without thinking, he took it. The salmon went to the bottom of the pool and I could see his head shaking. He wandered around a bit, all the time trying to get rid of the hook. Muddler put the pressure to him but he wouldn't budge off the bottom. After about three minutes he decided it was time to run. Just a short one, about twenty feet, and then he jumped four feet in the air. Expletives echoed across the water. He swam back to the middle of the pool and then another run with a double jump and a cannonball re-entry.
"How's yer heart?" I asked. "Because if you have a heart attack you can forget about mouth-to-mouth, I'm gonna grab the rod before I attend to you." "Fine," he said as he strained against the pull of the fish.
"You gotta try to keep him in the pool," I said, "I don't think he'll run downriver." No sooner had the words popped out of my mouth when he ran downriver. Muddler was twenty feet into his backing before stopping the run.
"Put the pressure to him and if you can bring him near me I'll tail him," I said. Muddler leaned on the rod and began recovering line. He manoeuvred him near me but when I reached down he took off again. Just a short run this time. Muddler pulled him back and I was finally able to grab the tail.
I don't think I'd taken a breath from the second we hooked him to the second I had him in my hand. I inhaled the cool country air. He'd most probably been on for about ten or eleven minutes but it seemed like a lifetime. We took turns reviving him. He started to kick strongly when Muddler had a hold of him and Muddler looked at me and asked, "What do ya think?" "I think he's ready," I said. Muddler let go of the tail and the king of fishes quickly swam away.
We never thought about measuring him, we were more concerned with getting him back in shape, but we took a guess at between thirty-four to thirty-six inches. According to the "Salmometer" that would make him about sixteen pounds.
So, the bottom line was, I hooked him, Muddler played him, and I tailed him.
As Muddler said "We're some team."
A Skunk's Tail
I'd been taking Senokot (a natural laxative) the first three days of our fishing trip and it didn't seem to have made any difference. It was my wife's idea, she'd always insisted on me taking laxatives when I was away.
It was not until the fourth day that it hit me.
Muddler and I had gone through our usual morning routine of breakfast and the bathroom, and were in our chest waders ready to do some trout fishing. It was about a fifty-minute drive. The first fifteen minutes on the paved road weren't so bad but the last thirty-five were over twenty-six kilometres of logging roads and I was pretty stirred up and having cramps by the time we got to our destination.
We surveyed the situation and decided that Muddler would go down the left side of the brook while I went down the right. I was just putting my rod together when I realized I couldn't hold it any longer. I hade to make a move. I frantically scanned the area to find an opening in the brush and spotted what looked like a moose trail. I squeezed my legs together and waddled down the trail for about twenty feet. My eyes were bulging. I quickly slid down my waders, making sure that the backside and the suspenders were clear of the drop zone.
The relief was almost spiritual. The world came back into focus. I turned around to cover up and discovered I was no more than two feet from a dead skunk. I thought I was seeing things. I looked away and then turned back. The distinctive tail was pointed accusingly in my direction. I felt bad. And then I apologised for disturbing his final resting place, but I also felt it quite appropriate that I should have chosen this very spot. He gracefully accepted my apologies and with that, and feeling much lighter, I wandered off to keep my appointment with the brookies.
I stopped taking the Senokot.
Have you ever seen one of those "comeandgetme" fishes?
They're usually in some almost inaccessible spot, or in a hole where the current rips your fly through the lie. And they taunt you with consistent rises. I saw one just the other day.
I was undecided as to whether I should get geared up to fish and thought I'd best take a look at the water first. I parked my car and walked along the abandoned railroad tracks until I came to the bridge. It was one of those perfect bridges. Twenty feet above the water with a chest-high railing to lean on. The kind of place where you could stay all day.
The pool was slightly more than semi-circular in shape, about eighty feet across, with the top of the circle upriver. The lower half, where it went under the bridge, was maybe twenty feet wide, with a flat backwater at either side of the bridge abutments. To the left-hand side, at the corner, where the flat section met the river flowing under the bridge, was a very large rock. The water to the right-hand side of the rock was about four feet deep.
The slow water flowing from the backwater was bringing down insects and debris. I was looking upriver, at where a beaver had begun to build a dam, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a splash alongside the rock. I figured it was a perch but thought I'd best keep watch.
Up he came again, in a slow, twisting motion. I could see his colours. It was a brookie! It was the slowness of his rise that attracted me. I could see, from the moment he lifted up from the bottom, every movement of his body. I watched him repeat the performance three more times before deciding he was a "comeandgetme" fish.
I took my time getting back to the car, I knew he wasn't going anywhere. The water would be warm enough that I wouldn't need waders so I just slipped on my wading boots. I put my rod together and tied on a Whitlock Hopper. I walked back to the bridge and there he was again. The problem was how to get down to where he was at. It was a very steep bank so I decided to take the trail for the first twenty feet and then cut across the edge of the backwater. After sliding down the trail I discovered that, like most backwaters, I was sinking in mud and I had to get out of the water and beat my way through the brush. I was ducking under fallen spruce, fighting my way through alders, and tripping over hidden stumps. My fly got hooked up twice. Salty sweat dripped into my eyes.
I eventually arrived at the left-hand side of the rock and, using a sidearm cast across my body, had to flick the fly to the outside of the rock. It took a couple of casts before he came up. The only thing was he came up so fast that I missed him. I tried again but he'd obviously lost interest in the hopper. I exchanged the hopper for a small, brown hackled, deer-hair bug with a yellow tail. One cast and he came completely out of the water and took the fly on the re-entry, just like he was rising to a newly hatched caddis.
He was a fighter, darting here and there, a typical comeandgetme fish, but I quickly got him in and released him. He was about ten inches, all bright and perky and I swear he had a smile on his face.
I didn't bother fishing any more. My pants were covered in mud up to my knees and I was soaked in sweat and my little finger felt like it was broken from when I had fallen.
He was a great example of a "comeandgetme" fish.
|Perched in a tree
I had a really funny experience when I was using my six-foot bamboo with a grey ghost zonker on the line.
I'd cast across stream, with about fifteen feet of line out, and had a couple of bumps.
I re-cast and had a good hit but when I struck my fly went zipping into the bushes. I reacted quickly and forward cast again.
I noticed what looked like a leaf on the fly. I let the fly drift and had another couple of bumps.
Then I pulled the fly in to remove what I thought was a leaf. It turned out to be a two-inch perch hooked right through the belly. I'm guessing I'd taken the perch right out of the trout's mouth.
I removed the perch, re-cast, and bang! I had him on. A nice eleven incher.
Well now, I thought I'd heard just about every kind of fishing story there was to tell but the one I heard today was a new one on me.
I was in the lineup at the Sears Service Centre. There was one feller ahead of me and one behind. There was only one young woman behind the service counter.
The feller behind started to grumble about the lack of service seeing as there were three stations at the counter. I turned to him and asked if he was a fisherman.
"You bet," he said.
"What do you fish for?" I asked.
"Bass, trout, anything that swims," was his reply.
"Fishermen are well-known for their patience," I said.
"Yeah," he said, "but there's gotta be more people back there that could serve us."
He hesitated and then pulled out his wallet, opened it up and pulled out a small, ragged, sepia-toned photo.
"Look at this," he said.
It was a picture of two men, one with a rod, holding up a huge fish by the tail. Then he turned it over and there, written in faded ink, was the names of the two men, 1956, and 46 1/2lbs.
"That's a striped bass and that's my brother and his son. They had to shoot that fish with a .22 before they could land it," he said with some pride.
My jaw dropped. I'd never before heard of anyone going sport-fishing with a .22 but I guess there's a first time for everything.
Remind me to take a gun the next time I go fishing.
Postscript...In No Man's River, Farley Mowat wrote "We were out of grub so Charles shot one of the grayling with a .22. A neat trick if you can do it!"
My I'venevercaughtafishthere Pool.
If you've ne'er encountered an I'venevercaughtafishthere pool then you've ne'er been fishing.
My pool happens to be located on a beautiful stretch of river, but then again, in my opinion; all pools are located on a beautiful stretch of river. A sixty-foot long by twelve-foot wide set of riffles precedes this pool. The side that I walk along is shingled and slopes to a depth of eighteen inches on the opposite, right-hand bank. Looking down to the end of the riffles, attached to that bank, is a huge, gnarled old maple. It projects halfway into the river and seems to be floating. It looks like one of those trees that you see in the Florida Everglades. The river has scoured out the ground beneath and to the left-hand side of the tree and you can see its roots in the clear water. The pool is shaped like a ten-foot diameter bowl cut in half and I estimate the water beneath the tree to be at least four feet deep.
Past the tree is another set of riffles leading into a large pool created by a beaver dam. I have seen an eighteen inch brown leap from its depths so I know there are big fish in this river, just as I suspect there are some big fish lying beneath that tree.
I have never observed a fish at the head of the pool but I have seen a few at the rear. These, I think, are the small ones. Twelve to fourteen inch browns that have given way to the larger fish up front. The larger ones will get first choice on the food that is sucked into the depths. I can almost see in my minds eye, the head of a monster brown, effortlessly holding steady behind a root, turning his head when a tasty morsel drifts by. I picture my bead-head nymph, the chocolate-brown one, being swallowed by this monster. I see him breaking my three-pound tippet like it was a strand of spiders web.
Maybe it's just as well that I'venevercaughtafishthere.
My fishing jacket
I bought my first goretex fly fishing jacket about five years ago (2002) from Cabela's. It was listed at $150 US. After duty, taxes and conversion the landed cost was $270 Canadian. I felt sick, I didn't think I could ever justify the cost.
However, if I was to describe to someone how I felt about my jacket today I would tell them whenever I wear it can almost feel the rivers that I've been on.
The underside of the hood and the underarms are almost the original colour, teal green. The rest of the jacket, especially the shoulders, are pale from the sun and scuffed from beating through bushes. The lining is starting to fray and come apart. The velcro straps are almost bare. And even after re-spraying, the goretex is no longer waterproof.
It's rubbed shoulders with salmon. Hugged many a good friend. It's seen brook trout jump clear of the water for caddis fly and a beaver swim across my line. It's felt the sun and the rain and the snow on its shoulders. It's seen the Blue mountains of Newfoundland. It's met moose and caribou. It's watched a seven pound brookie come within one inch of my muddler. It's pockets have carried hundreds of flies, and lost a few too. The muddler, the mickey finn, the blue upright, the orange bug. It's felt the sting of a hook. It's been christened with the waters of big rivers as well as sparkling little brooks. It's felt my heart pounding. Mayfly have wiggled into its seams and blackfly have rained on its hood. It's borne my pack on its back with its thermos of tea and peanut butter sandwiches. It has been a pillow for my little head and a cushion for my skinny butt.
That $270 was well spent.
My flyfishing mentor took his wife fishing one day. Well, the truth was, he was going to fish, she was going for a walkabout. What he neglected to tell his wife was not to do her walkabout behind him. On one almighty backcast he heard this loud, hollow (his words), thonk, and his forward cast was abruptly halted by a painful moan. On turning round there was his wife with the fly firmly embedded in her forehead. Experience had taught him to carry a small pair of pliers that could cut the barb from the hook, enabling him to thread it back through the point of insertion. He successfully performed the operation on his wife. Sadly, she has never been fishing with him since, although she does laugh when recounting the story.
Makes me shudder.
Another story took place on a Cape Breton river. This feller was fishing the salmon when another feller came walking by with a dog. The dog was not on a leash and the fisherman asked the owner to keep the dog out of the backcast lane. The owner ignored the fisherman and on the very next backcast the fisherman heard a loud yelp and his line started to scream off the reel in the opposite direction to the river. The dog was firmly hooked and was into the backing before he disappeared into the trees and broke the leader. The fisherman was mad because he had warned the owner and had lost a leader. The owner was mad because his dog had been hooked. The two of them got into a bout of verbal abuse and the dog kept going.
My sympathy lies with the dog.
My brother and the meaning of life
"I'll think about it." Or was it, "I'll give it some thought"? That was my sister's reply to my explanation of my brother's theory on the meaning of life. His contention was that we don't exist and yet, having said that, he felt there was more than one of us in the universe. Kind of a contradiction.
We, my brother and I, had been sitting on the low concrete retaining wall that extends outside my basement door. It was a warm evening and the stars were shining in a perfectly clear sky. We were both looking upwards from our sitting position, necks cranked back as far as our old bones would go.
"You don't think there's another Patrick and Stephen sitting on an identical wall somewhere else in the universe?" he questioned. "Maybe, on this other world, one of us is standing, maybe. But, as sure as beans is beans, there's more than one of us. And where does that leave us?"
"Would you like a cup of tea?" I asked as I watched him roll his makings.
"That's just what the other Patrick is asking. Or maybe it's him that's rolling the smoke," he replied.
"If I was him I'd be hoping that it would rain so's the trout fishing would pick up," I said.
"Nope. If I was me up there I'd be hoping the sun would keep shining so's I could go sailing tomorrow," he answered.
I had been in Canada for thirty-five years and this was his first trip here. I was thinking about how this is what it should be like. Him and me, sitting on a wall discussing the meaning of life. And then, later on, sitting on the couch beside my sister, the sensible one, listening to her say, "I'll think about it." Or was it, "I'll give it some thought"?
I'd always wanted to ride in the back of a truck. Bombing down the highway, waving to people along the road, giving the royal wave to following cars. I mean the real royal wave, the one the Queen makes. The one where she rolls her wrist without moving her arm. I know all about it, I've been practicing.
I did get in the back one time but it was for a short distance and I wouldn't say it met my expectations. A couple of friends and myself offered to move a piano about a quarter mile. Payment was a flat of beer. It was a real slow drive, slow enough that my friend was able to play the piano as we crept through the village. We didn't spill a drop of beer from the open bottles atop the piano.
My kids, and their friends, get in back of my truck when I pick them up off the school bus. They'd never consider getting in front. Of course, the truck has a cap and the distance from the stop to our house is only a couple of hundred yards, and we're not on the main highway. As they crawl across the tailgate and squat on the wheelwell their little faces tell me how they feel. I pull the tailgate up but leave the window open.
It took fifty-seven years before I achieved that childhood fantasy. Imagine, fifty-seven years. And it happened, of all places, in Daniels Harbour, Newfoundland. Where else? I mean where else would I be allowed to act like a child and go bombing down the highway in the back of an open truck, heading for the river, rod in hand, but Newfoundland. And I did it twice and it was even better the second time. And it would've been better the third time had I been given the chance.
Jim'll tell you. He was with me. And he's even older. Like a pair of kids. Backs up against the cab, legs stretched out amongst the gear in back of Casey's truck. Rolling from side to side as we went round the bends. Let me tell ya now, Casey's not one for dawdling along. I think he had that old Mazda flat out, just the same way as he fishes. Felt like the air was being sucked out of my lungs. Wind whistling past my flapping ears. Miniature whirlwinds of dust rising from the floor. Tires humming on the pavement. Eyes watering. Hat scrunched down tight. Absolute joy. The world is so different from the back of a truck. Just as I thought it might have been. Power poles flipping by. Like being in one of them old silent movies with the painted scenery scrolling past. The road grew smaller as the horizon and my grin expanded. Onto a dirt road, leaving a rolling brown cloud in our wake. I felt the excitement of a child.
I hope I will get to do it again, only this time I will bring a cushion. And maybe I will remember to use my royal wave.
If we'd have known then what we know now
Yesterdays canoe trip was quite the adventure.
Me and Big Vern paddled downwind on Corneys Lake to this island and tied up on the lee side. It's a scrubby little island. Maybe a half acre in size. Mostly rocks, short twisted spruce, and thick lambskill. Tight against the bank and out of the wind we assembled our rods. Bent over in the canoe we lazily cast for nonexistent trout. Coffee and cookies were shared as we discussed the meaning of life.
Fishing from a canoe makes my back ache. Not a trout had risen to our flies and we figured we might just as well be on land. Maybe the fishing would pick up after the sun had gone down a ways. We hauled the canoe ashore, found a small clear spot and lay down, using our lifejackets as pillows. The wind had really picked up by this time and I had thoughts of us being stranded. Not such a bad thing. We had plenty to eat, water, shelter and firewood. We were laying on our backs, side-by-side, shoulders almost touching, enjoying the outdoors. And then Vern started to talk about his horny years and how if he knew then what he knows now....and all that stuff.
He talked for an hour about all the wimmin he could of had and all the wimmin he did have. We were laughing so hard. Funny how, with all the fishermen I know, the subject always turns to sex and how if we'd have known then what we know now.
We pushed ourselves into a sitting position, looked at the waves, and decided to take a shot at getting back. The wind wasn't going to die down before sunset, that's for sure. On went the lifejackets; down came the rods, into the canoe we crawled. We coasted out from the lee side and were struck by a blast of wind that drove us head on into a large rock. We knew we had a struggle on our hands. We got the canoe turned round and headed straight into the wind. This was not the direction we wanted to go but it was the only choice we had. In between gusts we turned the canoe towards the shore.
Five lengths sideways, two lengths ahead. It took a while but we finally made it.
My shoulders still hurt but I love the challenge. I love that man against nature thing mostly because I am humbled by its power and beauty. Two days before I had watched and listened to a pair of courting loons and no matter how many times I hear their call it always, always, sends shivers down my spine. And at the same time, overhead, an osprey circled and pierced the air with its high-pitched screech, eventually diving for a fish on the opposite point.
And that was it ... not a single fish, but we surely know now what we should have known then.
I have included the following excerpt because I don't think it is the kind of book that would be found in the fly-fishing section of any bookstore...
Now he can have me from the book Healing Beyond the Body by Larry Dossey, M.D.
I know a remote glacial lake in a primitive, mountainous area of central Idaho that for me has all the attributes I expect from heaven. Its shores are strewn with boulders the size of houses and it is ringed with granite spires on three sides, which are the aeries of eagles. Its crystalline waters are inhabited by cutthroat trout, who through the years have lured me far more powerfully than I have lured them. Their bodies have fed me over campfires a few times. When I die, I hope to return the gesture by having my ashes scattered on those waters, entering the food chain of those blessed cutthroats, thereby becoming a trout.
For years I believed this wish was an idiosyncrasy, but it may be more common than I thought. Writing in Fly Fisherman magazine, Nick Lyons described a friend who, when he went fishing on a remote New England river, always paused at a bridge. The man had seen, in his early fifties, what he believed was the wavering tail of a gigantic brown trout, about twenty feet out, near the first abutment-though it could have been just a weed or a shadow. The next year he saw it clearly-a six- to eight-pound brown trout, perhaps twenty-six inches long, the largest trout he'd ever seen in an Eastern river. He waded into the water and tried casting a fly, but the currents made it impossible. He knew he could climb the bridge and try to catch the great fish with bait, or he could cast a metal lure to catch him, but neither option was acceptable to him.
Each time the man fished the river, three or four times each season, he stood quietly and stared at that patch of quiet water. It became a ritual. In the off-season he dreamed of the fish often and calculated new strategies, but none worked. The fish was there for two years, disappeared, and then was back. For ten years this went on, and the fisherman began to realize he probably was not looking at the same fish. The original brown trout, old when he first saw it, was now surely dead, replaced by another huge fish.
The man never grew tired of thinking about the fish, nor of visiting it and not catching it. Eventually he grew old and began to fish less because of painful arthritis. This only caused him to think more of his fish, "the first one and its successors melding into one, transcending themselves, becoming some sort of emblem." In July 1997 he saw it for the last time.
The man declared he'd never fish again; he had developed cancer, which was rapidly progressing. He told his wife he wanted to be cremated, and that he wanted a friend to drop his ashes from the upstream part of the bridge so the current would carry them to the great trout:
"That fish gave me so much pleasure over the years - thinking about it, watching for it, pitching a fly toward that abutment. Every time I went I simmered with hope, and if I saw it, I returned radiant..." He paused for a moment. "We were really linked, you know."
His friend said he did know.
"And now, since I couldn't have him, he can have me."
I got stoned when I was fishing once. I was young and stupid.
It was the middle of August and I was hunting for salmon on one of the rivers in Cape Breton. It had been a slow morning and I was only halfway up the river. I sat down on the bank, had a drink of water, ate a granola bar, and was gonna light up a cigarette when I remembered I had half a roach in my vest. It was left over from last nights relaxing little toke by the camp stove.
I dug it out, looked at it, and lit it. Only did about half. Then lit my cigarette, laid back and tipped my hat over my eyes.
After I'd finished my smoke I dragged myself up and started walking upriver.
I was just coming to a stretch called Rocky Road. It was an old, dry riverbed, about a kilometre long, swinging in arc to the left where it met up with the river proper. Riverbeds in Cape Breton are made up of about four inch diameter round rocks. Try walking on them when you're sober, now imagine what it's like when you're stoned. Like walking on ball-bearings. I was all over the place.
It seemed like an endless journey, one where you look back at where you've come from and wonder how you got to where you are now. I don't remember much of that journey, apart from going sideways most of the time. I do know I thought I was gonna die. Heat waves were rising from the rocks and in the distance I could see Lawrence of Arabia galloping by on a camel. Everything's a blur after that and, as of today, I don't even remember if I fished.
In Newfoundland a leader for salmon is either nine feet of six pound Maxima Chameleon or five feet of 6 pound joined to four feet of 6 pound (there's no such thing as a tippet). Yes, you're reading me right. Why they tie two pieces of the same size is beyond me. But I'll tell ya something...they sure know how to catch fish.
Each year I marvel at the inhabitants of Newfoundland. And each year I meet another one. Harold was one more Newfie that I came to admire and respect. Another one of those who was born, got married and will most probably pass away in the only place he knows, Daniel's Harbour.
And yet, for all his isolation, he is more worldly than one could imagine.
He loved his wife (she passed in 2005). He loves his children, and his children's children, just as they too love him. He loves his 'fish and bruse' and his bar of chocolate-covered turkish delight. He loves the woods in words that he cannot describe.
He hunts, yet has respect for the animals he kills for food.
He dislikes sandwiches and is disgusted at paying ninety-nine cents for a liter of gas.
He predicts the salmon will be running two days after the swallows arrive on the Rock.
He has guided for professionals like Lee Wulff and for amateur old duffers like me.
And yet, he is not alone.
There are others in Daniel's Harbour, and all of Newfoundland, just like him.
And then there's Casey. To see him make a fifty-foot cast with a flick of the wrist over his wrong shoulder makes me envious. He does it so easily. He was the one that introduced me to the Undertaker, a fly I wouldn't be without. He ties beautiful flies. And he sure knows those little, rarely fished holes where the odd salmon will lay. To have him with you on a river is like having luck on your side.
On the drive home the other day I listened to this Newfie comedian on the radio. He's right you know. He said that Newfies are great story tellers.
"Just ask a Newfie a question, any question. Like, could you tell me where I could find a pharmacy? Well bye, dat be old Ollie's store down da road a bit. He bought it after de fire. It used to be de fire hall but dey had a fire in dere and it burnt to de ground. Nuttin dey could do about it, da pumper was inside. So old Ollie he buys it and rebuilds it, all by himself, stick-by-stick and turns it into a drugstore. Gets the lumber from Paddy down at de lumberyard. Young Paddy he come by dat yard by way of his Grandaddy who come over on the boat from Ireland..."
It's true, they do have a story about everything and they're mostly about their own lives and the community that they live in. You gotta love 'em.
Between da Ponds
I was in Newfoundland with my friends Vern, Roy and Muddler.
We'd decided to take a trip to a spot called "Between da Ponds." The, ahh, Between da Ponds is a very short stretch of river between two major ponds and the fish congregate in this little run. And, ahh, one can fish one pond on the forward cast and t'other pond on the back-cast.
I was casting to a fish on the front pond out there and I missed. He rose and I struck quite quickly and, ahh, I kind of delayed on the back-cast and it must have dropped in the other pond. On the forward cast a fish took it. I felt this thing hit me in the back of the head and, ummm, I was knocked out for a short while. When I came to there was this trout ... as you can see ... the back end here ... it's still alive, I believe it's still alive. Anyway, I thought I would keep it forever considering it has gone right through my head."
Arse foremost (Backwards) - Newfoundland saying
|Tales||Casting contest I Tangier River I Boyhood memories I Newfie salmon I Muddler's memories I Does a bear? I First ever salmon I The Tickmobile|
|U-Fish I 4 a.m. I Lyin seasun I Anecdotes I Fishgirl salmon I A natural fly I Main Event I Honeymoon I Vernon I Leslie I Coyote? I Newfie trout|