Four in the morning

I never lost a little fish ... Eugene Field

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1998

I'd never been aware that there was such a time as four in the morning. Can't say as I was ever up at that time of day. Not even when I was young. Not even for old Saint Nick.

So, when Walt and Casey, our guides, said we should hit the road for the Bluey, on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula, at four in the morning I reacted accordingly.

"When?" I spluttered.
"Four," They said, their mouths split in wide grins.
"Four, eh," I repeated. "Does the earth still turn at that time of day?"
"Yeah," Walt said "And the salmon'll be flat out too."
I looked at Jim, Roy, and Vern for help.

"We should try it once." They muttered, not too convincingly.
I knew they felt the same as me. We were on vacation and getting up at four meant we would miss our Newfie breakfast. Bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, marmalade, juice, tea and coffee. Cooked by Nicey, the finest cook this side of the rock.

"Make it five!" I said.
"Four t'irty." Well that was it. Casey of the few words had spoken. Four t'irty it was then.

We arranged with Nicey to be back for breakfast around nine thirty and set our alarms for four.

Strangely enough I was first one up. I think. Seemed to me I was the only one who didn't use the bathroom through the night on a regular basis. I was getting used to being woken up by the padding of feet down the hall. Nature called. I didn't look in the mirror. I splashed water on my face, stroked my teeth and hair, and headed for the kitchen. Like a pinball I bounced from door opening to chair to table to wall. All I could think of was getting the kettle to boil fast. I put just enough water in for one cup of tea. And then I lit up. It all seemed so unreal, like I was in a dream. Maybe I was.

Then I heard Roy going through his bathroom routine. I wished he'd close the door. Hearing Roy clear his morning throat makes me want to gag. It starts from below his Adams apple and comes charging up like a volcano.

Jim was next up. Jim's one of those that's chipper any time of the day, just like now. Mind you, he's most chipper when he's dabbling a muddler in running water, calling out 'Heeeere fishyfishy, heeere fishyfishy'. I've taken to calling him 'Muddler'.

And then I heard Vern rise from the hollows of his mattress. Vernon's one who likes to start the day with a real healthy sneeze. It's best to be wearing chest waders when he does.

I'd added more water to the kettle and we all sat at the table drinking tea and coffee. Roy was burning toast. Found some apples and oranges and bottles of water and threw them in our backpacks. Waders, rods, fishing vests.

Walt and Casey showed up at four t'irty. Did I have a pee? We patted our pockets to see if we'd forgotten anything. One more smoke before we crawled in the truck. Then into the sunrise.

Five miles down the road two caribou ran out in front of us. Nothing runs like a caribou, it's like they have these dislocated knees. They stayed in our lane for about a mile before heading into the woods. Just as well there wasn't another vehicle on the road that morning. I could picture a truck coming over the hill and seeing these animals heading his way. I could also imagine the caribou thinking "Now what way shall we turn, what way shall we turn?" But it didn't happen.

Off the main road onto the logging road. Moose everywhere. I'm inhaling them. Five-in-the-morning moose mouth. Popped in one of them, bottom of the pocket, fluff covered sour candies that the kids love nowadays. Like sucking on a bottle of vinegar.

Half hour later parked the truck and unfolded. Waders on the wrong feet. Vest on inside-out. Just the way I felt. Gotta cross the river to get to the other side. Why is the fishing always better on the other side? Stumbling around in the semi-darkness, mist rising from the river.

We crossed safely and headed downriver to the Rock Pool. Along the way we passed a spot where I'd raised a couple of salmon the last time we were here, at a reasonable time of day I might add. Roy, Vern and Casey stopped at the pool just around the bend from Lee Wulff's old camp. Jim, Walt and I slogged on. We rounded the corner. There was Morgan and Kirk going flat out. The only other fools on the river. The odd salmon was jumping but they hadn't raised a thing.

"Wanna cross over Paddy bye?" Walt asked. "I guarantee you'll git one over there." I wondered how many times you have to cross a river to guarantee a fish. I'd seen him take Jim over the last time. The water had come close to spilling over the top of Walt's chest waders. If I'd been wide-awake I most probably would have said no. I was too tired to disagree though. The first and last third of the hundred feet was a piece of cake. I had a death grip on Walt's arm for the middle third. Far away we could hear thunder rolling.

"Fish all the way down along them rocks," said Walt.

I looked over at Jim fishing flat out. I couldn't quite get him in focus.

An hour and a half and five flies later I'd worked my way down to the end of the pool. Walt was sitting down, back against a tree, resting. So much for getting up at four. Jim was still at it. Morgan and Kirk had quit. Not one salmon had looked at our flies. I complained to Walt about his guarantees as we lurched our way across the shallow riffles at the bottom of the pool.

Jim said he was going to slowly fish his way back to Roy and Vern. I wanted one more shot at that pool upriver of the camp.

I passed Roy and Vern and a pile of snow-crab shells on the bend. Nicey's husband Harold had saved us a couple of dozen of these crabs and Vern had brought what was left over from the previous evenings feast. Casey said he thought Vern might've had a raise or two. I quietly waded past a feller from Maine at the camp pool. He'd had no luck.

Where I was heading was the junction of two pools shaped like a figure 8. At this narrow section sat two large rocks, just visible below the surface. The salmon lay around these rocks. I enjoyed this spot. I could wade out waist deep on the gravel bottom. It was nice and cool on my essentials and the current wasn't too strong. I could have stayed there all day. Only the American was within sight, and he was just a blur. There are times when I like to fish alone.

I found one of my Blue Charms and tied her on. The first cast was picture perfect; I don't do that too often. Thirty feet of straight line at forty-five degrees. Trouble was, the hitch wasn't working. The fly was dragging below the surface.

It stopped its swing, just as I was thinking about pulling it back to see if the hitch had come off. The line headed a couple of feet slowly across the pool. And then up the pool to within ten feet of me. I reeled in quickly and lightly set the hook. He didn't like that. My rod smiled and downriver he went. It's times like these when nothing else exists. Now it was just him and me.

He had fifty feet of line out when he made his first twisting leap. Hanging in mid air, sparkling silver in the sunlit mist. Fifteen feet more line and another leap. And then a run left and then right. I put the pressure to him and started to work him back. He came slowly, I had to keep him clear of those rocks. He was within thirty feet of me, in between the rocks, when he ran again. He came up, skimming the water on his side, downstream and right. I started shuffling towards the shore, keeping him to the right, wading forward. He was still strong but I felt I had control. He made a couple more runs but didn't leap. I had him within fifteen feet and was almost ashore, thinking about where to beach him, when he slipped into a small depression in the gravel and threw the hook.

A brief moment of disappointment that the contest had ended, followed by an overwhelming wave of contentment. I sat down. I was going to keep him and give him to Casey but I felt better about him being free. I think Casey would too.

I was feeling peaceful, sitting on a log, when the lads showed up. I was all packed, ready to cross the river for the fourth time. The American had seen me and told them of my fish. I sort of wished he hadn't, but he wasn't to know that. It was one of those times I'd rather have kept to myself. But thems the beans.

Lets get on home for breakfast!

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 I Fantasy

Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997