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Dead Fish Days

I grew up in a family that fished and fished a lot. It seemed my father and my brother were always either heading to some spot or another or else talking about it. Getting ready for opening day was a ritual in our home, serious business. After fishing, photos of the dead fish, with our without humans, were obligatory.

My father and my brother had all kinds of spots they liked to fish. Some were close to home and others further afield. Some very special ones were given to them by a fellow named Charlie. I remember Charlie just a little. I remember he smoked a pipe and I can remember his appearance and his voice – but that’s it. Charlie liked his drink (a lot), and my father used to say he fell into all the best trout streams in Ontario. Legend had it Charlie retrofitted his car interior with a bar so he could mix cocktails on the road. Times, fortunately, have changed.

Here is my father with his young son, my big brother, affectionately known on this blog as Salvelinas Fontinalis,

The Sturgeon

The Sturgeon

and a sturgeon which my dad claimed was 57 pounds and 57 inches. He used to say, “Son, it was bigger than you and better looking.” He caught it in the Nottawasaga River at a particular spot that was known to hold these huge fish. Over the years he hooked a number of sturgeon but as far as I know this is the only one he ever actually landed. He told stories about this fish for many years. This was going back a ways. I don’t think I was even born yet. Still I had to hear all about it. Salvelinas may remember some actual details, and perhaps he’ll share them in the comments.

This next picture features me as kid with a mess of nice trout. The thing is I’m pretty sure I wasn’t responsible for these trout, and I have no idea at all where we might have been fishing.

EPSON MFP imageSometimes, the trout were more important than the people. The next famous family photo features a mess of 21 chunky brook trout. All I can tell you about this is that I believe they lay the trout down on the hood of my father’s station wagon for this picture, not realizing that the oil from the skin of the trout would stain the hood (Salvelinas….is that true or false?).

EPSON MFP imageI always liked this next photo. It features my father in a field proudly holding a nice trout above his creel. EPSON MFP imageIn those days, he always carried a creel or a canvas bag to carry out his trout. There was no catch and release. It was catch and eat for dinner. He would put a handful of meadow grass in his creel which he said would help keep the trout fresh.

My father was an unrepentant bank-napping worm plonker of the highest order. He had a knack for finding and catching trout and he did his best to teach me his tricks. He always used a light test line, and he liked to fish with dew worms hooked once through the collar, with no weight on the line. “Let the worm drift naturally,” he’d say.  I remember watching him catch a large brown trout from a small stream one day doing this. He would let the worm drift under a log jam, into the bomb shelter where the big trout lived. I loved those days. My childhood on trout streams embedded in me a lifelong love of nature. It was a great gift he gave me.

Ah, I’ve got the fishin’ blues…

1 Comment so far

  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    Heh ya old photos of trout. Charlie was one of the great trout fishermen and we never missed an opportunity to fish with him. In fact he had fished in pretty much every stream south of Temagami that held trout and he shared them with dad and I. I can confirm that indeed he did have a built in bar in the front of his station wagon. It was big enough to hold a bag of ice cubes, a dozen cans of mix and several bottles of whiskey. He also had spill proof glass holders on the dashboard. All of this within easy reach while he was driving. I’ll just say that every trip with Charlie was an adventure. I dont know what the penalty for drinking while driving was back then but I am pretty sure Charlie never got caught. A lot of very memorable fishing trips centered around him though.

    The sturgeon came from the Nottawasaga River. Strangely it was not an accidental catch – dad was actually fishing for sturgeon and had made several tries at catching one. As far as I know it was the only one he ever actually landed. When he got the thing home he promptly drove it all over the west end of Toronto to show his friends. When he finally returned home he was too tired to deal with cutting it up. Surprisingly after 6-7 hours out of water the fish looked to still be somewhat alive so he took it upstairs, filled the bathtub with water and put the sturgeon in the tub then settled back to relax for a while. It turned out that at the time we lived in a 2 story house and my parents were trying to rent out the upstairs. When my dad put the fish in the tub he didnt know that my mother had made arrangements to show the upstairs flat to a potential tenant later that evening. The guy arrived and they took him upstairs for a tour and when he went into the bathroom and turned on the light the sturgeon let go with a mighty tail thrash and doused the tenant from head to toe with water. Kind of funny actually except I think the guy thought we were nuts and he didnt rent the place.

    I dont recall the 5 trout photo at all. I can say though that dad never ever packed a camera on day trips but instead tood photos at home. That picture was not taken in our backyard so I will conclude it was taken on some multi day trip somewhere.
    I recall the picture of the 21 trout quite well and I remember where we caught them. Beautiful spot on the upper Magnetawan River. We used to vacation quite a bit in the small town of Sundridge, typically renting a cabin on Lake Bernard for a week at a time. Every time we went into a store or gas station dad would ask the locals where we might catch some trout. Most of the locals would suddenly become unresponsive and just say there werent any trout for 30 miles which we knew was a flat out lie. Some of them would be a bit helpful and several mentioned what they called the high falls. You will catch more than you can carry at the high falls they said but no one could describe just exactly where this place was. We took that as a challenge and spent several years looking for it. We would study topographical maps and set out on ridiculous long hikes along the river looking for the falls. On this particular day we drove about a mile trough meadow then walked another mile or maybe more before we approached the stream. When we finally got to the stream it was one of the prettiest spots I had ever seen. There was no waterfall but there sure were trout and we caught the ones in the photo in short order. I dont remember the fish staining the car hood though. We did finally (after several years of bushwhacking through forests) finally find the mythical high falls. It wasnt all that high but geez there were a lot of trout. Strangely we only visited the falls once after we initially found it. The fishing was too easy, the trout tended to be small and it was a long long walk to get there. It just didnt seem worth the work involved in getting there.

    I recall the single trout too. Dad caught it in what we call the cataract pool on the Magnetawan. Half a day of hard fishing yielded one trout. It is a technology thing I guess but we didnt take very many pictures of our fish. You needed film and you had to spend money and send the film away to be processed and it just seemed like a lot of trouble to just end up with some photos of fish. If we had digital cameras back then we would have taken thousands of pictures. The real memories though are of the places we fished and the people we fished with rather than the fish and we sadly have almost no photos of the rivers or our fishing buddies.

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