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Fish Tales #1: Leeches

When I was a young lad, I watched my dad and my big brother Joe get ready for their fishing trips, load up the station wagon and take off up north somewhere or other. When they returned, they brought stories of their adventures and sometimes plenty of trout for a feast. It all sounded so fantastic to my young ears and I wanted to go with them in the worst way.

They used to go fishing with a fellow named Charlie, who took them to many excellent spots over the years. I was pretty young and I barely remember Charlie. I recall or at least imagine a man with a long face smoking a pipe. Charlie had talked to a farmer somewhere, sometime, who told him about a place he called the High Falls. There were beaver ponds above a set of falls on a small creek and they were loaded with big trout. Charlie, my dad and Joe were determined to find the place, even though Charlie’s directions were plenty vague.

The day they finally found the High Falls, they came home with a cooler full of big brook trout. Back then there was no such thing as catch and release, and limits were generous – 15 trout per day per angler. At home they laid 21 trout on the hood of the old station wagon. We have the photo in one of the old family photo albums. I vaguely recall the oils from some of the trout left impressions on the hood of the station wagon, stains bad enough they could not be removed.

The important matter of photographing the trout taken care of, my father went inside to have a shower and change from his fishing clothes. He must have cried out when he removed his pants. I just remember there were many leeches, gorged with blood, attached to his legs. I’m sure he had wet-waded the beaver ponds where they caught all the trout and picked up the leeches there. I remember thinking, oh no, the leeches must have been on Dad’s legs for hours.

Years later, I had my own unfortunate encounter with leeches. It was on a canoe trip in Northern Ontario. At the end of one of the portages, there was a beautiful waterfall that stepped down in 3 terraces. We were hot and sweaty and tired from the portage and decided to take some time to cool off in the waterfall. It felt so good. We were leaning back onto mossy rocks with the water splashing over us.

We quickly found out we had all picked up several very small leeches on the backs of our heads where we used the moss as a pillow. I recall we used tweezers from a first aid kit to remove the leeches from each another’s heads. It was not a painful experience but more like a creepy one.

Many years later, I quizzed my brother on the location and looked at some topo maps. I decided to try to retrace their steps. The creek was low and the High Falls, though indeed high, was hardly spectacular. I found a trail that led to the beaver ponds above. They were just as Joe and my dad described them, except there was a hunting cabin in good shape behind one of the ponds. I fished the ponds for hours and did not catch any trout, though that was not what mattered. I was highly satisfied to see the place i heard the same stories about for years. It was a magical place in my childhood imagination.

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