The best fishermen are 12 year old boys. I came to this conclusion years ago.
I’d fish for hours on the Thompson, and not catch a thing. Then, mounting the old wooden stairs at the end of 4th St. in Ashcroft, I’d see coming down Brink St., the Godau boys, with a good string of trout. I’d see other boys again, fishing from the shore under the bridge. They’d invariably have some to take home. I didn’t envy them exactly. I just realized that there was something about boys that Thompson River trout liked.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t got my fair share of those rainbows in the Thompson over the many years I fished that stream, usually alone, with the wind at my back. There is nothing like that arc of line cast wide against the cream colored cliffs and hitting the current, feeling the tug of its power in the rod. Actually, getting a bite at the end of it, is the little extra thrill that can come and go at will, it seems. It almost doesn’t matter, if that extra tug reels in a trout. The pleasure of fishing is not in the end catch and release, or even keeping the fish for your supper that night, frying it with a little salt in a camp frying pan, peeling off the skin, and forking the flesh with your fingers. The real pleasure of fishing is being on a river or a lake, the hills and dales, the gorges and pebbled beaches, the very air itself, filled with the sunshine, shadows, and even raindrops, filling your lungs and making you feel all’s right with the world.
Still, the fish is the thing you’re after. And trout on a line held up for the camera with both hands will put a smile on your face any time. Because a line full of trout is a triumph. Mind you, a minor triumph to be sure. You are not after tuna, or sword fish, or some other leviathan of the deep. You are after the speckled, silvery magic of a trout or a rainbow to take to the board with a hole in it (for the guts), where you can practice your filleting skills with a knife sharpened for the event.
When I was a kid, the family went to Grand Beach every year for a week or two of holiday time. Grand Beach is on Lake Winnipeg. Cottages dotted the woods for half a mile back. Food vendors at Grand Marais, just out of the camp site, sold bakery items, fresh vegetables, and condiments. On “the rocks”, at the lakeshore, native Indian fishermen sold the pickerel they’d hauled in that morning. Mother would give me 50 cents, and tell me to bring home some of that delectable, tender fish with its unbeatable flavor of, well, fresh air and lake water, and I’d stand in line under the trees, watching the fisherman fillet the pickerel with apparent easy skill. Once, a kindly fisherman invited me to try to fillet, and after a few moments, took the knife from my hand and smiled, and I took that pickerel wrapped in a fold of newspaper back to the cottage, realizing that filleting a fish isn’t as easy as it looks.
Neither is catching a trout in the Thompson.
It is a sport, as they say. A sport requiring the kind of skill all sports require. The kind of skill that looks effortless, like the native fisherman at Grand Beach.
But the most important quality a fisherman must have is patience. That solid virtue described in the Oxford Dictionary as “calm, enduring hardship”.
I don’t know about the hardship definition, unless you call several or more hours spent on a river or a lake, not even getting a bite, as “hardship”. I guess some might see it at that.
For example, ice fishing at Barnes Lake. Squatting for hours over a hole in the ice with a short rod, waiting for a fish to find the bait, the wind, maybe, not at your back exactly, and the temperature about 20 below Celsius in January, give or take a few notches. Now, that is Patience personified. Sometimes, you’ll see a fisherman in such a position, take a small flask out of one of the pockets of his flannel lined coveralls, and take a nip or two. For warmth, of course. For encouragement. To go on and sit, and wait, and watch the hole with the intensity of a lab scientist looking at a glass plate.
If you think that is an exaggeration, think again. I have seen this with my own eyes. I have not, I confess, ice fished at Barnes Lake. But I have ice fished at Meadow Lake, and I can tell you, hot coffee laced with rum makes patience you never realised you had.
Fishing the Thompson is another kind of experience altogether. It is active. It is intense. It is skillful. It is requiring more than patience. It is requiring endurance. It is requiring grace. Yes, grace. Have you ever seen anything more graceful than a fly fisherman’s cast? Yes, it is even a form of ballet. Let’s face it. What do ballet dancers have to have? Not only grace, but endurance. That kind of thing that anyone fishing the Thompson River must possess.
It is more than luck, is fishing. It is a combination of virtues as well as skills, as I’ve outlined.
It is a challenge. Fishing anyone?