THE LOST ART OF FISHING FOR FUN

You can still fish some of the world’s greatest lakes and streams in Canada. You can even catch fish close to home. But only if you know what the angler at the right tells here

Ralph Allen’s June 16 1962

THE LOST ART OF FISHING FOR FUN

You can still fish some of the world’s greatest lakes and streams in Canada. You can even catch fish close to home. But only if you know what the angler at the right tells here

Ralph Allen’s June 16 1962

THE LOST ART OF FISHING FOR FUN

You can still fish some of the world’s greatest lakes and streams in Canada. You can even catch fish close to home. But only if you know what the angler at the right tells here

Ralph Allen’s

new guide to

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS about the changing state of our nation can be asked in one short and, to some, disturbing question: "What has happened to the fishing?"

It used to be taken as a matter of course that anybody from anywhere, no matter how incompetent, no matter how unfamiliar with the ways of fish, could go fishing anywhere in Canada and long before he was at the bottom of the first jug of rye he'd have a boatful of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, speckled trout, lake trout. Arctic char, Arctic grayling, mudpuds. ling. pike, doré, perch, sturgeon, smallmouth bass, large-mouth bass, silver bass. Atlantic salmon, Tyee salmon, landlocked salmon. tommy-cod. herring, whitefish, smelt, blue-gills, rock bass, sunfish or pumpkinseeds and occasionally a medium-sized white whale.

Fishing has been (and still is, according to the tourist agents), our most dependable national treasure. All you had to do. according to the lost and lovely myth, was wet a line anywhere between Corner Brook, Newfoundland. and Port Alberni. B.C.. and the fish would come at you so thick and fast and big and splendid that you were lucky to get away with your life. It was never wholly true, of course, not even in the days when the whole population consisted of Hurons, Iroquois, moose and great golden pickerel. But at least three million people still go fishing in Canada every year. They spend nearly ten million dollars on fishing licenses alone, even though in some provinces, including Ontario, the residents don't need licenses. No one can offer any sensible estimate of how much more they spend on food, lodging, tackle, gasoline and the wine of the country.

Other North Americans rush across our borders by the tens of thousands, full of towering dreams. Those of us who are more or less indigenous are equally optimistic. We race happily from Collingwood, Ontario, to Three Rivers, Quebec (or just as likely the other way around), or from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, to Jasper Park, Alberta (and again the other way around), in the undying belief that the place we’re going to is The Right Place, the place where the kinkers lie waiting and hungry.

The disillusioning facts are that (a) the kinkers probably aren't there in the first place and (b) if they are, they’re much too sophisticated to be caught by the first stray dude from Peoria or Westmount. For the average fisherman it has become extremely difficult to catch fish of any size or in any numbers in the Fisherman's Paradise of Canada. A really great fisherman — and there probably aren’t more than two dozen of these in the whole world — will somehow catch fish anywhere. A rich fisherman, a man who can charter a plane, is still almost certain to get great fish in any province of the Dominion. This usually involves going north as far as the waters that feed Hudson Bay and the Arctic. There’s some magnificent salmon water further south, mainly in the Maritimes. But a great deal of the good water in the Maritimes has been sold or leased to private interests and if you want to fish it you must either pay a huge fee or risk being arrested as a poacher. There are a few good streams and lakes in the accessible parts of British Columbia and Alberta and there are some man-killing muskellunge in the St. Lawrence, within a short bus ride of Montreal. But these

aren’t fish that the man from Peoria or Westmount ever secs. According to biologists, fish were on this planet well ahead of men and according to many political thinkers they may be here long after man has left. They arc down there outsmarting us, and the closer they arc to the haunts and habitations of man the craftier they get.

This sounds like a mournful view of the prospects of the angler in Canada but it’s not meant to be. Catching fish is surely only one of the pleasures of fishing and fishing is still, all over Canada, a source of huge and varied pleasure. There are birds around, trees around, flowers around and occasionally even a willing fish around.

THE TOUGHEST IS THE GALLANT BASS

This note on fishing will not deal with the Never-Never-Lands, the places so hard to reach that the casual week-end fisherman has no chance of getting there. It’s addressed to the man who says, four or five times a year: “Say, Clarisse,” or “Say Bertha, what would you say if I went fishing with old George and Charlie for maybe next Saturday and Sunday?”

If this man is looking primarily for fish, he should buy them at the store and stay home. If. however, he's caught some intimation of the true meaning of fishing he should kiss Clarisse or Bertha good-bye and get moving. The essence of his quest is the quest itself.

One of the finest two or three writers on fishing, one whose quiet knowledge of his subject and quiet command of his language have earned him a reputation all over the world, is the Vancouver Island author and magistrate. Roderick Haig-Brown. When 1 asked him if

he'd tell me where he looked for the best fishing of all he answered: “The best for me, as it is to all fly enthusiasts, is in the nearest stream that holds worthwhile fish. This is where we know the standards and can test our performances against our own past performances. It is full of recognitions and echoes and other delights. It may not be good fishing in the regulation sense, hut it is bound to be the best."

Gregory Clark, an equally famous and eloquent fisherman, refuses flatly to admit that there arc any bad places to fish, any bad books on fishing or any bad stories about fishing. “In that realm,” he says, “criticism does not enter.”

No two people have exactly the same thoughts and emotions about fishing. No two have the same ideas and visions about the best places to go. Talking still about the spots close to the places where Clarisse and Bertha will allow their menfolk briefly off the leash, there are at least two outstanding lakes left in Canada. One of these is Memphramagog, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where anybody is almost sure, at the worst, of a good catch of perch and anybody who's lucky could run into good small-mouth bass or lake trout or even the wild and beautiful landlocked salmon.

The second great lake for quick-week-end, city fishermen is without doubt Lake Simcoe in Ontario. Lake Simcoe is an amazing stretch of water, its south end only forty miles from Toronto and therefore within an hour's drive of more than two million people. It’s got smallmouth bass — and no one interested in fishing should ever forget that with the possible exception of the salt-water tarpon, the salt-water bonefish and the slab - sided, side - winding

African poinpano. the small-mouth is the toughest fighting fish there is. (There will be cries of outrage from defenders of the muskie, the steelhead trout and the Atlantic salmon, but the thing to remember is that these other fish outweigh the gallant bass by two, four or six to one. Imagine tying into a twenty-fivepound small-mouth! It's enough to scare a man out of a year's growth.)

There are many other fish in Lake Simcoe besides the marvelous small-mouth. Pike. Whitefish. Herring. Perch. Catfish. An occasional rainbow trout. An astounding number of lake trout, as clean and tough as nails, anywhere from two pounds to twenty pounds.

PLUCKING SUCKERS IS ALSO FISHING

Saskatchewan is the only province where it's almost impossible to get good fishing without traveling a long way from the urban areas. If you go north you’ll be in reach of magnificent lake trout, grayling and pike. In the inhabited parts it’s different. I grew up in the southeast, nonfishing part of Saskatchewan, right on the border of North Dakota. Every spring we'd go to the CPR dam below our town. We'd half-swim and half-climb up to the dam and grab fat suckers out by hand and then take them up town to sell to the owner of the Chinese laundry or the owner of the Chinese café. (The café owner couldn’t resell them to his customers but he claimed that he, personally, found them delicious.)

Later in the year there would be big mud turtles dozing on the rocks below the dam and in due course the laundryman or the café owner would acquire them too. A purist might deny that this was fishing at all. In the most heroic and noble sense it may not have been. But after many years of trial and error, defeat and a very occasional victory, 1 have arrived at the unalterable conclusion that anything that seems like fishing is fishing.

In Manitoba, leaving aside a few semisecret places, it’s also necessary to go a long way north to get what most people define as good fishing. It's easier in Alberta where you start right on the main highways to hit the foothills and the Rockies and the fast water. Once, 1 was visiting my brother-in-law Phil Austin at his ranch near Cochrane, less than forty miles from Calgary. There was a little stream below his house, roiled from a recent rain and hardly ten feet wide. At daybreak I went out to the garden and found a few worms (those who object to bait fishing may return the magazine and have their money refunded). 1 borrowed a flyrod and went sheepishly and expecting nothing in the way of fish to the little stream to get some of the lovely morning air. At once 1 was assaulted by a horde of cutthroat and rainbow trout the like of which I’ll never see again. 1 took back a dozen for breakfast, goodsized ones for that kind of water, up to fifteen inches.

In Ontario I’ve run

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FISHING FOR FUN

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“I expected chub, but 15 gleaming speckled trout came out of that one pool before I moved my feet”

into the same sort of astonishment only once. It was on a little creek near a place called Campbellford. For years Andy Anderson and I made a practice of buying inch-to-the-mile maps. Then we’d identify a stream where there would or should be trout and we’d start map-reading, moving back and forth along the cross-roads until we hit a place where the water looked promising and the No Trespassing signs were either nonexistent or so eroded we could pretend not to have seen them.

By this process we arrived at the creek near Campbellford on a bright Sunday morning and fought our way through brush and swamp. Andy politely stayed a little behind while I floundered on until I found a place where I was able to keep the back cast clear of the trees and still hit the little strip of water with the forward cast. I thought I’d reached a chub hole and was ready to move on the instant the first chub — usually considered a trash fish — made its appearance. Instead, and I'd bet my life it could not possibly happen again, fifteen gleaming speckled trout came out of that one little pool before I moved my feet. Not one was over twelve inches long but not a single one was under ten. These statistics are meaningless to anyone who hasn’t tried fishing close to the city streets of Canada; to anyone who has tried

they will be as unbelievable as they still remain to me.

You just can’t generalize any more about fishing in this country. You will get no agreement anywhere although you will still get honest passion everywhere. I brought the matter up with another of my favorite fishing companions, Charles Lynch, a Maritimer who has been lured to Ottawa. “It is my theory,” Lynch says, “that few of the inhabitants of the great sporting regions of our land have any sporting instincts, nor do they have the faintest idea of what is meant by same. Their basic thought, I feel sure, is that the sporting fisherman is a sucker and the fly fisherman is completely demented. Some of them are splendid fly fishermen themselves, as the result of a lifetime of pretending that this is the way they prefer to fish. But turn your back on them for an instant, or let them go off for some fish on their own and out come the dynamite sticks, the worms and the jigs. I have had too many guides revert to type on me to believe otherwise — let them detect a streak of scoundrel in their paying guest and by mid-day they will be suggesting that the native way of fishing be tried.”

Another^ friend of mine once made an equally cogent comment on some fishing guides. Bruce West and I were after

pickerel and Great Northern pike in Quebec and had been placed at the mercy of a Montagnais guide who kept rowing the boat in circles or in the wrong direction; kept dropping the anchor in fourteen inches of water even though it was the sort of day when any sane fish had to be lying at fourteen feet: and getting things so genially fouled up that you couldn’t help suspecting you had somehow been plunged into the middle of an old Laurel and Hardy movie. At last, through some miracle of luck or divination. 1 managed to get a long spinning cast far enough

away from the boat to reach a respectable amount of water and through a further miracle a huge Great Northern grabbed it. 1 was using a two-pound test line and when, forty minutes later, West and I finally got a look at the fish, we judged it weighed at least twelve. My reel had jammed and so the usual (and revolting) features of the safety clutch or star drag weren't working. When the fish wanted to run it had to be allowed to run or it would have snapped the line. In the only feat of angling for which I have the slightest right to be remembered I brought the fish up

near, let it run, brought it near, let it run; West and I had both decided we must release it anyway because it was a very fine fish and we didn’t need it. But through chivalry or vanity I wanted desperately to get it into the net long enough to have a decent look at it and release the hook properly. At last the big and handsome fish did come near enough for boating. Our guide made a lunge for it with the net and succeeded in hitting it on the head and knocking it free. The fish slowly swam away, no more tired than 1. “Good heavens,” West whispered to me, glancing at

our faithful guide. “We got another of those correspondence-school Indians.”

Lynch and West have both, of course, pinpointed one of the two inescapable curses of fishing. Next to the fishing guide and perhaps even surpassing him in sheer hideousness is the outboard motor. The outboard motor is one of the three or four most awful contraptions ever invented. For sheer uselessness combined with nuisance value I would rate it about even with the pyramids and the disc jockey. I have especially bad luck with outboard motors, partly because I have bad luck with my fishing companions. Most of them pretend either to be permanently disabled or feebler than I am and one or two come right out and admit they’re lazier. Whatever their excuses are, there I am floundering down a cliff or through a jungle of poison ivy carrying a horrible, smelly, malevolent, leaky machine that the manufacturers claim weighs a mere thirty-eight pounds and that anybody fighting it knows to weigh at least a fifth of a ton. I fall down an average of six times, with the shouts of my friends ringing encouragement behind. When I get to the boat and start fixing the motor on it I fall into the water, at a very conservative estimate, twice. My friends are now either dissolved in mirth or solemnly united in offering fresh advice. But through sheer strength of character I get the dreadful device attached. Then it won’t work anyway.

Once — it seems a very long time ago — I actually got an outboard motor down the hill, fixed it to the boat and got it going. Almost immediately we hit a rock and broke a shear-pin. While I was putting in a new shear-pin the motor escaped my grasp and plummeted twenty feet to the bottom of the lake. A good place for it.

Fishing of any kind in Canada can involve little misadventures like this. But the pines and birch are still there. In the spring the poplars and aspens greet you like shy young maidens and in the fall the turning oaks and maples fairly shout at you and hold up their colors like medieval warriors.

It is still a good country in which to fish and, whether you catch fish or not, a good country in which to be and look around. ★