Author of "Further Foolishness,” “Moonbeams of the Larger Lunacy,” etc.
The Old, Old Story of How Five Men Went Fishing
Author of "Further Foolishness,” “Moonbeams of the Larger Lunacy,” etc.
THIS is a plain account of a fishing partyIt is not a story. There is no plot. Nothing happens in it and nobody is hurt. The only point of this narrative is its peculiar truth. It not only tells what happened to us,—the five people concerned in it—but what has happened and is happening to all the other fishing parties that at this time of year from Halifax to Vancouver, go gliding out on the unruffled surface of Canadian lakes in the still cool of early summer morning.
We decided to go in the early jnorning because there is a popular belief that the early morning is the right time for bass fishing. The bass is said to bite in the early morning. Perhaps it does. In fact the thing is almost capable of scientific proof. The bass does not bite between eight and twelve. It does not bite between twelve and six in the afternoon. Nor does it bite between six o'clock and midnight. All these things are known facts. The inference is that the bass bites furiously at about daybreak.
At any rate our party were unanimous about starting early. “Better make an early start,” said the Colonel when the idea of the party V as suggested. “Oh yes,” said George Popley, the Bank Manager, “We want to get right out on the shoal while the fish are biting.”
When he said this all our eyes glistened. Everybody’s do. There’s a thrill in the words. To “get out right on the shoal at daybreak when the fish are biting,” is an idea that goes to any man’s brain.
If you listen to the men talking in a Pullman car, or a hotel corridor, or better still, at the little tables in a firstclass bar, you will not listen long before you hear one say—“Well, we got out early, just after sunrise, right on the shoal.” . . . And presently, even if
you can’t hear him you will see him reach out his tvCo hands and hold them about two feet apart for the other man to admire. He is measuring the fish. No, not the fish they caught; this was the big one that they lost. But they had him right up to the top of the water: Oh, yes, he was up to the top of the water all right. The number of huge fish that have been heaved up to the top of the water in our Canadian lakes is almost incredible. Or at least it used to bé when we still bad bar rooms and little tables for serving that vile stuff Scotch whiskey and such foul things as gin rickies and John Collinses. It makes one sick to think of it, doesn’t it? But there was good fishing in the bars, all winter.
BUT, as I say, we decided to go early in the morning. Charlie Jones, the railroad man, said that he remembered how when he was a boy, round Bobcaygeon, they used to get out at five in the morning,—not get up at five but be on the shoal at five. It appears that there is a shoal near Bobcaygeon where the bass lie in thousands. Kernin, the lawyer, said that when he was a boy,—this was on Lake Rosseau—they used to get out at four. It seems there is a shoal in Lake Rosseau where you can haul up the bass as fast as you can drop your line. The ihoal is hard to find,—very hard, Kernin find it, but it. is doubtful—so I gather,--if any other living man can. The Bobcaygeon shoal, too, is very difficult to find Once you find it, you are alright, but i a hard to find. Charlie Jones can find it. If you were in Bobcaygeon right now he d takr you straight to it, but probably n other person now* alive could reach that shoal. In the same way Cçldnel Morse knows of a shoal in Lake Sirricoe where he used to fish years and years ago and whicH. I understand, he can still find.
I have mentioned that Kerniri is a lawyer, and Jones a railroad mao and Popley a banker. But I needn’t Any reader would take it for granted. 1 n any Canadian fishing party there is alv ays a lawyer. You can tell him at sight He is the one of the party that has a la nding net and a steel rod in sections w ith a wheel that is used to wind the fish o the top of the water.
And there is always a banker. You can tell him by his good clothes. P in the bank, wears his banking suit Yhen he goes fishing he w’ears his fishing suit It is much better, because his tanking suit has ink marks on it, and hiq fishing suit has no fish marks on it
As for the Railroad Man,—quitj? so, the reader knows it as-well as I do.--you
can tell him because he carries a that he cut in the bush himself, with
cent line wrapped round the end c f it Jones says he can catch as many fish with this kind of line as Kernin can witl his patent rod and wheel. So he can. too. Just the same number.
But Kernin says that with his pajtent apparatus if you get a fish dn you can play him. Jones says to Hades with playing him: give him a fish on his line and he’ll haul him in alright. Kernin says he’d lose him. But Jones says he wouldn’t. In fact he guara)itees to haul the fish in. Kernin says that more than once (in Lake Rosseau) he has played a fish for over half an hour. I forget now why he stopped; I think the fish quit playing.
I have heard Kernin and Jones argue this question of their two rods, as to which rod can best pull in the fish, for half an hour. Others may have heard the same question debated. I know no wav b> which it could be settled.
/'A UR arrangement to go fishing was made at the little golf club of our summer town on the verandah where we sit in the evening. Oh, its just a little place, nothing pretentious: the links are not much good for golf: in fact we don’t play much golf there, so far as golf goes, and of course we don’t serve meals at the club, its not like that, and no. we’ve nothing to drink there because of prohibition. But we go and sit there. It is a good place to sit, and, after all, what else can you do in Ontario?
So it was there that we arranged the party.
The thing somehow seemed to fall into the mood of each of us. Jones said he had been hoping that some of the boys would gel up a fishing party. It was apparently the one kind of pleasure that he really cared for. For myself I was delighted to gee in with a crowd of regular fishermen like these four. Especially as I hadn’t been out fishing for nearly ten years: though fishing is a thing I am passionately fond of. I know no pleasure in life like the sensation of getting a four pound bass on the hook an'd hauling him up to the top of the water, to weigh him. But. as I say, I hadn’t been out for ten years: Oh, yes, I live right beside the water every summer, and yes. certainly.—I am saying so,—I am passionately fond of fishing, but still somehow I hadn’t been out. Every fisherman knows just how that happens. The years have a way of slipping by. Yet I must say I was surprised to find that so keen a sport as Jones hadn’t been out.—so it presently appeared,—for eight years. I had imagined he practically lived on the water. And Colonel Morse and Kernin,—I was amazed to find,—hadn’t been out for twelve years, not since the day Iso it came out in conversation ) when they went out together in Lake Rosseau and Kernin landed a perfect monster, a regular corker, five pounds and a half, they said: or no, I don’t think he landed him. No, I remember, he didn’t land him. He caught him,—and he could have landed him,—he should have landed him.—but he didn't land him. That was it. Yes, I remember Kernin and Morse had a slight discussion about it,—Oh, perfectly friendly,—as to whether Morse had fumbled with the net —or whether Kernin—the whole argument was perfectly friendly—had made an ass of himself by not “striking” soon enough. Of course the whole thing was so long ago, that both of them could look back on it without any bitterness or ill nature. In fact it amused them. Kernin said it was the most laughable thing ihe ever saw in his life to see poor oldJack ( that’s Morse’s name) shoving away with the landing net wrong side up. And Morse said he’d never forget seeing poor old Cronyn yanking his line first this way and then that and not knowing where to try to haul it. It made him laugh to look back at it.
THEY might have gone on laughing for quite a time but Charlie Jones interrupted by saying that in his opinion a landing net is a piece of darned foolishness. Here Popley agrees with him. Kernin objects that if you don’t use a net you’ll lose your fish at the side of the boat. Jones says no: give him a hook well through the fish and a stout line in his hand and that fish has got to come in. Popley says so too. He says let him have his hook fast through the fish’s head with a short stout line, and put him Popley) at the other end of that line and that fish will come in. It’s got to. Otherwise Popley will know why. That’s the alternative. Either the fish must come in or Popley must know why. There’s no escape from the logic of it. So as I say we decided to go the next morning and to make an early start. All of the boys were at one about that. When I say “boys” I use the word as it is used in fishing to mean people from say fortyfive to sixty-five. There is something about fishing that keeps men young. If a fellow gets out for a good morning’s fishing, forgetting all business worries, once in a while.—say once in ten years—it keeps him fresh.
We agreed to go in a launch, a large launch.—to be exact the largest in the town. We could have gone in row boats, but a row boat is a poor thing to fish from. Kernin said that in a row boat it is impossible properly to “play" your fish. The sitie of the boat is so low that the fish is apt to leap over the side into the boat when half “played." Popley said that there is no comfort in a row boat. In a launch a man can reach out his feet and take it easy. Charlie Jones said that in a launch a man could rest his back against something and Morse said that in a launch a man could rest his neck. Young inexperienced boys, in the small sense of the word, never think of these things. So they go out and after a few hours their ne-ks vet tiled. Whereas a group of expert fishers in a launch can rest their backs and necks and even fall asleep during the pauses when the fish stop biting.
Anyway all the “boys” agreed that the great advantage of a launch would be that we could get a mart to take us. By that means the man could see to getting the worms, and the man would be sur.e to have share-lines, and the man could come along to our different places.—we were all beside the water.—and pick us up. In fact the more we thought about the advantage of having a “man” to take us the better we liked it.
As a boy gets old he likes to have a man about to do the work. Anyway Frank Rolls, the man we decided to get. not only has the biggest launch in town but what is more Frank knows the lake. We called him up at his boat house over the phone and said we’d give him five dollars to take us out first thing in the morning provided that he knew the shoal. He said he knew it.
I DON’T know, to be quite candid about it, who mentioned whiskey first. In these days everybody has to be a little careful. I imagine we had all been thinking whiskey for some time before anybody said it. But there is a sort of convention that when men go fishing they must have whiskey. Each man makes the pretence that the one thing he needs at six o’clock in the morning is cold raw whiskey. It is spoken of in terms of affection. One may say that the first thing you need if you’re going fishing is a good “snort” of whiskey: another says that a good “snifter” is the very thing and the others agree. No man can fish properly without “a horn,” or a “bracer” or an “eye-opener.” Each man really decides that he himself won’t take any. But he feels that in a collective sense, the “boys” need it.
So it was with us. The Colonel said he’d bring along *'a bottle of booze.” Popley said, no, let him bring it; Kernin said let him: and Charlie Jones said no, he’d bring it. It turned out that the Colonel had some very good Scotch at his house that he’d like to bring: oddly enough Popley had some good Scotch in his house too; and, queer though it is, each of the boys had Scotch in his house. When the discussion closed we knew that each of the five of us was intending to bring a bottle of Scotch whiskey. Each of the five of us expected the others to drink one and a quarter bottles in the course of the morning. I suppose we must have talked on that verandah till long after one in the morning. It was probably nearer two than one when we broke up.
But we agreed that that made no difference. Popley said that for him three hours sleep, tfct^ right kind of sleep, was far more refreshing than ten. Kernin said that a lawyer learns to snatch his sleep when he can, and Jones said that in railroad work a man pretty well cuts out sleep. o
So we had no alarms whatever about not being ready by five. Our plan was simplicity itself. Men like ourselves in responsible positions learn to organize things easiLy. In fact Popley says it is that faculty that has put us where we are. So the plan simply was that Frank Rolls should come along at five o’clock and blow his whistle in front of our places, and at that signal each man would come down to his wharf with his rod and kit and so we’d be off to the shoal without a moment's delay.
The weather we ruled out. It was decided that even if it rained that made no difTerehce. Kernin said that fish bite better in the rain. And everybody agreed that a man with a couple of snorts in him need have no fear of a^little rain water.
So we parted, all kèen on the enterprise, nor do I think even now that there was anything faulty or imperfect in that party as we planned it.
I heard Frank Rolls blowing his infernal whistle opposite my summer cottage at some ghastly hour in the morning. Even without getting out of bed, I could see from the window that it was no day for fishing. No, not raining exactly. I don’t mean that, but one of those peculiar days; I don’t meanv-ind. there was no wind but a sort of feeling in the air fhat showed anybody who understands bass fishing that it was a perfectly rotten day for going out. The fish, I seemed to know it, wouldn’t bite.
When I was still fretting over the annoyance of the disappointment I heard Frank Rolls blowing his whistle In front of the other cottages. I counte I thirty whistles altogether. Then I fel into a light doze—not exactly sleep, bu a sort of doze,—I can find no other wor I for it. It was clear, to me that the othei “boys’ had thrown the thing over. re wa» no use in my trying to go out aline. I stayed where I was, my doze lasting till ten'o’clock.
'When I walked up town later morning I couldn’t help being s the signs in the butchers’ shops restaurants, FISH, FRESH FRESH* LAKE FISH.
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