A Pontiac and rubber boots

Paul
Paul Smith
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You might recall from a few weeks ago my discussing our trout fishery and how it is managed, or should I say not managed, given that there is little or no data on which to base stewardship decisions.

I got tons of feedback on that one. I ended up doing a telephone interview with Jamie Baker on CBC’s “Fisheries Broadcast.” They typically talk commercial fisheries on that show, but to honour the 24th weekend Jamie decided it might be a good idea to talk trout. If you missed the live broadcast and are curious to hear me on the radio, it’s quite simple to partake of past episodes on your digital device at www.cbc.ca/fisheriesbroadcast.

I listened to myself over a beer and pipe on my deck, first time on the radio. It was a bit strange; you never actually sound the way you think you sound. Hopefully I made some good points.

I’m going to make an effort to convince our provincial government to take over management of our inland brook trout stocks. I know that’s a tall order and I have no idea where to start. I’ll be working on it over the coming months. I figure with elections looming, both federal and provincial, there could be no better time to push for action. If you have any thoughts, suggestions or bright ideas in this direction, please let me know.

Lost time

One of my beefs with trouting rules right now is the April 15 to May 15 closure — not so much the closure itself, but the lack of data to support it. If it’s closed for good reason then that’s fine, but if the hiatus is unnecessary, then we are denying our outdoor citizens a full month of fishing with no justification.

You might say “why worry,” err on the side of caution. I beg to differ; there is much to lose in that month. I’m not referring to trout in the freezer. That’s trivial. Rather and more seriously, we lose time occupied outdoors in fresh air with friends and family.

As I said to Jamie during my interview, “I spent many hours fishing with my father in that month.” That’s substantial stuff. We should only give it up if there are sound conservation-based reasons, knowledge founded on proper research and solid scientific data. I hope that a provincially managed trout fishery will address this issue and many others.

Writing and thinking about spring fishing has got me thinking about my first rubber boots and Dad’s old Pontiac, seemingly an odd combination on the surface. However there is a strong connection between the boots and car. We did a heap of trouting in that Strato Chief.  

It was springtime and we were living in St. John’s. I wasn’t always a bayman. As I’ve said in this column many times before, my father loved trouting and his boy was to have an extra early start.

The details are fuzzied by time, but I recall a store in the downtown area that smelled of hemp, twine and rubber. My father handed me a pair of thigh rubbers, the sort that all outdoorsy folks wore in those days.  They were constructed of stiff black rubber with brownish red soles and a matching logoed ring at the top.

My mother tried to be pragmatic.

“Max, he’ll never be able to walk in those things; knee boots will do.”

It was a pivotal moment in my young life. My male ego had been challenged by a female for the very first time. I would walk in thigh rubbers, or get very much bruised in the trying. Knee rubbers were sissy boots. I pulled the clumsy rubbers on and somehow made it across the store without falling. My mother frowned.

“Perfect,” said my very proud father. I struggled back to the chair and Dad pulled the boots off and handed them to the clerk. Cash was exchanged.

That very evening, Mom, Dad and I headed west on the TCH in our brand new shiny black 64 Pontiac Strato Chief.  While indisputably a car bred of classic beauty, this particular one was a fishing machine. The trunk was permanently filled with fishing rods, tackle boxes, rain jackets, creels and boots. It occasionally smelled of worms, and was invariable tainted just a little fishy.

Lunches and thermos of tea took their toll on the seats.  Often we ate and listened to the crackly old radio while rain splattered the windshield. Dad would fiddle with the oversized tuning knob in search of the weather forecast.

As a child I was unbearably optimistic about the weather.  Dad wasn’t much better. “Don’t go home yet, it’ll soon let up,” I’d proclaim over the rain pounding on the car’s metal roof.  My mother, often the only voice of sanity and reason in our world, would sternly and adamantly object. “Your father can do whatever he likes, but you, my son, are not going fishing in the rain; next thing you’ll be missing school.”

I heard it many times.

Sometimes we’d wait in the car for hours. My father, God bless him, never defied my mother on the rain issue, and never left me in the car.

I recall April 15, 1971, sitting out a heavy shower, or maybe wet snow. The NHL playoffs blared out on the radio. It was game seven from Boston Gardens and, guess who, the Canadiens versus the big bad Bruins. An amazing rookie by the name of Ken Dryden was frustrating the Bruins’ big gun sharpshooters. I believe Mr. Esposito was pushed to the breaking point, literally smashing his stick across the goal pipe.

Montreal won the game by two goals and went on to win the Stanley Cup. This was all on the date that our trout fishery now closes for a month. I’m happy it wasn’t so then. Somehow I think my memories would be less fond from the living room.

Saved from the drink

Back to my first thigh rubbers …

Naturally I was in the front seat with my rubber boots on and ready for action.  

Dad pulled the car off the highway near a pond full of slippery rocks. I later learned that all ponds and rivers are filled with snotty, slimy rocks, some worse than others, but invariably treacherous to the uninitiated.

We retrieved our rods from the trunk and headed for the pond. Mom followed with her camera to capture my first wading fiasco. Remember, it was only through grit and stubbornness that I made it across the shop floor.

I think in those days companies didn’t put much thought into fishing boots for little kids, unless my thighs were somewhere above my groin.

The boots were much too long and although pulled tight to my hips, crumpled severely. Can you imagine the effect of excess stiff boot rubber on a kid’s mobility?  

My knees didn’t bend and I was about to enter the unknown realm of slimy rocks. I think my mother had no doubt about what was about to happen. As soon as my ankles submerged I slipped and would certainly have taken a spill if not for my father’s tight grip on my tiny hand. Max saved the day. Mom did not get to say, “I told you so.” Dad was my hero. A few minutes later, I caught a trout.

I got bigger and the boots fit better. I wore them out and got another pair. By the time my daughter Megan came along, better fitting thigh rubbers were engineered for kids.  She scuffed them up and passed them on to Allison.  They’re still hung up out in the garage, waiting patiently for my granddaughter to grow just a little bigger.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted at

flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him

on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

Organizations: Pontiac, NHL, Canadiens

Geographic location: Boston Gardens, Montreal

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