Where fun is free

Susan Flanagan
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Or, at the most, only costs a few dollars

Brett, second-place winner in the Hant’s Harbour conner-catching contest, holds up one of the conners. — Photos by Susan Flanagan/Special to The Telegram

Last Saturday, the town of Hant’s Harbour had a conner-catching contest off the wharf in front of the now defunct fish plant.

When we arrived, a half dozen children lined up with their fishing rods to see who could catch the longest conner, which we learned was just hanging around below the seaweed waiting to chomp down on the freshly cut food-fishery cod  bait.

Beyond that, though, us townies had no idea really what was going to latch on to the other end of our line.

A baby shark wouldn’t have surprised us more than the psychedelic blue fish with the spiky backbone that the children around us started reeling in hand over fist.

A conner is a blue perch. Really blue. In fact, shockingly blue, a blue-green almost like Labradorite. Although the colour is intriguing, it is not a nice-looking fish. Not that I had a close-up look at one until an hour into the contest.

I understand now where the expression “sly as a conner” comes from now that I’ve had the opportunity to watch these bottom dwellers coming up to nibble the ends of our wiener-shaped bait. They looked like they were ascending for puffs on a cigar. For No. 5 and his five-year-old Scottish accomplice, getting a conner to actually latch on to our dull silver hook proved a challenging task.

“You need a weight to drag it down to the bottom,” said my husband, trying to help. “What do you need a bobber for?”

We endured this constructive criticism while Brett, a local boy, reeled in fish after fish with his brighter hook and spinner. Brett’s concentrated efforts paid off with a second-place win.

But after about an hour of determined fishing, we caught our one and only conner, which we didn’t even bother to have measured before we unhooked him (his back is razor sharp) and tossed him back. We did a lot of laughing on that wharf. One child dropped his line into the water followed by his entire brightly coloured fishing rod which quickly sank to the bottom, perhaps much to the amusement of the conners.

“What neophytes,” said the conners. “They’ll never catch us.”

They changed their tune after the pole was retrieved and more and more of their friends were getting reeled in.

The conner-catching contest was so simple. Yet it kept about a dozen children occupied for two hours, proving once again that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun.

The day before, we had gone for a walk in the New Chelsea woods and visited a couple in Brownsdale who are totally self-sufficient. These activities cost nothing (they even netted us a dozen fresh eggs), taught lots (roosters will sometimes trample their babies, killing them by mistake) and were the highlight of our four days in the bay. As well as our daily trip to Green’s Store and bonfires on the beach — we’re still burning chunks of our cabin.

And, of course, we don’t have to go Hant’s Harbour to have free fun. This summer, other free highlights include swimming in Manuels River and at Rotary Sunshine Park, and visiting Salmonier Nature Park. Some other fantastic outdoor adventures this summer had a dollar value attached, like a visit to Northern Bay Sands.

But I have to say $6 a carload is the best deal going for access to clean change rooms and toilets and a one-kilometre stretch of magnificent sandy beach intersected by a fresh-water fall.

Touring town

Here in St. John’s, we recently took a fun ride on the Trolley Line Metrobus around downtown

St. John’s.

You can hop on or off at 11 different sites and stay as long as you like at each one, knowing that the bus will be back exactly an hour after you jumped off. It’s easy to remember and the lovely driver reminded us of this fact as we got off.

No. 5 and his YMCA sidekick loved it, although it was very hot where they chose to sit in the back. The windows didn’t open in the last row and there was no air conditioning. We started our journey at The Rooms (the bus stop is on Bonaventure Avenue, not in front of the main entrance; you look for the red and yellow Trolley Line circle on the bus stop to know you’re at the right place). We stayed on board until we got to the top of Signal Hill. There, we checked out the noon day gun and the inside and roof of Cabot Tower. We then strolled down the path to Queen’s Battery and played on the stone walls and cannons for an hour before proceeding to the Geo Centre where the bus found us two hours after we got off.

Although I think the price should be reduced for children (It cost $15 for me and the two five-year-olds to board), $5 per person is a good deal for adults. Perhaps if the ticket included slight discounts at one or more of the paying sites it would be a better deal. Because, on top of the bus ride, visitors still have to pay regular admission rates. So, for the three of us for the Geo Centre, it would be $24, $7.50 for The Rooms, $14 for the Railway Coastal Museum or $3.90 for the Interpretation Centre on Signal Hill. I also think the Trolley Line should make a stop in Quidi Vidi — the bus wouldn’t have to turn in where navigation is awkward but it could stop near the Inn of Olde, let visitors out, and they could have an hour to visit Quidi Vidi Brewery, Quidi Vidi Village Plantation artist studios and photograph the fishing stages.

This would be really beneficial for those visitors who have limited time or budget and don’t get a chance to go outside the city to a community as beautiful as Hant’s Harbour, where No. 5’s Scottish sidekick says he wants to live forever.

Susan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

Organizations: The Rooms, Geo Centre, YMCA Railway Coastal Museum Interpretation Centre on Signal Hill Inn of Olde

Geographic location: Brownsdale, Green, Manuels River Rotary Sunshine Park Salmonier Nature Park Northern Bay Sands.But I Bonaventure Avenue Signal Hill Cabot Tower

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