If there was ever a man who loved trout fishing, it was my father, Maxwell Smith.
He was born in 1912, the same year the Titanic smashed into one of our colossal icebergs and sank to the bottom on a still clear night, 375 miles southeast of St. John's.
That was 100 years ago, and my father would be a century old this coming September if he were still alive. He passed away in 1987.
I invariably think more often about my father this time of year. It was his absolute favourite season. Why? Simply because the ponds and brooks were open and he could go trouting. Of course, he could fish for trout through winter's ice cover, and he did occasionally, but his true passion was angling with rod or pole. And that he did at every opportunity.
Dad was born in Bishop's Cove, just down along the shore of Conception Bay from my hometown of Spaniard's Bay. He came of age during the Depression years and, as you can well imagine, he did not embark on his angling career with much in the way of sophisticated gear and equipment. Dad didn't spend snowy days oiling his reels like I wrote about in last week's column.
I think my father must have told me fishing stories before I could walk or talk. My memories seem implanted in my brain with no defined beginning.
You know how they recommend playing music and reading to infants even before they appear coherent, to instil appreciation of the arts? My father was way ahead of his time. I think he addicted me to fishing before I was out of the cradle.
When Dad was a boy, he and his buddies had to walk quite a ways to wet a line. There are no ponds in Bishop's Cove. The town clings to cliffs, high above the ocean, along a rugged shoreline between Spaniard's Bay and Upper Island Cove. It's a place of rugged beauty and a sometimes treacherous roadway.
So, before the automobile, kids would leave Bishop's Cove and walk inland, over the high hills and barrens, to try their luck in the ponds along Crane's Road. That was before the road was actually there and those ponds were full of fat, plump mud trout.
Neddy Smith's pond was one of my father's favourite springtime fishing holes. Dad and his friends typically had no fishing poles when they were kids. Remember, this was around 1925 in outport Newfoundland. The old-fashioned bamboo would have been a luxury in those years.
So, they would leave home with a can of worms, a few hooks, and a ball of line stuffed in a shirt pocket. On the way they would cut just the right stick to deliver their freshly dug worms to the mouths of hungry trout.
I can remember Dad describing to me how he chose just the right pole; a long, limber and uniform stick to suit his casting style. I'm sure it wasn't pretty, but it worked. The kids nearly always managed to catch a bag of trout with their rudimentary outfit, so I can only conclude that the fishing was quite good.
My grandmother loved trout and would be waiting in the kitchen, anxious to fry up Dad's catch in her cast iron pan on a wood-fired stove. Can you imagine walking in that house just in time for supper, cold and hungry? Trout sizzling in fat pork mingled with the aroma of freshly baked bread whets an already ravenous appetite.
Those are the timeless and simple pleasures of life. And that's more or less my first recollection of bedtime stories from my father.
When I got older, big enough to walk in boots, my father bought me thigh rubbers and the smallest bamboo pole he could pick from the rack at the local store. Remember the bundles of bamboo poles that would stand outside shops in springtime?
Anyway, Dad took me trouting. My rig consisted of a cork bobber painted red, and a black hook baited with a worm that we dug that very morning. I wasn't very old, maybe three or so, but I remember it crystal clear.
The rocks were slippery as we walked out into the water. Dad was holding my hand to keep me vertical. Mom was yelling from behind on the shoreline, "Don't you dare get him wet, Max." Preoccupied with my well-being, I think she underestimated the gravity of the moment that was about to occur.
We got in position and I unceremoniously flung my line into the mysterious abyss. The cork floated, bobbing gently from a soft breeze that blew on my face.
Dad always liked to trout on a windward shoreline. I blinked and the bobber was gone. Dad was saying something, but I was in a trance, reacting on pure instinct instilled in me since birth through endless tales of this intimate melding of boy and water. I lifted the pole with all my might. A fat trout was flicking and somersaulting around my oversized boots. Dad was grabbing for the frantic fish and finally got it in a secure grip. Mom had forgotten all about me falling in and was jumping up and down with excitement. We waded to the beach with the squirming fish. I had caught my first trout. Fly fishing would come along later.
My father and I made a ritual of spring fishing all through my formative years. Not just once a year, or even weekly. We fished for trout at least three or four times a week. We'd be out on the water in the late evenings during the week, and all day on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather. We were hardcore anglers equipped with rods, reels and all the latest gear. We drowned our share of worms, but began to dabble in the fine art of fly fishing. I was on my path to enlightenment.
Nowadays, the trout season closes for a full month each spring, from April 15 to May 15. That would cut into a lot of father and son bonding time if the same regulation were in place when I was a boy. What a shame.
If the closure were necessary for conservation purposes, I would fully support it, but our native brook trout stocks are generally in great shape. There are actually more trout now than anytime I can remember. So, it's high time we put aside this law and let fathers, mothers, sons and daughters go fishing.
Take a kid fishing this spring.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.