“It’s the 24th of May and we likes to get away
Up in the woods or going out the bay
There’s all kinds of places but the place we likes to get
Is up on the highway in the gravel pits.”
That’s the chorus to Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers’ locally famous camping anthem.
The song is brilliantly written by Wayne Chaulk and entitled “The Pits,” a throwback to a less sophisticated time when we Newfoundlanders often camped in gravel pits along the TCH or other roadways.
I wouldn’t doubt that Wayne camped a time or two in a pit himself; a man who I know is smitten by the salmon fishing addiction.
There were once lots of great pits across Newfoundland located near excellent salmon rivers. Actually, some of the pits are still there; we just aren’t permitted to camp in them anymore, at least not for free like in the days when the song was written.
Some have their access ditched or rocked off by huge boulders, while others have been transformed into pay-for-use, private trailer parks. There is very little free anymore. Newfoundland camping has entered the 21st century.
I must take the opportunity to tell a funny story concerning Wayne Chaulk.
About 10 years ago on a warm and overcast July evening, my fishing buddies and I were making our way down Castors River on the Northern Peninsula.
In hopes to make it to the canoes, and cross Castors Pond before dark, we were trotting a bit of a brisk pace over precariously slippery rocks and through unseasonably high water.
Notwithstanding our rush, we couldn’t break etiquette by not stopping to chat with fellow anglers at the Rumbolt Camp. It’s located alongside a lovely pool named The Flats, one of the nicer pools on Castors to swing a Blue Charm.
There were four or five guys at the camp that evening. The conversation went in the typical direction for complete strangers meeting on a salmon river. “How’s the fishing?” “What are they biting at?” and all that sort of angling interest stuff.
Most of the time we had met American anglers at the camp, some who we got to know quite well through year after year chats — two very friendly men from New Jersey come to mind.
Linguistics told us these characters were fellow Newfoundlanders. One guy in particular looked very familiar to me and I told him so. I figured I met him previously on a salmon river. He didn’t answer and looked at me a bit smugly, I thought. In retrospect I understand why. I’m sure he had the same sort of conversation many times
“Do you fish the Pinware?” says I.
“Not often,” he responds.
My friendly questioning went on for a while with no previous meeting place established. I kinda got a little irritated with the impish grin on his face. Finally he says, “Buddywasisname.” I instantly placed him; “Yes b’y, you’re the other fella.” It was Wayne Chaulk.
Wayne’s got a hilarious little piece written about salmon fishing on his blog. It made me laugh too hard. Check it out at http://waynechaulk.ca/55.
Roughest I’ve seen
There’s a line in “The Pits” about returning home from the long weekend with a half-inch of sloppy snow on the ground. We can all relate to that, I’m sure. In fact, this 24th is one of the roughest I’ve seen in a while, maybe since the kids built a snowman by the trailer.
I’m saying “is” and not “was” because I’m writing on Sunday morning of the holiday weekend 2013. It’s raining, windy, and wicked cold outside. I spent yesterday building a new oak staircase in the house and almost froze just going back and forth to the shed to make saw cuts on the radial arm. And this is a guy who slept in a tent back on the coldest nights this past winter could muster up.
It’s the bloody dampness that penetrates deep in your bones this time of year. You gotta be tough to go camping on the 24th. No wonder we write songs and stories about it.
The weather’s pretty bad here on the Avalon, but we’re in the tropics compared to our fellow campers and anglers in central. They’re expecting 30 cm of snow in Gander. Holy cow! Are tents, hardtops, and trailers engineered for snow loads?
I just looked at the highway cameras near Gander, Clarenville, and Grand Falls — not a pretty sight for May. On the bright side, it’s sunny in the Big Land.
Making the best of it
If you’re a camper in Newfoundland, to be content and happy, you must learn to take the weather in stride. Make the best of it, build a campfire and roast wieners for the kids with survival suits on, if that’s what it takes.
You know the old saying about lemons and lemonade. Well, if God gives you snow, build a snowman. If he or she sees fit to bless us with sunshine, and it does happen on the rare 24th weekend, break out the shades and catch some rays.
If wind and rain howls outside, sit around the woodstove in the cabin and tell fishing stories. Open up a bottle of moose and steep a pot of strong tea. Make the best of it.
Or, you could just complain and wish you were in Florida.
Incidentally, May is one of the best months for tarpon fishing in the Sunshine State. Too many of us visit down south without wetting a line. You are missing out big time.
There’s another Florida fishing tale — coming soon.
I hope nobody catches pneumonia this weekend.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at