Friends, fishing and hockey

Paul Smith
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There are lots of ways to make new friends. Doing courses at college, either full time to begin a new career, or part time for your own personal development, are sure to put you in contact with new and interesting people.

If the classes you take are about something you have a passion about, you will likely meet folks with similar interests. It is quite likely that you will hit it off with someone and begin a lifelong friendship. If you join up in sports or exercise groups, the same is true. If you take guitar lessons you will meet others who share your interest in music.

That’s how I met two of my best fishing buddies. I had returned to Memorial University full time to finish up a graduate program in engineering. Rod Hale, Chris Fowler and I met in school and have been fishing salmon together each and every year for going on 20 years.

Rod and I were researching in the same biomechanics lab and Chris was Rod’s best friend since undergraduate engineering. The boys, and young boys they were compared to me, had gone straight through the bachelor’s engineering program at MUN and then entered directly into the master’s curriculum at tender ages in their early 20s.

I was 10 years’ senior, having returned to school from the world of work. I had a wife, two young children, and plenty of responsibility. Chris and Rod were carefree, with little to worry about other than passing their courses.

You would think that we had little in common to cement a friendship. But fishing was the common denominator. That very summer we all went to the Great Northern Peninsula to cast salmon flies over its intriguing waters.

I’ve made numerous great friends through fishing. Matt Brazil, another of my angling cronies, journeyed to the Gaula River last summer with me in a failed attempt to catch a giant chromed Norway springer.

Poor fishing aside, we met some fascinating fishing people, all smitten with the drive to fish with feather, fur and tinsel. One of them, Pelle Klippinge, is coming to Newfoundland this summer to fish the Pinware with Rod, Chris, Matt and yours truly. Isn’t it interesting how a network of friends can develop from a common passion for a sport or activity?

Pelle is a writer, photographer and fly angler from the north of Sweden, where he abides very near the famous River Em. He and his buddies chase the runs of salmon and sea trout just like we do here in Newfoundland.

By the time you read this, Pelle will be on his way to Labrador with us. I think he will like our rugged and beautiful land. We have much in common with the Scandinavians.

I truly believe that people have lots in common everywhere in the world, much more than we typically realize. Could folks be any more distant and different than those living in communist Russia during the Cold War, and kids living here in 1970s Newfoundland? We have, and had, more in common then you might ever realize.

I’m writing on Air Canada right now, somewhere over the broad Atlantic Ocean, on my way back from salmon fishing on Russia’s remote Kola Peninsula. I made many new friends, including an unlikely fellow from Moscow.

Roman Savitsky is just a bit younger than me, and speaks accented but very adequate English. We shared too much vodka together. Well, not really. It didn’t interfere with my fishing and it got Roman and I chatting more casually than maybe men from such different cultural backgrounds normally would.

I knew from the beginning that Roman had an interest in angling and the outdoors or he wouldn’t be on the Kola Peninsula in the middle of nowhere. The Ponoi River is a long trip from home, even for Russians.

But there are lots of folks who frequent these sorts of camps that just want to try something new. They are in it more for the adventure element than drawn to the ends of the Earth by an incurable addiction. But I discovered Roman to be a kindred spirit in chasing fin and silver, and his struggle to become an angler was orders of magnitude more difficult than mine.

He told me of practising casting to very odd looks on a park pond in Moscow. I can relate to that. I get the same looks in Spaniard’s Bay. But in the Soviet era, Roman and his friends found it very difficult to obtain either information or equipment to pursue fly fishing.

 Let me tell you how Roman and I got started on knowing each other. It was Day 2 on the Ponoi and we had an outdoor barbecue for supper; naturally, it included vodka, wine and beer.

Liquid spirits got people friendly and talking, folks from Russia, Argentina, the United States, Canada, Germany, Ireland, England and Finland. It was truly an international festivity.

I was standing opposite Roman with a drink, and opened communication with the typical, “How was your fishing today?” I eased off on the talking speed and “around the bay” accent.

“Great,” he says, “my daughter caught her first Atlantic salmon.”

He had his 14-year-old daughter with him and I think that speaks volumes about a man. I’m not often stuck for words, but I wasn’t sure what to say next. I thought about hockey — Russians play hockey, don’t they? I wasn’t really sure if all Russians play hockey, like we boys did here on the Rock in the ’70s. I went for it.

“Do you follow hockey?” I said to Roman as he tipped his vodka with ice, lime and tonic water — incidentally, a fine summer barbecue drink, I have discovered.

I could see his eyes light up behind his Ray-Bans. “Ah hockey, Russians and Canadians love hockey, much competition. Great players, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Sydney Crosby.”

I named some great Russian players in response: Ovechkin, Valeri Kharlamov and the incomparable, greatest-ever goalie Vladislav Tretiak. I spoke of the greatest hockey game ever played: Russia’s finest, the Red Army Team, paired against the Montreal Canadiens in their heyday of NHL dominance. It was New Year’s Eve 1975.

He had watched it with his family in Russia just like I did with mine in Newfoundland. While the threat of nuclear war loomed real and insidious, kids watched hockey, on both sides, with little interest in blowing each other up. The game ended in a tie — fitting, I think, for the greatest game of all time, played in an era of unparalleled threat to human existence.

It was most surreal that Roman and I were sharing a drink and salmon fishing on a river in the heart of Russia. Neither of us would have ever imagined such a meeting on that cold, snowy night in 1975 when the puck was dropped at the Montreal Forum.

I think we should put all our world leaders together in a camp and have them salmon fish or play hockey together. They might find their common ground and realize that real, everyday people are not interested in war or battlefields. Live, let live and chase salmon.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: Air Canada, Red Army Team, Montreal Canadiens NHL Montreal Forum.I

Geographic location: Russia, Newfoundland, Brazil Gaula River Norway Pinware Sweden Atlantic Ocean Ponoi River Moscow Argentina United States Canada Germany Ireland England Finland

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Recent comments

  • BenTurpin
    July 14, 2013 - 09:59

    They do get together as elites, this is why every other recent Telegram column seems to focus on human rights. In Russia, and Canada the historical "owners" of these rivers hardly give a toss for hockey, and only recently got booze from there colonizers. They fish to eat. When that ends, the ruling class will still helicopter in to a legal fishing lodge and swap glorious drunken tales of war in politics, trenches and on ice. Your writing may insure you an invite someday. Happy fishing Canada!