I’m compelled from within to write this week about trouting.
By the time this piece goes to press, we’ll be nigh on the opening of angling season 2013, and that makes me very excited. Actually it delights many of us who find great joy and inner piece from hook and line.
But that’s not the sole or vital reason I’m in angling context right now. I could still be writing about snowshoes, winter camping or last-ditch, snowy, moose hunting methods. After years of holding out, the gods have finally seen fit to gift us with a smidgeon of real winter weather, and there so much to do and tell.
I have to pen a story of pondside pursuits in honour of my cousin, who passed away last week at the age of 71 after a courageous four-year battle with cancer.
There is no person on this planet who could possibly have loved trouting more than Gordon Smith from Bishop’s Cove. He had plenty of company in this small town clinging to steep cliffs on the north side of Conception Bay.
Per capita this might be the angling capital of the world. I have often said that catching trout is in the Bishop’s Cove gene pool, either that or there is something terribly fishy in the water. No, it must be hereditary.
I grew up travelling all over Newfoundland, moving every year or so until finally settling at the start of Grade 8 in Spaniard’s Bay, my mom’s hometown. So, what’s my blood connection to Bishop’s Cove? My father, who was Gordon’s uncle, hailed from Bishop’s Cove.
The two people who most influenced my early angling life were my father and Gordon. Gordon was 20 years my senior and growing up he was more like an uncle to me, and a very close uncle at that.
My father travelled around our fair province supervising construction projects for the Lundrigans of Corner Brook. Gordon was a young carpenter and Dad always made sure that his nephew Gordon had a job. So we would be living all over Newfoundland, some places that were actually quite isolated in the 1960s, and Gordon would invariably be there.
Gordon spent many hours at our kitchen table, and what do you suppose he and my father talked about? Maybe they conversed on current events and politics? If so, I certainly don’t remember much about it. Newfoundland senior hockey might have gotten a bit of airtime, but that was mainly my mother’s passion. Dad had limited interest in hockey.
You’ve guessed it, I’m sure. Trouting was always the main agenda with both Gordon and my father, and when they got together, doubly so. Chasing trout dominated our kitchen round tables — that is when, for some reason, we weren’t actually fishing.
Gordon and Dad had a long history of angling together. There is no pond in Bishop’s Cove, but the native hardcore anglers certainly didn’t mind a jaunt on foot to Neddie Smith’s Pond. That was Dad’s game when he was a boy in the 1920s.
My father was one of the first in Bishop’s Cove to own a car. He was single up to his mid-40s and worked steady, so he had a few dollars, enough at least to buy a car. Dad’s car provided grand opportunities for trouting, and his relatives and friends always tagged along.
Gordon was a young boy and chased Uncle Max trouting whenever he could. According to the endless stories I’ve heard, that was quite a lot. I think they explored just about every gulley, pond and brook within a hundred road miles of Bishop’s Cove.
So, we ended up in 1966 — the big Newfoundland Come Home Year, I believe it was — living in St. Anthony. Dad was construction superintendent on the new Grenfell Memorial Hospital. Back in those days all the roads on the Northern Peninsula were gravel, potholed and rough. The pavement ended in Deer Lake. We had been living in St John’s for a couple of years, and this move was like setting the dial on a time machine back 20 or 30 years. There was no television, zero department stores, and no A&W or KFC. But the trouting was fantastic and that made up for any lack of modern amenities.
We were just settled into a house on the Base Road when Gordon showed up in his white ’65 Ford Fairlane. He was a cool dude in those days, at least I thought so. Gordon had a job building the hospital along with a bunch more of the boys from the Conception Bay area. It wasn’t long before Dad and Gordon were conspiring to find out the best ponds for catching those plump, fat mud trout they loved so dearly, both catching and eating.
The local men that they knew from working on the hospital were surprisingly very obliging on disclosing what would be top secret information around home. I guess trout were so plentiful around St. Anthony in those days that nobody thought much of keeping secret gullies and ponds all to themselves. So Dad, Gordon and yours truly had the time of their lives for the two years it took to build the hospital.
I remember vividly, one cold spring night, plans being made at the kitchen table in St. Anthony for an excursion to a pond around Cook’s Harbour, a small fishing community about 30 miles by road from St. Anthony. There was talk of numerous and particularly rotund trout. I’m not sure who had extorted the intelligence on this one, Gordon or my father, but they were planning to give it a try the next day off work. I was all ears knowing of course that I’d be included without question in any of their fishing adventures.
Hooked a big one
Sunday came and Gordon showed up for dinner. As soon as my mother had the dishes cleared we were piling into Dad’s 64 Strato Chief and zooming out the Base Road in a cloud of dust.
I’ve never seen trout more eager to eat a worm before or since. We were literally snagging a trout on every cast. The pond was only about a 10-minute walk from the road and my mother had tagged along rather than spend Sunday afternoon alone. She never fished, but loved to knit or read either in the car or on a shoreline rock while we trouted. Gordon and Dad were using spinning rods, but I was swinging a two-piece bamboo.
As soon as my bobber dipped I’d hurl a plump trout up on the mossy bank where my mother would take my prize off the hook. In my hurry to catch yet another, I pulled prematurely on the line and stuck the hook, luckily not past the barb, in my mother’s butt. Mom screamed and Gordon and Dad rolled laughing. It was a great day, one of many.
I spent time with Gordon over the years, trouting, wood cutting and moose hunting. His sharp sense of humour and wit were a delight to those who understood him. Gordon read widely, nurturing his deep interest in history, and was a true and proud Newfoundlander, not too keen on us becoming the 10th province, I believe. He always referred to the mainland, Ontario for instance, as up in Canada. I liked that. It always made me smile.
He never missed reading my column. I will miss him.
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.