Ah fishing – the rod, the reel and that worm named “Lewis”

Our latest column from William Thomas

The last time I went fishing was 20 years ago on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. Walking into town from Gordon’s Lodge to get a newspaper, I crossed a small bridge where an American was fly-fishing in four feet of crystal clear water. You could see a school of six large rainbow trout darting darkly along the bottom.

“Gettin’ anything?” I asked, just to let him know I knew the lingo.

“No, they’re spawnin’,” he replied. “Not bitin’.”

I couldn’t help myself. I doubled back to the lodge and quickly gathered up my antiquated fishing gear, worms from Wainfleet and minnows from The French River. Back at the bridge, the American was gone, but not the trout.

At the time, I was unaware of a new law that required a licence to fish in this province. Also, I noticed a Ministry of Natural Resources fish trap in the stream which indicated I might be fishing directly into the government’s hatchery. I pulled my ball cap down lower. That’s why I didn’t see Lewis until it was too late. About five years old, with the face of an angel and underpants full of ants, Lewis strolled up with his young mother while I was fishing and said: “Hi!”

Before I could return the greeting, Lewis was rummaging through the tackle box in the open trunk of my car and trying to catch the minnows in my bait box with his bare hands. Water was sloshing everywhere.

Mother: “Lewis, get out of there; those things don’t belong to you.”

Lewis: “How come these fishies float upside down?”

Me, to myself: “Perhaps because you’re squeezing their guts out?”

I had to put in one line with a worm as bait, another with a minnow and I was feeling lucky.

“Catchin’ anything?” asked the mother. (She, too, knew the lingo.)

“No, they’re spawnin’,” I replied. “Not bitin’.”

I kept one eye on Lewis, fearing that if I’d left the keys in the ignition, losing my live bait was going to be the least of my problems. BAM!! – one of those large rainbow trout hit the line holding the worm with such force that it broke the reel mounting on my rusty rod.

Now I’m trying to get control of the line with the reel dangling from the pole when the trout breaks the surface of the water – this fish is two-and-a-half feet long and feisty. It’s a hog!

At this point, Lewis rushes onto the bridge and yells: “Ma! Did you see the size of that !%!#in’

fish?” My ears couldn’t believe what they had heard but I was quite impressed by the kid’s use of literation.

The mother went ballistic: “Lewis! If you ever use that word again, I’ll wash your mouth out with …” Now Lewis is on my left, his mother on my right and I’m in the middle of their fight as they are in the midst of mine with the trout. Even the old man and the sea did not have to land his catch in the middle of a family squabble.

“Every time he comes back from visiting his father, his language is just awful,” explained the mother.

I’m trapped. The road and reel are now useless so I toss them aside while keeping the line taut, using only my hands. I can’t get around my other fishing rod – the one baited with – thanks to Lewis – the only sole surviving minnow on Manitoulin Island.

Seeing my struggle, the mother grabs the rod that’s in my way and begins reeling it in. Simultaneously, I’m trying to get under her line while she’s trying to pull the line back and reach over my head and Lewis keeps saying, “Can we eat the son-of-a-bitch, ma? Can we?”

The mother now takes a swing at the kids, misses and knocks my fishing pole into the creek. But that’s okay because I’ve still got the line tight in my hand.

I come down off the bridge, walk along the bank of the creek and with a mighty heave, I hoist the fighting trout onto land where it spits out the hook and begins flopping around madly in the mud at the edge of the creek.

“No!” I scream throwing myself on the fish and getting my hands around its girth just as it squirts between my knees and out past my sneakers. With quick glance over my shoulder, I see the fish flop straight into the stream. I’m shocked. I have the slick of fish on my hands but no fish.

I collapse in a heap in the mud and I’m breathing heavy, I want to cry when I hear Lewis say, “He’s not much of a fisherman, is he Ma?”

We exchange looks – me and the kid then me and the mother. Then she wisely takes Lewis by the hand and deposits him safely inside her car, thus avoiding any other criminal acts being committed by me that particular day.

On the way back to Gordon’s Lodge I picked up a newspaper and the lead story was about Canada building five new federal prisons. They better hurry I thought, because in a few years Lewis will be ready to graduate from “juvy.”

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to www.williamthomas.ca.

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