I grew up fishing summers with my Swedish grandpa when he wasn't at sea. He was a fair good fisherman, I can tell now but his expertise was limited to the salt water. He was a perfectionist, truth be told and thus was kind of a hard man to learn from. I got a little Zebco Spincaster and Eric had a nice Abu Garcia level-winder he attached to a stout little fiberglass rod he had fitted with a curved antler grip. Between summers, I was stuck in the suburbs of Houston, Beaumont or Baton Rouge with a father who didn't do those outdoor things.
The Swede and I fished the Gulf of Mexico between High Island and Galveston, Texas. We were gunning for golden croakers, hoping for a bull red-fish and in between we caught lots of drums, channel cats, cand charks, eels, blue crabs, flounders and angel fish. If we hooked a ray, the line was cut to save our small gear. We used fresh shrimp, cut fish, blood paste, earthworms and live minnows for bait but shrimp was the standby.
We had two folding canvas chairs, two rags, two long knives, a cooler, ice and usually a couple of Nehi Grape Sodas. Usually it was in the low one hundreds and so we got started at 5 AM. My Grandpa would grab my foot gently and shake it a few times to rouse me. About a year after he passed away I was in his house with my fiance sleeping on a couch-bed in the living room and the girl started awake suddenly. It was about 5 AM and I asked her with heavy eyes what was the matter. She said something had grabbed her foot and shook it three times. I told her not to worry, he was just saying hello.
The best fishing was down on the Intra-coastal Canal which runs from Florida to Mexico and my Grandpa knew most of the men on those boats by name and reputation. Big tugs drawing big barges would scare up all kinds of fish and set clouds of shrimp to jumping. Sometimes we were lucky to have some live ones splash out onto the gumbo mud banks into the saw grass. Their eyes were luminescent and blinked on and off like faulty head-lights.
Once my Grandpa heaved a mighty cast and caught himself a large sea-bird. It was surreal watching him reel it in from the gray-blue sky. It was a complicated affair to deal with and nearly gave Skipper, his beagle, a heart attack. I had read Coleridge's Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and was very relieved that the bird wasn't killed.
Because we never knew what we would catch, Eric used thirty pound braided line and I had twenty pound mono-filament. This was Texas and the object was to catch fish, so we used the barbed hooks. We were bottom fishing and believe me, we filled up many a cooler over the ten summers we fished together.
A croaker is so named because it makes an audible noise when out of the water. The Mexican guys called it a “piga” because it reminded them of the grunt of a pig. They could range in size from seven inches to twice that. I was honored with cleaning up the catch under the beach cabin's raised floor while Eric had a little nap. I reckon I cleaned a few hundred all told. I buried the guts under two palm tree sprouts which grew into thirty foot trees and survived many a hurricane.
My Grandma coated the fish with salted and peppered cornmeal and fried them in several inches of Crisco in a big iron skillet. We ate them with fresh squeezed lemon, ketchup, home fries and a crock of strong ice tea. I usually had about six and I couldn't tell if I liked the cornmeal or the fish best of all. Of course my Grandpa got the golly-whopper regardless of who caught it.
We only fished fresh water once, if you could call it that. It was a slow moving bayou near Beaumont. It was a thirty minute hike through palmettos, poison ivy and four kinds of poisonous snakes to get to the mosquito infested boggy, sulfurous muddy banks. We were going for catfish and we wanted big ones. Eric got a fine blue and white three or four-pounder and I got nothing.
On the way back through the jungle, I got nipped by a spider as big as both my hands. It was a beautiful thing, yellow and green in color. I had seen it's web and knocked it aside with a stick only to have it land on my knee. It was far more important to watch where your feet were in this country. I puffed up real good on the way home and my Grandma taped something on it and drew all the venom out.
So that was the extent of my fresh water fishing until reaching Lynn Valley in North Vancouver when I was twelve years old. Scottish and English immigrant kids were catching trout right on the corner of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway back in those days but there was a slight language barrier and I had no equipment. I was horrified to see some of them using lures instead of bait. I figured that if I was a fish I'd sure know the difference between a chunk of metal and a nice shrimp or minnow.
After I saw another boy fly-fishing, I guess I just about gave up hope of ever learning how to catch fresh water fish. I knew from reading books that by the time you bought all the tweeds, creels, weighted line, flies, rod and reel, hip-waders, sweater, pipe and beret; you wouldn't have enough money left over to get a scone and a cup of tea. Then one day I was walking along a creek in Lynn Valley and I saw some Squamish Band boys my age. They just flipped a Zellers cart onto its side and these big old salmon swam right in. Then they flipped it up and carted it off home. A kid at school told me that only the Native boys could do that.
I figured over the ensuing years that I would learn the mysteries of the river fishing upon retirement. I am surrounded by lakes, creeks and near a big river. I have tried by all the methods known to me from salt water and over five years, I have managed only a miniscule trout. This is somewhat maddening in a place where you can walk along a creek as metric tons of spawning fish cruise upstream in the crystal water. Those are the non-resident fish, as it were and it boggles the mind to think that another population of resident fishes also share the same waters. My cowboy hat is off to all fresh water anglers, native and non-native. It is a skill-set in which there is much to learn.
One fine afternoon my wife and I were at the lake and saw a man fishing. We started to chat and he turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met. He taught me what he could as we stood there and next time I saw him in town, he invited me fishing with him. Within ten minutes of arriving at the spot he had chosen, my drought ended. I caught and released a too-small trout and then got a nice dolly varden of keeping size. This was followed by another too-small trout and then we went on home. I gobbled that dolly up as soon as I got home and it was sweeter than cotton candy.
Some time later, I was nursing a badly bruised vertebrae sustained on a solo fishing trip to the Fraser wherein I learned not to cross fallen logs with flip-flops. On that trip, I met an old St'at'imc man who tried to show me how to rig up for a big salmon. We were on Cayoosh Creek and he was too drunk to tie the knots, so I did that for him as he instructed me in which tackle to use. While I listened to his instructions and his life story, his little dog fell asleep in my lap.
We got one rod cast out into the strong current and as we worked on the second one, a couple appeared from upstream in little kayaks and put in on the rocks beside us. The commotion caused his gin bottle to capsize and I just managed to save it before it joined the torrent. As I was tying on a spark-plug weight and he was rolling some roe in his mahogany hands, a young woman appeared and started to clean up his empty beer cans. She was going to take him on home and as they gathered up his things, he shook my hand and cried. Turned out that he had found a friend of his cold and dead right on that creek side many bottles ago.
The next day, I went to the creek and rigged up as the old man had taught me. I fished to no avail. A young man across the creek asked me if I had fished on his side that day. I said no and decided to roll up my gear. I went to talk to him and soon found out that he had lost an expensive cell phone. I went to help him hunt for it, while his gal sweated and fretted in their car.
As I scanned the rocks, I saw a big patch of gore. It was fresh. I pointed it out to the man and he said that was where he had cleaned the twenty-seven pound salmon he had just caught an hour earlier. We never found the cell phone. That is, not that day. Next day, I was back at it and where the creek joins the river, there it was minus its SIM card. About a kilometer away down river I found the massive head and tail-fin of the salmon. I caught and released one more too-small trout.
I took a little break from fishing so as not to deepen the negative reinforcement at play. My chess computer came out and by the time I had clawed my way up to level six, a neighbor asked if I would help assemble his new storage shed. I gratefully accepted and we began next morning. My wife walked over in the early evening to tell me that I had a visitor who turned out to be my new fishing friend. We had a chat and I was invited to join him for a fishing trip on the coming Saturday. We would go early in the morning and would be gone all day. I was ready to go at it again.
In the following days, the bottom fell out of a blue sky and buckets came down for so many hours, I lost count. I got a phone call from my friend and he said we'd have to put the trip over til Sunday, due to some unexpected work he'd taken on. I decided to cut my grass and wax and polish the Suzuki. I finished up about 8 PM and decided to walk over to the Rec Center and listen to the band playing for the local festival.
Satisfied and looking forward to the coming day of fishing, I walked home. At just past mid-night, the lights went out. I went into the room where the panel is with a flashlight and saw that one wire had shorted and another one had its insulation melted. With a glance at the hand-written chart which had been edited by each previous owner of my trailer, I discovered that to ascertain which breaker controlled which circuit was going to prove as difficult as deciphering cuneiform tablets.
My main concerns were my freezers. Being a Sunday, I figured it would be Monday before someone qualified could come out and another day or two before the needed parts could be procured. I set my alarm and flipped off all the obvious circuits. When it got down to the porch freezer, I asked my wife to stand out on the porch and tell me when the little orange light went out as I flipped the switches. The process took several minutes and the door stayed open so we could hear each other without shouting.
After some trial and error we got everything sorted out. I made a big pot of coffee for the morning in case that circuit fizzed. I went off to a troubled one eye open sleep. Within an hour we heard sparks. Back in the breaker room, I could see a little Niagara of electrons cascading out over the keyboard where I write these missives. Behind this was a wicked blue arc steadily eating into the lug. That was it. Everything got shut down. I checked my watch and realized that my fishing buddy would be around in about three hours to pick me up.
I stared into the gloom like a character in a pulp novel and waited on the sunrise. At just past five, I phoned to cancel my participation in the fishing trip and apologized for the short notice. This done, I remembered the emergency coffee. On the way to the coffee pot, I stumbled on several apricots which were piled near the dishwasher on the floor. Then I saw the Marlboros my neighbor had given me for helping with his shed construction.
The packets were on the living room floor and only the filters remained in a little pile. That's how I like them but I trim them one at a time usually. Nearby were some leaves neatly clipped off of my wife's houseplants. I decided to drink caffeine before processing anything. This I did and as I scanned the rooms, I saw dozens of things out of place. The fishing trip was long forgotten and the electrical crisis was now being pushed back onto the back burner. I was under check, my opponent had a pawn one move away from queening and I was down to a bishop, a rook and a knight.
On my second mug, I heard it. A light thumping like a rabbit makes. It was coming from the dishwasher. I opened the door expecting a mouse to come scurrying out. We haven't had any for years and I am proud and happy of that. Nothing came out but I heard a bottle clink a few feet away inside the cupboards. I opened one door and there between a bottle of dish soap and the goose-neck of the drain were two big soft eyes and about seven inches of stiff whiskers looking right my way.
Judging by the size of the head, I thought I was looking at a possum. Then it ghosted across to the right side where the pots and Pyrex are stacked. It took a long time before the tail disappeared from view. Whatever it was it was about fifteen inches long, at least and had mighty back legs like a jack-rabbit. It was a beautiful healthy specimen and the fur was thick and gray with white, black and buff tones.
I opened all the cupboards and emptied some of the pots. I crawled inside with a flash-light to look for a hole. There was no hole. This perplexed me. Whatever it was, it could have easily chewed through an oak desk but as big as it was, it shouldn't be able to become invisible. I got my wrist-rocket and some ball-bearings from the coffee table where my wife had put them the morning before when dusting around the living room. Funny how that worked out.
I sat down the weapon and decided to look into the space behind the dishwasher. This sounds easy but it involved inserting the torso and only one arm, then turning the body into a ninety-degree angle. Once in, there was no guarantee one would make it out, particularly if one was in a hurry. I did the trick and once I was wedged in good and tight, I saw its long tail. I also found a pile of dried grass. Nestled together with these things were some Marlboros and a few apricots.
The beastie gave me the slip again as fast as a Tangiers taxi and as quiet as a Benedictine monk. I wormed my way back out of the trap and readied the sling-shot. As I scanned all the cupboards again, it reappeared behind the stack of Pyrex. It regarded me with some interest all the while remaining absolutely motionless. We both knew that there was no way I could get a clear shot. I aimed anyway and it disappeared.
I decided to check the living room for damage and let the fugitive calm down a bit. When I was picking up the cigarette filters from the floor, I heard the light thumping. It seemed to be coming from under the floor. Just bloody lovely, I thought. He's calling in reinforcements. I pictured beaver-sized holes chewed throughout my trailer's underside and hidden dramas taking place in the hollows of the walls. I knelt down to put my ear to the floor.
My glasses banged against the linoleum and I removed them. With my uncorrected vision I saw the interloper eyeballing me from under the couch and drumming its foot. It was only inches away and didn't bolt. I tip-toed back to the kitchen and got the sling and the shot. I turned it upside down so I could draw it back only an inch off the floor. When I got situated, it was gone. I looked at my watch. By now, my friend would have probably caught his first fish, I reckoned.
I had the rest of the cold coffee and a sawed-off Marlboro. Outside the day was coming on and I could hear my wife rousing herself up back in the bedroom. I didn't have the heart to tell her yet. I phoned the only electric company in the book and left a plaintive message. Then I heard a thumping coming from the fridge. The appliance stood in a little alcove and had only two inches of space on either side. The flashlight's beam revealed that indeed the mammal had somehow made it across open ground, under my gaze and was ensconced behind my food box.
Now it was a Mexican stand off. The bold devil stood defiant with its head turned around the corner and its body solidly planted behind the appliance. It was looking right at me and not budging an inch. As my wife stumbled into the kitchen, I told her to suspend her questions as to the last few hours of ruckus and to get a stick and hand me my weapon. She is a cool head in a crisis and without any fuss I had my sling-shot and she had a long stick.
I fired one off and missed. There was a commotion behind the fridge and as I loaded another shot into the leather, my quarry appeared in the gap, this time ready to bolt. My wife put the dining table leaf as a barrier across the other gap so it would have to jump to escape. I hoped that would give me time, if I botched the shot. I bit down on the flashlight I had been holding in my teeth and shined it right into the big eyes inside the dark narrow space.
I drew back like an archer in the Court of Xerxes. I released and hit it right smack between the eyes, killing it instantly. We pulled the fridge out and retrieved the animal by its ear. It was a foot and a half long from snout to tail. We figured it had sneaked in while we were trying the breakers for the freezer. The mess it made had taken only three hours give or take. I sure didn't want it sharing our living space. It looked like the love-child of a wharf rat who had put on an expensive fur coat, had a bath, rolled in sage and then courted a jack-rabbit.
Later that morning some neighbors told me it was a pack-rat. Everything may be big in Texas but I am here to tell you that everything is bigger yet in Texas Creek. That day was spent cleaning up the mess, disinfecting and inspecting the entire premises, inside and out. There wasn't a hole bigger than my little finger anywhere in the building and that included the dusty dark crawl space. This supported my idea that it had been a surprise attack when the door had hung open at night. It may have caused the electrical short but the jury is still out.
I crumbled some tobacco on the little carcass out of respect and bagged it up. My landlord helped me out with a extension cord to my freezer and provided me with the number of an electrician who promised that she would be around next morning. Two days later, I had new breakers, a fire extinguisher and a clean bill of electrical health. My new friend phoned to see how things were going and I told him that although I had missed our fishing trip that I had gotten to go hunting. A man told me once that Lillooet won't entertain you. I beg to differ.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.