January 16, 2011
I mentioned in an email to Tom last week that I had a yarn about a brown trout that gave me fits one summer in Peterborough, and I promised to throw in a beautiful, six foot Italian woman in a bikini for good measure. Tom hung on every word, but I told him he could wait for their trip to Westport next weekend for the Jack de Keyzer concert to get the final version of the yarn.
Then I had to sit down to write the thing.
We’d bought Wybmadiity II that spring, gotten her home from Toronto by the middle of June, and then I received a call from the Ministry of Education that I’d been accepted into the Principal’s Course in Peterborough beginning in one week.
“Peterborough? But we’ve just bought a boat, and I don’t have a place to keep it yet.”
“Bring it along! We’ll go for boat rides. The course is on the Trent campus.”
Turns out I wasn’t the first would-be school administrator to arrive at Trent by boat for the course, but I may have been the only one without a car along, as well.
Trent University is beautifully situated on the Otonabee River, just before the run of locks leading to Lakefield and the Kawartha Lakes. In the early eighties docking wasn’t scarce, but the campus still lay a fair distance from Peterborough and a supermarket, a factor which became more and more pressing as my meager supplies of food ran down.
With fishing rods aboard, I looked to the river for sustenance. But the water was alive only with tiny sunfish and carp so huge I was afraid to dive into the murky flow for fear of hitting one.
I’d never touched a carp, but it looked as though a single fish would provide a lot of protein. Despite my best efforts and their abundance, though, I couldn’t get a carp to take my hook. The fish swam around openly in the eddies below the dams, but they seemed about as smart as pigs. On the farm I could never catch them, either.
But I was getting hungry, so I spent some time up at the dam, trying.
Then a young couple drove up in a brand new BMW. Blue, it was, because the lady in the car quickly shed her outer garments to a designer bikini which matched the car. She was a six-foot redhead, and quite a beauty. Her companion was a short guy with a lot of gold chains and other jewelry. He opened the trunk and assembled a very fine, heavy bait-casting rod. The wife removed a diving belt with a huge, vicious-looking knife attached to it. She clipped a stringer to the belt, and as she waded out into the waist-deep water below the spillway, let it drift in the current.
All eyes were on this apparition who cheerfully chatted with members of the growing audience. I noticed the husband put a small potato on his line and cast it in front of one of the steady procession of huge carp which trooped in single file through the current. To my astonishment, the fish immediately took the bait and the fight was on.
His jewelry flashed a lot in the sun as he played the carp, but the guy certainly knew what he was doing. Before long the carp turned belly-up. He gave it slack and it dropped down to the Amazon waiting in the middle of the current below the eddy. With a single movement she drew the huge knife, killed the fish with a stab through the head, and gutted what must have been a twenty-pound carp with an incredibly efficient series of movements. Then she hooked the dead fish to her stringer, took a stance against the increased drag of the spillway, and waited for the next fish.
The guy baited up and had another on his next cast. The team repeated the process with each fish, jubilant at their success in laying in a stock of carp for smoking. The show was too good for anyone to pass up. Even the Asian anglers left their lines and came to watch this amazing demonstration of skill. Normally they showed interest only in bluegills.
When the redhead had added the sixth large carp to her stringer, she waded out of the current and her husband helped her carry the huge load of fish up the bank and drop them into the trunk of the BMW. Away they went, all smiles and waves to their appreciative audience. They had been at the lockstation an amazingly short time to collect close to a hundred pounds of fish.
I made a few futile casts, even tried a bit of potato the guy had dropped on the grass, but the carp wouldn’t even look at my hook. It was going to be canned corn for supper tonight if I didn’t do something.
With my ultralight rod I worked my way around the dam just below campus. In the ruins of an abandoned factory I spotted some small fish under a patch of vegetation. If I could get a jig down there I could at least have some fun with these smallmouths and maybe get a meal as there is no 12 inch size limit on the Trent Waterway.
The first fish struck eagerly and I hauled up what turned out to be a ten-inch rainbow trout. All right, that will do. I didn’t know there were trout in the Trent, but I was hungry so I caught two more and cooked them on the little alcohol stove and had a decent meal with the can of corn and a pot of coffee.
It seemed as though my protein problem had found a solution, but as the week went on the supply of fish diminished, and a large trout developed the habit of moving out to look at my bait. When it was afoot, the smaller fish hid.
There was no way I could lift this big one twenty feet up to the top of the wall with four-pound test line, so I switched to the heavy rod. But the large fish wouldn’t bite, and when it was active, the smaller trout wouldn’t come my tube jig, either. No dice.
Moby Trout had it in for me and I went hungry for two days. I had to catch that fish. In desperation I walked to a roadside stand along the highway and bought a pack of worms for bait.
Bright and early I approached the old factory and dabbed a wiggling earthworm on the still-dark surface of the water. Noses peeked out from under the weeds, but no fish came out for the easy meal. Moby Trout made a pass, turned up his nose at my offering, and returned to his lair.
I made do with a diet of muffins from the coffee shop for the day. The following morning the scenario repeated itself, and I was running out of cash, as well as food. Friday morning I tried a final time. As soon as the worm touched the water the big trout exploded out from under the weeds and detonated on that worm. The battle was on, but I had the upper hand, literally, as I cranked my startled opponent up the sheer face of the abandoned factory wall.
Then I triumphantly paraded my three-pound brown trout through the biology department on my way back to the boat. Had to weigh it, eh? I wish I could tell you my trophy was delicious, but in fact it didn’t taste very good at all. The smaller ones had been much better. But I had saved up a lot of appetite over the week, so down it went at one sitting, the whole fish.
Another guy in my class heard about my success and showed up later in the day with his equipment and had just gotten his line into the water when the attendant came along to feed the fish and caught him trespassing in the Trent University Trout Pond! He had some tall explaining to do about the missing stock, but I don’t think he told on me.
Honest. It was just an old, sunken foundation with water running through it. There was no sign, no indication that it was anything but a good fishing spot, and I had no idea that trout didn’t swim free in the Trent system. Honest.