All The World’s a Stage

stage2floatsA fish stage that is! Been having ideas for things lately, but thats another topic and another site… ūüôā But it led me to remembering the old fish stages back home when I was growing up. Dad never worked as a fisherman, and we never had a stage of our own, but like everyone we went fishing and used others, or at least was in them lots.

I remember most especially Uncle Lionel Kelly’s stage, with all the wooden barrels and tubs, not the more plastic of today, though of course times change! ¬†The old splitting table, with the little piece of wood nailed to it to hold the fish against when cleaning (does that have a name?). ¬†Using an old double mitt to hold the fish so it wouldn’t slip around. ¬†The old splitting knife, give a quick flick and the fish quickly slid into a tub.splitting_table

tubsGaffs and hand nets hung on the wall, floats and buoys and grapnels everywhere. ¬†A twine loft with nets, the old …. um the name escapes me…. thingy with a bobbin of twine that he could quickly slide in and out to mend tears in the nets.
One tub was full of cod livers making cod liver oil, an old punt or dory outside with a sculling oar.  God that man could scull a boat!

Outside on the bank, flakes to dry the fish and caplin racks to dry the caplin. I don’t remember his stage having one, but many also had a smoker, used to smoke herring into kippers and smoke caplin into… well smoked caplin! ¬†I’m not sure if they smoked other fish as well, maybe mackerel?

Of course us small boys were out on the wharf head a lot, catching tansys and conners and flatfish, and beating the occasional scuplin off rather than touch it!

The pictures here are of Raymond Blundell (in the hat) and Cecil Trowbridge, taken by my buddy Eric. ¬†The stage and gear is Raymond’s Appreciate all their help, love the memories it stirs!

The “Salmon”

One of my and my best friend Eric’s favorite past times is trouting. ¬†When I still lived back home, we’d often head off for a day around the ponds as I’ve mentioned in other posts. ¬†But we weren’t always in the mood to walk for an extended time to a pond, so sometimes we’d just pack up the car and drive to some easier location.

Generally brook trout are pasty and white fleshed and not very good eating. ¬†There are exceptions though, and one of these was Ryder’s Brook, just past George’s Brook, on the road to Harcourt. ¬†There we could get some nice eating trout, and if you were lucky a salt water trout as well, which were extremely tasty. ¬†Years back the road looped in around the brook to a narrower location, but sometime more recently the road was straightened, and a new bridge added. ¬†This old section of road, and the old bridge remnants offered an ideal spot to pull off the road and pools and eddies to fish in.

One Sunday Eric and I decided to head over, and while the trout weren’t plentiful, we were getting a few. ¬†After a while Eric hooked into something unusual, it fought hard and took a bit of work to get it ashore without breaking the line. We got it in and looked at it, and while neither of us were experts as we didn’t really do any fly fishing, though I think Eric may now, we both agreed it must be a small salmon.

Well the problem with that, is that Salmon are regulated, and catching one the way we did carried a heavy fine, and more. ¬†But there was also no way we were throwing it back, I’m not sure it would have survived anyway. ¬†So we, nervous as cats, got it into the trunk and covered it up. While we’d never been asked before, fish wardens were common in those times, and wouldn’t have been unusual for one to stop us, or drive down to the brook to chat.

We packed up the rest of our gear and took it home to Dad for confirmation or better identification.  Once there, we realized, thankfully, our nervousness had been for naught, as what Eric had hooked was in fact an Arctic Char.  Still a pretty rare catch back in those days, and it also turned out to be a rare good meal.

Handy Andy Entertainment Store

Handy Andy Associate store was located on Marine Drive in Clarenville, and sold camping and fishing gear, bikes, and automotive parts.  But I think the biggest draw there was entertainment.

It was always a favorite spot to go to look at new fishing rods and reels, as well as tackle.  I believe Eric Cooper and I bought our first Williams spinners there, and boy were they awesome, I still think they were the best spinner ever made, even better than the traditional red devil!

And I can’t count how many headlights I had to buy there for that old Chevette that used to burn through them like crazy. ¬†Brake pads, and lots of other standard auto parts were always on hand. ¬†A couple racks of bikes would greet you when you walked in, and all the accessories, pumps, tubes, tires. ¬†And camping gear nearby, tents, sleeping bags, the works. ¬†It was a small store, but seemed to have¬†everything¬†you could ever want for outdoors. ¬†I think there was even a rack of comics over to one side!

But going in there wasn’t just about shopping, I’m not really sure who owned the place, whether it was Laurel and Hardy, or not. ¬†But Stan (Fleming) and Dennis (Strong) were the two major personalities in there, and always made your trip, even if you were just browsing, entertaining. ¬†Stan was pretty quiet, but every so often, he’d let out a quip that would leave you in tears, whereas Dennis was outgoing, friendly, and funny as hell, and could always make you laugh and at ease.

The store closed up years ago now, but will live on for me forever as one my favorite memories of Clarenville, and one that helped me get a love of camping and fishing to this day.  Not sure if Stan and Dennis are still with us, but they too will in some ways be with me always.  Fond memories.

Peace, Serenity, and Put Put

Waking up and looking out over the waters of Smith’s Sound, you can really¬†believe¬†you can hear the world breathing. Its so still, the blue sky and blue water, serenity. Then you hear the unmistakable sound that gave an engine its nick name, put put put goes an old Atlantic Make and Break engine. ¬†I know there was another manufacturer as well, but all I can remember now is people talking about a 2 Atlantic when referring to these. ¬†They were staples of the Newfoundland fishing industry for probably 70 or more years.

Most people whose livelihood came from the fishery had one of these equipped in their main fishing boat. ¬†Nowadays people seem to keep their speedboats at a wharf or pier, but back then and probably still for some, a fisherman kept his boat off shore a ways on a collar. ¬†I can only assume it was to prevent damage from storms or high winds, but I really don’t know the reason. ¬†People kept a flat (a flat bottom boat) or a dory or rodney to get out to their main boat. ¬†I can’t really do a collar justice, but its basically a wooden contraption anchored to bottom by a grapnel, which you could moor your boat to. ¬†Here’s a link to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English definition.

Another unique thing to see related to this was seeing the old timers using a sculling oar to make their way out to the collar. ¬†Someone skilled with such an oar could really make a rodney move! ¬†A sculling oar is similar to other boat oars, but longer, with a handle, and a slightly different blade. ¬†A skilled user could manipulate this oar as both a propellor and a rudder and steer and propel a boat. ¬†I’ve tried it some in the past myself, and while I could make it work a little, its quite a talent or art. ¬†I’ll never forget how quickly Uncle Lionel Kelly could make his rodney fly across the water.

Its a Tuesday evening here now, but in my mind its an early Saturday morning, and you can hear a loon cry across the water, a make and break put putting down the sound, and the quiet splash of water dripping from a sculling oar as Uncle Lionel makes his way to his collar as the early morning vapor rises over the sheet of glass that is Smith’s Sound.

When fish were big and boys were small

One of the staple things we had growing up was fresh, frozen and salted cod. ¬†Here in Nova Scotia haddock reigns supreme, but nothing to me beats the taste of a fresh out of the water cod. ¬†Generally the casual fisher back home used a hand line with a traditional or¬†Norwegian¬†jigger. We’d lower the line overboard till it hit bottom and then pull up a fathom or two and start jigging back and forth till we hit a fish, then we’d pull it up and into the boat to be immediately cleaned.

I can still remember the feeling when you hit a big one, or as dad called them, a growler. You’d be jigging the line back and forth and then¬†suddenly¬†you’d bring up solid. ¬†Sometimes they were so hard to pull in. ¬†And if you happened to hook a¬†mackerel¬† well, then your line was on times tight and then loose as they’d swim madly like a fly fish.

And of course in the days before nylon line, we’d have the older cord, everyone had notches in the gunnels of their boats where the line wore into the wood.

This one year, for whatever reason, dad decided to try a trawl. ¬†Essentially it was a line with 50 smaller lines attached, with baited hooks on each. ¬†We set it out near our marks somewhere and came back a day or two later. ¬†Well we were pulling it in and caught a few fish, and then… it appeared. ¬†As you can see on the left, the fish was bigger than me! ¬†This was probably about 1974 or 75 I think, I’m pretty sure it was before my sister was born, making me 9 or 10 in this picture. ¬†The cod weighed in at 65 pounds!

We cleaned it and tried to salt it, unfortunately it was so thick it didn’t take well, or we didn’t leave it long enough, and some spoiled, but we still got quite a few meals!

Hunters and Gatherers

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Food for the pot (Picture by Eric Cooper)

Growing up back home, meat and vegetables often came from your own provisions, getting to a grocery store became more and more prominent as I grew up, but most peoples families still subsidized the pot by whatever we could get on our own. ¬†Nearly everyone had a potato garden, and some grew a few more things, carrots, turnip, cabbage. ¬†I remember a lot of people grew the Newfoundland Blue potato. ¬†I’ve seen blue potatoes since, but those all seem to have blue flesh too, the ones we had just had blue veins running through the white flesh.

Of course Newfoundland was famous for its fish, and we all had salt fish put away, as well as dried and smoked caplin. ¬†Will have to post another day about those topics. ¬†But we also hunted. ¬†Hunting wasn’t and isn’t a sport back home, at least not in the terms of the big hunting lodges. ¬†People enjoy it yes, but we also hunt to eat. ¬†With the salaries, or lack there of, or even lack of jobs or work back home, people hunted duck, geese, moose, caribou, turrs, seal, pretty much anything to help fill our bellies, including the lovely rabbit shown here (Technically there are no rabbits on Newfoundland Island, or weren’t at least, this is a Snowshoe Hare, but rabbit is what we called it and I always will).

People also weren’t into things for money either. ¬†If you had plenty you shared, and got shared with in return. ¬†I remember lots of trades of food over the years. ¬†A quarter of moose for some vegetables from Bill Smith (Bill was the king gardener back home, probably still is, even if he is in his 80s!), some rabbits for a leg of mutton from Jim Phillips, and so on.

The meat and food was healthier too, wasn’t sitting in a cage being force fed to get fat, most of our meats were really lean, and our vegetables were fertilized with manure, seaweed and fish offal, not manufactured chemicals.

But really, we never thought about that, we just thought about fun in the outdoors, and getting food to keep us all through the long winter. ¬†I’d give a lot to be sitting down to the smell of that rabbit smothered in onions wafting from the roaster now.

It Only Happened Once

One of the infuriating things about my buddy Eric was that he ALWAYS beat me trouting.  We have trouted in some pretty out of the way places back home, scrabbling over deadfalls, walking through the thick woods where there was no path, one day, maybe more, taking off our or at least my shirt(s) and wetting it in a bog hole to get cool.  And I loved it, its a peaceful experience just being out there with no noises but birds and insects.  Well except for getting the crap scared out of you when a snipe flew up in your face! Holy god they startled ya!

I remember one summer trip in particular, Eric and I got up about 6 and headed off in the country, making our way to Smith’s Long Pond. ¬†I know he definetly beat me again that day, can’t say how by how many, but I think the most memorable part was Vince Smith looking at us when we walked out the path and said “Trouting? TODAY? I looked at the thermometer on my patio at about 3 o’clock and it was 34 degrees!”. ¬†You can only imagine how hot we were after beating through the woods. ¬†And we both had¬†raccoon¬†faces after from our glasses blocking the sun.

Once though and only once I beat him. ¬†It was different than those trips because it was an ice fishing trip to Island pond. ¬†I’ve never really had a lot of luck ice fishing, but it was always a great day to get out for a boil up if nothing else. ¬†Island pond could also be reluctant to give up trout at the best of times, but because they were so good, we kept trying. ¬†This one day, we were fishing down the end of the pond, and I can recall beating him vividly. ¬†The tally was pretty easy to take though, I got one, he got none.

Out on the Sound

Random Island is separated from the Bonivsta peninsula on the island’s north side by Smith Sound. ¬†This is about 1-3 miles across in most places if memory serves. ¬†Sometimes in my memory we’ve had the sound freeze completely over, and can remember people ski-dooing, skating to Harcourt, hauling wood on horse and slide, and of course, fishing.

In Newfoundland you go fishing for one kind of fish only, that’s cod. ¬†Any other type of fishing has its own name (trouting, etc). ¬†Nowadays with the moratorium on, even if the sound did freeze over, you’d not be allowed to go fishing, but years ago you could.

One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Hay was one day him and I went out on our old ski-doo (I think it was that far back anyway). ¬†This was an old Alouette, we bought off Ross Smith and it weighed about 17 tons I think, and had about a 400 cubic inch motor in it ( I may have exaggerated slightly). I remember the ski-doo just because it was so ancient and yet so powerful. ¬†In any event, Uncle Hay and I drove out to some of our fishing marks and put some holes down through. ¬†I think we used my old ice auger, but it may have even pre-dated me having one of those, maybe Uncle Hay had one. You’d probably think that ice on such a large body of water wouldn’t be thick, but I remember there being about 2-3 feet of ice to drill through.

Salt water ice, or at least on a body that large, doesn’t respond like fresh water ice. ¬†Its “softer”, flexible, and you can feel the lop under the ice moving it up and down, and can hear the huge cracks like thunder when a crack opens up.

It was a beautiful winter day, sunny, sun felt warm, and was awesome to be out on the ice, doing what we both loved. ¬†I really don’t remember if we got any fish, but that really didn’t matter to me that day. ¬†I’m not sure where Dad was to be honest, possibly it was a work day, most likely was, but after Uncle Hay had retired. ¬†Some days just belong to certain people or groups. ¬†This was ours, or for me anyway. ¬†Much love to Uncle Hay, and Dad as well. ¬†We’ll fish again together someday.