John Greenhouse’s epiphany has come too late…
THe good lord never takes from any man the time he spends fish’un
Perhaps many folks out there have come to know that you, John, finally, at this late date, have become quite a competent tracker of the elusive salmon and the wily lake trout.
I admit to some envy, especially when I consider that stretch of water just below your summer house at Tobermory. What is disappointing for me is to think that, for years, you rose in the early morning and took your tea on the deck but rarely dangled a line until that July day when I demonstrated for you the art of the catch. People have no idea as to how you established yourself as a fisherman. That’s the purpose of this snippet.
There was a time when John simply had no clue regarding such manly things as down riggun, spoons, knots, filleting, and so forth. He didn’t – but knew that I did. Being as modest I am, I didn’t want to gloat each time I was in his presence. But it had been reported by my children, on more than one occasion, how proficient I was at bringing home stringers of bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, well… let me just cut to the chase… almost any fresh water species.
Nevertheless, John, living but a stone’s throw from the Grand Canyon of sport fishing did come under some conviction about wasting this resource that lay right before him. He knew full well that other men spoke disparagingly about him behind his back. He was aware that Japanese and Italians, with an outlay of thousands of dollars, made trips just for the experience that he ignored. He knew that the majority of his male friends would trade their penthouse apartments, grand urban lives, exclusive clubs, and gourmet dining with him in a moment. “If only I could simply rise, slip into a sunlit but misty morning and calm sea! If I could but just lean back, and putter along. If only I had a little boat with a 35 horse Merk.” But here, in their view, is an undeserving man who doesn’t even recognize the word Merk.
John is, for the most part, a man trim and angular, hardly looking his age, one who could handily take on a thirty-year-old on the tennis court, ride his bike twenty miles to work each day, and still… he did not even own a child’s tackle box. Embarrassingly, it would take most of the day for him to dig out enough gear to catch a perch. That was how it was until I came to visit.
It was the day after the wedding of my youngest son, Matt, to Noemi in rural Orangeville. The entire family had come, some from as far away as Texas. John and Jane, being more gracious and obligated than thoughtful invited all of us up for a few days at the cottage.
To be honest, I felt a little overwhelmed by the idea. Loving to fish, recognizing the opportunity, yet bringing no equipment, and knowing that John Greenhouse would likely have none I arrived on the scene with a certain despair of heart. This would be akin to going to Paris for a week and staying in your Best Western hotel room for the entire time.
John and Jane have these twin boys (they appear to have become young men now) who have as little sense as their father about what it takes to catch any noteworthy fish. But after a day or so my reputation began to come to the surface of their conversations. They wanted to know if I might take them out and show them how to catch trophy salmon like other people on the fishing charters do. My first thought was to recommend a local charter but this went nowhere – as anyone who knows the Greenhouses might imagine. The Greenhouses are not known to squander money. Hence, they have a summer home on a magnificent point overlooking Georgian Bay and I do not. I have fish stories; they have a cottage on the lake. This trait of frugality had meandered its way into the genes of Ben and Alden, who couldn’t see parting from their money, especially since they have a sea worthy aluminum fourteen footer that should easily do for us what we need.
Now, it was encouraging to discover by observation that the boat was not all that bad. Still, I had trouble visualizing three fellows, one of Chesterton proportions, all jammed into a small dinghy. Further still, I thought that the idea of any fish on the line might jeopardize the lives of all. Unknown to the boys, this is one of the reasons people spend money on twenty-two foot charter boats. Large salmon are not willing to be caught and one might expect the kind of action and unbridled enthusiasm that would capsize boats of lesser size.
They did demonstrate that the motor would start – a good beginning. I saw no way to convince them that their likelihood of being successful ranged somewhere between unimaginable to impossible. In their minds, a man of my reputation would surely require, even prefer, less accommodation than the novices who luxuriously cruise back and forth, six lines out, in front of their cottage.
As we surveyed the boat down in the cove John, the senior Greenhouse, optimistically trotted down to the shoreline to tell us that we should buy a net. He didn’t have a net. It seemed that a net was somehow important to him, but Down rigger wasn’t. A couple of sixteen-foot rods with sturdy open-faced reels, copper leads, and assorted four inch spoons weren’t. But, yep, no doubt about it, we’d definitely need a net if we intended to land a big one.
“Let’s go to the store! There’s a bait shop up on the highway!” This is when I felt that it was safe to inquire, “Do you have any down rigger?” After describing what we’d have to come up with the boys, who are reasonably handy, thought that they could fabricate something while John and I were gone. I explained that salmon run in 58 degree Fahrenheit water and that, if we wanted to have any chance at all, then we would have to stabilize our lines down at sometimes as much as eighty feet deeps. Being Canadians of another generation they were busy converting Fahrenheit and inches into Celsius and meters, missing my point entirely. The point being: Without adequate down rigger every other consideration is silenced.
Off to the store we went.
John was almost giddy with excitement. If nothing else, the Greenhouse’ are experts at three things, all of which I have virtually no interest in. They enjoy hikes (not walks… HIKES) after big meals, complicated (and sometimes homemade) board games, and projects that require tools they do not own. The joy for them is in devising the tools.
Well, after John insisted on a BIG net, an outlay of more money that I thought he was capable of spending at one time, we headed back to see what the boys had come up with.
There they were. Somehow they had done it! They had managed to jerri-rig not just one down rigger, but two lures, one just about four feet above the other. They figured this out on their own and I was impressed with their common sense and ingenuity. I began to think that all of this should, at least, make them feel as though they were fishing.
“Now boys, “ said I, “How are we gonna set our rod? We need some sort of mount whereby we can stick the butt end of the pole into it. We want to down rig the bait and then we want to watch the end of the pole. When she gets a hit, we’ll want to know it! The whole end of the rod will jump and quiver. This is how we know to grab the rod up and set our hook.” I said all of this to make them feel good.
At this, John rushed to the garage to fetch a piece of four-foot PVC pipe and a 3/8″ rope. When he reached us, without a word, he began to lash it to the middle seat support of the boat and then said, “There, we have it! This should provide a rather serviceable rod mount.”
There was certain ugliness to all of this. In spite of the fact that fishermen handle night crawlers and leeches there is still a twisted sophistication about the sport. Though nothing like the decorum attached to cricket, people out there on the lake can spot the skilled angler in a heartbeat. The right attire and equipment signal to all who pass by that you know what you are doing – that you are “one of them.” To be frank, I just really didn’t want to do this.
Well, as I began to stretch my arm through the life vest, one of the twins reached out, touched me, and then half humorously said, “When are you going to pray? Don’t you pray before you fish? I mean, don’t you ask God to help you catch a fish or something?” I am, as you know, an ordained minister and the boys who had, on occasion, sat through my rather lengthy sermons thought that this might be a legitimate question to pose. I confess to having boasted about my deep spirituality.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to hear either of them make the suggestion at all. All along, I had been convinced that little that I ever said caught their attention. They, to my recollection, had never commented back anything significant from any of the sermons they were forced to sit through. Oh, on second thought, there was one line that did recall and repeat back to me. I’m not sure if it was Alden or Ben but one of them did remember that I once made the facetious statement, “Every man’s a bachelor a hundred miles from home.” Whichever one it was (back then I could never tell them apart) he never forgot it. His wife should take note of how embedded in his subconscious this line is.
To satisfy their leering eyes and waiting ears, I mumbled some brief utterance, asking God to help us in our quest. We struggled into our life jackets, fell over one another into the boat, and launched out into the bay. One press of the ignition and the boat heaved in the direction of the open reach.
Out there in the open sea it is hard to hide from others your gypsy-like appearance. Smug captains drifted by and did what they could to look the other way. Their wake threw us one-way and then the other. Finally, when we were alone, we put out our line, set our course, and began to troll with the pole arched out of the PVC pipe lashed to the seat.
The long day was beginning to close. I could see my aged mother – who loves fishing – walk this way and that way. Every time we circled to go the other direction she would turn and march along with us on the cottage deck three hundred yards away. With her hand over her eyes to block the sun she squinted at us. Perhaps she was saying prayers of her own but she was definitely a silent encouragement to our pathetic venture.
“I think we just got a hit!” I remember shouting. “Yer kiddin,” came the reply. “No, I’m serious. Yes, it is! It’s a fish!” Real fishermen shout some obscenity at this point but I refrained. I grabbed the pole with both hands, lifted it from the PVC pipe, quickly turned the reel, pulled up the slack in what line I could, all as I was snapping the end of the pole in an attempt to set the hook.
The boys were beside themselves and shouting as I reported it to be a “BIG” one. Off went the drag and they could see the line whiz into the water. Now the boat was unsteady and tossing as the two jumped to see what they could do. One grabbed the recently purchased net while I thrust the pole into the hands of the other and yelled in a deep southern accent, “Keep the end of the pole up, play ‘em, play ‘em. Give ‘em a little and then take in a little! Take yer time. Yer in no hurry. Yah wanna wear ‘em down.” (When I’m excited I find that my southern upbringing returns) By now we were all clapping. My mother was screaming from the Greenhouse deck, “Come quick! Come quick! They got one!” We could see that faces were filling the windows and others began pouring out of the patio doors. By now everyone was in an uproar. We turned and casually waved in their direction, as though we knew exactly what we were doing.
“There she is! See her? Gosh, she’s a big’un!” With this, the fish came close to the boat and the net was pressed into service – a miss, and then another lunge. Down she went with the reel steaming and screaming behind her. With all of the noise, yelling, and screaming the large cruisers, which had before wanted to be out of our way, were finding their way back into line and as one took up position they radioed the others that “some fellas down here are having some dumb luck.” Soon the scoffers, who had snickered at three big men in a small boat and our PVC pipe pole mounts, were leaning out over the sides trying to gain a better look.
Within minutes we had all seventeen pounds and four ounces of her in the net and on board. After sufficient congratulations all around and salutes to our family and friends on shore we did not hesitate to make our way back, anticipating a certain amount of praise and looking forward to the requirements to go over every detail of how we did it.
That night we all sat down to fifteen charcoaled salmon steaks and made a great deal of the fact that without John’s net we would have never landed that hog. John is normally a rather understated personality but we could tell that he enjoyed his part in the catch.
Well, this little success has set John back financially. Unbeknown to Jane, John has developed an addiction of sorts. He now has this compulsion to frequently stop at Canadian Tire stores where he buys unnecessary fishing lures, takes them out of the bag, destroys the receipts so that Jane doesn’t find out, breaks the lures out of the blister packs, and hides them under the seat of his Suburban. The truth is, he doesn’t know what some of these things are or what they will do. Anyone hearing this now can simply take a flashlight, go out to his car, open the door, and peer under the seat to see if what I say isn’t true.