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Part one.

By Jim E. BeerPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 39 min read
Some jerk stuck all these fish on a stick at Prosser's pond!

Jim’s Woods – Fishing.

Fishing was a big part of my childhood. Not because I needed to catch fish for food. Not even because I liked catching them to eat them at all, but just because it was fun. It was fun and it gave me a reason to get outside and interact with nature. Even when we lived in the city, I took every opportunity to go fishing that arose, as few as those opportunities were.

When us kids were much younger, our parents would drive us all, including Reuben the cat, all the way from Hamilton, up to a cottage on Lake Bernard directly across from Sundridge, near Burks Falls. It was up at the cottage as a kid, that I remember catching my first ever fish...

It was an annual, summer family event for a few years and it was also where I caught my first Small Mouth Bass. I was proud of my catch and actually ate that one, even though it was by no means a trophy Bass. Scaled it, cleaned it and cooked it in a campfire, wrapped in foil with a little butter, some salt and pepper. It was really good. I was probably six or seven years old at the time. We’d stay at the rented cottage for a week and if it rained a couple days in a row, my Mom would drive into Burks falls to the library for something to do. I’d borrow a few Field and Stream magazines, not for the articles, just for the pictures of people who’d caught monster Pike, Pickerel or Muskies. Even though I never did much fishing, I was always keen to the idea.

So when we moved to Jerseyville it began to dawn on me that there was going to be lot’s of chances for me to try fishing in the ponds and even the creeks out there.

Our first year in Jerseyville as kids, we were all still young enough to require a baby sitter if our parents went out together. Our first baby sitter was a girl that lived down the road a ways. Her name was Heather Livingstone and she had an older brother called Rodney. My mother suggested that Rodney could take us fishing one time when Heather came over to baby sit. Apparently he knew a place nearby that he wanted to take us to. We rounded up our fishing rods, dug up some worms in the garden, put them in an empty margarine container with a bit of dirt and headed out with Rodney. Rodney took Jason and I up Sunnyridge road by the ‘Millionaire’s’ house. My two older brothers Danny and David, probably thought they were too old to be baby sat, especially by Rodney Livingstone. The ‘Millionaire’s were a family who’d won the lottery at some point and had built a large gated house surrounded by a chain link fence. I didn’t think it was that stunning to look at, but I never saw the inside. It was always a good place to visit on Halloween. It was also the only house with a big gate in the driveway. They probably hadn’t been millionaires for very long, but that’s what they were called and the name just stuck.

So we walked beside their fence and went all the way back through the long weeds, up a hill and then down to Dunmark lake. I’d never been there before and didn’t know anything about it. Rodney kept saying it was a good spot to fish, because he’d caught a huge Pike there. When I looked where he was pointing and saw the brown muddy water, I thought, “Bullshit.” I knew from Field and Stream that Northern Pike liked clear water with logs or reeds to maneuver through. They’re hunters and geez, I couldn’t even picture Sunfish in that water. It would be a couple years before everything I thought that day would be upended. As it was, we tried fishing in that spot where Rodney suggested and never caught a darn thing. Both Jason and I had a healthy competitive streak between us as brothers. We fished far enough apart to cover any areas that looked promising, therefore if there were any fish biting at least one of us might catch something. Cast after cast into that muddy brown water proved fruitless that day.

Undeterred, I knew there’d be other areas to try our luck. I remember thinking that Jerseyville creek looked too small to contain anything other than minnows, or shiners. Boy was I wrong about that…

My first spring after moving to the country I had walked past the creek while the ice was thawing and the creek was running strong. I was really surprised at how powerful it was. Because the creek ran through the bottom of a little valley all the run-off from the melting snow and spring rains collected in the creek. That meant Jerseyville hill where all the village kids tobogganed during the winter months melted directly into the creek. In fact, that side of the creek at the bottom of our toboggan hill was more or less a flood plain. Even in the winter, there’d be times when it iced over and I was able to skate on it through the weeds. I even went all the way back the creek on skates, years later when I was feeling a little adventurous. As teens, we used to play a ‘game’ that we called ‘Glacial, Ice-Cap Walking’. The rules were simple, if not stupid. The idea was to take as much risk as possible when walking on the ice. Some areas were obviously suicidal, but others were just questionable. It was those areas that were questionable where the game was played. This is where I learned a lot about the physical chemistry of ice. It was possible to walk on very thin ice without falling through if we were careful enough. You could feel the ice bending beneath your feet and if you kept an eye on the air bubbles trapped within and under the ice you could almost gauge where it would become too thin to hold your weight. Sometimes you’d go through and all that you’d get is a ‘soaker’. Your boots would fill up with water and if you were able to pull them off quickly enough and pour the water out, you’d be good for at least another hour of game play. If you went through the ice up to your knees it was pretty much game over and you got to walk home alone with stiff, frozen jeans. I saw one of my close friends ‘Dutch’ go through the ice up to his waist in the creek. That was game over for all of us, because we felt so bad for him and wanted to walk him home in his frozen jeans. We also knew he’d catch all kinds of shit from his parents for being so ‘stupid’. I think the term his Dad ‘Jake’ used was ‘Klotzak’ I’m not sure if I got the spelling right with that, but the pronunciation was the same. None of us ever worried that the water would be too deep to escape without our lives, so that was why we enjoyed the ‘game’. Over the years we invented a number of games with names that we though were hilarious, however dangerous they might have been.

Right after the culvert under the road, the creek narrowed again. During the first spring thaw that I was there, I stood on the road watching big chunks of ice piling up at the choke point. As a kid I was impressed by the fury of the melting creek but still couldn’t imagine it holding any fish. Once the hills were clear of snow, the creek ran normally. By late spring it was nothing special and barely qualified as a creek. In some circles it might’ve just been considered a mere stream, nothing more. In some spots it narrowed enough that you could even run and jump across it. Which we all did many times, over many years.

It must have been our first spring in Jerseyville as a family. We’d moved in the fall before and I remember we’d just gotten the Atari game system. My brother Jason and I were in the living room playing Asteroids and rolling it over and over again. If you scored higher than 10,000 points on Asteroids it would roll over back to 0, starting you on the first level. You could never have more than three ships though, so you still had to be careful! Then our older brother David came home all excited, claiming the creek was full of big fish, tons of them and that we should go check it out. At first we thought he was full of crap. The more we said ‘No way!’, the more he insisted that it was true, laughing at us. Jason and I looked at each other, abandoned the Atari and headed down Jerseyville road to the creek to see for ourselves. Sure enough it was full of Carp, swimming up and through the culvert under the road and jamming up where it narrowed at the choke point. The creek was shallow enough that in some spots their fins stuck out of the water as they thrashed, heading upstream. Jason and I looked at each other and laughed thinking the same thing. We ran home for our fishing rods, dug up a few worms in the garden and then ran back to the creek to catch some fish. It wasn’t long before we realized that the Carp had no interest in our worms. No matter how many of them wriggled through the narrow gap by the road we hadn’t caught a single one with our rods. It also became obvious to us that there was another way to get them. So we positioned ourselves on either side of the narrow spot where they kept getting jammed up and simply grabbed them by hand and flipped them out onto the grass, thrashing and gasping in the sun. Then laughing, we’d hold them up for examination and chuck them back into the creek. Whenever Jason and I went fishing, we always threw the fish back. It was just for fun and a lot easier than scaling and cleaning them.

After a few days of laughs with the spawning Carp, their activity died down and we got bored of chasing them up and down the creek. Eventually they stopped running, but I was not finished ‘Carping’. Not by a long shot and we would meet again, some sunny day.

Now we knew the creek had fish in it, so we tried another method at the culvert. Instead of using our fishing rods, the creek was small enough to employ drop lines. All we needed was twelve to fifteen feet of fishing line, a hook and a few worms. Holding the coiled line, we’d simply throw our hooks into the shade of the culvert under the road and wait for a nibble. We started catching all kinds of stuff with our ‘drop lines’. We were pulling in Sunfish, Catfish and even Perch. We were having so much luck at the creek by the road, at dinner time we’d tie the end of our line to one of the bolts in the culvert, put a big worm on the hook, (a ‘juicer’ as we called ‘em) and throw the line under the road before going home. After dinner we’d ride our bikes back to the creek to see what we’d caught. There was always something on the end of the line and it was exciting to see your line taut and moving about on it’s own. We’d kneel down in the gravel at the side of the road, on top of the steel culvert and haul it in, hand over hand to see what we’d caught. Whatever it was, we’d throw it back in the creek to catch again some other day. That was how we had fun fishing in the creek with simple drop lines, until we discovered Prosser’s pond. Fishing at Prosser’s was a completely different experience altogether and one I will never forget either.

My first ever experience with Prosser was a funny one. Whatever it is about me I’m not sure, but I’ve always loved animals, wildlife and nature. Maybe it’s because I’m half Mohawk, I’m just guessing. It makes sense to me. I’ve always had an affinity for the environment, as far back as I can remember.

Ever the adventurer, when I was just twelve years old, I flew Air Canada by myself from Toronto, to visit Antigonish Nova Scotia to see my Pop Randy, ‘Godfather’ and their friends. Since I was a minor, in the airport and on the plane I had to wear a laminated sign advertising that I was “Flying Alone”. This was mainly so that the stewardesses and airport security could keep an eye on me. But boy, did I ever feel singled out and more alone than ever. Not to mention, what a great way to target me for any potential predators out there. However, I got there safely. The year was 1980 and pumping stations were being added to the Alaskan oil pipeline. Environmentalists were complaining loudly because of recent oil spills and when I was in Nova Scotia there was a local radio talk show on the subject. I really knew nothing at all about pipelines or the oil industry, but I’d seen plenty of photos in National Geographic of dead and dying sea birds slick with black oil. Randy and his crew of ‘aging hippies’ had been listening to the radio show and thinking about calling in. I was in total agreement and asked if I might be able to phone in too. They all laughed and thought it was a really “cool idea if the kid phoned in his two cents worth”. So I held the receiver and dialed the number for the radio station. I didn’t think I’d get through, I mean, I’d tried calling in to CKOC in Hamilton lots of times and always got the busy tone. So I was horrified when I DID get through and the radio host asked me my opinion on the matter of the Alaskan pipeline. I hadn’t really thought it through and was totally caught off guard. So I blurted out the ONLY thing that came to mind, “Give a hoot and don’t pollute!” I hollered into the phone and quickly hung up. My Pop and his friends all clapped and cheered for me, I was totally embarrassed, but at least I got my two cents across.

My next environmental action came when I was fourteen and visiting Randy and his lady friend in Thunder Bay. The government had been test drilling the bedrock, way up in Atikokan, Ontario. They wanted to bury all their nuclear waste there, thinking that was a swell idea. At that age I knew better and took great pleasure in participating with a well planned demonstration. The drilling company had arranged for us all to have a tour of the drill site. I had carefully made my ‘Hell No I Won’t Glow!’ protest sign, but had no way of knowing I’d personally take part in monkey-wrenching hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drilling equipment. We packed a picnic lunch, loaded the car with our signs and drove northwest on highway 17, to highway 11 north, going west. It was a solid two and a half hour drive and by the time we reached highway 11B, we’d joined a very large convoy of like minded protesters. To me it seemed like hundreds of cars, vans and station wagons; it was probably only a hundred. We drove about another half hour down a narrow dirt road into the Atikokan wilderness and walked the rest of the way to the drilling area. There were tons of people and lots of protest signs. It was a beautiful day for a picnic too. It was sunny and warm and we were in the middle of a pristine Boreal forest. And they wanted to dump nuclear waste there. After lunch and everyone was established, a spokesperson for the drilling company, backed by the government made a speech. They stood at a microphone and booming through speakers explained to us how safe it would be to drill deep into the Canadian shield for the purpose of stashing nuclear waste there.

We’re talking during the cold war era here. All my friends and everyone else our age had been indirectly brainwashed to “Keep an eye on the sky.” Which I did, always half expecting that nightmarish view of mushroom clouds popping up all along the horizon. The Russians were always just on the verge of ‘nuking’ us. There was the promise of mutually assured destruction, the neutron bomb and all kinds of delightful scenarios for kids our age. So no doubt the majority of nuclear waste would be the really good stuff, byproducts from nuclear weapons proliferation.

As he spoke about how safe and clean it would be, some engineers led the protesters under big canvas tents where these giant drills were set up. They explained the depth they would drill to and how they would seal the shafts after carefully dumping tons of waste into them. We walked silently behind them, doubting each and every word. We’d left our signs together in big piles and had our hands free at this point. That’s when Randy’s lady friend, ‘Sandra’ stopped at one of the drills and whispered to my Pop and I, “Cover me, cover me. Block their view.” I stepped in front of her and watched curiously to what she was doing. She opened her shoulder bag and screwed the cap from the gas tank of one of the diesel powered drills and started pouring white sugar into it. Other protesters saw what she was doing and smiled, stepping up to close any gaps the engineers might see her through. I knew darn well what that’d do to the powerful drill motors and giggled mischievously. Randy was solemn and looked kinda nervous.

“Can I do one?” I asked.

He started to say no, he didn’t think it was a good idea. He was probably worried that his boy was going to be led away in handcuffs, for destruction of private property. Sandra whispered, “Why sure! Let’s move up to the next drill.”

The tour group moved forward and the people around us that knew what we were up to, all stuck together for us. At the next drill, I screwed the cap off and she handed me the bag of sugar. Poor Randy whispered, “I’m not watching.” I poured about a cup of sugar in and went to hand the bag back to her. “More.” She said. “Pour the rest of it in.” So I did.

A couple in front of us that had been helping provide cover, showed us a thermos of coffee, tea or something else, saying they’d do the last drill themselves and they did, I watched. It was a pretty successful picnic, protest and monkey-wrench all in all. They never bothered to start up any of the drills while we were there either, so our secret was safe. At the end of the tour and speech, everyone loaded up their vehicles again and we all left. We’d shown up in force, protested, wrecked some very expensive equipment and made the long drive home again, pleased with ourselves. In the long run, they never did dump any waste in Atikokan, as far as I know. If they did, they did it secretly. At some point, they must’ve realized the mistake they’d made by providing us with a tour of their drills.

I love the environment and I’m willing to ‘fight’ for it.

So my introduction to Prosser went like this... I was young and the countryside was still very new to me. I spent our first summer there prowling around, feeding handfuls of grass to cows and horses through fences and exploring the area. There was some old farmer they called Prosser and I was back his lane on his property. I found an old dead tree back there that was full of woodpecker holes and I’d seen a big owl roosting on top of the rotting trunk. Since I’d never seen a real owl before, I was amazed at how big it was when it flew away. So I went back a few times to visit the tree and see ‘my’ owl. The one time I was there sitting on a log and I was overcome with fear. What if Prosser chopped the tree down? I mean it was dead after all, isn’t that what farmer’s do? He could chop it down any day now. I was going to have to do something to save the owl and the woodpeckers living in the tree, but what?

I sat and thought about it. If I just asked him nicely, he’d probably laugh at me and insist that, no if it’s dead, it’s gotta come down. If I offered him money, to buy it, let’s say. He might think otherwise. As a farmer, that might appeal to him. So I adopted that plan and wondered how much I should offer him for a dead and rotting tree. First thing I had to do though was man up, find the guy and then negotiate. So I got up off the log and walked his tractor path towards his house that he shared with his brother Francis. Luckily I ran into him coming up his lane to his green houses. So I walked up to him and asked if he was ‘Prosser’, then I introduced myself and mentioned that I’d just moved to Jerseyville last fall.

“Uh huh, uh huh, yup, yup.” He said, eyeing me curiously. I told him about the dead tree out back and that an owl and probably some woodpeckers lived in it.

“Okay, uh huh.” He was saying. Boy, he WAS old. To me he looked like he must have been close to ninety.  A little strange too. So I explained my fear he might cut it down, seeing as how it was dead anyway. That’s when I offered to buy it from him, if he would leave it standing. He laughed at me, like I thought he might and asked how much I thought a dead tree like that might be worth. I considered how much money I had at the time and how much I could afford. As a nine year old in 1977, it wasn’t much.

“How about a dollar?” I asked, then quickly upped it, “Or two?”

I must have looked pretty desperate, I'm sure I sounded desperate.

Prosser chuckled and did a bit of hummin' and hawin' then finally he said, “I’ll tell you what Jimmy,” (A lot of people out there called me Jimmy.),

“You can have that old tree.” He said seriously, looking down at me.

Phew! What a relief. I’d saved the tree and the owl and the woodpeckers. He probably was just humoring me, because I’m sure he had no idea which tree I was talking about. Then it sunk in… I officially owned a tree! Dead or not, he said I could have it. It was mine. It was the biggest thing I’d ever owned and it housed my friend the owl. So I thanked him again and again. That was my first experience with Prosser. Then later that summer my brother Jason and I found out that the big pond back his lane was full of Bass. I got to know Prosser a little better after that. He was always a bit of a mystery. All any of us knew was that he lived in an old grey wood and shingle house with his brother Francis. They never entertained women, or ever appeared to have even been married. Prosser’s brother Francis was hardly ever seen. In all my years in Jerseyville I didn’t see either of them even once at the general store beside our house. On Halloween all the kids in the village would dress up and make the rounds to every house. At Prosser’s house they didn’t give out candy. Instead he had an old coffee can full of change and would drop a handful of nickels, dimes and the odd quarter into each kid’s candy bag. I remember we were all quite happy with that. Each handful was the equivalent of close to a buck in change, which was far better than a sucker or a couple of those hard toffees in orange and black paper. You probably know the kind I mean. I lost a filling to one of those toffees once. You could take that change to the store the day after halloween and buy a full sized chocolate bar and a bunch of blackballs or mojos. Anyway, Prosser owned a good sized parcel of land with two ponds on it. One was small and weedy, the other was pretty big and full of fish.

There were a lot of sunfish near shore, further out where the water was deeper is where the large mouth bass lurked. Some of the bass were really big and rarely caught. My first time fishing there with my brother Jason, we were amazed. If you didn’t catch a pan sized on your first cast, then you’d at least reel in a sunfish. We were just having fun as kids and by no means meant to catch a trophy fish. Like I said before we threw everything back too. We valued the fish enough to be careful with them and we were both always as gentle as possible. We even took a few perch and catfish from the creek and introduced them to the pond, where they flourished. All in all, between the creek and Prosser’s pond, I never took one single fish home. We caught some big ones too. One time I had something on my line and I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was. It was really big and it was swimming deep thrashing hard. I knew it wasn’t a bass it was too slow and if it had have been a bass it would’ve surfaced and jumped by now. It was also way too big and deep for a monster sunfish. So I was delighted to see one of the bullhead catfish we’d brought up from the creek in a bucket. It had been doing very well in the pond, feasting on tadpoles and dragonfly nymphs. I pulled it out of the water and dragged it up into the grass where I could remove the hook. We knew that bigger hooks meant there was less chance for a fish to swallow it, we did not like fish to swallow the hook. It was harder to remove and sometimes meant the fish would get hurt by it. The big bullhead catfish was a clean catch and I took the hook out easily. I held him up so Jason and I could admire his size, the whole time it’s opening and closing it’s mouth croaking at us. I always thought it was cool how catfish can make noises and croak like that. I threw him back in the pond and off he went.. Come to think of it, that catfish was probably a female. Once when I was hunting for bait I was wading along the shore and scooping up handfuls of weeds looking for tadpoles or crayfish and I felt something bumping my ankle. I stopped wading so I wouldn’t muddy the water anymore. I knew there was something in there with me and I wanted to see what it was. I felt it gently bump against my ankle a few more times before I started thinking ‘turtle’.

That prompted me to step out of the pond and onto the sun dried mud of the shore. I waited until the water cleared and that’s when I saw a large catfish swimming around a hollow in the muddy bottom beside the weeds in the shallows. It was protecting it’s nest! I was blown away. I don’t know enough about catfish behavior to know if the females or males protect the nest or what, but that’s what happened. It was a learning experience that’s for sure. The longer I spent in the outdoors interacting with wildlife in their natural environment, the more appreciation and respect I developed for it all.

Sometimes Prosser’s pond was just wild. Whether it was becoming overpopulated I’m not sure, but there were times when Jason and I would run out of worms in the first hour of fishing or less. In desperation I took a dandelion and put in on my hook like a lure. I cast out into the pond and as soon as the dandelion landed on the water, a bass rose up from the depths and took it. The lack of bait was solved. We fished with dandelion for a while until we got bored of taking fish off the hook. That’s how it usually was at Prosser’s, we’d go fishing for a couple hours until we got bored catching fish. It was a perfect environment for fishing as far as I was concerned. We’d take breaks and smoke a cigarette and just listen to the frogs croaking. There were a lot of noises at the pond to listen to. Croaking frogs and the little splashes from other frogs jumping into the pond. The constant buzz from hundreds of crickets. The far off putt putt of Prosser’s tractor in the beanfield. The far side of the pond was lined with old pear trees, so during late summer there was also the steady thud of ripe pears falling off the tree and hitting the ground. Every few minutes there would be another thud, as one more ripe pear hit the ground. Any time you wanted a perfect, ripe Bartlett pear, you could walk around to that side of the pond and just pick one up off the ground. There were plenty to choose from, lots for the squirrels and other critters and the older ones were consumed by wasps. So you had to be a little careful getting a pear, because there were dozens of wasps crawling all over the old ones and the ones so ripe that they split open when the hit the ground. The pear trees were really old, older than Prosser himself, so they’d fall a long way down. They were beautiful pears, perfectly ripe and juicy. Just a couple of them would do the trick and they all ended up just rotting on the ground. Nobody bothered to pick them anymore, maybe at one point they did, because there were other pear trees up behind Prosser’s house by his barn.

I have a lot of good memories of the pond. Either fishing, or just sitting in the grass and one summer even camping out there all summer in the old canvas tent Jason and I called Nam.

After a few years living there I’d come to know what time of year the carp would come up the creek. I’d make trips down to the creek to see if they were running yet. They came a long way up the creek too. All the way from Dunmark lake, up the creek, under Jerseyville road all the way through the Schoeman’s cattle pasture, through the concrete tunnel under the railroad tracks, past the willows and behind the cemetery and all the way behind the Book’s house on Field’s road and then under the culvert at Field’s road is the furthest I’d seen them go. I knew this for a fact, because my older brother David had gone out with John Groen junior on Field’s road shooting at the carp with his 22rifle when they were teens.

Late one summer when the creek was running at a little more than a trickle, I noticed a bunch of carp swimming in a little cow pond in Schoeman’s pasture. The water in the pond was so shallow that the dorsal fins of the carp were starting to stick out above the water. The tiny pond was just beside the creek and a little furrow led from the creek to the pond. Every spring during the thaw the flat part of their pasture was like a flood plain for the creek, so the carp must have swam up the little furrow when it was flooded and gotten trapped there. I got the bright idea of rescuing them from certain death and putting them back into the creek. So I called upon my brother Jason and our friend Dutch to help me do that. There was no way to catch them with a rod, it would take forever. A net would’ve helped but I didn’t have one. The only other choice was to wade in the pond and catch ‘em by hand, one by one and throw them into the creek until I’d got them all. That’s exactly what I did in that filthy little cow pond, knee deep in mud and cow crap and pee and whatever else. I caught every single carp in there and handed them off to Jason, or Dutch to chuck back into the creek. I caught forty of them, by hand, no exaggeration. Then I had to wade around groping in the muddy water for any more and at one point pulled out a rotting catfish all white and falling apart. The big carp rescue was over.

Fishing doesn’t always have to involve a rod and a reel. I guess the fishermen that go out trawling with nets and stuff could tell you that.

One spring I’d walked back the creek towards Dunmark lake looking to see if the carp were spawning yet. On my way back I’d seen the telltale ripples of a large fish racing away from me down the creek. Naturally, I assumed it was a carp and that I was a little early for them and it was one of the first ones to start running. Every now and then as I walked back further I’d see another fish take off, but I noticed it seemed different. They seemed faster than carp, so I ‘snuck’ up on one and saw for the first time that it wasn’t a carp at all, it was a three foot long northern pike in Jerseyville creek. And I was like, “Huh?”

I wondered if it was a fluke, just a solitary pike running with some early carp. The closer I got to the lake I started seeing more of them and was stunned. This was the time of year the pike spawned up the creek and the carp came after! Rodney was right, there were pike in the lake after all. I swung wide around the edge of the creek, so that if I startled any more they’d head up the creek to the narrows instead of down the creek and back into the lake. Sure enough, every time I saw one now, it shot up the creek. I intended to catch one by hand in the narrows, the same way I’d caught the carp. The only difference was that there were nowhere near the same amount of pike as there were carp every year. The little creek wasn’t clogged with pike swimming over top of each other, so far I’d only seen about six of them. So even though I was trying to be careful to herd them up the creek towards the narrow part, sometimes they’d turn around and head back down. The closer the creek was to the lake it got wider and deeper too, making it impossible to catch one by hand. I had to keep them from turning around on me and force them up the creek.

So I jumped into the creek. I was up to my thighs with cold spring runoff but I hardly felt the cold. My hunting instincts had kicked in and so had the adrenaline. I was gonna catch one of these things before the day was through. I was determined, I’d never even seen a real pike before, except in the pictures from the Field and Stream magazines at the cottage. I was going to give it everything I had. So I got into the creek far enough downstream for me to herd the ones that I’d seen back upstream. It also kept the water clear so I could see them as I chased them. The water that I muddied as I walked up the creek flowed unseen behind me. Any pike I encountered raced upstream away from me whenever I came towards them. Then I saw the one I was after, it was at least three feet long, a monster in my eyes. I wasn’t planning on fighting it, I figured that if I could just scoop it up and flip it onto the bank, I’d have it. I prayed that I could chase it up the creek to where it became narrow enough to hop across as a kid. At that point if the thing turned around and tried to get past me, I’d have a chance to at least block it and tackle it somehow. Twice I came within ten feet of it and it shot away from me upstream. That was fine, I was driving it exactly how I’d planned. I started wishing I wasn’t alone, it would be so much better if I had somebody else here to help, or at least act as a witness. I didn’t like the idea of telling a story that no one was going to believe. What else was new though? I’m always by myself I thought, it’s always been this way and I just have to do it on my own. I wasn’t sad for long, Iwas just more determined than ever. I am going to catch a giant pike by hand in a little creek that should only hold minnows and shiners. That’s all there is to it.

The next time it darted up the creek I watched the ripples in the water and gauged where I thought it stopped. Then I slowed my walking so I wasn’t sloshing through the water as much. At first the idea was to scare them while driving them, but now I wanted to creep up on this fish where it stopped. I pictured it resting against the edge of the creek, so if I could sneak up on it, the creek was narrow enough for me to give it a try. So I slowly advanced on it and eventually I saw it clearly. Sure enough, it was resting against the bank under a little bit of grass. It was big and through the clear water of the creek, looked every bit as much as the northern pike from field and stream. The real deal y’all. It seemed tired, so I moved very slowly and deliberately getting closer and closer. I was super excited when I was right on top of it. The muddy water flowed away behind me. The next thing I did might sound hard to believe, but for me it seems completely normal, fair and obvious. The damn thing was tired, but I was amped like never before. I was focused and determined. I was also alone and nobody I knew would believe this ‘Fish Tale’.

I knew that any false move, any slip or splash and this thing was going to either dart away again, or turn around and get past me into the muddy waters I’d created while walking up the creek. This was my chance. It was in a perfect position for me to put my hands under it and scoop it up onto the bank. Ever so carefully I eased my fingers into the surface of the running water and standing stock still guided my hands lower and lower and forward until they were just under the belly of the fish about a foot and a half apart. It didn’t flinch, it sat there with it’s gills slowly opening and closing, seemingly in a trance. With all my strength and speed that I could muster, I lifted and threw this thing up onto the dried grass beside the creek. I got it! It flipped about thrashing in the grass and dust flew up as it tried thrashing it’s way back into the water. So I pounced on it. I didn’t want to hurt it, I just wanted to grab it, so I laid on it to stop it from thrashing and held it down with my hands. I couldn’t believe it, I did it. I caught it with my bare hands and it was huge. I looked it over, at the stripes on it’s gills, the spots down it’s back, the length of it and then back to it’s head again. As it opened and closed it’s mouth, I remembered that pike had teeth, long sharp teeth. A couple teeth would be a great souvenir before I threw it back. Although it was a hell of a trophy and proof for my fish tale, I had no intention of killing it. It was amazing enough that it came from Jerseyville creek, so that’s where it belonged and that’s where it was going back into. I pulled it’s mouth open by it’s lower lip at the front and selected one of the biggest teeth. I had to be careful about it though, if this thing snapped down on my fingers it would shred them in one bite. I was firm, but as gentle as possible while I pinched the tooth and worked it back and forth until it came out. In the palm of my hand it didn’t look like much, not like a fang from a wolf or anything. It looked short but very sharp, either way it was good enough for me. At least I knew where it had come from and it was something to show for it at least. Before I threw it back, I held it up, admiring it’s beauty and size, then before it suffered anymore, I put it back in the creek pointing downstream. It slid into the water, swam away and disappeared from view. I was still panting, but grinning from ear to ear. There were pike here, in the creek, in the lake and I’d caught one, with my hands. The next time I caught a pike from Jerseyville creek, I didn’t use the same method, not at all, in fact that’s a totally different story that I’ll get to in a minute.

There were a few ponds around that had lots of fish in them, but that didn’t mean we’d go fishing in them. There were two others I know of that were also packed with bass, but Prosser’s was always the ‘go to’ when it came to catching them. One of the bass ponds I’m talking about was past Prosser’s pond and on someone else’s property, but it was still accessible from his laneway, back beyond his green bean fields.

It’s what we called Megan’s pond. It was a little bit bigger than Prosser’s pond and a little bit deeper too. It was full of bass but we never fished in it, since it had a wooden raft floating in it, we thought it was better for swimming in. Apparently the Megan’s had used it for exercising their racehorses in, although I’d never, ever seen anyone at the pond, certainly no racehorses swimming in it. We swam in it when it was really, really hot out. When there are fish in a pond, chances are there’s no leeches, fish eat leeches. Megan’s pond wasn’t full of leeches like that one back the tracks, so my brother, our friends and I swam in it a few times. We developed a game for the wooden raft where we’d push each other off. You were allowed to climb out of the water and onto the raft when you were pushed in, so you could at least catch your breath. When you stood up however, it was game on and open season. It was kind of like Sumo wrestling with a lot of grappling and pushing with your legs. The raft was slippery with algae so it was a challenge to stay on it long enough to defeat your opponents. It was even more slippery if it was slick with spit. Yes. Slick with spit… spitting was part of the battle. We were allowed to spit at each other in an effort to force your opponent off balance as they’d try to dodge it. We were young guys and it was funny to us. We weren't hawking loogeys at one another, that’s just gross. Plain old clear spit would do the trick, but it also made the raft that much more slippery. We thought this extra measure of defense to be so funny we’d be howling with laughter. That’s exactly how I found out just how deep Megan’s pond was. I slipped off the raft, falling backwards into the pond, while I was laughing my ass off. I inhaled a whole bunch of water and went under, but I wasn’t done laughing yet and gulped down more pond water. Then I sank. I figured it would be maybe ten feet deep and I’d touch bottom soon and push myself back up. It was dug quite a bit deeper than I figured and it got cold and dark before my feet finally settled into the mud at the bottom. Panicky, I pushed off and swam for the surface, relieved when the water warmed and I came up coughing and choking. That was the closest I’ve ever come to drowning and all because I was laughing so hard when I hit the water.


About the Creator

Jim E. Beer

I was raised outside of Ancaster, Ont. I write about what I know and what I've survived. I hope you enjoy what you read. Leave a comment and feel free to tip. There is an option to do so at the end of each story if you feel so inclined. Jim

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