Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The First Day of Fishing

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The First Day of Fishing

Not here.  At home.  Maine.  North.  Far north.  Aroostook County.

The visit from my brother a few weeks ago dredged up a lot of memories for me.  As I said, he is the man, or, at the time, the boy, who peaked my interest in the outdoors.  I was the imaginative one.  The second born.  The one that Mum and Snuffy went easy on.  I was the artist.  The sensitive one.  My uncles referred to me as "soft hearted".  I loved playing with my Star Wars action figures and staging battles. I would spend hours in the woods pretending that I was an Ewok. 

Not my brother, GT.  He didn't have an imagination.  Didn't want to play war.  He wanted to experience.  He wanted to be in the woods.  Hunt, fish, track and trap.  He was my fathers protege and nemesis all at the same time.  To this day, he has followed in my father's profession, driving trucks.  He was always the one to ice fish with my dad and check his trap lines.  He was a kenesthetic kid.

On the first of April in Northern Maine, there are usually still patches of snow in the fields and in the woods.  If we had school on April 1st, the first legal day of open water fishing, GT would rise early and dig through the shed to find our fishing poles.  The ground was usually still frozen, so we would take our money that we earned from delivering the Bangor Daily News and buy a dozen or so worms before our paper routes.  When we got home from our routes, before heading to school, we would devise our plan for going to Carter Brook.

Carter Brook is not well known in our town of Ashland.  It begins on the old Leach farm and crosses under Route 11, which for a time turns into Main Street.  You'll see no sign declaring the name of the brook.  No advertisements promoting its great fishing.  Instead, it runs through a culvert packed with old bottles, trash and other debris and disappears into the woods behind our old house.  It's peaceful.  Quiet.  Mostly silent in its runnings.  No swift water.  No deep spots.  Just a shallow brook that carries water into the depths of the Aroostook River. 

After school, GT and I would walk home with our packs on our backs.  We'd stop by the old place on Bushey Street and get our poles and a snack.  The kids from our street would sometimes come with us, but most years, it was just GT and I.  We would walk the off chutes of the ITS snowmobile trails through the woods, down past the old abandoned cabin on the knoll and down the hill that we simply called Carter.  There was a small bridge over the brook that snowmobiles used to cross from one side of the water to the other.  From there, we left the trail and walked into the woods, past Morin's old mill and searched for our spot.

Some years we would break the ice out of the brook just to wet our lines.  Other years, we'd find the old log that provided shelter for the small trout that we were in search of and settle in on the bank.  We would wet our lines, hopeful, but often failing.  If we got bites, we were overjoyed, declaring that t would be a good year, the best of all the years in our fishing excursions.  If not, we'd walk through the snow and mud in search of the big one.  Occasionally, I'd pull out a small rainbow and ask GT if it was long enough to keep.  He'd pull a crumpled dollar bill out of his pocket and hold it up to the fish. If it was as long as the dollar bill, we'd cut an alder branch from the muddy banks and string it through the gill of our catch.  If it was too small, GT would tell me it was a pocket fish, a description that indicated to me to put the fish in my pocket to hide from the game wardens.  At 10 years old, I hardly had the face of the hardened poacher that the wardens would be looking for.  If times were tough, which they usually were, I ended up with a pocket full of fish and a smelly coat.  GT is four years older than me and was much more aware of the legalities of fishing and the pitfalls that came along with breaking those laws. 

There were times when GT would settle in the shadows of a large cedar tree where the ice was still thick enough to stand on. There, he'd start a fire with birch bark and wrinkled newspaper that we found on the banks.  He would instruct me to take off my soggy tennis shoes and dry my socks over the fire.  There, we'd drink hot chocolate and occasionally cook the illegal fish from my pocket and eat.  He would save the tails from his fish and give them to me, knowing that their crunchy goodness was my favorite part of our catch.  GT would often smoke cigars and talk about how it kept the black flies away, even though we were still a month away from bug season.

When the sun settled behind the hills and the dank bitterness of the April nights began to ache at our wet feet, we would head for home, following the brook.  On the banks of Carter, we would find old cars and what we thought were old stills, rusting and toppled from years of weather after the Prohibition.  As we trudged through the fields behind our house, we'd hear three beeps from the old Chevrolet's horn; our sign that supper was on.  We'd continue our walk, sometimes quiet and sometimes talking about our days in school, avoiding homework and thinking about the freezing waters of Carter Brook and the fish that lurked within it.

Pax Domini Sit Semper Voiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel......out.

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