In the coming year, I resolve to smile more.
The old priest wrote the letter to Aunt Peg by hand. “You are of Clan Ian Roudh (Red John),” the letter starts. The direct family line in America went through Ian Liath (Grey John), who emigrated from the Highlands to Canada in 1786. He was a Gaelic poet.
The script is still strong on the faded photocopies, made of the original sent by Father Ewan to Aunt Peg in 1955. “He came from Knoydart,” the letter continues, “on the west coast of Scotland.” It’s part of an area known as the Rough Bounds.
I remember viewing the rugged, empty hills from my own trip to Scotland, on the way to the Isle of Skye. The land looked muscular, with protruding rock and muted vegetation and dark, cold waters. The rolling clouds and chill wind added to the sense of untamed foreboding. And emptiness.
“There are few if any of our people in the Highlands,” wrote Father Ewan. “You know why.” He was speaking of the Highland Clearances, when the British Lords drove the people out of the hills and replaced them with sheep.
True, our clan migrated down from Ontario into the States, overtly retaining their Catholocism and, maybe subconciously, the imprint of Knoydart.
“Our people did better in this country,” wrote Father Ewan. And that sentence stuck. We are here now, in cities and towns and interconnected. Are we meant to seek areas away from comfort? Sometimes it’s necessary to put the laptop down and find out.
A canal runs along the berm separating wilderness from civilization, but that demarcation is lost on the alligators. They migrate out of the swamp and into the canals and the farm ponds until a dog goes missing and someone calls for their removal.
We rode a gas-powered cart along the edge of the canal in search of largemouth bass and we saw the white underbelly of a floating alligator that was missing its head. My friend speculated that some crackers had done it, on a midnight joyride. The odor of decay wafted over the area and in the morning heat we moved on.
Another canal ran parallel, about a half mile to the east, abutted by a series of horse paddocks. The horses mostly worked the fields with their heads down, swatting their hind quarters with their tails. At dusk they’d move into the stables to feed. As with pool tables, swimming pools and Irish pubs, it’s better not to own a horse but to have a good friend who does. I had been offered the opportunity to ride the trail along the swamp’s edge, but chose to go fishing instead.
Bass are not too hard to find in the backwaters and if you make enough casts one of them is going to take a pass at a popper. Just don’t bend down for too long on release, lest you present a canine profile to the local reptiles.
On the whole, fish that jump after the hookset are more entertaining than those that do not. Still, the idea of it, though sometimes effective, doesn’t make much sense for the fish. If someone were to hook me through the lip and try to pull me around by my face, the last thing I’d do is jump into the water. Where I can’t breathe.
A more learned person than me might be able to biologically vet it as part of the fight or flight process. Which brings around another thought about angling: Are we really fighting fish? Everything the fish is doing, once hooked, pertains to flight–trying to get away from the opposing force by whatever means possible. Fight has nothing to do with it.
Maybe the whole verbiage around it needs to be recalculated. “That fish gave a great flight.” Or, “that fish made a phenomenal effort to escape.” Because it’s not a binary relationship between noble adversaries, it’s a one-way transaction between hunter and hunted. With catch-and-release as an escape clause.
Regardless, I like the hunt part. And the jumps.
We talked about going out again to try the dock lights for snook but we didn’t. There’s this card game that midwesterners play called Euchre and it’s as addictive as fishing and we ordered more drinks at the bar and played that.
In the morning we purchased 10-dozen shrimp and threw the castnet over some greenies and netted some crabs and filled the livewell and headed out. Snook showed themselves along the mangroves as well as the old man-made structures from the phosphate era and they fought like snook are supposed to. I hooked one and pulled it away from the pilings but a dolphin was waiting and it grabbed hold and swam away and there was nothing my drag could do about it.
Trout came up from the grass flats and jack crevalle and even some hardheaded cats and snapper came out from the mangroves and out on the wrecks along with grouper. Something big took the reel down to the last bit of line before it broke free and what else would it be but a goliath grouper?
The water looks green and blue and the incoming and dirty on the outgoing but it’s moving and there’s always a place to beach the boat and cool off.
When the afternoon storms roll in it’s important to be within running distance of a dockside establishment that puts up with anglers who may not have bathed in days. Scattered among the outposts in Pine Island Sound, there are many.
At sunset we jumped a tarpon and it breached the surface and we could hear people gasping and squealing on the other boats and we fought it for a while before it spit. That was good enough.
Sometimes it’s not about the gear you use or the fish you pursue but the people you are with that makes it. That, and getting really, really drunk.
Save The River, the organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the St. Lawrence River, is offering the above pretty awesome Michael Ringer print to anglers who catch, then release their muskie.
That’s way better than a skin mount. Or pretty much anything you can do with a dead muskie.