river tales

by Peter Hamilton

     Is there any activity that leaves us with finer and more interesting memories than fly-fishing? Perhaps it's because I'm not a very great fisherman that I can, if my memory is jogged, recall the excitement and action of almost every grilse or salmon I have ever caught. As I get old, I am realizing that I will have to depend more and more on these memories of fishing, and less about creating new ones. One of Don MacLean's columns in the Truro Daily News in December about being prepared when you're going fishing jogged my mind about the following experience.

Washboard and dust were the miseries of the gravel road as we headed for Sherbrooke from just east of New Glasgow. It was 1956, late July, and like many of us at this time of year who salmon fish, and live on the Bay of Fundy watershed, head for destinations on the Eastern Shore. Harold Chute and I were on our way to one of my favourite locations in the world, the Gaspereau Brook that runs into the ocean at Liscomb. We had met in the fall of 1944 at NSAC in Truro, two green boys from small farms. We became friends and have been for the 48 years since. He came from Margaretsville on the North Mountain of the Annapolis Valley and now had his Veterinary Degree from the University of Guelph. He was employed as an Associate Professor at the University of Maine as a Pathologist. His visit was the result of plans we made in the winter to do some fishing for sea trout and salmon. Our plan was to go up stream to inland pools on the Gaspereau system. We were rigged for a lot of walking and with a sheet of plastic to sleep under. We left short distance off the main road, a couple of miles from Liscomb, and headed for the Little Gaspereau Lake on a little travelled woods trail. We took a break at Don Gunn's camp on the lake (Don had introduced me to these waters) and had a late lunch. Then we loaded up and left on the fairly long hike, on a poorly marked woods trail, over the "Eastern Hill" to the "never fail" pool.

There were no roads into any of this system in 1956. It took time and energy to reach good fishing. Now you can drive to, or within a short distance of most of the pools. Easier to get there, but much less reason to go! This day, we approached "never fail" pool from the backside, near where a small cold brook flows in. Harold caught and released several fish. When he got a fly out to the hot spot, he caught and landed a nice sea trout. It was getting late so we packed up and went around to the head of the main pool. Harold got out on the rocks at the top of the run. It was six o'clock, big low clouds had moved in, we were both hungry, and our campsite had to be ready before dark. I got a fire going and found a ridgepole for our plastic shelter. When I responded to Harold's call, he held up a pound fish that was so bright that there were no trout markings showing. He caught 2 more like it before he joined me. Darkness was settling in by the time we cleaned up from our steak dinner. We could hear thunder above the sound of the brook here at the run, and light rain was falling. We got our clothes and packs under the low plastic "tent" with us and crawled in on top of our sleeping bags. We managed to solve a few of the world's problems in the short time before we slept.

We woke about 5 o'clock and got a fire started. We had two of Harold's trout for breakfast. We decided to keep the fire going while we did more fishing on the run beside us. Harold, using the hatchet he carried on his belt, went to work on some of the wood we had collected the night before. It was wet and slippery. I was rinsing our tin plates in the brook when I heard my name called. It sounded urgent. Harold was down on one knee taking off his sock. The leather slipper he had worn for kicking around the camp this morning had been kicked off. As I got nearer, I saw the blood, and then the gaping wound. The hatchet had glanced off the wet wood and slashed into Harold's ankle. Wow! What a downer. My reaction was, try to slow the bleeding and go for help. That would mean at least 7 hours. Getting to the car, going to Sherbrooke, finding help. As if to read my mind said, "it's all right", ...And he took over. "Get the little box from the side pouch of my pack". I opened it as I brought it to him. Two large needles, a number of "cat-gut" for thread, a small bottle of disinfectant and a bandage roll. "We need a rag". While I got clean shorts from my kit for a rag, he had threaded one of those big needles and was saying to me, "keep the blood wiped up so I can see what I'm doing, and pour a little disinfectant over the whole thing when I say". He went to work. It was as if it were someone else's foot. He never flinched as he focused silently and intensely on sewing together that desperate looking wound. The bleeding gradually reduced as he progressed.

Twenty minutes later it was done. It was a neat job, even with the course thread. Most of the bleeding had stopped. He rapped a bandage neatly and securely around the ankle. "Just two things", he said, "We've got to keep this dry and I'll have to rest this for a couple of hours". It was still only about 8 o'clock. The sun was out; and the plastic was almost dry. He crawled back into his sleeping bag. While he rested, I packed up everything except his sleeping bag, and made two trips around to the backside of the pool with all the gear. Fortunately, the trail over the eastern hill that started at the back of the pool is on high ground. Also, I had found a way around the pool that was reasonably dry. We took it easy, had lunch and headed out.

The trip out was uneventful. We stopped often and for a longer time at the Gunn camp. When we reached the car, Harold climbed into the back seat, took of his boot and sock, unwound the damp bandage, replaced it with the rest of the roll he had left... and we headed for home. Harold said, "That was a great trip". I looked back at him to be sure he wasn't kidding. Then, I thought, yes, I had a good trip, because of the grit of this guy in the back seat. What I will always remember is the relief I felt when I took that kit of flesh sewing materials from Harold's pack.

That was the ultimate in being prepared.

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