Monday, July 13, 2009


Trying Not To Swim With The Fishes

This is the fish story behind the fish story. But remember when it comes to fish stories, any resemblance to the truth is accidental.
The annual derby launched July 11. And I was bouncing along out there in Lake Ontario within sight of the downtown towers and the sound from the Indy cars, trying not to fall overboard. It's not as if I'm inexperienced because I've fished all 13 opening days, and I try not to be superstitious.But it was so rough, I actually lost one salmon --and it was a big one because the one that gets away is always bigger than the fish you get in the boat-- simply because I was spending more time holding on than cranking.
As you know from the Sunday Sun column by Joe Warmington, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino arrested a 25-pound chinook salmon using his famous hostage negotiating skills, and Ontario Tourism Minister Monique Smith talked a 23-pounder into the boat, using the technique she has developed in dealing with the Tories and NDP as government house leader.
They had two salmon on at the same time, dubbed a double header by fishermen (of course Ms. Smith says fisherfolk, being a Liberal.)
She's lucky. Fantino and I once had a double header until he came over to my side and gave me a hip check. He says that I've made that up but cops don't get to head the force without being a tad competitive.
The minister also caught another salmon that was slightly smaller. And she really did most of the catching even though she's not a fisherman (sorry about that Madam Minister) and these were the largest fish she has ever tackled. The four men who were fishing did come to her aid a bit, shouting such advice as "keep your tip up," which usually gets a male giggle, but she said we were only sexist twice in five hours, which may be a new Ontario record for four fisherman.
She claimed not to have upper body strength but all those years of fighting Mike Harris and the Tories has given her some muscle.
Oh yes, I caught a couple of fish too. Small, but then Warmington didn't catch anything, even though Fantino helped him mightily, not wanting to see an ardent police supporter embarrassed.
As a matter of fact, Warmington turned so green as the Sure-Thing wallowed between waves, I thought more would be going overboard than he would be bringing in.
All this was presided over by the derby's chairman, Walter Oster, who is involved in every detail, even to finding a new scale if one malfunctions, and keeping all the derby volunteers enthused.
Under him, the derby is central to his fishing evangelism which sees money flowing to green projects and free fishing kits for the poor kids on native reserves and the hot humble streets. He's tireless, because he also has significant other jobs, like heading the Sportsmen's Shows and the big downtown convention centre. And then there's his restaurant, Pier Four Storehouse, where the marine decor is as good as the sea food.
I love the derby, and I love fishing off my Burnt Point in the Trent River, because it's an echo of the past when we had to grow and catch our own food.
As a kid long ago, I grew most of our vegetables on the empty lot beside the little house near the tracks in Chesley. And I gathered the eggs and chopped the heads off the Leghorns we kept behind the house. Most of us now don't have enough land to grow food, and chickens, which don't disturb the city as much as most dogs, are verboten. So fishing is the last chance for many of us to produce our own food.
The second day of the derby saw Mary and me dining on a lovely chunk of salmon that she popped in the microwave for around five minutes. A nice added touch to the garnish was some vinegar and onions from a jar of pickled herrings.
Some readers will be astounded that people would eat fish from the lake. Why not? Any nasty poisons in a fish accumulate in the fat, bones and skins, the very parts you don't take when you fillet
. Queen's Park publishes a free book, Guide To Eating Ontario Sport Fish, which gives you the safety tolerances of fish from all the major lakes and rivers, and its testing program is so good, it is copied by some American states.
So there is another good reason to participate in the derby, in addition to all the expensive prizes which are listed in the full-page ad that often appears in the Sun. You can eat your entry in the biggest fresh water fishing contest in the world. And your $100 entry fee (free if you charter someone like Vito Cirone's 38-foot Sure-Thing) goes to conservation programs.
Cirone has an apt name for his boat. We've only been skunked once and generally catch enough to feed a street. Four of us had 80 pounds of salmon on opening day several years ago, and the latest catch was close to 100 pounds, even though the biggest fish got away.
But then that always happens. Say it ain't so, Joe!

No comments: