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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Southeastern Ontario, Canada (armpit of the trout fishing universe)

    Default The Same River Twice

    When I was in grade 4, some 50 odd years ago my father was posted to Toronto for a year. He was a fighter pilot who was intent on making his way up the ranks so he had to put in a year at Staff College. We dutifully tagged along but I for one was extremely unhappy about the prospects of going to the big city.

    Up until that point we’d been posted to a string of fighter bases in the Northern part of the country. Cold Lake Alberta, North Bay Ontario, Bagotville Quebec, etc. The one thing that they had in common was that the bush was readily available. All I had to do was go out my front door and walk down to the end of the street and voila, wilderness.

    As kids we had little to no parental supervision. Wake up, eat breakfast and later put in an appearance at dinner was all that was required of us. The rest of the time we were free to roam. And roam we did. There were myriad frogs and snakes to catch and hills and valleys to explore. The scenery was fantastic and we were never bored. I was always hauling something I’d caught home to spend time in the washtubs I kept filled with water out back. This was much to my older sister’s dismay as I don’t think she really liked the frogs and turtles and such I kept. If she made me really mad I’d grab a frog and chase her around the house with it. This resulted in a grounding usually but I felt it was a fair trade off for the fun I’d had.

    I also had in my room a 55 gallon aquarium. This was my most cherished possession as I was kinda hooked on fish keeping in the early part of my life. Things like sports and girls hadn’t started to intrude yet and I was free to be an all out nature nerd.

    Since we’d always lived in the middle of nowhere I’d never really had access to fancy tropical fish. So I caught my own specimens to keep in the tank. I had a dip net and a big mason jar that I carried with me in a ruck sack. Not too bad on the way out in the morning but I remember a lot of days coming back with the jar full of water and fish that I regretted my chosen hobby. I confess to occasionally setting my captives free in roadside ditches if the day was exceptionally hot and sunny and we’d travelled too far to make carrying the load home worth the while.

    Which brings me back to Toronto. Cities to me were masses of concrete and pavement. And if my comic books were to be believed, desperate characters lurked in every shadow and doorway. It certainly wasn’t the place for an amateur naturalist such as myself.

    But Toronto back in the day was a slightly different place then it is today. The suburbs were in the process of being built and we’d landed out to the east of the city in a new development. There were still fields and ponds to explore (if you got there ahead of the bulldozers). Right across from us they were clearing the field for new housing and they’d stopped work through the winter and into the spring. The holes all filled with water and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many toads spawning as I did that spring. Unfortunately by mid summer work resumed and that was the end of that.

    As that spring wore on I discovered a little piece of paradise about 25 minutes away by bicycle. In the middle of a field there was the remains of an old apple orchard. And through the field babbled a small brook. It was wild in an urban way and attracted a fair amount of wildlife. Grouse, Rabbits and Hares were attracted to the dropped fruit and this in turn brought predators like fox and weasel. And the stream I felt would be a place to try and replenish my aquarium. So one Saturday I loaded all my gear into my bikes basket and went a hunting for fish.

    Now I’d caught all sorts of minnows in my time. Three spined stickleback, Dace and Chub and an assortment of other stuff I couldn’t really identify. The one thing they had in common was they weren’t too skittish and once you’d plunged your dip net in to capture their kin, all you had to do was wait a couple of minutes for them to come back to the same spot they were previously. But as I stalked the stream banks that day I kept seeing small forms darting for cover whenever I neared. I didn’t know what they were, I just knew I had to have one. I tried rooting under the banks with the net but came up empty. After an hour of repeated failure I gave up. But I wasn’t licked yet and resolved to come back next weekend with more appropriate gear.

    The next Saturday I got up bright and early and peddled over to the meadow. I’d like to tell you that I had a fly rod in my hand prepared to do battle but alas, in grade 4 I was still several years away from trying my hand at fly fishing. I held in my hand instead a secret weapon, a steel minnow trap that would be baited with bread. In my experience minnows couldn’t resist sandwich bread. At a small bend in the stream there was a deep pocket against the bank and it was here I decided to place the trap. I weighted it down with rocks and tied it to a small shrub. And then I promptly got on my bike and headed home. No sense waiting around, I’d check it tomorrow.

    That night sleep didn’t come easily. I fretted over when I should check the trap the next day. I wanted to leave it a good long time but in the past I’d had my trap stolen. So I resolved to get there around 11:00. People would still be in church or kids would still be watching cartoons so it would be a good time to go.

    The next morning was overcast and drizzling rain. I debated just staying home but curiosity got the better of me and I geared up and mounted my bike. It was a pretty miserable ride over and my shoes and pants were soaked by the time I hit the meadow. I fairly sprinted to where I had planted the trap the day before and was relieved to see the string still attached to the bush. I filled my mason jar with water from the stream and hauled the trap up with anxious anticipation. I was excited to see fishy forms wriggling in the interior as it broke the water. I opened the trap and quickly began to sort through the captives to see what I’d keep and what I’d throw back. There was the normal collection of Chub, dace and assorted minnows. But something a bit bigger was there as well. It was a beautiful little 5 inch brook trout.

    I knew what Brook trout were because the previous summer, when we were at a base in Northern Quebec, my friend’s father had taken us fishing for trout at a local river. Much to my shame I didn’t catch anything that day, but I managed to lose enough of his Dads lures on bottom that he had politely suggested that maybe I’d just like to watch the proceedings. But his Dad did manage to catch a trout and I remember marvelling at the beauty of the creature. It was like a living jewel.

    And here, before my eyes, was another. I couldn’t believe my luck. The small, fleeing forms I’d seen in the stream belonged to a native population of Brook Trout. Mine was big enough that I was surprised he was able to fit through the hole in the trap. I quickly jettisoned the assortment of chub and dace that were also in the trap, transferred the trout to my Mason jar, and began the peddle home. Once there I dumped him into the aquarium and settled in to watch. Much to my chagrin, the trout simply settled to the bottom and sat behind a rock gulping. I thought he might be hungry, so I dumped in some fish flakes. He chose to studiously ignore these so I resolved to let him sit there for the night and try again after school Monday.

    After some initial trial and error (he didn’t like fish flakes, much preferred worms) he settled in for a bit. He was fascinating to watch, especially at feeding time. I put all manner of insects in his tank and he ate most. He loved the brownish grasshoppers I’d catch and moths were a big hit as well. As summer approached though, it became obvious I couldn’t keep the tank cool enough so off he went back to the stream. I missed him for a bit but got over it. And when fall came I got another and this one I kept through the winter. My room in the basement was pretty cold so no problems with the water being too warm.

    As that winter wore on into spring, my Dads time at Staff College came to an end. We were transferred out once again, this time to a radar base in Northern Ontario. I visited the stream for one last time and let the trout go. I would miss this little urban oasis but it was back to the wilds of the North for me. It would be many years before I got back to the big city, at least the big city of Toronto.

    I finally made it back to that particular neighborhood about 5 years ago. I had been to Toronto on business many times before that but something always prevented me from visiting the old place. I think part of it was that I knew what I would find.

    It was midsummer when I visited. I found our old street with some difficulty and tried to backtrack to my field. It simply wasn’t there any more. Mile upon mile of housing development stretched away in every direction. The stream, if that’s what it was, was basically a drainage ditch filled with bottles and garbage. I knew it was coming but it still hurt. I got back in my car and left.

    The philosopher Heraclitus had written that you cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on. I know you can never really recapture the past, but I somehow expected that there would be a present where I could at least try.

  2. #2

    Default Re: The Same River Twice

    Lovely Story. I grew up in the north on the Pine Tree line, a radar base pointed at the north pole in the cold war. Our experience is similar regarding parental supervision!

    I also worked on a farm (12 years old and needing some 'structure') north of Toronto in Markham, close to the zoo. Spent lots of time around the Bush and creeks too, all of which are paved suburbs now.

    New rivers are born and others transform. There are steelhead runs in the Credit (take the metro with your waders!) And big browns in the Grand.

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  4. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Southeastern Ontario, Canada (armpit of the trout fishing universe)

    Default Re: The Same River Twice

    Hello fellow base brat. We did Lowther and Armstrong.

    Sent from my SM-G920W8 using Tapatalk

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  6. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Findlay, Ohio

    Default Re: The Same River Twice

    Great read! Took me back to my childhood, not only running around catching everything I could but also sitting in the barber shop reading something out of Field and Stream. Definitely an essay worth publishing.

    Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk

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  8. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Wasilla / Skwentna, Alaska
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: The Same River Twice

    You really need to copy that and then paste it onto the blog that you can develop in association with your profile. That is a great remembrance albeit a sad ending and things like this essay become quickly lost on the general forum. If you have difficulty getting it into a blog post just contact me and I'll walk you through the steps. I put all of my lengthy writings on my personal pages so I know where to find them for future reading.

    As the years pass I think many of us have experiences that are somewhat like yours, it's sad but it is the way of our world.

    Blog that

    Anywhere can be the land of great expectations, broken dreams, or paradise found, it's all up to you.

    Ard's Forum blog, Alaska Outdoors

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  10. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Los Angeles

    Default Re: The Same River Twice

    I grew up in the burbs in Southern California. When I was 11 and 12 we spent a year and a half in mostly rural Ohio. I had a blast and lived much like you did, breakfast, exploring all day, back for dinner. Those were some great times! Thanks for bringing those memories back for me.
    My best vacation is your worst nightmare. After all, it's only really fun if it is at least Type 2 fun.

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