“The first time I met the Shangbanger and Son, who are otherwise known as Ed and Rodney Harback from Harriman, Tennessee, I would never have guessed that they were Great Bear Lake legends in the making.
Even though they are father and son, you never met two more different people. Two peas in a pod they were not…”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered how legends are made. Perhaps it can be one particular deed, or a series of them, but I suppose the long and the short of it is, that to become a legend, you have to make an impression on folks – good or bad - so they tell others, who then pass it along ,with the result that the legend will begin to take shape and grow.
The first time I met the Shangbanger and Son, who are otherwise know as Ed and Rodney Harback from Harriman, Tennessee, I would never have guessed that they were Great Bear Lake legends in the making.
Even though they are father and son, you never met two more different people. Two peas in a pod they were not. Ed was always the more outgoing of the two, quick with a joke and always ready to throw his two cents into any conversation. In the early days, you would always see Ed with either a big chaw crammed up into his cheek, or a “Philly Cheroot” stuck in the side of his mouth. Rodney once told me that it was easy to recognise Ed’s car back home when he was chewing by the brown streak that ran down the entire length of the driver’s side door.
Rodney on the other hand could be described as the strong, silent type. He never said all that much and, unlike Ed, is a really big guy with enormous physical strength. Ed would always brag about the fact that when their business once focused on the repair of Volkswagens, Rodney would have no trouble lifting the back end of a Beetle clear off of the ground. Once you shook Rodney’s hand, you would know that Ed was not exaggerating. As a matter of fact, Rodney was the only man able to lift the “Branson’s Rock,” which I will fill you in on a bit later.
I first met the two of them while travelling to Branson’s Lodge on Great Bear Lake in the early 1980s. I remember Rodney, who was wearing a jacket with all manner of crests representing various fishing tackle companies, giving a dissertation on the merits or lack thereof of various types of swivels. He was going on about how the ones made by Sampo were by far the best you could buy, and were well worth the $1.50 you had to pay for one. A buck and a half for one swivel – he must be nuts. I had been fishing for over twenty years, and the one’s I used cost me about $2 for an entire dozen, and they were more than adequate thank you very much.
On the first day out, I clipped an Eppinger Husky Devel onto one of my swivels that as some of you may know, is a very large, heavy spoon that wobbles and twists through the water. After about two hours of fishing with the Husky, my line was so twisted, I had to cut off over one hundred feet, and switch to a different type of lure to save my remaining line. As luck would have it, when I got back to the lodge, they had a number of Sampo swivels on hand, and not to make too fine a point of it, I cleaned them out. This was the first of many lessons that I would learn from Rodney about the finer points of fishing on Great Bear Lake. I suppose I should have just taken my lead from Ed – he let Rodney look after all the details and then went on to catch most of the big fish - and no one has caught more big fish than Ed.
Speaking of big fish, Ed always talked about catching “Old Joe” one day. I never did quite figure out just how big “Old Joe” was supposed to be, but my guess was, that if Ed’s Lake Trout weighed more than the all tackle world record, that would be “Joe.”
For the better part of twenty years the world record stood at sixty- five pounds, until one day in July 1991 when Rodney caught a Lake Trout that tipped the scales at sixty six and one half pounds. It’s fair to say that you are well on your way to becoming a legend after catching a fish like that.
While Ed had not managed to coral “Old Joe,” he does have more fifty pound plus Lake Trout to his credit than anyone I know of. To put it in some perspective, while Ed has caught at least twenty Rodney, me and the three other members of our Great Bear sextet have only managed to catch ten, over a twenty- five year span. So the question then becomes – why Ed? Was he just a better fisherman than the rest of us? Was the tobacco juice he spit out a fish attractant? Or maybe he was just damn lucky. Well, whatever the reason, it worked. I have spent a lot of time watching his technique, and the old Shangbanger is always twitching his lure and changing speeds. I figured if it worked for him, I should give it a shot, and while I have caught my share of big fish, I am still stuck on two over fifty pounds. I guess that’s why Ed has become a legend, and the rest of us are still working on it.
Catching big fish is one thing, but another part of the Harback legend is based on the amount of equipment that Rodney manages to get up there year after year. Every year, our trip sheets would inform us, in big bold letters, that each of us we were only allowed to bring forty pounds of baggage, together with a tackle box and fishing rods – and not a pound more - otherwise the plane would burst into flames, and crash into the lake. Rodney and Ed’s carry on bags alone each weighed more than fifty pounds each.
When you went camping, or even out for a day with the Harbacks, you had more equipment than was packed into the two large ships that accompanied the last Franklin expedition, during their search for the Northwest Passage. Many a time when they were unloading the plan,e the cry would go up “Harback bag!” and if you were smart, you either ran for you life, got some help, or conned a rookie into catching it, as two or three guys struggled to heave it off of the plane. And just to be clear, there was not just one “Harback bag,” there were usually four or five of them, not to mention their rod tubes, which weighed in at a mere fifty to sixty pounds a piece.
So what was in all these bags? Let me put it this way, if you needed one (or two or three) of something, Rodney had it. Pots, pans, cutlery, tents, sleeping bags, clothes, footwear, air mattresses, pumps, chairs, tools, spark plugs, country hams, fish and hush puppy batter, marinade mixes, BBQ tools, spices, grill racks, propane burners and stoves, folding chairs, roll up tables, a port-a-potty, hundreds of lures in every size, colour and description, miles of duct tape, two way radios together with battery chargers, clamps, rod and reel repair kits and my personal favourite - a picnic table. Yes, a picnic table. I remember attempting to drag one of his bags down from the lodge to his boat one morning, and when I asked what he had stowed away in it, without batting an eye Rodney said, “A folding picnic table.” I guess I should have known.
The camp Rodney and Ed set up in McGill Bay each year became affectionately known as the “Harback Hilton,” and believe me, it had more amenities, and provided more service’s than most five star hotels. Try calling the hotel operator in the best hotel in the world, and ask to be connected with the rod and reel repair shop, and see what response you get. At the “Harback Hilton,” Rodney’s Rod and Reel Repair Shop was open 24/7 – although given its location, and the lack of competition, the prices were pretty steep.
Now I want to be fair, over the years Rodney has started to leave more of his stuff at the lodge, rather than haul it back and forth each year. I think he is down to just two bags, a rod tube and a carry on that together probably don’t weigh more than 300 pounds or so. Even Rodney can pack light.
I learned a lot about fishing the “Bear” from Ed and Rodney over the years, including the type of lures to use and when, the best colours, the importance of water temperature, and so on. While they were always quick to provide some fishing advice, a significant piece of the Harback legend that tends to be overlooked by some, is based on their overall generosity and willingness to lend a hand, whenever and to whoever needed it. Rodney in particular would be the first to give you a lure with the latest colour pattern, a spare reel, and some “extras” for your shore lunch, or anything else he had that you might need.
I recall casually mentioning to Rodney that I was particularly fond of the corn meal cakes, or hush puppies as they are otherwise called, that he would cook up at shore lunch, and that in Canada, a hush puppy was a brand of shoe, not something you ate. About two weeks after I returned home, I received a notice from Canada Post that I had a parcel waiting. It took two clerks to drag this huge box across the floor, and when I got it home and opened it up, there must have been over one hundred pounds of just about every type of hush puppy mix you could think of. If you mentioned it, Rodney would send it in astonishing quantities, including cans of baked beans, BBQ sauces, marinades and spices of all kinds. He calls them care packages.
While Ed and Rodney gave me some invaluable advice on how to catch more and bigger fish, one of the most important things I ever learned from the Shangbanger and Son, was how to speak in “Tennessee-ease.”
One morning before catching our flight to the lodge, we stopped into the hotel restaurant for breakfast. When the waitress came along, and asked Rodney what he would like to order, the conversation went something like this.
“May I take your order sir?”
“I’ll have three rooster bullets over easy, an order of hog’s hip, some land mash along with some cat heads, and sop.” The waitress tried to write most of it down, before stopping and just staring at him with a rather befuddled look, thinking that perhaps she had better brush up on her Urdu if she was going to serve this guy. Allow me to translate, because you never know when you might be passing through Tennessee, and decide to stop for some breakfast.
- Rooster Bullet – egg
- Hogs Hip – ham
- Cat Head – biscuit
- Sop – gravy
- Land Mash – grits
Lets not forget the rock. At Branson’s Lodge they had a piece of ore that weighed in at well over sixty pounds. While the piece itself was not all that big, you had to have an incredibly strong grip to be able to meet the Branson’s challenge, which was to lift it over your head, using only one hand. In all our years at Branson’s, we never saw, or heard tell of anyone who was able to meet the challenge – except for Rodney.
All manner of “strong” men and idiots tried it – especially after a couple of drinks. The most they ever got for their trouble was either a sore arm, or the occasional crushed to,e if they were unable to jump away fast enough after it went crashing onto the floor.
The first time I saw Rodney rise to the challenge, he held the rock in his right hand, and carefully looked it over. He then found the best place to get a good grip, put it back on the table, wrapped his paw around it, and with one motion lifted it above his head, just as easily as King Arthur pulled the sword from the stone – you know – the stuff legends are made of.
Pass it along.