Although my Uncle Sid and Harry Brettell were brothers, I have never met two more different people.
Although my Uncle Sid and Harry Brettell were brothers, I have never met two more different people.
While Harry had a “damn the torpedoes” approach to life, and was never shy about expressing his opinion on just about any subject, Sid could be best described as the cautious type, and the most you would ever get out of him now and again would be a quiet “wow – wowie,” which in his vernacular, could be used to describe his feelings about anything from a nuclear holocaust to catching a twenty - pound lake trout.
Although there were any number of differences between them, one thing that they did have in common was a love of fishing, and while it would be fair to say that Sid spent a lot more time at the actual fishing part than Harry ever did, they both loved our annual trips “up north”, and nothing short of death itself, or the occasional family feud could ever keep the two of them away.
The only thing Sid really loved to do more than fish was to talk about fishing.
I would listen to his stories for hours on end while sitting in his tiny one room apartment, along with my dad – known to most as Baldy - during our regular Sunday morning visits, and from time to time he would pull out some new piece of gear or lure, which to a kid like me, was like having a chance to see and touch the Holy Grail. If I was really lucky, he would remove his gleaming all stainless steel Plfuger Rocket trolling reel from the dark blue Crown Royal whiskey pouch where he kept it hidden away, and allow me to carefully cradle it in my hands.
Every so often, during our Sunday morning discussions, Sid or my dad, who went by the moniker of “Baldy,” would refer to the mystical “Do-All” box. Whatever was in that box must have been dammed important, because when planning a fishing trip, Baldy would always make a point of telling Sid not to forget the “Do-All” box. I certainly got the impression that, if by some cruel twist of fate, the all powerful and mystical “Do-All” box got left behind, the world, or at least the fishing trip, and all those who were on it, would succumb to a fate far worse than death itself.
While I asked a number of questions about this mysterious box, my inquiries were largely ignored, and it was made clear to me that when discussing matters of such great importance, kids were to be seen and not heard.
A number of years went by before the secrets of the box were finally revealed. It just goes to show you that if you take a beat up old metal tackle box, fill it with pliers, a couple of wrenches, a set of screw drivers, a hammer, assorted screws, nuts, bolts and some electrical tape - you could then “Do it All” - in the event you had to make an outboard motor or rod and/or reel repair.
To this day I am convinced that those two enjoyed stringing me along for all those years by either telling me to mind my own business or clamming up every time I asked a question about that damn box.
Sid was one of the better fishermen in the family – not that it would take much doing mind you - and he was also known to many of us as the “Map Maker” or the family cartographer. In reality though, Sid was more likely to re-make a map, rather than draw up a new one.
Allow me to explain.
While the places where Sid fished were usually well charted, every time he fished a particular body of water, once he left, it was always a good idea to update the charts because he had a habit of moving things around. While that may have been somewhat troublesome for the cartographers who were responsible for keeping such things up to date, on the plus side, even if you went back to the same lake with him, year after year, it was never the same twice.
When out on the water with Sid you soon came to realise that to him, fishing meant trolling. Drifting and casting may have been fine for those folks who really didn’t know any better, but if you wanted to catch a really big one, you trolled, and you trolled deep, because according to him, no self-respecting lunker would be caught swimming around in anything less than 100 feet of water.
Not surprisingly, Sid’s fish of choice was the Salvelinus namaycush, better know to the rest of us as a Lake Trout, and the name doesn’t translate into “Dwellers of the Deep” for nothing.
Most Lake Trout fishermen in his day would resort to using a short stumpy pole with a long wooden handle, topped off with a spring tip together with a reel that looked like something on the end of your mothers cloths line loaded with about six pounds of steel line.
Sid on the other hand would use his six and one half foot medium weight rod and Plfuger Rocket, which he would spool with multi coloured lead core line.
A three- way swivel would then be attached to the end of his line, and a sinker, weighing about one pound or so, was tied onto the bottom eye. To complete the rig, a three to four-foot leader, which was attached to silver William’s Wobbler, was fastened to the remaining eye. Once his rig was ready to go, he would lower it to the bottom and start trolling or, more accurately, dragging for Lakers, and anything else that might happen to be lying on or near the bottom.
To many of us the “drag” method of fishing using a three-way swivel may seem a bit out-dated, particularly in an era of high tech tackle, sophisticated electronics and a seemingly endless number of “expert” opinions on how to catch trout that are now at our fingertips - but the fact is - it worked, because when you combine endless patience together with Sid’s three-way swivel rig and a large thermos of rum infused coffee, you have a very effective fish catching combination.
Sid’s approach was deceptively simple, because rather than move from place to place and fish a specific pattern while constantly changing both depth and speed, he would choose two points of reference somewhere on the lake, drop his rig to the bottom, and then slowly troll back and forth between those two points for hours on end while sipping his coffee.
He reasoned that if there were any fish around they would eventually find him and, if you floated your lure past them enough times, it was like ringing the dinner bell. After all, we are supposed to be smarter than the fish – an assumption that can be easily challenged – so why spend thousands of dollars on equipment and waste all that time moving from place to place, when all you have to do is be patient and keep ringing the bell.
It’s also worth mentioning that whenever you fished with him, it was crucial that the reverse gear on your outboard was in top working order, because it never took all that long before Sid would say to Baldy, who was usually running the motor, “Hold up Laddie, I think I’ve got bottom.”
“Bottom.” Baldy would reply. “For Christ’s’ sake, the trees on that island behind us shake every time you pull on your line.”
And so it would go for the rest of the trip.
Sid would drop his line down and within moments, the reverse gear on our little seven and one half horsepower Johnson outboard would be engaged. I think I saw more of the lakes we fished in reverse than I did while moving forward.
At one point I suggested that we might be able to solve the problem simply by trolling in reverse all the time. In response, I got what could be best described as a “shut up and fish “look.
One afternoon, as we were getting ready to leave for home, I remember Baldy telling me that he had to let the lodge owner know where Sid had been fishing before we left.
“Why would he need to know that?”
“Well, the way I figure it, your uncle moved a least six islands during the week, and I want to make sure he knows where he put them so he can tell the next bunch of guys who come into camp.”
Sid, who just sat there quietly, taking it all in, smiled and uttered his favourite expression, “wow-wowie,” and, in the fine tradition of the “Do All” box, I believed every word of it.
While Sid never said all that much he had some very definite opinions about when and where to fish. While some might say that his views and opinions were based on his extensive experience, most of us thought that he was just being overly cautious, and stubborn old goat to boot.
Take the weather for example.
You could be out on the lake in what I would describe as ideal conditions - a bit of sun and cloud, a light breeze, the fish were in a co-operative mood - when all of a sudden Sid would put down his rod, look up into the sky and say, “Time to go, Laddie.”
Looking around, just on the off chance that he had spotted a Tsunami or funnel cloud bearing down on us, and seeing nothing that could remotely constitute a threat, you couldn’t help but ask – “Why?”
Sid would pause and then say, “Looks like it might get rough and I don’t want to get caught out here, especially after dark.” Baldy, who by this time was just rolling his eyes would say, “It’s only four in the afternoon and we’re no more than twenty minutes from camp – so what’s the damn hurry?”
In response, Sid would tuck his rod under the seat, fold his arms, stare out over the water and no amount of cajoling or threats could convince him that we were not in imminent peril.
Like I said, he was the cautious type.
Sid and Baldy would always take great pleasure if some minor mishap befell the other during our trips. Sid would be especially happy if Baldy lost a fish, broke off his favourite lure or managed to produce a “bird’s nest” on his trolling reel.
I think it all stemmed from an incident a number of years back where his false teeth somehow managed to make their way into the mouth of a dead groundhog. Right up to the day he died, Sid believed that Baldy was the culprit, an accusation that he would neither confirm nor deny.
A good example of their “friendly” rivalry took place one evening after dinner. Baldy decided to take a couple of guys in our group out, which meant that I had the dubious pleasure of fishing with Sid.
Unlike the two of us, who came in relatively early, just in case it got rough, there was a total eclipse or we were engulfed in a swarm of locusts - they didn’t get back to the lodge until well after dark.
While sitting in our cabin playing cribbage, we heard a motor and then some familiar voices, so we decided to head down to the dock. There was not much light in the dock area, other than one flashlight that someone kept pointed up into the trees for the most part, so it was a bit tricky getting people and equipment out of the boat.
At one point I glanced over at Baldy, who had one foot on the dock and the other in the boat while handing out the rods and tackle boxes. A few moments later there was a loud splash, followed by a great deal of cursing and flapping around in the water.
Sid, who was convinced that his arch nemesis had taken the plunge said, with a grin so wide you could see it even in the dark, “It looks damn good on you Baldy, I hope you bloody well drown!”
Before Sid had a chance to really enjoy himself, a voice from behind him said, “Sorry to disappoint you, Laddie, but don’t you think we should help your nephew out of the water?”
I’ll bet that Baldy could feel Sid’s eyes burning holes in him, but the only thing I heard was a very soft and rather despondent – “wow – wowie.”