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He knew just where to fish

Robert Stanger

When I was growing up in Erie, my bedroom was also a family “trophy room” of sorts.

Looming over the head of my bed on the wall was the large mounted head of a 12-point buck white-tailed deer which one of my older half-brothers had shot.

On the wall right over my bed was the snarling head of a black bear, which was one of several my father had bagged when he and seven other Erie hunters shared the ownership of a hunting camp in Potter County which they dubbed (for probably quite adequate reasons “Camp Rattlesnake”).

My father came close to owning the camp outright, as the hunters had agreed that the last survivor of the group would become its sole owner. My father outlived all but one other member of the group.

On the wall at the foot of my bed was the mounted head of what must have been a huge muskellunge. Its gaping mouth revealed rows of sharp teeth that included impressive fangs.

My father had caught the massive muskie on his last fishing trip into the wilds of Ontario, Canada, north of Toronto.

During the years when I slept in that room below those victims of hooks and gunfire, it never occurred to me that I might wet a fishing line in those same boreal forest waters in which that big muskie had thrived.

But that is what happened after I spotted an ad in the Youngstown newspaper for rental cabins located on Lake Nipissing, Ontario. I responded to the ad, renting a cabin for a week.

I had two weeks of vacation time coming from my job in Youngstown, and I decided, (with my wife’s approval) that my wife, young toddler son Billy and I could drive east through New York State to Albany and then continue east into Connecticut, visiting places en route where I had once lived, and then drive north to Montreal, before making our way back east in Ontario to North Bay on Lake Nipissing.

This we did, but upon arriving at North Bay, we had trouble finding out just how to get to the site of the cabin I had reserved.

Finally, someone at a gas station responded to my query … “Oh, that is on the Dokis Indian Reservation” he said, which was bit of information the newspaper ad I had answered had failed to mention.

We determined that the reservation’s location on Lake Nipissing and the French River area was a good distance down a dirt road from a main highway, so we stocked up with a week’s supply of groceries before heading to the cabin.

But we were quite pleased with the cabin, as it was quite new, was spacious and provided a beautiful view out over a wide arm of the lake. It was secluded from the tiny Native American village itself.

I quickly found out that this was not Ohio on our first evening along the lake. Using a canoe that came with the cabin and following a suggestion for a quick fishing outing by the village’s chief who rented us the cabin, I tried casting for bass along the shore near the cabin.

As I drifted along the shore, a couple of animals, probably fishers (a mink-like, forest-dwelling animal and the largest member of the marten family), got into a loud snarling match in the pines that towered overhead. We also found that the insects were terrible along the shore in the evening

It wasn’t long after we arrived at the reservation that we discovered during jaunts on the lake on a very fine outboard craft that we rented at the village that we were very close to a fishing resort called “Lunge Lodge,” which was quite likely where my father and his fishing partner stayed on my father’s last trip into the wilds of Ontario. Both he and his partner had landed huge muskies, the head of the one of which ended up at the foot of my bed. The lodge where I believe they had stayed was only accessible by boat.

Despite being in waters famed for their angling, I did not fare very well at all. I was “fishless” toward the end of the second day of my casting for bass and pike when a large northern pike rose from the edge of a weed bed and snagged my lure.

It provided an excellent meal for us that evening, weary as we were from eating out of cans.

One day, I anchored in a small cove to try my luck there. But when I tried to haul the anchor up, I found that it had become wedged into a gap in the rocks below and could not be hoisted. This left me with just one recourse … I had to cut the rope.

When I told the village chief what had happened, he asked me to take him to where I had lost the anchor. Since the water was so clear, we easily found the anchor rope, which rose straight up to the surface from the rocks below.

However, the chief could not budge the anchor at first, either, despite a series of strong tugs off the side of the boat. But he was successful with one last tug … except the rope came up bearing just the anchor’s thick shaft … he had broken it off from the anchor’s flukes.

“Well, this will be a good muskie club,” the chief said as he waved the shaft up and down, indicating how he could subdue a thrashing fish.

I continued to fish along the lake’s rocky shores without much luck. But the weather was so hot and dry that I spent about as much time swimming and sunbathing on the rocks as I did casting for bass. Fishermen passing me in boats probably thought that I was less than a serious angler … and they were so very right.

Judith and Billy did join me on a few jaunts out on the lake on the outboard. I recall one in which which Billy, clad in just his diaper, seemed to enjoy as he stood in the center of the boat holding on to a seat as the boat bounced over small waves.

The chief noted my lack of angling success and volunteered to serve as my guide on one of our last days at the cabin. He knew just where to fish and how, and we landed an impressive number of bass which he cleaned and filleted for our final dinners at the cabin.

During our trip on the lake together, the chief pointed out a portion of the lake off on island where he said his community had harvested a very large number of whitefish (an oily, bottom-feeding fish) which they preserved for future use.

The chief also remarked to me that some months previous, he had traveled south to Toronto to attend a dinner given by Canadian sportsmen to mark a successful black bear season. He had served as the guide for the hunters.

He was truly a “man for all seasons.”

While we were at Lake Nipissing, my wife was too much concerned with caring for 10-month-old son Billy’s needs (even while “expecting” our second child, due within five months) to worry much about how few fish I was catching. Her chief concern was just not to run out of paper diapers for Billy, a looming probability.

This led to our trip away from the reservation. It was a 50-mile jaunt to and back from a little town, where we restocked our diaper supply.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.

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