"Gusbur Glaspie, Lew and the Salmon"
By Gus n' Lew
With his six-grade Reader and worn-out scribbler tucked under his arm he struggled to balance himself on the narrow ribbon of steel along the railway that ran past his house and by the school where Gusbur was destined.
Gusbur Glaspie hated school. Felt he was always being bossed about, or ordered to be quiet by grumpy old teachers who looked for every reason in a book to take a strap and peel the skin off your inner arm from the wrist to the elbow. He’d seen it happen. His friend, Jim got it and not a damned thing was done about it. Oh, there was all kinds of tough talk about what they were going to do, but not one of them had the guts to take him on. Gus thought the Principal should have got the death sentence, but no, they left him alone and run the risk of another casualty. “Cripes! What if it’s me next,” he thought. “Me Mum would go ta bat for me for sure, but that’s all. Dad, well he’d probably join in on the flailin cause he never, ever stood up for anyone, including himself. I wonder if he’s my real father”, thought Gus. He blushed at the thought; realized he was guilty of disrespect for his bestest friend, his mother. He wondered why he thought such a thing could be so. “I’d better tow the line and get through this year. If I grade I’ll go in ta grade seven and away from that bully of a Principal, but I’d sooner be fishin”, dreamed Gus.
It was late fall. The railway line Gus traveled ran parallel to the Southwest Miramichi River just yards from the Doctor’s Island Pool in Blackville. The river was just on the other side of a 10-foot high bank running parallel with the tracks. As Gus hurried along he suddenly heard a tremendous splash at the river. At first he thought maybe someone had fallen in. As he raced to the top of the bank he heard the splash again. This time he saw what made it. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
About three quarters of the way through the pool there’s a great big rock and just to the inside of the rock the biggest salmon he had ever seen in his young life tried to jump, but the salmon was so big it couldn’t get itself out of the water. Instead, the salmon’s body plowed the water forward like a tidal wave. “Holy God!” exclaimed Gus. “How I’d love ta hook onta that lad.”
Gus’s mind began racing with the thoughts, “You’re gonna be late. Hurry up, you’re gonna be late. The bells gonna ring. The bells gonna ring. Don’t even think about it Gus. Ya gotta get to school right now. Ya havta get ta school.”
The thought of that big salmon on the end of his line won over of what could happen if he was late. The strap was replaced by the thought of a #4 Miramichi Special hooked squarely in the fish’s jaw or somewhere on its body, and it thrashing on the end of his line.
He spun around on the tracks and ran toward home, taking three ties to a stride, hoping he would get there and back to the big salmon before it left the pool.
“I can’t go home. If Mum sees me she’ll want ta know why I’m comin, instead a goin. She’s already warned me bout missin school. Whatama gonna do. I’ll never get another crack at a salmon like that”, thought Gus.
His stride lessened, coming to a stop. Glancing from the tracks to the houses which were a short distance away, there was Lew splitting dry wood for the winter. Gus thought, “Spose he’d still have his fishin rod in the shed?”
“How’ma gonna get that fishin rod. I can’t steal it. I wouldn’t take nothin on Lew. He’s the best….give ya the shirt off his back, even give ya his back if he could get it off. If I ask him for it he’s gonna wanna know why, and sure as anything he’s gonna know the seasons closed. He’ll know for sure what I’m up to.” Gus paused and thought. “I’ll tell him what I’m gonna do. Yeah, that’s it, I’ll be right up front with ‘em and tell ‘em. The most he can do is say no. I can’t spend a lot a time yackin bout it with ‘em. That salmon, if it has a mind ta, could be swimmin past Shinnickburn in a hour”, thought Gus.
Having picked up a pace again he headed toward Lew. In no time he closed the gap between them. He slowed his pace to a trop then stopped. He was now leaning on the dilapidated picket fence near the spot where Lew was splitting wood. Lew never even raised his head to look at him, nor did he quit splitting wood, but said, “Whataya up ta Gus?” “How’d ya know Lew,” replied Gus quickly.
Now, if Gus had of thought for a second he would have remembered that Lew always greeted everyone with that question, “Whataya up ta?”
“I see ya got yer school books in hand, the bell will be ringin soon.” “I ain’t thinkin of school right now Lew, I got this big salmon on my mind, the biggest I ever seen, and he’s down by the big rock in the pool,” said Gus.
“Ya know the season’s closed fer fishin’, it closed last week and all the sports are gone home,” replied Lew. “Yah Lew, I know that, but the locals don’t get a chance ta get a hook inta one of them big hook bills when the sports are here. They like ta hook onta themselves and play em,” answered Gus.
“Listen young lad,” Lew said. “I was young once too, and if I’da had the chance I would be doin the same thing you’re thinkin a doin, the rods in the shed all set up with a good hook.”
With rod in hand Gus was off and running down the path leading to the Doctor’s Island Pool. He hadn’t gone far when he sensed he was being followed. He looked back and there was Lew in a hobbled run trying to keep up with him. “Where ya goin Lew?, asked Gus. “I like that fishin rod Gus and if ya lost it on me I’d feel kind a bad, so I figgered four eyes are better than two. If the Wardens come to the pool ya might not see them. If your lucky enough to hook that salmon ya might throw all caution ta the wind,” said Lew.
“Lucky enough, why’d he have ta say that,” thought Gus. “If I depended on luck I might as well stick me head up me arse and forget about fishin. I’m the most unluckiest guy I know,” he thought. Those two words from Lew sickened Gus. He felt like given back the rod and going home. He stood there looking at Lew.
Stepping back, hauling his red handkerchief from his hind pocket, lifting his hat and wiping his forehead, Lew explained. “It ain’t only the rod I’m thinkin bout young fella, its the feelin I got when you come ta me up in the door yard. When I was young and the salmon came by here, just like that one you’re going after, I didn’t have the kind a gear you’re gonna use, so luck had ta be on my side. Not much time left for me ta fish on this earth Gus, so I wanna be there ta experience the thrill a the catch. If ya don’t want me around I’ll go back ta the wood pile.”
The look on Lew’s face and his response struck Gus square between the eyes and ricocheted off his heart. Gus stared him straight in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry Lew. I’m sorry I turned on ya. I wasn’t thinkin. You’re right. We’ll go after em together. If we get em he’ll make us both happy. If not, ain’t the end a the world. If we hook and lose the bastard were gonna have some kind of a lie ta defend. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger fish come up this river, if there was he musta walked, cause I don’t know if there’d be enough water in the Miramichi ta float a bigger fish. I’m telling ya Lew this is the biggest jeezlis fish ya might ever see.”
“Don’t be swearin Gus. Its bad luck,” said Lew. “Holy shit Lew, there ya go agin with that luck stuff. Come on we’re wastin time. Don’t fall over the hill,” said Gus.
“I ain’t goin over the hill. I’m stayin on top where I can see everything’s goin on. Besides, it’s hard enough for me to run on level ground. What in God’s name would I do to get away at the bottom of the hill, with the river, which by the way I can’t swim in, on one side of me and a hill I can’t climb on the other. If the Wardens come its every man for himself. Good luck Gus,” chuckled Lew.
Lew walked down the tracks to where he could get a good view of the pool. As he neared the spot where Gus told him he saw the huge fish, a big wake just below the rock was drifting in the current. Lew tried to settle his excitement at the realization that there was one big fish in the pool. “Hey Gus, he’s still there.”
Guspur was working his way down river along the bank, checking his leader and scanning the banks from side to side to see if anyone else was watching. Thoughts of school were distant in his mind. The Hook-Bill had cast a spell on him.
Now Gusbur Glaspie wasn’t a novice fisherman. He’d caught all kinds a grilse and small salmon; had taken a 15-pounder about a year ago. He could cast a line as straight as a die and knew how to play a fish too. He had soft hands that could work a fishing rod like a professional ballroom dancer working his dance-partner without effort across a polished hardwood floor.
Convinced the coast was clear he stepped to the edge of the pool about 30 feet above and opposite the big rock. As he stripped line and false cast the line off the reel he thought of the fly he was about to feed to the big salmon. The fly wasn’t his choice. It was on the rod when Lew gave it to him. It must have been one of Lew’s creations because Gus had never seen one like it. In Gus’s opinion it wasn’t in all that good of shape. The brownish throat hackle was pretty sparse and looked like a bug, or something chewed on it. The golden tail was twisted sideways and the oval tinsel rib on the body was loose. The wing had the colors of the rainbow and one of the jungle cock cheeks was smaller than the other. “Jeezlis fly,” he thought. “Will fly all ta pieces before it gets ta that fish. I shoulda asked him for a big #4 Red Butt Butterfly. The salmon love ta murder them. I wonder what the name a that fly is. Don’t matter. If old mister salmon hates the fly as much as I do he’ll take care a ‘er. Maybe it don’t got a name. If I catch the fish with er I’ll put a name on er. One more cast and I’ll be just about to em,” Gus said to himself. His knees began to tremble.
Off in the Distance, the eerie sound of the Miramichi Special, the train which runs between Derby Junction and McGivney Junction caught Gus’s ears. The sound meant the school bell had already rung, because it was always on time.
Gus sent the fly back and turned it around in a magical movement, like a Bandmaster directing a Symphony. He lifted the rod tip to ten o’clock to straighten the fly as it lit on the water. “ Darn piece of junk, that fly,” Guspur thought. “ No wonder the old fellow talks about luck all the time.” Then it happened. Lew yelled, “WHOOOOOOOOOOP!”
The strike took him totally by surprise. No, he didn’t expect it at all. He was preparing to strip line to make another cast. Gus wanted to get the fly out farther and nearer the big rock. A combination of events must have occurred to cause the premature strike. The giant salmon must have decided to make his move upstream at the exact same time and place where the fly landed. If it was timing, or luck, it couldn’t have been better.
The violent pull on the line all but jerked the rod from Gus’s hands. Even a grilse can hit hard and make you think you hooked a salmon, but this time the feeling was all together different. That heavy haul on the line meant only one thing, Gusbur Glaspie had just hooked onto the biggest salmon that possibly the Southwest Miramichi River had ever floated. The surprise and excitement was enough to cause Gus to throw all caution to the wind and whoop with uncontrollable nervous delight.
Nobody knows how a fish thinks. If we did we’d be able to communicate with them, and if that was the case we could stop experimenting with all the fur, feather and tinsel. The day we start communicating with a fish is the day we’ll be in a lot of trouble. Just think about it.
“I’ll boot your arse up and down the full length of this river if ya whoop agin, ya arsehole. If we don’t get caught it’ll be a miracle. It’ll be double trouble for you Gus. If ya loose that fish I’m gonna give yer arse a kick, and if the Wardens come they’re gonna boot it fer poachin,” cursed Lew beneath his breath.
The big salmon started taking out line, just as fast as the spool would turn on the reel. Gus whacked his knuckles on the handle as it spun out of control. “Cripes, it’s a monster Lew. Did ja ever see such a big a fish,” asked Gus.
The fish was almost to the other shore and still going like a Bat out of Hell. Gus looked down at the backing; it was running out, the old black nylon was turning white as it neared its end at the bottom of the spool. “Spose ya never changed the backin on this thing in a hunder’d years Lew,” complained Gus.
“Don’t start blamin me for my gear now, it was in a safe place up in the shed till you got the notion ya had ta fool with that big fish. Ya got him onta the line, now it’s up to you ta do somethin bout it, and soon, cause the trains comin, and them lads runnin the train will see ya hooked inta that brute. For sure they’ll stop the train ta watch what were doin. Seein the train held up here this time a day could draw a lot of curiosity from people, including the Wardens. There, ya got em turned, start reelin as fast as ya can, I see a big bow in the line over there,” said Lew.
“I know, I know, I know what I’m doin! If ya wanna play the fish I’ll give ya the God-damned rod, otherwise leave me alone,” snapped Gus. Gus expected another saucy response from Lew, but instead all he heard was the whining of the reel and the sound of line slicing the air as the salmon took off again downriver. He quickly jerked his head around to look over his shoulder to the top of the hill where Lew was supposed to be on lookout. He should have been able to see Lew clearly silhouetted against the skyline, but the top of the hill was empty. “Lew! Lew! Wheredja go? shouted Gus.
As Lew hurried toward the shed he could hear the far-away shouts coming from Gus. “If that lad don’t keep his mouth shut I’m gonna thrash ‘em. I wonder where I put that thing,” Lew said to himself. Cripeless Goverment regulations! If them city people would only leave well enough alone.” complained Lew.
Lew swung the door open, and looking over the beams which held up the rickety roof, there she was, as beautiful as the day he put her up there. He grabbed hold of the handle and started out of the shed. “Woahh,” he said to himself. “I can’t go to the river without something to hide this thing in, and were gonna need somethin ta carry him in up over the bank.” Over on the wall, hung on an old set of eight-point bleached deer horns, was a burlap bag. He grabbed the bag and hurried out the door. “This’ll look after it,” he thought.
In the distance he could hear Gus cursing. “Lew, ya old bastard, where are ya?” As loud as he dared Lew answered, “I’m comin! I’m comin! Keep yer damned shirt on!
“What’s up with young lads nowdays. Seems like they don’t know how ta use their head. Little wonder they’re always in trouble”, thought Lew. Over the bank he went, hobbling along on his bad hips and trick knee, with gear in one hand, and the burlap bag in the other. When Gus noticed Lew coming over the hill it reminded him of California, Wild Bill Hickock’s side kick in the movies. “Thank God! Ya still got em on, don’t ya Gus?” panted Lew.
By now the salmon had taken Gus below the end of the pool and into flat deep water. Gus had regained all the backing and a short length of line back on the reel. The salmon lay still in the deep water, and try as he may, Gus could not move him. He didn’t dare put more pressure on the line for fear the leader would snap. Gus knew he had a problem with the fish and that it was going to take strategy, strength and time to outwit the big salmon.
He was beginning to doubt whether he still had the salmon on. He hadn’t felt a movement through the rod tip, or line for the last five minutes. “Get back as much line as ya can Gus while he rests. Get ready for ‘em ta take off agin,” instructed Lew. Ya figger he might be caught on sumthin Lew? I can’t tell if he’s still on,” said Gus.
There was panic in Gus’s voice, which Lew picked up on it right away. He knew this was a once in a lifetime fish and no one was more deserving of the trophy than Gusbur Glaspie. But even Lew was having second thoughts about Gus’s ability, patience and savvy to win the battle with what was on the end of the line.
“Wheredja git the cane Lew?” asked Gus. “This ain’t no cane Gus, this ere’s a gaff. We useta use em in tha days when Revenuers and goverment people were in office ta serve the public. That was when they made laws bannin ‘em, but they’re still the best thing to get hold of a fish with,” said Lew.
“Why not use yer big net Lew?” questioned Gus. “Cause nets are fer beginners. When ya kill a salmon ya gotta bleed em. Now get that thing in ‘ere closer ta shore ‘n I’ll show ya how we use this thing,” said Lew.
Gus reeled in a few more feet of line then waited with hopes the big salmon would turn toward shore. The turn didn’t come and after fifteen minutes of waiting Lew decided to do something about it. Gus, who was ahead of Lew, didn’t see him when he reached down near his feet to pick up a smooth, oval shaped granite rock about the size of his fist. With an overhand motion he pitched the rock toward where the salmon was anchored. The rock landed about four feet in front of where the line pierced the river’s surface. The second the rock sank below its splash all Hell broke loose. The salmon took off up river faster than greased lightning. “You’re crazy!” yelled Gus.
“Gotta keep em movin’ Gus we aint got all day,” Lew said, “I got dry wood ta split before it snows, and you have ta get back ta school.” The fish turned just as the backing passed the tip of the rod, an unmistakable thread hanging on the splice showed signs of weakness.
As sudden as the giant salmon sped to the head of the pool it now turned and sped back down the river toward Gus, Lew and the Big Rock. “Take up the slack! Take up the slack, or the hooks gonna come out! Reel! Reel! Reel hard! yelled Lew.
Gus frantically obeyed the yelled commands even though he had instinctively begun doing all the things Lew demanded. Gus also ran into the river to the depth of his thighs in an attempt to cut off the salmon and slow down its run. The frantic reeling caused the old reel to wobble all over the place. This caused Gus’s thumb and index finger to keep slipping off the reel knob. Gus was sweating profusely and his breaths had turned to short labored pants. Then he saw it. There he was. Close enough to reach out and kick with his sneakered foot. The huge salmon drifted by slowly, it’s wide dark back barely beneath the surface. As it passed the salmons scaled side glistened like a polished jewel as it caught the rays of the hot morning sun. Jeezis Lew, he looks like the chrome bumper off a half-ton truck,” exclaimed Gus. Don’t say a Jeezlis word Gus, he’s tirein. I can still see the hook in em. Take up the slack! Be quick now,” whispered Lew.
Then it happened, the big salmon swung its nose toward the center of the river, its tail throwing a spray of water like a pile of logs released from a brough on a spring drive. “Lew, what’s keeping ‘em from comin ta shore? I can’t put more pressure on ‘em, I’m afraid the leader’l break, or the splice t’ween the line and backin will give. It ain’t gonna hold much longer,” says Gus. “Never mind worryin bout that Gus, take a look up on the tracks,” says Lew.
There was no mistaken what was on the railway tracks and heading straight for them. With head bowed, arms flailin and feet dancing over the unevenly spaced railway ties was Gus’s Mum. “Holy Shit! She must be on her way ta the Post Office. It’s Welfare Day, Lew. Only time she ever travels them tracks is on Welfare Day. If we stay real still and be quiet maybe she’ll just slip on by and not see us Lew”, whispered Gus.
“I don’t know bout that. If she catches us here she’s gonna be one pissed off heifer. She’s apt ta whip you and report me ta the Wardens. No matter how we add it up it ain’t gonna come out even,” whisperd Lew. “Whataya figger we otta do then Lew,” replied Gus.
The magnificent salmon was the dream and envy of any angler. How a salmon that size could make it past the shad and gaspereau nets in the tidewater at the Gateway to the Miramichi was nothing short of a miracle. “How old is he Lew?” asked Gus. “What,” answered Lew. “How old is he? How old d’ya spose he is. How old d’ya figger he’ll get? Where’s he goin? Spose he ever came this way before? Will he live ta go back ta the ocean, or make it ta where he wants ta go? Spose he’d be good eatin? Would he tip the scales over any other salmon on record that was ever caught, or measured. Whatudwe do with him if we got em Lew? Ya know he was headin up ta the Cains ta get on with his life and make more little salmon. I can really relate ta that cause when I was little I near ended up somewhere I didn’t wanna go. What’s yer feelin? Whataya think Lew?” asked Gus. “Meanin what?” said Lew. “You decide,” responded Gus.
Lew was not accustomed to snap decisions. “What the Hell’s wrong with you boy! If ya ain’t got what it takes ta bring em in gimme the rod. I ain’t got much time. Sounds to me like ya don’t know what ya want,” growled Lew. “Whataya talkin bout?” asked Gus. “I never forced ya ta be here. If I remember right it was you tellin me ya didn’t have much time left ta fish on this earth. If I remember right it was you telling me ya wanted ta be here ta experience the thrill a the catch. Did ja ever hear me say I wanted ta kill the fish? Did ja? Only thing I ever wanted was ta hook onta a lad like him. I got what I wanted. Ain’t no need to take it further,” said Gus calmly. With that Gus lowered the tip of the rod and began pulling hard on the line. He could feel the line stretch and stretch as it tightened, then feel the hook come loose. He never spoke another word, but looked down at the reel and began reeling in the line. He watched the line as it wound loosely onto the spool, followed by the leader, trailed by the colorful old hook, which he had rejected in the beginning. Gus looked at Lew, passed him the rod and said, “I got what I come for Lew. I couldn’t ask God, you, or that salmon for more. Thanks for the loan a yer rod. I got somethin else ta do right now.
Lew noticed Gus’s eyes filled to the rims with tears and about to overflow onto his cheeks. Before it could happen Gus quickly turned and ran quickly up over the hill to the tracks. As he ran out of sight Lew could hear him calling, “Mum! Mum! Wait up! Ya ain’t gonna believe what I got ta tell ya!”
Lew found himself alone on the shore at Doctor’s Island Pool. As he took the first step on the path leading up the steep hill he thought to himself, “What a dandy little boy. He’s a real Corker. Ain’t none finer.”