Said & Done: Fishing for fraternity

  • John Connolly of Hinsdale, N.H. and Colby Lavin of Erving fish the shad run at the Rock Dam on the Connecticut River in Montague. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • SEAMANS Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Sunday, July 15, 2018

A good many years ago, I watched a small boy who was fishing in the Brookline reservoir struggle to pull a bass out of the water’s depths, but to no avail.

Then, a high-school-age boy fishing nearby showed the youngster how to bait his hook with a long, fat nightcrawler and, sure enough, a bass rose like a submarine from the depths to sink that edible into its maw. And thus, this game had a happy ending.

I have a family fish story with a bit of a happy ending as well. I didn’t get my hands on the fish, but I can still see the perch coming off the hook and giving a small boy far more than his money’s worth for the experience. Picture yourself there: July 1950, Lake Dunmore in Vermont.

Uncle Fred fell out of the family tree when he was 30, marrying Catholic in a community thick with Protestantism. We didn’t see Uncle Fred again until the day of his funeral, but we heard family members say “he ran around a lot.”

The way the family treated Uncle Fred made quite an impression on us youngsters. Losing Uncle Fred made a hole in our lives, and we didn’t know what to make of it.

At his funeral, we were surprised to find St. Mary’s Church crowded with friends and the family he’d made in the years of his ostracism. Whatever running around he had done in the intervening time must have been done in good company. The church was packed with a throng of folks who’d come to give Uncle Fred a proper send-off. Too late we saw what might have been if only Uncle Fred had been able to stick around.

There were two uncles on my mother’s side, the lamented Uncle Fred and Uncle Will. I banked heavily on Uncle Will because he liked fishing. He used to tell me that someday we’d go fishing together. Whenever we visited at Uncle Will’s home, he’d get out his fishing gear and show me his collection of flies and spoons. He’d always say we’d catch some big fish with those baits. That always sent me into an ecstasy, and I’d live and dream for the “someday” that Uncle Will promised.

That day never came. When I was a high school boy, I met Uncle Will by chance in the course of a fishing trip. He was sitting on the running board of his old Model A Ford, a pipe clamped hard between his teeth. Another man was sitting beside him. Both were dressed in official fisherman’s fashion: boots, vest, creel and net. Uncle Will meant business when he went fishing; He had no time for boys.

We knew a young boy who had no uncles to take him fishing. He used to walk down to the pier and watch us shove off on our perch and pickerel hunts. He’d stand with his hands behind his back, never saying anything. We knew what was on his mind. With Uncle Will and Uncle Fred watching us from our childhood, we saw an obligation. We fixed the boy up with a hook and line and put him in the boat.

He sat silent by the half-hour, looking down into Dunmore’s clear water, paying no attention to the red and white bobber that, from time to time, danced when some small fish gave it a life.

Eventually, we distracted him long enough to hitch one of our perch onto his hook — and thus gave him the fish he so badly wanted to catch. His elations were limitless. You couldn’t shut him up. He carried his prize ashore and infected his father, whose principal vacationing activity up to that moment was reading New York newspapers.

Anyway, in gratitude, the father bought and gave us a mother-of-pearl spoon that for many years has occupied its own compartment in our tackle box. We have never caught a fish with it.

On a later occasion at the Quabbin Reservoir, we used the tackle box and spilled everything it held all over the boat.

One at a time, piece by piece, I sorted out the mess and put it back together. There were red and white spoons that had meant big business in New Hampshire ponds. Parmachene Belle and Royal Coachman flies brought quick recollection of successful mornings on the Ellis River in New Hampshire.

And there was that abalone spoon from Lake Dunmore fishing iridescent signals from out of the past, conjuring visions and memories that had lain dormant for so many, many years.

There, plain to see in the lustrous mirror of that mother-of-pearl keepsake, were uncles who had failed to live up to the name, and one unrelated little boy on a summer vacation who had made an uncle of us.

Now you see that fish stories may have complex and complicated beginnings.

Paul Seamans is a permanent resident of the Charlene Manor nursing home. Some of his columns have been previously