From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
I never seemed to have much luck at this sport. As a boy I could go down to the creek and over to the falls, where with a can of worms I could catch a dozen bullheads, which when cleaned and ready for the frying pan were about the size of sardines. In the spring, by walking along the bank of the creek, I could see nice big red-fin suckers basking in the sunlight, and once or twice, a two foot pike; but a bent pin on the end of a string was no way to catch them.
I remember going with my Aunt Belle to the Brooks Farm just east of Butternut Bay, on the St. Lawrence River. As she wanted to go fishing we went down to the boathouse and got the boat into the water. I did not know much about rowing, but my aunt said we should not go fast to troll, and we didn’t. I usually bumped the oars together and pinched my fingers, but we got along very well. All at once she said, “Oh, I have a bite!” But it was a false alarm. In a few minutes she called again, “I have another bite,” but again no luck. It was hard for me to keep the boat on a straight course, but she warned me if she hooked a fish I was to keep on rowing.
Again she called, “I have got something this time!” I kept on rowing, but it was getting so exciting that I could hardly keep the boat out in deep water. All at once, about twenty feet behind the boat, the fish jumped and tried to shake the hook from its mouth, then went down under again. My aunt kept pulling in the line, and was just in the act of lifting the big fish over the edge of the boat when it gave a flop, its tail struck the side of the boat and the line broke. She leaned over the edge and saw the big fish swim away!
My aunt had become so excited that she was hysterical and just sat there and cried. We certainly had lost a big fish, as I had caught a glimpse of it as its head appeared above the water. As we had lost our tackle and our fish we went ashore and back to the house. For weeks she could hardly talk of anything but the big fish she had lost.
Years later, my brother and I had a similar experience outside of Mallorytown Landing about the year 1933. We had hooked a big maskinonge, but just when we got it up beside the boat the line broke. This exciting event was witnessed by the occupants of another boat, and the item was printed in the local paper, where I found it among other articles a few weeks ago.
Jones’ Creek, below the old mill was the mecca of local fisherman, and many tales of big catches. Practical jokes played on unsuspecting fisherman always added zest to the stories told after one of these outings. One, as told by my cousin Burt Billings, seems worth repeating.
He and his cousin Herb Blair drove to the Mills one night, tramped along the bank to the big rock, where they proceeded to try their luck with worms for bait. Herb seemed the lucky one that night as he hauled in a dozen or more big bullheads. Burt’s luck was different. For an hour he sat there and did not get even a bite. Finally he called to Herb that he was going down near him, to try again. Of course Herb objected, saying if he came down there neither would get a bite, but Burt came just the same, and in a few minutes he hauled in a nice fish! A few minutes later he got another, while Herb’s luck changed. Burt kept on till he had a nice catch of fish and finally Herb said he was tired and was going home. Winding up his line and going back to gather up his fish, on a string, in the dark he could not find where he had placed them; finally he gave up and started for his horse. Burt, gathering up his catch, followed him and they drove home, Herb all the way bemoaning the loss of his fish.
Burt got out first and as Herb started on, Burt stopped him saying “Oh Herb I guess the joke is on you. It was your fish I was catching all the time and you can take them home. I just picked one from your lot each time I hauled that piece of stick from the water.”
At one time at Yonge Mills there was a long channel or sluice-way; at the head of it you could take up the planks or gate and let the water pour down the passage to the pool below. In the spring the boys would go there, open the gate so that the fish would swim up this runway in droves; then, with a plank placed across this stream near the lower end and a large hoop net placed in the water and held by one of the boys, the rest of the fisherman would go up stream, shut off the water and catch the returning fish in the net.
One night my partner Bob, four other lads and I drove to the Mills. They had put the net in three or four times but as the season for suckers was about over had no luck. Finally they said “Bob, you hold the net and we will try again. We will take the poles and splash the water and surly some will go down.”
In the darkness with Bob squatting on the plank holding the hoop of the net the boys went up and started splashing. Finally they heard Bob yell, “Come on down quickly! The net must be full! I can hardly hold it. Hurry, Hurry” The lads rushed down, and all together they lifted the net from the water and dumped its contents on the grass but there was no sound of fish flopping. Bob lit a match and held it over the empty net. There were no fish there but the skeleton of a calf, which the boys had thrown into the stream above!
Yes we had fun in those days going fishing.