Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sepia Saturday 385: Fishing

Me with Walleye?
My uncle was aghast. "You don't remember that fish?"
"No," I said, bewildered.
"Only a woman would forget catching a trophy fish." Lorne was shocked that I could forget something he remembered so vividly. "I never caught a fish even nearing that size," he bemoaned.

Guilt washed over me. It was my last visit with him. Lorne remembered I'd caught the fish, in a spot we were looking at together from his cottage at Dorothy Lake in Canada. I'd spent many happy days there with him and my aunt, swimming, fishing, boating and sitting around telling stories. Lorne lived most of the year in Florida by then and had married a lovely woman who was skirting the edge of Alzheimer's disease. During our visit, she didn't say a word. From a rocking chair in the corner she sat and watched us, alternately smiling and wringing her hands. She died within the year; Lorne, a few years later. I hate that I disappointed him by not remembering the fish. 

In fact, fishing wasn't anything special for us—I'm speaking now about the girls—because living in Canada we had fish-laden lakes and rivers all around. I fished with my grandparents in the river; fished with my dad at Grand Beach; fished with my Uncle Lorne at Dorothy Lake. I caught plenty of walleye, not because of skill...simply because there was plenty to be had. As I recall, the men baited my hooks and took care of the fish once caught. All we girls did was dangle our lines and keep alert enough to set the hook when a fish jerked the end. It didn't seem like much of an accomplishment to catch them. 
Dorothy Lake Thanksgiving 1960. Fishing with grandmother Pulcherie.
Uncle Lorne and his enthusiasm for fish, both catching and eating them, was the exact opposite of my Aunt Alvina, my father's sister. The last time I saw her was in Victoria on Vancouver Island. I hadn't seen her in thirty years and she'd suddenly turned ninety. We sat together in her tidy little apartment, where she talked for over an hour about boiling potatoes. She'd had an old friend over for dinner recently and the friend was very late. "You know how the potatoes get," she began. "All watery and soft..." And she went on with tales of potato mishaps. I savored every word, enjoying our time together—just the two of us, so different from my visits with her during my childhood when her home was full of people all talking at once. The potato talk made us hungry and we decided to go to dinner. As she looked in the mirror arranging her black velvet hat, she glanced at me and said, "You know I don't eat fish, don't you? I never have. . .  and I never will." She picked up her purse and checked it for the essentials: a rosary, a mass card or two, her mirrored compact filled with pressed powder, a lipstick with a little mirror attached, a pencil and a few sheets of paper. Vina had taught school for many years and was an excellent writer. She was always making little notes to herself. I have a memoir/family history of hers, a prized possession, describing her early life on the farm in Ontario. Here's an excerpt about her father, my grandfather, who died in 1904.

During the following winter, father, working in the woods, froze his toe. Not having any of the methods or medications to deal with frost-bite, unfortunately it tuned to blood poisoning and eventually gangrene. This necessitated his being hospitalized, also a long journey which must have been very painful under the circumstances. Fifteen miles to the nearest railway station over rough roads in a buggy or perhaps a wagon, not too comfortable, no doubt. Then the train trip to Ottawa about a hundred miles or so.

Due to the condition of the leg, it was imperative that to save his life, the leg had to be amputated, first below the knee, then above. After quite a lengthy stay in hospital, he returned home to convalesce. Fortunately, the boys were old and able enough to carry on the farm work with the help of a hired man and often with the assistance of a neighbor or two.

My paternal grandparents with six of their nine children. Vina was the youngest and not yet in the picture.

At the restaurant, Vina barely noticed the wake of turned heads she left in her path as we followed the host to our table. Even at ninety, she was striking with her pink skin, lively blue eyes and silver hair. She wore pearls around her neck, pearl earrings, and white gloves. Her dress was a deep maroon with a V-neck and a pleated front. Alone, I would have ordered the halibut, fish of the day, but I followed her lead and enjoyed a slice of prime rib. Vina filled me in on family gossip—we did some reminiscing about the past. The dinner was fishless, but swam over with affection. 

Unlike his sister Vina, my dad loved fish and we enjoyed it on Fridays, like all good Catholic families. On Thursday afternoon, Mom would go downtown on the bus to Eaton's and buy pickerel fillets which she dipped in egg, rolled in crushed soda crackers and sauteed in butter. If we were lucky, we might have a paper-thin slice of lemon with it. Now, here in Fallbrook, lemons roll off the trees right to my front door.

My mother would be surprised to learn that if Eaton's was still there and if we were still Catholics, and if she wished to be scientifically correct, she would order walleye, the correct name for the fish we loved. 

In Canada, to set the record straight, there’s a push by governments, scientists and fishing aficionados to give the walleye its proper name. Traditions, however, take time to change, so for the next while, expect us Canadians to still call the walleye, our pickerel.

About a decade ago, people discovered the cheek meat of pickerel walleye is luscious and easy to prepare. On one of my last visits to Winnipeg, my friends prepared them for me. They were unforgettable. 

For other takes on the fishing prompt, check out Sepia Saturday


  1. How delightful to read, as I ate my fish for lunch. I'm trying to improve my memory, and sometimes fresh wild fish can do that, so I've heard. I'll let you know, if I remember to... Great fishing and non-fishing stories about your family.

  2. I love shellfish - shrimp, scallops, abalone, crab, and, of course, lobster tail dipped in melted butter! But I'm not overly fond of other fish. Crappie, small catfish and very mild sole are good - breaded and fried up right. Otherwise, Gorton's frozen breaded filets - or even fish sticks - work just fine for me with lots of tarter sauce!

  3. Oh - except I forgot breaded calamari lightly sprinkled with parmesan. Yum!

  4. A wonderful remembrance story! Having lived mostly on the Atlantic I only know salt-water sea life, so I don't have an appreciation for the variety of fresh-water fish. But I thought about fishing this week as I researched another photo from a town in Minnesota that has over 100 lakes and ponds within a 6 mile radius. Can there be too many fishing holes?

  5. What a wonderful post! I am ready to run right out to the fishmonger for a couple of filets to cook tonight. Have not heard of that crushed-crackers recipe before, but it sounds yummy. I also learned to fish as a child -- and my mother, rather than my dad -- was our lead fisher-woman. She would get us children out of bed while the fog still hung low on nearby rivers, and with my dad at the helm of a small rowboat we learned to troll our bait until the fish bit. Your post brought back fond memories!


  6. It was nice that Lorne remembered "The Fish That Didn't Get Away..." ! Fish can coarse through many an important memory......
    Being brought up a Catholic myself,"Fish= Friday" was something we did too.
    Funnily enough ,I had never had fresh-water fish before visting family in Poland in the 90's (being English fish tended be sea-water & 'wrapped 'in batter & chips!)