Mick was always a fisherman’s fisherman. He fished long, arcing strings of gear and measured the day in pounds per trap but he still relished the story of the big ones he caught close by the old square granite blocks of the quarry wharf and the five in one trap he hauled, tucked almost under the big rock there at the north end of the Putt Beach. He had a rod and reel aboard the Mr. Chris but that was only for when Chris was a little sprog and fished off the stern while Mick tended gear. Chris knew enough to reel back smartly and keep the lure out of trap warps when Mick set the trap back and gunned for the next buoy in their string.
Other fellas went up country in the spring for trout or to the lakes for pike and bass but Mick only headed for fresh water when the alewives ran and he had a chance to score a few bushels for bait. Sport and fishing went together about as well as ketchup on blueberry pie, it might be possible but honest to god what would you want to go and do that for.
In the winter, when the lakes froze up, while other fellas swept the summer cobwebs out of their ice fishing houses and oiled the flags and reels, wiped down the augers and power drills and got ready for the ice-fishing season, we just headed further offshore and fished along the edge of the continental shelf in the deep gullies and chasms carved by the melt-waters of the glaciers long ago.
They drove out to the shithouse sized shacks and watched over the tip-up flags they planted by each hole.
Jaysus, said Mick. If I had to set and watch each trap for a bug to crawl in I guess I’d drink a lot more than I do.
It was late on a restless afternoon ashore. We were somewhere through the case of beer and the fifths of rum, somewhere between stops on another Backside tour. Making the rounds of ice rutted parking lots and scenic look-outs, making our way through a day off with nothing particular to do, and nowhere to be even if we’d wanted to.
Long Lake stretched true to its name, a few miles of wind swept ice between the mountains, dotted with trucks parked neat and square to the narrow little ice fishing shacks. The whole of it laid out like a town in territorial squares and rectangles. Beyond the known territory the lake opened up wild and inviting.
Mick gunned the engine a few times dropped her into gear and spun out onto the ice. We shot past the fish houses, the tires floating on the ice as much as spinning, going airborne where the small ridges and drifts gave us a bit of lift. A hundred yards from the far shore Mick cut the wheel hard and we spun as wildly as any carny ride. His thick hands went white where he gripped the wheel, my shoulder smashed up against the door. Sometimes on two wheels, occasionally on four, we spun round and round until we fetched up against a larger drift and rocked to a stop. Mick shifted and gunned her for the opposite shore. In the middle of the lake he let go the wheel and dared gravity and momentum to take us. They obliged.
When we were at the far end of the lake the wind driven flurries hid the shores and the ice fishing shacks. We were alone in arctic wilderness, spinning like a compass needle without bearings. On a racetrack without bounds, on a day without limits, obeying only the laws of physics that applied at the time.
The next day out Mick stopped and shut down the engine in the middle of a string. We pitched and rolled with the chop and the deep ocean swell. The wind caught the tops where they crested and blew them back in a fine mist of rainbow-flecked spray. The water in the barrels slopped and spread in ice rimmed puddles across the deck. Mick put his heavy booted foot on the rail and took off his cap.
You know, he said, them fellas on the lake. All that ….
He gestured to the horizon.
I looked out. The troughs were filled with sea smoke, the crests stood sharp and sun glazed above. There was nothing but the sea, the wind, the sun, and us.
There they are, he went on. Inside them little shacks. Know what I mean?
Too bad we ain’t got an ice cold beer Benjoy, he said and started the engine again and got on with the day.