Fishing on Lake Scugog Near Washburn Island
Author’s father Bob Burrows, Washburn Island, Lake Scugog, small muskie, c 1946.
Author’s father Bob Burrows Washburn Island, bass, 1953
None in our family owned a motor boat in the 50s, so their willingness to row in the dawn mist determined where the men dropped anchor. My father and my uncles (Len Hamlett, Harrie Baker, Ernie Humphries Jr.) kidded each other about secret fishing spots they preferred around Washburn Island. Dawn or dusk was in question for which was the best time to lure the fish to the bait. Large mouth bass hid in the warm weedy waters among the lily pads. Small mouth bass roamed cooler open waters. Crappie, muskellunge, catfish and carp rounded out the anticipated catches of the day. The food chain was healthy for sport fishermen – zooplankton, insects, crayfish and minnows, and up the fish ladder to the large muskellunge.
The men assembled fishing rods, reels and lures, tackle boxes and lucky fishing hats the night before. At dawn my mum, Vera Burrows and Aunt Gert Humphries rose with my dad and Uncle Ernie. The wives made breakfast and tea, packed sandwiches and a thermos with more tea, filled a glass jar with water, and maybe slipped in a couple of beers for the hottest part of the day when the sun beat down.
My dad and Uncle Ernie rowed Gran and Gramp Humphries’s rowboat (the one they’d ordered from Eaton’s catalogue) and Uncle Len Hamlett and Uncle Harrie Baker took the Burrows’s heavier rowboat. I woke long enough to hear voices through the screened window, Mum and Aunt Gert calling out their goodbyes and good lucks from the dock.
The tall reeds of Starrs Bay was a favourite fishing spot, and the swampy areas beside the causeway attracted a few fishermen. Toss an anchor into the mucky bottom, or toss a line into the lily pads.
Later in the day, most of the cousins and aunts and grandmothers gathered on the beach for an afternoon swim. The men rowed up the lake with their catch, hailing from a long way off if they’d had a successful trip.
“Catch anything?” someone would shout across the water.
“We can hardly row the boat’s it’s so heavy.”
The Hamlett and Baker relatives gathered at the Burrows‘ dock, and the Humphries and our family gathered at the Humphries‘ dock, anxious to see the strings of fish dragging behind the boat. Once tethered, and the fishing gear lifted to the dock, our group sauntered across the beach at the front of Baldwin’s cottage to the Burrows’s beach and compared the catches.
Everyone was in high spirits akin to a hunter’s return with bounty for the gatherers waiting on the shore. The men joked and teased about who caught the biggest fish, the one who had no luck, the one who nearly fell in the lake and the one that got away. The families divided the catch. It was likely we’d be eating fish for our dinner.
My parents monitored my siblings and I when we explored the lures in Dad’s tackle box. They were exciting oddities with multi-pronged hooks attached to silvery green underbellies. Some had painted eyes and speckled sides like minnows, others bright coloured, big and small. My favourite was a green frog with legs that pumped like a real frog. We were warned away from a fish knife tucked into a long tray. Other compartments held varying sizes of hooks, feathers, sinkers, a roll of fishing line, and maybe a few band-aids and beer bottle caps. Some hooks had dried worms crusted on them. It was a male domain.
When my parents took my siblings and I fishing, we used worms, metal sinkers and red and white bobs that floated on the surface. If a fish nipped at the drowning worm, we yanked up the line. I’m sure both parents wearied from skewering worms for squeamish little girls: but my brother Bob mastered the manly art of hooking a worm at an early age. It was enough that they’d made us dig for our bait in the back forest and put frantic worms and stinky earth into a little tobacco can without a lid! I kept a close eye on the can in the bottom of the boat. If we were lucky enough to land an immature fish before boredom overcame us, usually a slim sunfish, it was Dad’s job to unhook it, allow us to inspect it, and toss it back into the lake, hopefully a little wiser for its ordeal.
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