Mr. Cool

***My 99 cent e-book special is still on until Monday, April 1. Please find it on the post before this one, called Easter Special. Be sure to look there for the coupon code. You need it to get the discount.

And now, for an embarrassing fishing story.

This little article I wrote was published in Canadian Fly Fisher magazine a few years ago and was posted on this blog in 2011. For the record, the trout pictured below is not the one in the story. This one was released after its photo op.

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Mr. Cool Goes Fishing

I now believe that lawn chairs should come with a warning label: “Not recommended for use by fools in small boats.”  My cold splash of reality came on a sunny day.

Gary and I love fly fishing, but two people standing in a small boat isn’t safe. However, it isn’t particularly comfortable sitting on cold aluminum seats either. To please me, Gary came up with a solution. He would put lawn chairs in the boat so they straddled the bench seats. We knew it was a bit risky placing our centers of gravity up so high, but we were old hands at boating and decided we would be safe enough fishing for trout on the calm, reedy edges of one of our local lakes.

The day was perfect for shorts and T-shirts. We had brought a picnic lunch in our cooler bag, a thermos of tea, cell phone, and the usual clutter of fishing tackle. We cast towards the lily pads.  In no time, Gary had hooked a trout. I offered to net it and wisely, I thought, slid down off the lawn chair to gain more stability. Net in hand, I dipped for the fish, but it darted under the boat. Gary, still up in his chair, leaned over to see where it went, and that was the end of our lawn-chair fishing.

Over I went, head first into the lily pads. I kicked away the entangling lawn chair that threatened my demise. Lily pads! As I floundered underwater thrashing through their long stems, my mind flashed to the story of a woman who had drowned in lily pads at Swan Lake when I was a child. Determined not to repeat history, I kicked and fought my way to the surface, inhaling water and belching. Madly treading water, I gulped for air.

Several meters away, Gary shook his head in slow motion and I blushed to realize how unimpressive my plunge was from the point of view of a perfect swimmer. I grabbed sinking articles near to me and tossed them into the half-sunken boat wallowing nearby—cooler bag, thermos, tackle box, my fly rod, even the old life jacket I had been sitting on instead of wearing, and of course, the accursed lawn chair.

I glanced over at Gary, bobbing calmly in the lake, scowling at me.  Mr. Cool. His entry into the water, like that of an Olympic diver, had been almost soundless with barely a ripple. His frown suggested that I had been making quite a fuss and had attracted unwanted attention.

Two men who had been spincasting farther out on the lake, reeled in frantically. “We’ll be right over,” they called.

“That’s okay,” Gary yelled back. “We can stand.”

“We… can?” I spluttered.  It hadn’t occurred to me to try to stand. My toes stretched down into the gooey silt, and my mouth went under. Being a couple of inches taller, like Gary, would definitely have been an advantage.

By this time the spincasters had paddled over. They held the side of our half-sunken boat as I scrambled in as gracefully as a calf moose. I began to bail water double time to keep the boat afloat. Gary, who had been steadying the bow of the boat, waited until there was enough freeboard and then hopped in easily. We thanked the men, sheepishly chuckling about the story they would tell their wives that night.

As we took inventory, Gary netted his trout, still hooked after all the commotion, while I wondered which fish was swimming away wearing my expensive Serengeti sunglasses.

Beautiful B.C. (but mostly Alberta today)

Recently my attention was drawn to a post on David Kanigan’s blog. It featured a  place that has always been an old favourite of mine, a mountain beside the highway between Calgary and Banff.

Mount Eisenhower

When I was a child I had a calendar with this mountain pictured on one of the pages. I thought it had a unique shape and was impressed because in those younger years I still thought that all mountains had the traditional volcano- like triangular look, and this one was so different.

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Castle Mountain

Imagine my surprise when I saw this mountain “in the flesh” on a special holiday  through the Banff area when I was about 14. I was thrilled to see the famous calendar mountain.

Many years later I was passing that way again and wanted to be sure not to miss seeing Mount Eisenhower, meaning to take photos of it (in case I wanted to make my own calendar).  Mount Eisenhower no longer existed. It took a fair bit of digging to discover that this mountain was now called Castle Mountain. After reading some of the comments on David Kanigan’s blog, where he featured this mountain, albeit from a much different angle, I learned that the original name of the mountain  – well, original … let’s say in recorded history – was Castle Mountain, named by James Hector in 1858.

In 1946 it was renamed Mount Eisenhower, in honour of the U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, but in 1979, public pressure caused the name to be changed back to Castle Mountain. A pinnacle on the southeast side of the mountain is still named the Eisenhower Tower.

Last year when I had occasion to go on a trip from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise, I made sure to get pictures of Castle Mountain as we drove by it.

I looked forward to seeing Lake Louise. Many years ago I had seen it and remembered the bright turquoise colour of this beautiful lake surrounded by a framework of mountains. What a shock it was to see the lake frozen solid and being used as a skating rink. Someone had made a beautiful wall of ice to look like an entrance to the lake.

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Lake Louise with skaters and cross country skiiers

Driving on, I had to see where the gondola lift took me up Sulfur Mountain so many years ago.  On the way, I saw the famous hotel peeking through the trees. Do you recognize it?

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Hiding behind the trees is the Banff Springs Hotel

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On June 1st, 2013 Canada’s castle in the Rockies, the Banff Springs Hotel, turns 125!

This trip took place near the end of March, so if you’re planning to visit this area, maybe try it a little later in the spring or summer. It was beautiful in March, but in summer it’s gorgeous, and you have the added bonus of most likely seeing plenty of wildlife (black bears, deer, and elk) along the road as you drive the scenic route through Banff National Park.

Making Fire

When we were in our twenties, living in the Interior of BC, my husband and I considered ourselves very capable campers. The canoe was usually on top of the VW van, ready for action each weekend. It took very little for us to prepare for a camping trip because we never really unpacked. The basics were always ready. We threw in a few clothes and groceries and off we went.

We had discovered a good fishing spot way out in the boonies where it would be rare to meet another person. The plan was to go back there, but this time instead of bringing our trout home to cook, we would make a fire by the lakeside and fry the fish right there. I loaded our black cast iron frying pan, a bit of butter, salt and pepper into our mess kit of camp dishes and cutlery. All was set, and off we drove.

The lake and the surrounding meadow and forest would have made a perfect calendar photo. The weather co-operated; not too hot, but just warm enough to be comfortable. A beautiful day. We canoed the small lake and enjoyed the bird life around us. Trout begged to be allowed into the canoe. We had to force ourselves to stop fishing when we had enough to eat.

Back on land, glowing from the fresh air and healthy exercise of paddling, we stretched our legs.

“I’ll clean the fish.” My husband took the trout and walked some distance along the shore.

“I’ll get a fire ready.” I put a few big rocks together to build a firepit on the gravelly  beach. I gathered dry wood from the nearby woods and built a good teepee of sticks with very small bits of kindling in the middle. Then I brought out the frying pan, butter, salt and pepper.

“Do you have the matches?” I asked my husband when he came back with the cleaned trout.

“No, I thought you were packing all that stuff.” He slapped his pockets looking for matches or a lighter.

I rummaged in my purse. Small chance of finding anything in there. Not only was it a jumble of junk but neither of us smoked so we weren’t in the habit of carrying matches or lighters on our person. I looked in the glove compartment, in the mess kit, in the box of supplies from home.

We stood there looking from the fish to the pan to each other. The wheels were turning in my brain, and I thought, “We’re two outdoor types with lots of camping experience. Surely we can make a fire. How hard can it be? So think. What would a person lost in the woods do? ”

“I know,” I said. “We could use a piece of glass and let the sun heat up the kindling or a piece of paper.” I held a drinking glass over a piece of Kleenex and focused the sun’s rays on the paper. It wasn’t exactly a scorcher of a day and the rays were feeble. Nothing was happening, not even a hint of smoke. “Hmm … well … we could rub two sticks together?”

My husband shook his head. “It doesn’t work just like that.”

“What do you suggest?” I had already run out of ideas.

“I suggest we take the fish home and cook them on the stove.”

I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “How about like in the cowboy movies?  You know, where they pour gas on something and then shoot into it and it lights up?”

“Aw, that doesn’t work.” He waved me off and started to pack up the fish.

“Well, couldn’t we try it?” I so much wanted to fry those trout on the campfire. I had everything else ready right down to the napkins.

“Okay, I’ll do it just to show you.” He brought his .22 rifle out of the truck. From the spare gas caddy, he poured a bit of gasoline on the teepee of sticks I’d built. “Stand back then.” He fired into the gasoline.

I was all ready to unpack the trout and throw them into the pan. I was sure we’d have a roaring fire in the next few seconds. But what did we have?

“There!” he said. “Are you satisfied? It only works in the movies.”

I’m sorry to tell you that there’s no happy ending to this story. Two over-confident seasoned campers didn’t get to use their seasoning on the trout. Instead, they went home to a big helping of humble pie.

The fire that I wished we could have made.