It was a good day of fishing on the St. Lawrence River for Floyd Pickerton. So good, he figured he’d buy everybody a drink at his post-fishing watering hole.
It was a Monday, and as everyone else was coming off work, Floyd was just coming off the river. He docked his twelve-foot aluminum boat at the foot of Main Street and walked the short distance up to Ed’s Tavern, carrying his fish. Floyd favored catch-and-release, but not many people believed his fish tales if he had nothing to show for them.
So he was now in the habit of keeping his fish and hoping they stayed alive until he could show them off up the street at Ed’s. The retired cheese plant worker would walk in with a stringer full of bass or perch or manhandling a northern pike and quickly show Ed the catch before high-tailing it down the street and throwing the dazed, appreciative fish back into the river, which he did on this day.
Ed was pretty good at vouching for Floyd’s fishing talents, as long as he kept his bar tab up to date. Hanging on the wall, above the dusty bottles of scotch and vodka and near the mounted, sad-looking lunkers that weren’t returned to the St. Lawrence, was a picture Ed took of Floyd pulling a child’s wagon. Floyd commandeered it from a boy the day he caught the massive muskellunge. He couldn’t carry the unruly fish to the tavern, so he wheeled it up in the wagon after strapping the creature onto it with his belt. In the photo, Ed had one hand on the wagon’s handle and the other holding up his pants. In the background, a distraught-looking boy looked on with a mixture confusion and odd appreciation.
That was one fish that never made it back to the river. It was dead on arrival. But its stuffed body, complete with belt marks, proudly hung on a wall at Ed’s.
“So, they must have been hitting pretty good today,” bar regular John Cranston, an insurance salesman, asked Floyd.
“Yes, they were,” Floyd said. “I caught some nice ones.”
“Must be nice to be retired and just fish all day,” John said.
“Yes it is,” Floyd said, not sure if John was being sarcastic or genuine.
As others continued to trickle in, they were met with a free drink and the tale of Floyd’s fine fishing day. Gradually, the handful of perch he caught turned into tales of bass and the bass turned into three sturgeons. And, it was told, he almost caught a pretty nice-sized tuna that wandered into the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic.
The celebratory mood was broken up when village councilman Bill Ringer walked in.
“Have you seen the signs those people put up?” he asked no one in particular.
For the people at Ed’s Tavern, “those people” could only mean one thing: the village of Saddington’s carp contingent.
They were getting bolder. To the serious fishermen at Ed’s and elsewhere in the village, a carp was a garbage fish, not even worth throwing back in. But that began to change a few years ago when somebody vacationing in the area from England realized the abundant carp in the St. Lawrence.
What a guy from England was doing in Saddington was anyone’s guess, but the tale told at Ed’s Tavern was that he got lost on his way to Montreal and stopped in the village to ask for directions. But seeing all the water surrounding Saddington, he tossed in a fishing line, using a leftover bologna sandwich as bait, and it wasn’t long before a carp came along.
Within the next year, dozens of people from England had come to Saddington. The locals eventually realized that carp fishing was big in Europe and that word had spread there about Saddington’s carp. The Europeans wrote letters to the editor of the Saddington Times about the wondrous waters and the fierce-battling carp, although local fishermen knew that catching a carp was akin to reeling in a dead skunk.
The county’s chamber of commerce was quick to get involved. The numbers of foreign fishermen coming over multiplied.
Now they were gradually influencing the locals. Some had even begun taking up the “sport,” which brought its own lingo and equipment. The owner of the Fish Corner bait store was seriously considering stocking carp-fishing equipment.
“No, what are they doing now?” Floyd asked Councilman Ringer. “They put up a sign or something.”
“Not just any sign,” the councilman said. “They’re calling Saddington the Carp Capital of the World!”
Beers, on the way to the mouths of the bar patrons, stopped in mid-air. Flies were heard buzzing around the open pickled egg canister.
“That’s un-American!” said John Cranston.
Ed came out from behind the bar, which he did only during serious matters, such as to break up a fight or to help ease a wallet out of a tipsy patron’s back pocket.
“We gotta do something about that,” he said. “Who did they ask to get permission? And who did it?”
“The Chamber,” Councilman Ringer said.
“Why didn’t the village board do something?” Floyd asked.
“They never came to us,” Councilman Ringer said. “Even if they had, those carp people have so much control now, it’s useless to argue with them.”
Murmurs, like small waves coming ashore, flowed through the bar.
“Well,” Floyd said. “Maybe we should do something. We can’t let carp take over this village! It’s known for serious, fighting fish!”
There was general agreement.
“I even think our manhood’s at stake,” came a voice from the back of the bar. The comment caused the bar patrons to look at each other with a bit of confusion, but even that comment eventually created a “Here! Here!” and raised bottles, like swords from warrior knights.
Three months later, preparations for the first annual Saddington International Carp Tournament were in full swing. The county generously funded the endeavor. Carp flags flew from light poles and similar carp images were spotted on bumper stickers, T-shirts and hats. There was talk of changing the school mascot from a hornet to a carp.
But not everything carp-related was accepted by the growing “carp rights” movement. The Knights of Columbus wanted to host a carp-tossing contest for a fundraiser, but it was quickly grounded when the plan was discovered by Greenpeace.
Ed, who claimed he used to be a cook before he owned his bar, couldn’t resist the commercialization and developed a new treat: deep-fried carp on a stick. That, too, was deemed inhumane.
As the men continued to gather at Ed’s Tavern, such disrespect for the locals was one reason they had developed a plan to sabotage the carp tournament.
The plan involved stealth, surprise, and two barrels of liquid that had been in back of Ed’s tavern for decades.
They were leftover from when Ed bought the bar from the O’Flannery family. The family had come to Saddington from Ireland and set up an authentic Irish Pub. The village, which was settled by French and German immigrants, never took to the establishment.
The barrels contained fifty gallons of green dye that Mr. O’Flannery had planned to release into the river on St. Patrick’s Day to give the river a festive green tint. He soon found out that the St. Lawrence was usually frozen over until April. But he had never gotten rid of the dye. For Ed, he could clear out some space while doing a public service.
“Do you think it’ll hurt the river?” Councilman Ringer asked. “Do we know what that dye is exactly made of?”
“Who cares?” Floyd said. “The river will be a lot worse if those carp people keep advancing their ‘sport.’”
So on the morning of the carp tournament, which unfolded under a sky that reflected a gorgeous blue onto a calm river, the barrels of dye were at the ready at the Coles Creek Bridge, waiting to be tipped where the substance would spread downriver and through the village and hopefully spread a green tint, causing enough concern to cancel the tournament. As a good measure, John Cranston mixed in five pounds of coffee to the barrels. He had read that caffeine caused fish to panic and flee.
As the last bars of the National Anthem echoed over the Coles Creek Bridge to signify the start of the tournament, the barrels were turned upside down and their contents splashed into the river.
The stuff inside reluctantly creeped out of the barrels as two huge, blobby masses, as if angry at being disturbed.
But eventually, two quick “plops” were heard in the river as the deed was done. A few minutes later, the river under the bridge started foaming. It was deep green, and then the river started to churn. A mist began to rise from the green water. This wasn’t a pretty green. It was an ugly green, with a tinge of black. All of this began to flow down river and to the village, where shouts were beginning to be heard of an impending apocalypse.
As the barrel tippers witnessed this with mouths agape, their attention focused back on the barrels which were still upside down. It was then they saw the stickers on the bottom of the barrels: “Warning: Using this substance after expiration date may create unintended consequences. Do not mix.”
“What the heck kind of warning is that?” Floyd said. “And mix with what?”
“Who cares?” said Ed, whose main concern was why such a warning would be written on the bottom of a barrel.
“It must have been made in China,” Floyd reasoned.
The guys threw the barrels in the back of Floyd’s pickup truck and quickly retreated to the safety of Ed’s Tavern.
They missed a spectacle.
It turned out the dye, despite its ominous beginning, was environmentally friendly and quite edible to the fish, especially the carp, which soon got high on the caffeine. They became highly active, jumping out of the river and performing stunts like trained dolphins. Someone put a video of the thing on YouTube, which only made carp fishing in the village more attractive.
As the months passed, more people came from the world over to fish for the amazing, happy carp of Saddington.
Their shouts of amazement would often come through the open windows of Ed’s Tavern, sticking like cold whitecaps into the patrons, until Ed installed air conditioning, eliminating the refreshing breeze that previously drifted in from the river.
There, in the cool silence, Floyd and the rest of the bar-goers chugged their beers and planned revenge as they stared at the mounted fish trophies of days gone by.
Written by Chris Brock and illustrated by Danna C. Moles.
Chris Brock is a features writer at the Watertown Daily Times. Writing humorous short stories is a hobby. He grew up on the St. Lawrence River community of Waddington, N.Y. Besides being honored at the North Country Writer’s Festival, Chris' works have been published in Grit magazine and he is an essay contributor to North Country Public Radio.
Danna Moles lives in Chaumont, N.Y. She has worked at the Watertown Daily Times newspaper in Watertown, N.Y. for the past 23 years. Danna volunteered to illustrate this, our first short story for Thousand Islands Life magazine.
This piece won the 2008 North Country Writers Contest sponsored by the Jefferson Community College Social Cultural Committee, Faculty Student Association and the College English Department. All submissions had to reflect a connection to the North Country. The award for each genre was $100 and online publication on the Jefferson Community College website.