I learned to fish here in the Thousand Islands the year before we were married. My husband, Gary, grew up fishing. It was his solace. Our first years together up here, we would get up early, load our fishing tackle into the St. Lawrence River skiff and row to our favorite fishing spot between Murray and Grenell.
Gary’s rule was that anyone he went fishing with had to bait their hook, take the fish off the hook and clean the fish they caught. This was his way of saying, “I’ll teach you, but I’m not going to do it for you.” No amount of cringing or saying EEEEWWWWW helped. I know. I tried.
In those early years, when I wasn’t too adept at hooking fish, it seemed every other fish swallowed the hook. I spent more time trying to get the fish off the hook, than actually fishing. I wasn’t sure if fishing was something I loved as much as Gary did. There were mornings I would fake putting on bait, throw out an empty hook and just enjoy the quiet of the morning. Much less stress that way.
Eventually, kids came along and my husband had new fishing partners. He wasn’t as strict with them as he had been with me. There’s something magical about fishing for a child. Now we have a granddaughter who enjoys throwing out a line and reeling in the big one.
Through the years there have been tons of fishing stories. I’ve even told a few. My favorite remains the one written by Gary’s Great Aunt Edith in The Story of Grenell.
A Fish Story by Edith P. Mann (in The Story of Grenell by Alice Olivia Pratt) The story was written in the late forties and probably happened in the early 1900s:
We hear many “fish” stories, but this one is true. I was out with a friend who liked to take his vacation in the early fall when fishing is supposed to be better. We went out one fore-noon to catch perch for dinner. We anchored near Scott’s point on Murray. We sat for some time, but no bites, and we were about to move on, when we exclaimed, “I’ve got a bite” and near the boat, we saw a pickerel following it, so we decided to wait and have pickerel for dinner. He was rewarded, and was playing the pickerel when suddenly—a jerk—and that line ran out so fast—could it be a muskallonge, we wondered!
Far and near went that fish, on a light perch line! We got the anchor up and passed the pole from one end of the boat to the other, try to keep the line taut but not tight, and not loosened. Time and again the fish came so near that we could see the spots of the muskallonge, but we had nothing with which to land him. Finally in early afternoon we succeeded in getting near enough to Hub Island to call out to a man on the shore to come out and help us land a big fish! He put out from shore at once, managed to get close enough to our boat so that he and I exchanged places and after more anxious minutes he was able to land the muskallonge with the help of his gaff hook. I was sorry not to have been in the boat when it was landed, but we were much pleased with ourselves to bring home the fish, which measured just under five feet. When we cleaned the fish, a nineteen inch pickerel had been barely swallowed and inside the pickerel was our perch of the morning.
Here on Grenell, we have an annual Pike Tournament for the youth of the island. The trophy stands in the Community House and a plaque full of names hangs on the wall. Max McCune has been on the trophy for the last several years. But this year all that changed. This year there is a new name on the Grenell Island Pike Tournament Trophy and a great fish story to go with it.
The Kempton girls started going on fishing trips with their parents before they could even walk. Now Julia is six and Lucia is four and they’re fishing on their own. Their favorite place to fish is the boathouse. One morning in late May, the girls got up early, put on their lifejackets over their pajamas and went down to the boathouse to fish. Most of the adults were still snug in their beds. Their mother, Kim, was in the kitchen making coffee when she heard from the boathouse, “We need an adult!”
Most of the adults in the house thought something horrible had happened. Perhaps someone had fallen into the water. But the girls’ father sprang from bed and assured the others that it was a fish. Dad was right. Julia caught a pike. She reeled it into the boathouse and was holding it with her pole up against the staving of the dock. Her child pole would have snapped it she had tried to lift the pike from the water. The fish was 31 inches and 7 pounds and enjoyed for dinner for grandma’s birthday.
Julia put her name on the list in the Grenell Island Community House where it stayed, unchallenged for the rest of the season. Others caught pikes but none of them measured up.
Julia wasn’t finished for the season. She caught a walleye in August off the head of Little Round Island. That fish was 28 inches and weighed 7.5 pounds. Mom and dad decided to have the walleye stuffed to hang on the living room wall.
I have a feeling this is not the last time a Kempton name will be on the Annual Pike Fishing Trophy and there will be many more fish tales as well.
By Lynn McElfresh
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, often writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past year from her musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends. Last month Lynn wrote about her family and a Sunday sermon. This month she brings one of the favorite Island pastimes to life – fishing. As the summer draws to a close we once again thank her for sharing her writing with us and I am pleased to say, Lynn has been gathering material to keep us supplied for the winter! To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.