By Gord Follett
A tent, sleeping bag, plenty of beer and a few good friends. As young men in our late-teens and early-20s, that’s all we required for the makings of a fun-filled May 24th weekend. Oh, and some grub. Can’t forget the grub. Couple loaves of Mom’s homemade bread for toast in the mornings and a few dozen hotdogs for evening meals should do us three days. And ya never know, we might even catch a few trout to eat. Bonus!
My buddies and I headed for the comfort of a provincial park with water stations the first couple of years that we had our own vehicles, but quickly grew tired of all the 11 p.m. “quiet time” warnings from wardens. Eleven at night is bedtime for me nowadays, but back then we were just getting on the go!
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that as a young dad, I rarely viewed May 24th weekends as “family time.” Mind you, typical Newfoundland spring weather was/is not always conducive to tenting or even staying in a camper with toddlers. But while I never second-guessed my belief back then that May 24th was “for theb’ys,” today in my mid-60s I often regret those lost opportunities with my two daughters. I have six young grandkids now, so perhaps I can make amends before it’s too late. I would so love to have photos with them fishing and camping,much like some of my buddies do with their grandbabies. For now, however, my earliest adventures remain the most memorable, except perhaps for some of our annual mid-May Gambo Pond excursions in my 30s and 40s.
Salmonier Line, Witless Bay Line, Placentia Junction - anywhere during the weeks leading up to May 24th that one of the boys “scouted out” a small, relatively flat area with not too many rocks and near a trout pond was where we’d set up camp. It wasn’t always the most scenic or comfortable spot, but we were “best kind” with wherever we lay our heads, which was often on a 70-80 degree angle from the rest of our bodies. A few good head shakes first thing in the morning to get rid of kinks in our necks and we were good to go, no worse for wear. (Yesterday morning, however, I aggravated an old groin injury just hauling on my socks!)
On most of those three-day adventures, I was usually the first to head for the pond each morning with my spinning rod and reel, along with a tub of nightcrawlers that I pulled from the crooked neighbour’s garden a couple of nights before. Ahead of one particular “worm-catching night” when I was 16, ol’ Mr. G. had issued a stern warning earlier in the day about going anywhere near his back garden. So that night, whenever a light would come on in his house (which happened three or four times between 10:30 and 11:00), I’d turn off my flashlight and remain still on my hands and knees. As soon as the house went dark again, my light came back on. I didn’t hook many trout that trip, but I did make $14 by selling my night crawlers for $1 a tub.
It was the May 24th weekend in 1976 or ’77 when a few of us teenagers climbed aboard my two-door, rusty old Mustang and - surprisingly - made it over thehighway all the way to Rhodies Pond, I believe it was, in Placentia Junction. I had nine trout on the bank, including two chunky beauties about two pounds apiece, before any of the boys poked their heads out of the soaking wet tent our first morning there. I caught my limit that day and the next, making it the most successful long weekend trip, fishing-wise, of my life until I was in my mid-30s and finally got to fish Indian Bay waters.
Then there was the crappiest trip of all, in the early-’80s. It rained for almost 90 per cent of the weekend, I tore the muffler off my car going over a dirt road that would be a challenge for a 4x4 pickup, and we never caught a single trout. The only thing “memorable,” for lack of a better word, about it was my buddy Terry slicing his hand between the thumb and index finger, continuing uptowards his wrist, with a pocket knife while trying to open a can of beans. Boy, did he bleed! That happened on a Saturday afternoon, but he stuck it out the rest of the weekend. When he went to the hospital Monday evening, the cut required 17 stitches!
Asusual, I was the only one who thought of bringing a roll - one roll - of toilet tissue on that trip, and we used the whole thing to wipe blood from Terry’s gash. That was the year we learned there aren’t a lot of leaves on the trees in mid-May.
But would I do that and all the other trips over again if I had my time back? You’d better believe it!