Uncle Sam and I strike it big

A gentleman of otherwise impeccable veracity recently told me of his angling flight to the far-up Quebec lakes and showed me five stupendous Arctic char he brought home to be mounted and adorn his office wall. I was attentive but not impressed, for I, too, have caught Canadian trout, and if you have the time, I'll relate the details:

My mother's only brother, my Uncle Sam, had nothing to do with the United States. He was a Prince Edward Island Canadian born on the same Down East farm where my mother would be born a few years later. When he was 18, he signed up to go to Saskatchewan for the wheat harvest.

Many young Maritime men did that every year, bringing needed help to the grain fields of the prairie provinces, earning extra money, and making a glorious adventure. This particular summer, the harvest was over, and word came that gold had been discovered in the Klondike.

My Uncle Sam and several of his companions decided on impulse to become gold miners and took off over the Chilkoot Pass toward the Yukon. They negotiated the mountains all right, and, somewhere on the Klondike headwaters, wintered and built a boat.

On the spring freshet, they moved downstream, coming to the confluence with the Yukon and continuing toward Dawson City until they reached the gold fields well ahead of the 30,000 other people who came upstream from Dawson City to seek gold.

Uncle Sam staked his claim and mined it until he had his fortune salted away and could pass the rest of his life in the pleasures of the idle rich. Then he sold his mine and went down to British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington State. He would have stayed, but his father was aging on the island farm, so he returned east.

When he got home, old Jock MacEachern, burning with curiosity, asked the impolite question of how much he got for his gold mine. Uncle Sam said, "I got what I ast."

It was in 1914 that my mother took me, her firstborn, to the island to meet my grammy and grampy and my gold Uncle Sam. I was but 6, but every detail of that summer is clear today.

Coming through a culvert under the road by the one-room school, Finnigan's Brook flowed the length of Grampy's 100 acres, crossed the line to bisect the big meadow of the Leigh farm, and then went into Vernon River to empty into Northumberland Strait.

Finnigan's Brook was full of trout. And I had a blue-eyed uncle who had nothing to do but take me fishing.

About the trout: The world has many trout, but our Eastern brook trout is class. Speckled, he is a sea-run fish that starts from the ocean, about the time of the spring gaspereaux, and he leisurely moves into fresh water to spawn in the fall. Many other trout do that in the spring. Over the eras, our "brookie" has learned to exist in both salt and fresh water. We do have another char, or trout, that is called a togue, or lake trout, but it has a forked tail, whereas our Salvelinis f. fontinalis, the eastern brook trout, is square-tailed.

The trout in Finnigan's Brook were sea-run, and if the stream were fished out, it'd fill on the next tide. I was told later that back when PEI was big with silver-fox pelts, the farmers would catch brook trout in great numbers to feed their foxes. And, perish the thought, Uncle Sam taught me to use worms for bait!

Uncle Sam's worm board saved him the work of digging angleworms. He laid a board on the ground under the eave-drip of the piggery. Rain and the nightly island dew kept the board moist, and, underneath, earthworms abounded. Lift the board, pick up worms, and go to the brook.

Uncle Sam said the best pool in the brook was under Leigh bridge. Big trout liked to lurk there in the shade of the bridge, but it was hard to work in a line and bait because of the current and the perky breeze that persisted under the bridge. A few days later, I went to Finnigan's Brook alone and I found Uncle Sam was right. I couldn't make my line behave. I gave up and began to cross over the bridge to fish up the other side, and for no reason whatever, I let my baited hook run down through the half-inch crack between two planks.

Before my worm reached the water, there was a vast splash, and I found myself attached to a powerhouse that was churning about in fury. I held my end of the line in both hands and entered upon extensive deliberations with myself as to what I should do. You can't lift a fish like that through a half-inch crack.

It took the rest of the afternoon to wade around, catch the swimming line, hold it with one hand, and grab my trout with the other. It was a beautiful trout, and it approached suppertime when I started for Grampy's. I met Uncle Sam, who'd come out to see what had happened to me.

He said without a doubt this was the biggest trout ever caught in Finnigan's Brook. They had no scales to weigh a trophy trout, so Uncle Sam climbed to the loft over the piggery, where he opened a trunk of things he'd brought back from the Klondike. He found the pan balance scales he'd used to weigh gold by the Yukon River.

I wish I could tell you how big that trophy trout was, but I was never instructed in the heft of a pennyweight. But it's probably safe to say no Arctic char is on record by troy weight.

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