Posted by: alexhickey | June 5, 2017

Trouting in St. Jacques Pond

Were one able to line up, end-to-end, the thousands of trout caught in St. Jacques Pond throughout the generations of people from St. Jacques and Belleoram it might rival the ‘squids’ in the Ted Russell recitation, The Smoke Room on the Kyle. Many a young boy and girl experienced catching their first fish on the shores of that pond under the tutelage of an older more experienced trouter.  Trouting St. Jacques Pond was a common thread that ran through the surrounding communities and succeeding generations.

Author with George Drake at St. Jacques Pond c. 1958

My early trouting experiences in St. Jacques Pond were with my father and a cousin of his, George Drake, who would lead me by the hand up the hill at a most leisurely pace, for George didn’t move too quickly under any circumstance, beyond the home of Uncle Den and Aunt Hilda McCarthy.  The Tibbo family had a grass meadow adjacent to the southern end of the pond which made for easy access and a comfortable place for trouters to sit and enjoy the ambiance of the valley.  I don’t recall catching many trout on those occasions; however, I do recall being coached to cast my line out into the water.  The length of the bamboo pole seemed at least five times my height, making coordination a bit of a challenge.  It seemed that no matter how hard I swung that pole towards the water I could not get the hang of flicking the line.  Each time it mysteriously fell to the surface just feet from where I stood, yet when George took the fishing pole to demonstrate, the string effortlessly arced through the air and landed well out into the deeper water. Little skills like that seemed magical at the time.

Later, as a pre-teenager I spent endless hours with other kids from the neighbourhood, Carl and Tom , Cliff, Kev and whoever else was inclined to spend an hour or two getting their feet wet clambering around the shoreline.  Everyone had their favourite spot which they fished until the trout stopped biting, then moved on to another.  We could be seen standing at any location where water flowed in or out of the pond, jockeying for the best or most solid rock to balance on; that is until ones feet slipped into the water.  After that, getting wet wasn’t a concern and wading out into the pond to fish farther off shore was routine among us.

Sometimes we would encounter others fishing the pond and give them wide berth for one didn’t want to be accused of interfering with their success by making noises that might frighten the fish away.  Usually these were folks of our own age from Belleoram, many of whom we knew.

Later still, I took my young daughter back to St. Jacques Pond for the experience of trouting. We climbed through fallen trees and over grass covered boulders to reach the mouth of the brook which feeds water from the Barred Pond upstream.  There she learned to cast a line into the little pool and reel in her first brook trout.  The glee in her face translated to an excited dance of stamping her feet, splashing water well above the tops of her ten inch rubber boots.  She was willing to assist with placing worms on hooks but drew the line at removing a wriggling trout from that same hook.

Trouting is a passion for young boys and girls; one that courses through their veins, a passion to get the gear ready the night before and motivation for an early rise the next morning.  Bait, of course, was always a per-requisite to catching trout. After dark on damp foggy nights there was a ritual in our neighbourhood to hunt for night crawlers; larger worms that emerged from underground when the grass was moist with evening dew.  We would walk, bent from the waist along those pathways where we knew they could be found, one hand holding a container and a flashlight, the other hand at ready to grab the crafty worm before it deftly withdrew into the earth.  Like every other sport those that got away were always bigger than the ones we caught.

There was a level playing field amongst most of us.  Our implement was the bamboo pole, rigged with cotton line, a hook at the end weighed down by lead weights.  In the absence of lead weights a small machine nut from the garage of one of our parents sufficed. Depending on the depth of water, the bobber could be moved up or down at will.   There were those among us who preferred not to use a bobber but to troll the hook through the water resulting in much more frequent casting of the line.  It was inevitable during every fishing excursion to the pond that one of us would hook a tree when casting, requiring some effort to disentangle the line; or hook a rocky ledge on the bottom which meant maneuvering to the left or right along the shore to dislodge it or in worse circumstances part the line and add a new hook.  Occasionally one would flick a trout so hard that it came off the hook and land in the woods – the big ones we’d look for with futility, the smaller ones we’d ignore.   Each of those took time away from our primary tasks and were not looked forward to by anyone.

We were among the world’s best trouters.  We prided ourselves in never coming home empty-handed. It’s a wonder the trout population of that pond ever survived, but it did and is still as healthy as it ever was.  A couple of years ago two of my nephews were visiting and wondering where they could go trouting.  I showed them the way to St. Jacques Pond and turned him loose.  Every morning for the next week they were wetting their lines, carrying on a timeless ritual and bringing home just enough trout to fill a small frying pan!

A recently deceased friend of mine, George Pauls, once described to me in a letter his experience of catching trout in St. Jacques Pond around 1930. Below is his description of standing entranced to see Teacher Fanny Cluett of Belleoram fishing the pond in her hip waders.

“She was an ardent fisherperson (trouter), and in summertime, after those overnight light rains, we would be sure to bump into her the next morning somewhere in the brook or along the eastern side of St. Jacques Pond where she, fishing with a split-cane rod equipped with a fly-fishing reel, landed some of our best be-speckled beauties to frequent the area.

Her equipment sparkled like gold to our eyes – us with our roughly ‘chopped in the woods’ trout poles, fitted out with coarse line and hooks baited with worms; the excess line wound around the butts of the poles, making it a nightmare when traipsing through the densely growing brushwood. Ms. Cluett wore hip-high waders well strapped to her belted breeches which was something of a novel arrangement at the time, especially with regard to the female standards that existed.

Seeing her wade ashore with a couple flicking on the skiver to be wrapped in moist moss and placed in the wicker basket that she wore slung from her shoulders, was just as exciting as watching her cast and reel with such precision.

She would take the brook somewhere in back of where the Allans lived (about mid-way between St. Jacques and Belleoram) and follow it southward to the lower or northern end of the pond where she did some clever casting and collecting of a few of the larger of the species, possibly of the sea-run trout that entered the water system from the Doctor’s Brook, as it was called till the water went over the falls which were partially dammed, then it was known as Pittman’s Brook.

From that end of the pond she would proceed along the eastern side and fish in a few favourite spots, whipping the waters out and beyond the reach of our tackle.  We did alright too, of course, but in her basket were the prize ones.”

What George described was the dedication of a committed trouter willing to go the distance to get the “prize ones.”  We, on the other hand, were joyous when we hooked one over five inches, whether we caught it or not!  But for a few of us we were quite content to walk home with a half dozen threaded by the gills on an alder branch, our rubber boots squelching with every step, dried fly bites behind our ears and a victorious grin upon our faces.

St. Jacques Pond

A few other things for you to investigate …

Smoke room on the Kyle – Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation

Newfoundland and Labrador Angler’s Guide 2017-2018

Newfoundland Brook Trout

 

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Responses

  1. A wonderful story about Fanny Cluett. She was my grandfather’s 1st cousin so I guess mine, twice removed. I believe my grandfather, Arnold Cluett, and his father John, built a schooner in St. Jacques. My dad talked of living there for a while and being friends with two boys his age whose family owned a store on the main street.
    I am retired to picton, ON and have done a lot of family tree work, origionally inspired by notes on the family Rev. Vernon cluett sent my dad.
    Jack Cluett

  2. Thanks Alex for providing me with stories of St Jacques If my m was still alive I’m sure she would smile reading the stories you have provided


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