The trout rose and struck. … “Run up to the sporting department,” I said to Jim, “and get a landing net.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 12, 1934.

“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do you like my new fishing costume?”

“Beautiful, Jimmie!” I cried.

And it was beautiful. It was a rich Donegal tweed with large patch pockets and big pleats behind his arms and down the back.

It had plus fours so baggy and so long that they hung nearly to his boottops. It had that look you see in the advertisements of the very latest English styles in the very smartest American magazines.

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “you wouldn’t go fishing in that lovely suit!”

“Why not?” demanded Jim, still turning round and round for me to see him in all his Old Country splendor.

“Why, it’s for sitting on the verandas of exclusive clubhouses!” I declared. “You could go to the races in it and get your picture in the rotogravure. It is for walking about the lawns of those magnificent homes in Toronto’s latest up-the-creek suburb. That isn’t a suit for going fishing. That is a sport suit.”

“Isn’t fishing sport?” asked Jim.

“It certainly isn’t,” I assured him. “Look at sport model cars, sport model clothes, well-known sportsmen and so on and you’ll see what sport means. Sport means where there are a lot of people to see you. The races, baseball, horse shows. That’s sport.”

“What is fishing then?” inquired Jimmie, draping himself carefully on a chair.

“Fishing is a pastime,” I replied.

“Then this is my new pastime suit,” said Jim. “I am sick and tired of seeing people looking like tramps when they go fishing or camping. I see no reason why people should want to look dirty and shabby when they go forth to commune with Mother Nature. If we love Nature we should put on our best raiment when we enter her temples.”

“That’s good, Jimmie, but it isn’t practical,” I said.

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “These tweeds are as easy and loose as any old sweater I ever had. And these plus fours are twice as easy as any canvas pants I ever bought, badly cut and cramping your movements. And can’t I drive my car and walk across meadows and wander along streamsides quite as happily in these garments as in a lot of misshapen cast-offs? Won’t I feel better fishing in these clothes?”

“They’ll get dirty,” I said.

“There is no dirt in the country,” said Jim. “It is in the city there is dirt. In the country all is clean and pure. You dust off any clean earth that might touch you. I say, save your old clothes for the city, where there is dust and soot and filth and grease. And save your good clothes for the lovely clean country.”

Humble Ancestry Calls

“You certainly seem right,” I admitted, “but there must be some reason back of the universal habit of putting on shabby old clothes to go fishing.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Jim. “It is the Old Adam in us. We are descendants of a long line of dirt farmers, sheep herders, peasants, peat burners, cotters, laborers, shingle splitters, and so forth. In every ship that came to Canada a century ago there were, in the cabins above deck, two or three families of nervous gentry, younger sons of obscure small town politicians who had enough pull with Queen Victoria’s uncles to get their bewildered offsprings jobs as surveyors, curates, town council clerks, and so forth in the colonies.

“Down in the steerage, below decks,” went on Jimmie, “were some hundreds of odds and ends, starved farmers, unemployed carpenters and masons, wild young men, people who could no longer pay their rent or who were sick and tired of Napoleon and his wars and the Duke of Wellington and his peace, and who came heaving and rolling across the Atlantic to a promised land of freedom and opportunity.

“Now,” said Jimmie, redraping himself on the chair, “those half a dozen nobles in the cabin above decks have multiplied enormously in the past three or four generations. And those hundreds down in the steerage have practically died out. No trace of them remains. There is not in the whole of Ontario a single descendant of the steerage. Who were your ancestors?”

“Er-ah –” I said.

“Precisely,” said Jimmie. “Your ancestors were English officers retired on half-pay and given big land grants or something? Or were they government officials sent out to help rule the illiterate colonies?”

“I wear old clothes when I go fishing,” I said humbly.

“Good!” applauded Jimmie. “Good for you. An honest man. You wear old clothes when you go fishing because your humble ancestry calls to you, your humble blood begs within you to dress for a little while the way your race has dressed for ages – in homely and undistinguished garments.”

“I see,” I said.

“You love to put on old clothes,” went on Jim, “because it gives a feeling of spiritual honesty. No more pretense. No more bluffing. There you stand, in ragged garments, and all your ancestors for a thousand years, in the bogs of Ireland and on the sheep-clad hills of Scotland, salute you!”

“When I am fishing,” I admitted, “I do seem to see people on the hillsides.”

“However,” said Jim, “I have bought this suit to go fishing in and to go rabbit shooting next fall. I am through with my ancestors.”

“I would be willing to bet you,” I said, “that in my old brown pants and green sweater I could catch more fish than you can in that fancy sport suit.”

“Clothing,” said Jim, “has nothing to do with it.”

“I bet you,” I repeated.

“Ha, Getting Respectable!”

“I take you,” said Jim. “I wish we could I go fishing right now.”

“We can,” I stated.

“It’s the middle of the week,” said Jim.

“We can go fishing right now,” I insisted.

“For suckers or mud-cats in the Island lagoon?” asked Jim, with all the contempt of Donegal tweed.

“For speckled trout,” said I, “one and two pounders. Fourteen to eighteen inches long!”

Jim undraped himself from his chair.

“Where?” he breathed.

“In the basement of a departmental store,” I said, “right here in town.”

Jim looked at me wildly.

“There is a fountain down in the glassware department in the basement of the store,” I went on. “In that fountain are at least two dozen trout. Big ones.”

“But we can’t fish for them,” cried Jimmie.

“Who is to stop us?” I asked.

“Why, the floorwalkers, the store detectives, the salesgirls,” said Jimmie, disgustedly.

“We could fish for ten minutes before anybody could make up their mind what to do,” I said. “The first salesgirl to see us fishing would have to run and tell an older salesgirl. And she would have to go and find the manager of the glassware. And he might be hiding behind any one of those tall counters of glass or pottery. I judge we would have a full ten minutes.”

“‘It sounds nutty to me,” said Jim.

“See,” I cried. “That’s what fancy clothes do to you in fishing. It takes away your nerve. It makes you respectable.”

“It isn’t that,” muttered Jim, who hates to be accused.

“Let’s run up to my house,” I said. “I’ll get on my old green sweater and canvas pants. We’ll use one fly. We’ll toss to see who gets first cast. If the first one of us doesn’t get a trout in five minutes he hands the rod to the other. I bet you I get either a bigger or more trout than you do. And I lay it all on the clothes. Because we will be using the same rod, leader and fly.”

“It sounds nutty,” said Jim.

“Ha, getting respectable!” I sneered.

“What will we say when they stop us?” asked Jim.

“We will say we are simply testing out a fly we had bought at the sporting goods department.”

“It still sounds nutty,” said Jim.

But he stood up and took his hat.

We slipped into my house and I got into my green sweater and canvas pants. I also got my old fishing hat. I got out my light fly rod, reel and line. And we drove downtown.

Fishing in the Fountain

At this season of the year it is not out of the way to see a gentleman carrying a fishing rod. We got into the basement and I led Jimmie over to the fountain, where he stood and stared with rapt joy at the pool in which some large goldfish and a few mud turtles profaned the crystal water in which lazily great olive colored trout fanned the water anxiously and felt the spring creeping through their veins. Unhappy trout, I thought, as I looked at them. Here in a pool, safe, no doubt, but so far from all the mischief and adventure of the dancing stream, the changing skies, the soft sweet loveliness of May…

“Ah, well,” I said, “we’ll be giving them a little fun in a minute.”

“Sssshhh!” warned Jim.

Three ladies, four men and two children were standing about the fountain, gazing without a word at these fish lazily moving about the limpid pool. Especially the men. They were shabby men. They needed haircuts. They stood with hands behind them, with one knee bent, as if they had been, and were going to be, there forever. It would be nice, I thought, to know the thoughts that wandered in the minds of these four shabby men, standing staring so secretly at the trout, those jewels of the Madonna.

I led Jim back from the fountain and we got behind a pillar which was piled high with glassware. Nobody was around and nobody would pay any attention. I jointed the little rod and quickly threaded the line and knotted on the leader.

“Toss,” I said.

Jim took a coin and tossed. “Heads,” said I.

And it was heads.

I walked casually over to the fountain. Jim came behind me. I smiled two of the four men out of the way, and then I knelt beside the fountain. I whipped out the line. waved it to yet a yard or two of length, and then dropped the little greeny-gray fly fair over the nose of the biggest of the trout.

Crash! The trout rose and struck so instantly, so savagely, I had no idea how homesick he had been.

I stood up. The trout raced frantically about the pool, lashing it into a foam. The other trout raced crazily about and the goldfish fluttered excitedly about. A mud turtle became so perturbed he climbed right out of the fountain and started for the exit.

“Run up to the sporting department,” I shouted to Jim, “and get a landing net!”

Old Clothes are Luckier

By this time, of course, a crowd was gathering. One of the shabby men was shouting encouragement to me in a hoarse Scottish voice. Ladies were screaming. Then I felt a hand grip my arm and the gentleman who turned me around was a stranger.

“Pardon me,” I cried, “don’t you see I’m busy!”

And then my line came free. A sickening sensation. The trout was off. Peace descended on the pool. But the crowd was starting to mill about for a view, as crowds will when the victim is a small man.

“My friend,” I said, “will explain. We were trying out a new lot of trout flies we had got at the sporting goods.”

“What friend?” said the man who had my arm.

Jimmie was standing over by the decanters, in all his tweedy magnificence.

“That gentleman over there,” I said, “In the tweeds.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” asked the man, looking me up and down, hat and all.

“Certainly: he is with me.”

“Ha, ha,” said the man. He wore a blue suit. He had a cold Irish countenance.

“Jimmie!” I called, as the man shoved me through the gathering.

But Jimmie just picked up a decanter and looked at it appraisingly, as if he had not heard me.

The man took me up to the sporting goods. Fortunately, the manager knew me. He explained to the man in blue that I was an ardent angler, a fly fisher, in fact, and that at this season of the year all anglers, but especially fly fishers, were likely to be a little touched.

I bought two dozen flies and the matter was closed. I unjointed the fly rod and went quietly back down to the basement. Jimmie was standing by the fountain, looking with interest at the trout.

“Well,” I said, “I guess I win.”

“I wish I had won the loss,” said Jim gloomily. “Look at that trout there, the one by the corner!”

I turned cautiously and there was the large man in the blue suit, his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels and toes. He was looking straight at us and there was no expression at all in his eyes.

“Old clothes,” I said to Jim, “are luckier than new clothes.”

So Jim is going to save his Donegal tweeds for the races.

Editor’s Notes: Plus fours are a particular type of trousers, popular at the time.

Rotogravure is a photographic process, but by this time, meant the photo insert section of newspapers like the Star Weekly.

Donegal tweed is a woven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).