With our pitiful little containers we ran and we chucked and we ran and we chucked while the bush fire let go its age-old war cry, a kind of crackling thunder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 1, 1946.

“Hand me up the hammer,” commanded Jimmie Frise.

But I was busy looking. Looking out across the bay in front of the cottage at a launch towing five canoes.

“HAND ME UP THE HAMMER!” repeated Jim.

“Oh, parn me,” I said, handing him up the hammer.

“Asleep?” inquired Jim, politely.

“No,” I said, “I was just looking at that darn launch. Look at it. Towing five canoes.

That’s the third gang that has gone up the river this morning.”

“They’re after walleyes,” explained Jimmie, up the ladder. “Pickerel. They’re probably going up to the Falls to camp.”

“But Jim,” I cried, “we’ve never seen anything like this before. Here we are on our annual cottage repairing trip – a month ahead of the holidays… why, it’s hardly the first of June…”

“We generally see a few fishermen at this season,” reminded Jim as he banged the hammer on the window screen frame.

“Yes, a few,” I protested. “But already this morning there have been three big loads of fishermen go up the river. Why, that’s more than you would see in July!”

“Probably Yanks,” said Jim.

“I’ll bet all three loads have been Yanks,” I asserted. “Jim, we are facing an invasion this summer. I bet millions of Yanks are coming to Canada this summer. Millions.”

“They’ll bring a lot of cash with them,” suggested Jim.

“Fresh cash,” I admitted.

“Strange cash, new cash,” elaborated Jim. “Not cash we have been shuffling around among ourselves.”

“And they’ll leave it,” I considered.

They’ll leave it,” agreed Jim, “and take nothing out with them. It’s a gift.”

“All they do,” I pondered, “is breathe a little of our fresh air. Catch and eat a few fish. And leave a few hundred million dollars fresh cash behind them.”

Jimmie banged the screen frame firmly home and came down the ladder. We stood on the rock beside the cottage and watched the launch with the five canoes slowly vanishing behind the point, up the river.

We could see the launch crowded with humanity. A wisp of song drifted across the quiet water to us.

“You see,” said Jimmie, relaxing and sitting down on the sun-bathed rock, “for several years now, there really hasn’t been much outdoor sport for the Yanks. Or for us either. Apart entirely from the men overseas – that is a million Canadians and maybe 10 or 15 million Yanks – even the folks who stayed home have had gasoline rationing, tire rationing and everything else to keep them from going afar into the woods and streams. This year, we’re going to see the pent-up desires of all these countless men let loose.”

“It’s going to be an abnormal explosion of outdoor energy,” I supposed.

“Correct,” said Jim. “Thousands of men who normally would do their fishing and camping nearer home have been saving up their money and their energy to take a real, far-off holiday. All the dreams and frustrations of the past four or five years are going to bust loose on us this summer.”

The Invasion Has Begun

“I’m told,” I put in, “that in the last six years Americans have gone outdoor MAD!”

“The way I heard it,” said Jim, “there is more American, money invested in fishing tackle, guns and camping equipment than in all other American sports combined, including golf, baseball, football, horse-racing…”

“Whoa, now,” I protested.

“Including horse-racing,” reiterated Jimmie, “with all its millions. Do you know how many Yanks annually buy a gun license in the States?”

“It would be millions,” I guessed.

“It would be just under 12 millions,” announced Jim. “At that rate, how many millions go fishing?”

“Say…” I muttered. “We’d better watch out! What if that tidal wave of fishermen were to start in this direction!”

“They’ve started,” said Jim quietly, pointing.

And there, around the island, came another large launch towing two rowboats and four canoes.

We recognized the launch as Joe Perrault’s from the Landing. Joe is one of our busiest guides.

We gazed across the twinkling water as Perrault’s launch slowly chuff-chuffed across the bay heading up the river. We could see short fishing rods projecting over the stern, regardless of the towed rowboats and canoes.

“Why, they’re fishing already,” I cried. “They’re trolling!”

“Well, you get some walleyes along there,” explained Jim. “At this season, the walleyes are coming down the river from the Falls and the sand bars and gravel bars near the Falls where they’ve spawned.”

There must have been 10 men in Perrault’s launch.

“Look. Jim.” I submitted. “Can our fish stand to this kind of invasion? If four big up. loads of them have gone up the river already this morning, and it’s only the end of May really, how many will be passing up the river in July and August?”

“They don’t all get fish,” reminded Jim.

“No, but they try,” I insisted. “And they get a good many fish.”

“Actually,” mused Jimmie, lying back on the rock, “in every 10 men who go fishing, there is only one or maybe two at the most who are good fishermen, who get fish. The rest are men more interested in being out in the open air, in the wilds, than in fishing. They are more interested in escaping from the city they dwell in, the country they know, than in fishing. They are more interested in escaping from their wives and kids. How can a man walk out on his wife and kids for two weeks? Why, by pretending to be an ardent fisherman.”

“Mmmmm,” I said, cautiously.

“That’s a fact,” declared Jim. “Some men take up golf. That is his excuse for getting away from his work and his family for a few hours at a time. Instead of having to come home every afternoon – now that daylight saving is on – and spend several hours listening to his wife yammering and his kids yelling, why, he pretends to be an ardent golfer and goes off by himself and wanders over the pastures. Escaped.”

“But fishing!” I suggested proudly.

“Ah fishing,” gloated Jim. “Fishing gives, you a real escape. You escape from your office, your job. You escape from your familiar city and surrounding country. You escape from your wife and kids. You escape from civilization itself. You put on old clothes, you dress like a beachcomber. You don’t have to shave. You don’t even have to wash. You can be the natural bum that all men are at heart.”

“All by pretending to be an ardent fisherman,” I chuckled

“That is why, it’s a mistake,” explained Jim, “to look on all these tourists as expert anglers who will tear the stuffing out of the game fish resources of this country.”

We heard distant shouting. We, glanced across the bay to where Perrault’s launch was heading into the river. But the launch was slowing down and turning. From it came confused shouting and we could see the figures of the passengers moving excitedly around.

“I’ll get the glasses,” I exclaimed, running for the cottage.

Through the field glasses, Jimmie and I watched the entrancing scene. One of the sportsmen in the stern of the launch had hooked a fish. We saw Joe Perrault swing his launch well out into the bay again where he stopped it to drift. We saw Joe drag one of the rowboats alongside the launch and he and the sportsmen got into it. Joe rowed clear of the launch and we watched the battle that ensued between the sportsman and what must have been a very big and active fish.

It was a walleye, all right, a big pike-perch. or pickerel as we call it in the east here. The Yanks call them walleyes. Probably the best eating fish of all.

A Smell in the Air

As Joe Perrault heaved it aboard the rowboat with the landing net, we caught a glimpse of it through the glasses.

“Eight pounds,” yelled Jim, who had the glasses.

“More like 10,” I said with the naked eye. And the crowd in the launch cheered.

“Well,” said Jim, sitting up. “What are we doing sitting here? Why aren’t we out fishing right now?”

“We’ve still got seven more screens to put up,” I reminded, “and when are we going to get at the dock? It will take three or four hours to fix that dock up.”

“Look,” said Jim firmly. “Four loads of Yanks have gone up that river since breakfast. Goodness knows how many loads of them went up before we woke. Goodness knows how many have gone up the last few days. Maybe there are 200 Yanks camped up at the Falls and on the river higher up. They are catching walleyes. They are eating walleyes. Right now, I can almost catch the smell of walleyes cooking in frying pans over camp fires…”

I sniffed.

“By golly,” I said, “I believe I can…”

So we got our tackle together and lifted the minnow trap down by the dock and got five good plump little minnows out of it.

And in the canoe, we set out along the shore towards the river to follow the pilgrimage. We did not troll, but anchored out in the fast current in the river, wherever it narrowed, and cast our minnows out to sink down into the deep water where the walleyes lurk. It is about three miles up the river to the first Falls where some of the best walleye fishing is to be had after May 15.

We poked along, pausing for a few casts here and there without any luck. As we paddled, another launch, towing three canoes, passed up river. We were close enough to see by the gabardine sport coats, fancy hats and horn-rimmed spectacles that the passengers were all from south of the border. We all exchanged cheery waves.

When we got within half a mile of the Falls, we could see a regular encampment was established. Boats and canoes were anchored out in the swift water below the Falls, and from the shore on both sides, figures were clearly visible in the act of casting out into the swift water.

There were big tents and little tents, open front shed tents and army pup tents.

“The war,” submitted Jim, “has certainly provided the Yanks with all kinds of new wrinkles in camping gear.”

Heading for a sand bar we knew to the west of the Falls, and well apart from where the visitors were fishing, Jim and I anchored and cast our minnows across the bar. And in 10 minutes, we each had a very nice walleye of about three pounds.

This is enough,” said Jim, as he knocked his walleye on the head. “Let’s go ashore on the point and cook them for lunch.”

That suited me fine. Our favorite point was practically our private property. Nobody else ever camped on it. It was a little balsam and pine and birch clothed point projecting out from the shore with bays on either side. In summer, those bays are full of good bass. We had a small familiar stone fireplace discreetly hidden on the point where we had cooked many a shore dinner of fresh caught fish.

We landed the canoe and gathered sticks for a quick hot fire that would burn down to bright coals for grilling the fish. While I got the fire going, Jim started on the walleyes, skinning them and taking off the fillets. They have a silver sheen all over them when freshly skinned. You put these fillets in a wire camp grill, with a slice of bacon over and under, and then toast everything over a small, low. bed of bright wood coals. Arrrnnnhh!

I got the fire going strong. I took the usual precautions of clearing away the dead leaves from the neighborhood of the fire. When the dead sticks were blazing fiercely and the larger dead sticks for the coals were piled on, I went down to the water’s edge to help Jim skin the fish.

“Look,” said Jim, “another load of them!”

Just nearing our point came another launch towing small craft.

And as we watched, the guide steering the boat stood up and waved at us and yelled.

“Hi-ya,” we yelled back.

But the guide signalled frantically and turned his boat towards us.

At which same instant, Jim and I heard a rising fierce crackle and a kind of whoosh. We leaped up and looked behind us.

To the Rescue

A spark from our dead stick fire had, leaped across the rock and had set fire to the dead leaves. The brush was afire!

Jim grabbed the tea pail and I grabbed my hat.

We dipped water and ran.

“Oh, oh, oh.” I moaned,” in front of all these visitors.

“Old timers,” gasped Jim, “like us…”

And with our pitiful little containers we ran and we chucked and we ran and we chucked while the bush fire grabbed hold of a little pine and a couple of small balsams and let go its age-old war cry, a kind of crackling thunder.

The launch with the strangers slid in and bumped hard. Out bailed the occupants, armed with pails and one of them with an axe. They didn’t talk or shout. They just went to work.

The tallest of them, with a Deep South drawl caught me and asked: “Do you know the lay of the land behind here? Can you get me around in the canoe…?”

I realized he knew bush fires. He ran to the canoe and I jumped in and paddled him. He had a big axe and I had one of their large canvas buckets.

As we shoved off, I happened to glance towards the Falls. Two launches were already half way to us, loaded with men. Small boats, canoes were streaming from the Falls in our direction.

We nipped around behind the fire, and landed 50 yards inland.

“We’ll catch sparks first,” said the Southerner, “until the gang gets here.”

And the gang got here, all right. In five minutes, they were landing all the way down the point, some with axes, some with pails. No shouting, no confusion: with their pails and axes, they were damping out the big floating sparks; with the axes, they were switching off the lower branches of balsams that were on fire at the top. I saw some of them cut down stout little balsams, in about five swift strokes of the axe.

In fact, in 20 minutes the fire was out. And only a tiny little tip of the point was damaged. Still they prowled, with their pails, seeking out and damping down every smouldering ember.

And still none of them had anything to say.

None except the one they called the Senator. He was a big, powerful fat man, wearing gabardine pants, gabardine shirt, knee-length hunting boots. From his pockets projected all the gadgets you’ll see advertised in the outdoors magazines. He had a 10-gallon hat on.

And he was the director of the whole operation, apparently. Everybody took orders from him.

He came wading through the burned debris and shook hands with us.

“Senator,” I said, “I can’t begin to thank you gentlemen for coming the way you did. This whole point would have gone…”

“The whole point,” boomed the Senator, “and maybe down the shore to the Falls.”

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are…” I repeated.

“What the hell else could we do?” demanded, the Senator. “We don’t want our favorite camping ground burned all up.”

“But…” I stuttered.

“It’s all right, son,” said the Senator. “All I want to say is, you want to take good care of this country. You want to watch your fires and don’t let any holocausts get loose. Remember, son, this is America’s Playground.”

And we all shook hands round and round, as they got into their boats and canoes and returned to their fishing.

And finally, just Jim and I on the point, we shook hands too.