The fish fought hard, leaping, diving and jerking…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 25, 1936.

“To tell the truth,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’m getting a little tired of this week-end business.”

“My dear boy,” I said, “on a day like this?”

“On any kind of a day,” stated Jim. “We work like maniacs all week. Why? To get away over the week-end. Then we drive like maniacs for two hundred miles. Why? To reach some distant point, where we work like maniacs again to enjoy ourselves a few hours Saturday evening and part of Sunday up until about three p.m. Then like maniacs we drive home again, two hundred miles. Why? To be on time to start work again like maniacs for the next week.”

“It does sound funny,” I confessed.

“It is funny,” said Jim, not laughing.

“But isn’t this swell?” I asked, looking around at the ripe fields wheeling past the car windows, the bright summer sky, the sense of being alive that filled the whole earth. “Suppose we didn’t work like maniacs, but only took life lazily all week and then took the week-ends lazily, sleeping all Sunday, would that be any better?”

“How,” said Jim, “about working like maniacs all week, week-ends and all? How about working like maniacs straight ahead for ten years? In ten years you and I could make enough jack to retire for life.”

“And die,” I suggested, “of over-exertion the year after we quit?”

“Nonsense,” scoffed Jim, who was driving; “that’s one of those notions set at large by the big shots to keep a lot of us from trying to be big shots, too. Look around you. Look at the people that are having the good time. Everyone of them are birds who had enough sense when they were young to realize that the only way to really enjoy life was to work like fury and gather in the dough. And then they could coast.”

“It’s the old problem,” I sighed. “To enjoy life as you go along or to toil in the vineyard and store up treasures in heaven. Or your fifties.”

“My fifties,” said Jim, “are creeping pretty nigh.”

“You’ll still be fond of fishing.” I assured him.

“And Russian pool,” sneered Jim, “and horse races and sailing and rabbit shooting and duck shooting and poker and…”

“I don’t know anybody,” I laughed, “who has as much fun as you.”

“It’s just frittering,” declared Jim heatedly. “Frittering, that’s all it is. I play pool in a pool room. I go to the races and stand in the jam. I have an outboard motor. I go down around Lindsay to shoot a few rabbits. I go and sit in a frozen bog in at lake where the ducks have been shot off forty years ago by the millionaires who used to own it. Do you know what I could have, if I worked and saved my dough?”

“Stomach trouble,” I said. “A sour puss. A mean disposition.”

“I could play pool,” said Jim, “in a swell club, with a marker in a white coat standing by to hold my cigar butt for me. I could sit in the members’ enclosure at the races on an ornamental bench, with nobody standing in front of me. I could own a yacht, a sailing yacht, and go on cruises down the St. Lawrence.”

The Whole Secret

“Would you invite me?” I asked.

“Instead of frittering a Saturday,” said Jim, with an expression so hard that I knew my old friend, if he ever changed, would invite a far better class of people than I on his yacht, “instead of dashing down to a swamp near Lindsay to shoot maybe one rabbit, I could go to the Rockies on a six-weeks’ hunt for grizzles and mountain sheep and moose. Or maybe on safari to Africa after big, dangerous game.”

“Look at Hemingway,” I said. “Hemingway used to just be a plain newspaperman like us, working on The Star Weekly, and he started to work and wrote novels, and now look at him. Shooting elephants.”

“Lions,” said Jim. “And for duck shooting I could take a month in December and go down to the Gulf of Mexico to an exclusive club and shoot a thousand mallards.”

“By the time you had made enough money to do all this,” I explained, “you would be changed. You wouldn’t want to do anything so silly as shoot and fish and go to races. You would only want to do something sensible, like building a bank or buying a mine or a railroad.”

“You can’t take out of a man,” said Jim, “the things the Lord put into him first.”

“That’s the whole secret,” I agreed. “And the Lord put little pleasant things in us, like wanting to be happy and fish and go motoring in the country like this. Or shoot rabbits. If the Lord had put into us the desire to shoot lions or sail yachts He would have fitted us up with the steam for making big money.”

“Right there,” said Jim sharply, “I disagree. It is all a case of taking the easiest course. You and I could make money as easy as any broker or shirt maker. But we would have to work. We’d have to give up all these silly week-ends. We’d have to sell our rods and guns and stuff. We’d have to buckle down.”

“With a goal in view,” I agreed, “I could work as hard as any man.”

“All my life,” said Jim, “I have smiled at these big shots who work like fools, scorning the little amusements of life. But now I am beginning to think the smile has been on me. How many fish have we got this year for all the trips we’ve taken?”

“It’s been an off year,” I admitted.

“It’s been an average year,” stated Jim. “I bet we haven’t got forty trout apiece, and so far about fifteen bass apiece.”

“I nearly got a muskie week before last,” I reminded him. “Remember the fellow who got that twelve-pounder just ahead of me? If he hadn’t been there I’d have got that muskie.”

“We fished trout every week-end in May and June and bass and muskies ever since,” said Jim. “Do you realize that if we had the spondoolicks we could go to places where we, could catch forty trout in an evening and fifteen bass in one hour?”

“It would be illegal,” I pointed out.

To Be Big Shots

“What would we care, if we were big shots? No, sir. Down where we can get on our frittering little trips everything we want has been gone years ago. But out in the distant places, far beyond the reach of anybody but the rich, there is everything we want. Grizzlies in Alaska. Lions in Africa. All the wide sea to sail in. Lovely, strange countries we will never see. Secret, lovely places like Greenland; and we feel excited going to Muskoka in January. Places that make you cry just to look at them, like Rome. And we get a big kick out of Niagara Falls.”

“I guess the ones born in Rome don’t cry,” I supposed, “and when they get a picture postcard of Niagara Falls they put it up on the wall and keep it for thirty years.”

“You have been filled,” declared Jimmie, “with the bunk that is taught by the big shots for the purpose of keeping you happy and out of the running. Suppose we all tried to get rich? How would the big shots like that? So they teach us to sing ‘There Is No Place Like Home.’ And they go to Africa.”

“Jim,” I accused, “you’re a Communist.”

“I am only sore,” said Jim, stamping on the gas and shooting the car recklessly past a string of slow-goers, “at all this piddling around and never getting anywhere. I’m sick and tired of it. I feel as if I never wanted to go on another week-end. I feel like cutting out all this trifling and getting down to work. I’d like to have about two hundred thousand dollars.”

“How could you make that,” I inquired, “in ten years?”

“By working,” said Jim. “And saving. And putting every cent away except what I really need to live on. Capital is the secret. Capital begets capital. Money works. The more I saved the smarter I would get at making it. The more money I had the more I would mix with men who make money and they would inspire fresh ideas in me. I could think up marvellous advertising art. I could presently found a company for producing advertising art of a new and sensational kind. The money I make I would invest in other companies that I would know, from my wealthy friends, were money makers. We’re saps.”

“I could write novels,” I submitted, “and movie scenarios. I’ve heard of men making a hundred thousand dollars out of a movie scenario. Two of those and I’d have two hundred thousand. And in less than ten years.”

Jim drove in silence, with a fierce expression on his face. I sat thinking of writing two movie scenarios.

“All right,” said Jim suddenly. “I’m set. I tell you, this is the last trip. If it weren’t for you I’d turn right around now and go back home and head straight for the office.”

“Don’t mind me,” I assured him. “If you really are convinced, Jim. I would be only too glad to join you. These great resolutions come like this. It’s a sort of spiritual thing. You suddenly see things clear and plain. Turn at the next corner.”

“Are you with me?” asked Jim, his face strained with the depth of his feeling. “Do you feel as I feel? Are we fools? Shouldn’t we cut out all this frittering and get down to work? Shouldn’t we make hay while the sun shines and be free men, in a few years, to go where we like, to the ends of the earth, to where there is fun and beauty and life?”

“Turn at the next cross-roads, Jim,” I said breathlessly.

Seeing a Great Light

“What a sap I have been,” groaned Jim, shifting restlessly and gripping the steering wheel with excitement. “Don’t ever speak to me of week-ends again,” he cried. “Don’t ever try to show me a snapshot of a fish.”

“I’m changing, too,” I reminded him. “Not more snapshots.”

We came to a cross-roads. Just a country concession road. Jim put out his arm to warn the long parade of week-end traffic. He swung the car into the little dirt road. “Take your time,” I warned. “No gap in traffic in sight yet.”

“Here’s a car coming out,” said Jim. And he drove his car a few rolls farther down the dirt road to let pass a gaudy-looking green car that was coming out to the highway.

But the outcoming car halted and a man stepped out of it.

“Are you going in to Camp Cumfy Duck?” asked this gentleman, who was sunburned and jolly looking and wore a linen cap.

“No, sir, we’re not,” said Jim politely, but in the manner of a man who knows his own mind.

“Sorry,” said the linen-capped gent, eyeing our fishing tackle and gear. “Going fishing?”

“No, sir, we’re not,” said Jim, in the same presidential manner.

“I’ve come away,” explained the tanned gentleman, “with the favorite lure of the head guide at Camp Cumfy Duck, and I was hoping you were headed in there to save us a nine-mile drive back. Ever been to Camp Cumfy Duck?”

“Never,” said Jim, as if the interview were now ended.

“Greatest muskie water in Canada,” said the genial fellow, heartily. “You look like a couple of sports, or I wouldn’t mention it. Wait a second.”

He skipped around the back of the car and lifted the lid of a rough box leaking ice water.

He hauled forth a, muskie of at least twenty pounds. It was jade green. It was barred with deep shadows of darker jade. It was square-built and powerful. Its immense jaws were fanged with pearly white scimitars. Its baleful eye was proud and fierce, even in death.

Jim got out one side of the car and I the other.

“How much?” asked Jim.

“Twenty-one pounds,” said the sportsman, and his partner, a lean man, got out and joined us at the back of the car.

Out of the ice packing our new friend drew forth five more muskies, eight- pounders, ten-pounders, twelve-pounders.

“All taken,” he stated proudly, “on the Tipsy Giggler. A very sporting bait. Single hook.”

“Very,” Jim and I both agreed, hefting the fish. “Very,”

We laid them out on the grass by the roadside. We admired them and measured them. We lifted them up and laid them down.

“Camp Cumfy Duck?” said Jim. “I never even heard of it.”

“You never hear of the good places,” said our friend. “The only places you ever hear of are the ones that have to be heard of or else nobody would go, since the fish are all gone.”

“That’s true,” said Jim, as if seeing a great light. “By jove, that’s a fact. You said it.”

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “we were looking for some likely spot to spend the week-end. I wonder would there be room at Camp Cumfy Duck for us?”

“My dear sir,” said the new found friend, “I’ll give you a note to the proprietor!”

So while Jim and I lifted the fish reverently back into the ice box the man in the linen cap wrote a note on a scrap of paper.

And down the side road we drove, eight bumpy, swampy miles, to a pleasant old summer hotel on a quiet reedy lake where islands and patches of rushes showed where the muskies rolled and fed of an evening.

We had a quick supper. We shoved off in a skiff. We coasted past the first patch of reeds. I in the stern, Jim in the bow, casting. With Tipsy Gigglers.

“There was really no use turning back,” said Jim, “not when there were muskies so handy. But this is good-by.”

Jim sped his lure like a bullet deep into a pocket among the rushes. I cast mine high and true across the far end of the reed patch. We started to draw the lures home. A sound like a calf falling in the water attracted my attention to Jim’s lure, where an enormous boil in the water indicated trouble.

“Sock him!” I shouted. Jim socked. A huge crocodilian form of jade green leaped tumultuously out of the reedy water.

“Jim,” I roared, “It’s the fish of your life.”

I felt a violent jag at my rod. I looked. Another vast boil in the water appeared just about where my lure would be. I struck.

Out, waggling heavily from side to side, came another monstrous muskie, his jaws agape, to flounder with my Tipsy Giggler dangling from his lip.

“Farewell,” roared Jimmie. “Hello!”

And of the perils we met and mastered, the dreadful rushes of those simultaneous fish, their dives into the reeds, their leaps high into the air on the end of our fragile lines, the times they went under the boat, the times they sulked and the times they raced, I will not detail; because matters of this kind are of interest only to those who wield the dainty four ounce casting rod in the face of the tiger of all fishes.

But we got them. We got them. Jim gaffing mine, holding his doggo meantime then I gaffed his. And we shook hands a score of times and shouted and sang, and rowed back to Camp Cumfy Duck, vowing never would we leave it for any lesser kingdom of the blessed.

And when, long after gutting and icing our great fish, we retired to bed hoping for tomorrow, I said to Jimmie:

“Look here: how about this frittering business? This conversion? Going after big money?”

“Fate,” said Jim, sleepily, “must have overheard us.”

Editor’s Notes: As has been established elsewhere, Jimmie likes playing pool, specifically Russian Pool.

“Spondoolicks” is slang for money.

$200,000 in 1936 would be $4,280,000 in 2023.

Gaffing in fishing is a secure with a hook. “Doggo” at the time meant “keeping quiet, in hiding”, but it does not seem to fit how Greg is using it.

This story was reprinted in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).