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                                           By Maria Voltsinis

My alarm clock started to go off at 3:30 a.m. on that Friday morning in late September.  Not my customary time to wake up.  I usually awake at 5:30 to get started for a day at the office.  Today was different.  Instead of putting on a stuffy crisp suit and shoes that echo with each step, today I had a sweater, a pair of long johns and jeans neatly folded awaiting me. Today I was going on my very first trip to the Ganaraska River or the “Ganny” as I have heard it called lovingly by some.  And I was going with a man who probably knows the river better than any living being.  Mr. Gord Deval.  And I was his student.  A privilege.

As I pulled up to Gord’s house at 5:15 a.m. the garage door began to open before I exited my truck.  I was early.  Gord said to be there by 5:30 a.m.  I did not want to be late. He was in the garage putting on his boots. 

           “Good morning, Gord” I said.

           “Oh, good morning Maria. I wasn’t expecting you to be early.  Usually people are late and I am sitting in the Jeep waiting for them.”

           “I couldn’t wait”, I said, “shall I get my gear”.  Truth is I could have happily been there at 4:00 a.m. waiting in my idling truck for the adventure to begin.  And what an adventure it would be.

I went back to my truck to get my knapsack, lunch and and tackle, including my newly purchased 5’ ugly stick.  I also had my other rod, a 7’6” medium action rod with a reel that I was going to transfer to the ugly stick and lastly my chest waders.  I locked up the Toyota and made my way back to the garage, where Gord took one look at my 7’6” rod and put it to the side of his garage.  It was not welcome on this trip. 

I flinched a bit.  I knew that Gord wanted me to use a manual retrieve reel.  But I thought that I would have difficulty with that set up alone, and would be able to fall back on my spinning outfit with bail intact.  For some reason or other, I didn’t say anything.  I let him put the rod to the side.  And that was that.  We climbed into the Jeep and made our way north on Warden Avenue to the 401 and then east to Port Hope where the Ganaraska River runs through it. I was on my way to the Ganny!  Before long we made our way to a farmhouse where we had special permission to use the backroads to make our way to the Ganny.  Dawn was just breaking as we approached the farmhouse.  I was excited.  We pulled into the drive and made our way past the main house and into the back where a huge silo loomed before us. 

“This is where you are supposed to park if you come here on your own, beside the silo.  But we are going to drive in to get closer to the river.” Gord said.

He began to drive to the far right of the huge farm field.  To our right there were trees and signs everywhere. No Hunting.  No trespassing. To the left, open field.  He drove slowly, peering out the driver’s side window looking for mushrooms. 

“This is where I found the giant Puffball Mushroom the last time I was here,” Gord said.

He pointed out a few other Puffballs, but declared them to be too old to be any good he said.  So we kept on.  We continued to the bush.  The Jeep wound through the forest on a tiny bush-trail.  The trees created a cavern.  Leaves and branches brushed against the truck.  The sun was just rising and the light was filtering in through the leaves. It was surreal.   After what seemed an eternity we came to a small clearing.

“Were here” he said.

As I opened the door, I was vacuumed out of the car and into the pureness of the day. It was 6:45 a.m.  I looked around.  The Ganny was there before me.  I didn’t know what to expect other then a few hours on a river that was foreign, but looked welcoming.  We put on our boots and waders.  Gord fitted my rod with one of his own manual reels then attached a Blue Fox Vibrax to the line using a double improved clinch knot.  From my tackle box he picked out a few more lures and off we went. 

We walked about 5 or 10 minutes and then came to the bank of the river.  He began teaching me with great patience how to use the manual retrieve.  While teaching me he hooked a small rainbow.  He gently removed the rainbow from his lure.  He is an excellent teacher.   I still have a lot to learn.  But a solid foundation was gained.  We were ready to move on after about an hour.

“Ok, now the fun begins, lets go fishing” said Gord.

I had seen fish unlike I have never seen before.  Big Chinook Salmon... browns and rainbows.  It was really like a dream.  The ultimate fishing dream.  In a way I wish I had been able to take advantage of practicing casting with the club at Milliken Pond during the summer to hone my skills so that I was not so distracted by the beauty of the Ganaraska River and the size of the monstrous fish that kept swimming by during this lesson.  But I was distracted.  Who wouldn’t be? 

Gord was very kind.  He knew which fish would probably hit.  He always asked me to cast first.  He wanted me to get a fish. 

“Cast in front of that fish,” he said.  “It’s a small jack”

So I would try to cast accurately.  But would get flustered with the excitement.  The patience on my teacher’s part never wore thin.  Gord may be known as the “Old Guy” to most.  But to me he is a teacher, a patient teacher.  A teacher who gains only from the gain that his students make.  Unselfish and very giving. 

As the morning marched forward, I observed him with great admiration.  I watched him cast with extreme accuracy.  I watched him work his lure as though a butterfly were swimming in the water only to be lifted out and immediately cast into the slow moving current again.  This beautiful day, sun shining, wind minimal, current swift but forgiving.  I was happy.

Gord was about 20 meters ahead of me.  He was casting over and over again in the same spot.  At one point he looked back at me and said “I see a beautiful Brown”.  I stayed where I was.  I did not want to spook the fish.  I continued to cast where I was and waited. 

“Did you see that?” he asked.

“See what”, I said.

“The most beautiful Golden Brown Trout, about 4 to 7lbs.” he said.

His eyes were as bright as I had ever seen them. 

“Sorry Gord didn’t see it” I said.

He looked disappointed and said he must have cast about 20 times and the fish wouldn’t take his lure.  But the colours of this fish.  A beautiful gold.  Colours he would never forget.  We continued on up river.

At one point Gord stopped and said “this is my favourite place”.  I absorbed this point in the river.  It was the most beautiful spot we had been to as of yet.  A gravel bed separated the river.  Trees hung over the right of the river almost as hands trying to scoop the gravel bed from where it was set.  I took out my camera and asked Gord to pose for a picture.  As soon as he took off his hat and held it near his heart, I knew.  This was the spot.  He became a bit quiet as we moved on up river.  So did I.

Gord continued to cast.  I continued to cast just behind him.  We made it to a bend in the river and I decided to move ahead.  Gord was covering a pool and I decided to climb up a slight embankment to cast a bit.  I wanted to perfect my newly acquired skill.  I wanted him to know that his instruction was not in vain.  So I cast out into the pool.…..he did not see what I felt was a perfect cast, and a perfect working of the lure, as per his instructions.  The cast felt good as soon as it left my spool.  Then I worked the rod tip like a pro.  I thought if only Gord or someone could see how perfect this cast was.  I wasn’t even thinking about the fish.  Then it hit...

“GORD”, I said.

“GooooooooOOOOOOOORDDD... I’VE GOT ONE ON!” I screamed in a quiet drawl.

I couldn’t believe it.  Fish on.  Not a small one either. 

“Come over this way, Maria, closer to me so you  can play it from the bank here,” Gord shouted. 

So I made my way towards him.  It was a fish I was sure I would lose.  Beautiful silver flashed in the water as I worked it towards the sandy bank were Gord was standing.  The look on Gord’s face will forever be etched in my memory.  The smile is there, frozen in the walls of my brain matter.  Freshly painted.  I tried to bring the fish in.  But she had a lot of fight left in her.  I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get her in with my 5” rod and my 6 lb test line.   But with Gord’s instructions I guided her to the shore and soon tried to tail her.

The slime made it very hard to get a good grip.  She slipped out of my hand, fighting, and back into the water again. I worked her back close to the bank.   I gripped her again just above the tail and literally dragged her onto the sandbank.  I had her.  A beautiful Chinook salmon.  Later measured to be 30” in length and weighing in at just less than 11lbs.  I had trouble holding her properly.  She still had a bit of fight left in her.  Gord took some pictures of me literally holding the fish as though it were a newborn. Cradled against my chest.  Very funny the dance I had with this fish.   At least Gord thought so. 

After that, we walked back to the car, fish in tow.  We took a few more pictures by the car with the fish after she was measured and weighed.  Then to the bank of the river to clean her.  I have never cleaned a fish this big.  Gord pulled out a knife out of a sheath made of leather.  The blade glistened.  It was engraved with something I couldn’t make out.  The knife was a gift to Gord from an admiring fisherman from Europe.  I was pleased to use it. 

“Do you want to try to clean the fish?” Gord asked.

“For sure” I said smiling.

I cut as Gord instructed only to discover a huge amount of roe in the fish.  Approximately 2 lbs according to Gord.  We bagged the roe, removed the rest of the innards and then bagged the fish.  Then we were off again.  We still had some more fishing to do.  Let me tell you, I think I was now high.  There was nothing that could disturb this happiness and exhilaration that had overcome me. 

We waded upstream the opposite way we had been.  I was still reeling from the excitement of my fish.  I was content just to make my way a couple of meters behind Gord.  He wanted to bring his wife, Sheila, a brown trout home.  Something not too big, just enough to make her a meal that she would love.  I think Gord was still thinking of the golden brown trout that had escaped him earlier.  I don’t think he had forgotten about that fish.  It was in his mind, and he wouldn’t let it go.

Gord hooked onto a huge fish not 100 metres into our walk.  I immediately took out my camera.  I knew that I was witnessing what was and is my teacher actually doing what came naturally to him... to fish.  It didn’t take long as he was actually concentrating on what he was doing whereas before it was about me and my learning.  I was content.  I pulled out my camera and set it to video.  Even though I was observing, I was still an ardent pupil learning. I watched as he played the fish.  It was twice the size as the fish I had just landed.  He played it.  Then the hook was out of its lip.  I have this on video, as my digital camera will prove. 

Again, just down the river, Gord hooked another monster he called Big Mamma!  My god, this fish was at least, the very least, 3 feet long. Gord said between 25 and 30 pounds.  He hooked the fish at about 12:15 p.m.  and played the fish, walking upstream about 300 metres until it cuddled up into a bank. 

“Maria,” he instructed, “ please throw some rocks over there to see if we can scare it loose.  If it goes around that big stump, and fouls the line on it, it’s game over for sure!”

I threw rocks.

Big Mamma broke free.  Gord managed to bring her around again.  She was a monster.  Big Mamma, all right!  It was a while that Gord fought the fish, at one point handing the rod to me and saying, play her awhile.  I tried to play her.  She was huge.  I could feel her head jerking from side to side probably trying to get the hook out of her mouth.  I think that I must have put too much twist in the line by reeling against the slipping clutch while tryhing to play Gord’s monster.  He was still teaching me when he was trying to get this monster in.

           After about 45 minutes of fighting the line broke when the line, badly twisted fouled on his rod tip as the salmon made a final lunge for freedom.  Big Mamma made her way down the river to a spot where she sat with all her might in the current.  Gord and I made our way to where she was situated.  I think big Mamma was laughing, because when the air bubbles popped as soon they broke the surface of the water, I heard the ‘ha ha’ rise above the water. 

We were done.  It was around 1:00 p.m. and we needed to get back to Toronto.  I don’t think Gord was upset with losing Big Mamma.  Not at all actually.  What he was truly upset with was the Golden Brown, that elusive Golden Brown that was spotted earlier.  This is all he talked about after the giant salmon finally took off downstream.  This Golden Brown was what he hasn’t stopped thinking about the whole time since he had seen it just before 10 a.m. that morning.

We climbed into the truck, pulled out our lunches and began to eat. 

Gord began to back the Jeep up…... and then the embankment gave way... we were too close to the side of the embankment and with the rainfall up until that perfect day the front right tire slipped, causing the front end of the car to drop scarily over the edge.  We ended up perched at a 90 degree angle on the embankment, eight feet above the water.  This was too much for me. 

The rushing water of the once venerated Ganaraska was now a menacing sight below my window...four feet deep and eight feet below. I didn’t see my life flash before me, what I saw was me moving swiftly out of the passenger seat, as per Gord’s quiet instructions and out the half-opened left rear window headfirst. Gord’s door opened and he exited. 

“Shit!” Gord swore.

           “Shit!” said Maria.

This continued for a short while. The exchanges of “oh shits”.

As terrifying as the ordeal was, when I looked at Gord, I did not see fear, what I saw was a Golden brown trout still dancing in his eyes and I know he saw... a big Chinook in my eyes. And I was waltzing with the salmon. Everything was going to be alright.

           It was after a long hike to the farm where we borrowed an enormous come-along winch and with help eventually managed to extricate Gord’s Jeep from the potential disaster so it could be ready to take him to do battle  on another day.