Seemingly endless months of partisan bickering, accusations and denials, half-truths, gossip, innuendo, and lies have finally come to an end. The mud that was slung has barely dried to dust, and some are already hatching schemes for the next time around. Some are angry, some are too stunned to speak, and others would like a chance to catch their breath and clear their head before tackling the hard work ahead. A few small voices have even been heard crying out for a time of healing.
That’s right, folks, another season at Fish in a Barrel Pond is in the past. (Surely you didn’t expect political commentary from Quill Gordon, did you?)
A fly fishing magazine left behind in one of the camps this summer had a section titled “Fly Fishing Dream Jobs” or somesuch nonsense. Since I hear so often how dreamy my job must be, I flipped through the pages in search of myself. At first, I thought there must be some mistake but a second perusal convinced me there was no mistake about it. Nothing but a deliberate editorial decision could explain the absense of Fishing Camp Caretaker from that dream job list and for a while I was a tad more than miffed.
I like to imagine there is more than one Fishing Camp Caretaker in the world and I believe he, she, or they would have been miffed, too, but then I gave it some thought and not only understood the omission, but was also glad for it. I am sure my imaginary comrades would agree, it would just jerk our tears from their little ducts, against their will, to see the looks on the faces of some people who think it sounds like an easy gig, after they’ve done it a few days.
The boats have been pulled from the water and the camps sit, empty and cold. The woods are the colors of grouse and coyotes and deer. Bare branches moan, icy puddles crunch underfoot, and the most notable sound is the silence of the empty clips on the flag rope, tied down where they can’t constantly clang in the breeze.
An affectionate look back on the most recent season at Fish in a Barrel Pond seems appropriate right about now but, lest anyone get the idea it’s all bamboo and moonshine around here, this won’t be that.
A few numbers:
Beds made prior to arrival of anglers, their familes, and guests = 754
Bath towels distributed for use by anglers, families, and guests = 2153
Used bath towels picked up and returned to linen service = 2022
Rolls of toilet paper = 639
There is still work to do (actually, it never really ends) and it’s fine with me if some people think I’m in my recliner 10 minutes after the last carload of anglers heads down the hill on the last Sunday of the season. Heck, it takes a lot longer than that to get back up the hill if I’ve chased after them, throwing eggs. The magic wand I supposedly posess is an illusion and, yeah, I just might enjoy the first peace and quiet in six months watching some football but the next morning just might find me battening down the hatches against some crazy blow. Then, two days of cleaning up after that blow might allow regularly scheduled activities to procede.
There are those among the members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society who still lament the installation of showers and water heaters in the camps around Fish in a Barrel Pond because they made things more comfortable and encouraged visits by women and children. Hot showers and families remain important parts of life around here, in spite of curmudgeons, making supply and disposal of water matters of some consequence. A few hours of effort now, before the freeze settles in, can make a big difference next spring when things thaw out and anglers are again at the gates.
Water is drawn from a single well, treated (a whole ‘nother story), and distributed to the camps around here through an overly complicated network of pipes, patches, and valves. Where that water goes after people are through with it will enter this conversation in a bit, but know now that water expands when it freezes. To remove water from the lines so it doesn’t freeze, one valve closes, shutting off the supply, and after every faucet, shower, and spigot on the property is open another valve allows the water in all those pipes to drain out.
Most of it.
More valves are used to isolate each camp from the others, and compressed air pushes what remains through the shower and faucets while the water heater drains. Toilet tanks and bowls are emptied, then partially re-filled with a non-toxic antifreeze which is colored pink so there can be no doubt it is there.
Up the stairs, down the stairs, in and out, back and forth, some day I might measure to figure out how many miles I’ve covered, just draining pipes. Every valve, except the supply shutoff, is in theory left open for the winter and I’ll know how good a job I did some time in April. It’s not fancy plumbing by any means, hardly an inch of it original, but it is interesting and bears the scars of many winters, along with the handywork of half a century’s worth of my predecessors.
That’s a photo of a large set of slip-joint pliers, the flat sides of which are sometimes used as a hammer. Note the tape, wrapped around the jaws years ago to prevent marring of delicate fixtures. For how I use them in the spring, when opening for the season, see Quill Gordon and the Nonesuch Mountain Howler.
The “job” part of this dream can be a shock for those unprepared. Chainsaws and bath towels, slip-joint pliers and toilet paper – the demands never stop (and we still haven’t dealt with that waste water thing). Throw dealing with people into the mix, especially adult males, and you’d be doing a little happy dance in November, too.
Some people really, really, don’t like being told what to do and bark in protest at my unreasonable demands and strong language, no matter what I ask or how I ask it. Saying “please” makes it a request of them and requests, being entirely optional, are easily ignored or denied. Saying “thank you” is seen as a sign of subservience, and not saying it can be read as gross insubordination. Either way, if they feel like pouring bacon grease down the drain, by gosh, that’s what they’re going to do. At least they’re not pouring it out by the back steps any more.
They tell me to get off their backs about the bacon grease and say it’s no big deal since they wash it through the trap with lots of hot water. That grease and water slurry then becomes the reason for rainbows, as far as those chuckle heads are concerned, I guess, but to the well-qualified holder of this Fly Fishing Dream Job it becomes something that has nothing to do with rainbows at all.
An angler once said to the board of directors, “Quill Gordon’s been fishing every time I was here this year,” and I could not dispute what he said, for it was the truth. I remembered each of his five visits very well, mostly because he is at best difficult and usually requires one or more of our rules to be read out-loud, slowly, to convince him that they say exactly what I said they say. The problem with his statement was that, to some people, it sounded just the same as “Quill Gordon fishes all the time.” Much clearing of throats and considerable harrumphing ensued.
Each and every member of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society is required to to register in a gigantic log book kept on the porch of the lodge whenever they come on the property, and that book was brought forth, in order to determine just how many times the man might have seen me fishing. When the entries for the season were searched, no accounting of the man’s presence was found, meaning he was either lying or in violation of the rules. When he agreed to make a $100 contribution to the Annual Picnic Beer Fund the matter was dropped, but I added one more name to the list of people who shouldn’t see me fish.
The Men Who Think I Fish Too Much are just the sort to associate with the Bacon Grease Gang, united by the belief that they could do a job like mine and their common desire to yank my chain. I try to, but can not, avoid them, no matter how many escape routes and hiding places I’ve laid out.
All that grease that goes down the drains, no matter how hot the water it’s mixed with, eventually congeals somewhere. If it makes it all the way to the first tank in a camp’s septic system (the one where the “solids” settle out), it floats and attempts to escape into the next tank, from which the “liquids” are pumped uphill to a large, engineered sand drain field. These escape attempts are foiled by a plastic filter, six inches across and two feet long, that slides into a sleeve over the drain and is, according to some, where rainbows come from. Each camp has a tank, each tank has a filter, and every dang filter needs to be cleaned, thanks to the Bacon Grease Gang and The Men Who Think I Fish Too Much.
With a north wind blowing 20 knots, gusting to 40, and sleet balls bouncing off my back, I bent to the task a few days ago. Kneeling in mud and leaning across tanks of sewage, I cleaned bacon grease from septic filters, performing one of the most romantic tasks associated with any Fly Fishing Dream Job ever, which is not to say there wasn’t a rod riding around in the back of the truck with the septic filter brush. If doing one-handed push ups over an open septic chamber doesn’t deserve a few casts, nothing does.
“I can see by your outfit that you are an angler,” is not something I often hear. The most comfortable, appropriate, shoes I own come nearly to the knees of my trousers, which lately are stained and caked with mud. A little snug back in April, those trousers now sag loosely from suspenders. Three shirts keep me warm beneath my heavy canvas coat which weighs nine and a half pounds (seven if I remove the air chucks and miscellaneous hardware from the pockets) and long hair blows from beneath my knit cap, which is a color not found in nature.
With that strong wind from the north, I had worked my way around so I finished at the camps on the east shore. The gusts were at an angle to the dock on which I stood and the trees behind me left no room for a conventional cast, so I cast sidearm, with my line parallel to the surface. My weighted nymph was blown in and behind my head on the back cast, and I had to hop over my line as I brought my rod forward with my elbow straight up. My fly sailed out, was caught again by the wind, and headed for the trees but I saved it by hauling line and bringing my rod back, thereby hooking it in my hat instead.
Things went a little better after that, once I got the hang of hauling, ducking, and hopping, but the sideways-blowing wind shifted and became so strong that, at the end of one cast, my line was simply suspended in the air with my fly flapping wildy in the breeze. I lifted my rod and I lowered my rod but my line would not drop and my fly would not hit the water. It was quite a puzzle, figuring out how to get that fly wet, but no matter what I tried it returned to the same position, thirty feet out and three feet above the waves. Not even the quarter-inch sleet balls from a passing squall could knock it down. I needed a heavier fly.
The danger quotient went up considerably, I know, but I managed to launch a big, weighted Slump Buster across the gale and it sank like a stone. Stripping it in, I felt a tug on the third pull and set the hook hard. My rod bent deeply as it was raised and I could tell immediately by the action on the other end that I had hooked into one of the biggest, meanest logs on this side of the lake. Taking solace in that at least I had fished, I tugged until the tippet broke and my line came free, thrashing uncontrollably in the wind and nearly whipping me to death as I reeled in.
So, if you find yourself on some lonely country road and come across a large, hairy man wearing big boots, dirty clothes, and smelling of sewage and bacon, you may wonder what the heck he’s doing, swinging and ducking and hopping in the driving sleet. You might even be envious, I don’t know. People think all kinds of things when they see Quill Gordon, living the dream.