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FISHING TALE RECALLED – a column by George H.W. Bush

Editor's note: This guest comment by George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, was obtained by former Deh Cho Drum editor Art Milnes after he learned the former president was passing through Yellowknife in the summer of 1997 on his way to a fishing trip on the Tree River in Nunavut.

In honour of the former president's passing Nov. 30, Northern News Services is republishing his column on his love of fishing in the North as it appeared in the Sept. 4, 1997 Deh Cho Drum

Former Deh Cho Drum editor Art Milnes, right, convinced George H. Bush to write a fishing column for his newspaper after meeting him at the Yellowknife airport in 1997. The column was published in the Sept. 4 edition. NNSL file photo
Former Deh Cho Drum editor Art Milnes, right, convinced George H.W. Bush to write a fishing column for his newspaper after meeting him at the Yellowknife airport in 1997. The column was published in the Sept. 4 edition.
NNSL file photo

I love fishing the Tree River. Way above the treeline, the fast-flowing Tree River pours its rushing green-grey waters into the Arctic Ocean, about a mile or two from where I fished for char.

As the waters race over the boulders and rocks, you can catch an occasional glimpse of the majestic char, struggling to continue their fight against the current, their quests to reach their destiny, up-river quest.

If thirsty you can cup your hands and drink of these pristine waters.

Yes, there are some mosquitoes around, but not enough to detract from the joys of fishing. Even a mild breeze seems to keep the critters away.

This year the weather was perfect. We fished in T-shirts, needing a sweater or jacket only in the early morning or late afternoon. The weather up there is variable and it can get wet and very cold even in August, but not this year.

There were a lot of chars in those fast-running waters, a lot of big, strong fish. My 13-year-old grandson, Jeb, from Miami, Fla., got a 25- to 30-pound fish on his Magog Smelt fly – a brown, wet fly that was very productive over the course of our whole trip.

He fought the fish for 45 minutes, following our guide Andy's instruction to perfection. The big red, finally tiring, came into the shallows just above some rapids, and then with one mighty surge of energy he flipped over the edge of the pool into the white-water rapids, broke the 20-pound test tippet and swam to freedom.

My grandson, not an experienced fly fisherman, had fought the fish to perfection. He did nothing wrong. All the fishing experts who were watching told him so, but those big fish are strong and tough and they never giver up.

I had 43 fish on my fly rod, only to bring two in the shore, Don't laugh. I was proud to have kept the fly in the water, kept on casting, having the thrill of having that many fish, even for a moment, on my No. 9 rod. I used an L.L. Bean reel.

As for flies, I found that the Mickey Finn, the Blue Charm and the Magog Smelt all worked well. So, did some others, the names of which escape me even as I write.

I tried some dry flies but they produced zilch in the way of action.

I found that I got most of my fish on when the the fly was drifting downstream, though I got two or three hits the instant the fly hit the water. One pool was narrow, right next to the fastest part of the river. I'd throw a fly out into the white-capped waves and it would be rushed by current into the pool. When it left the raging water and hit the more placid pool the fish would strike.

Miscellaneous observations

I did better on getting the fly unhooked from the rocks this year, though I did lose a tiny number of flies when they were claimed by some especially craggy rocks.

I learned that the way to get lots of fish on the line is to keep the hook in the water. Obvious? Well, maybe, but a lot of fishermen seem to hang out waiting for someone else to catch one before they'd do serious fly casting.

The rocks were very slick and at 73 years of age, my balance is less than perfect. Put it this way: I can't turn very well and I slip a lot. The felt-bottom boots help. Better still are the felt-bottom boots with little, diamond-hard spikes.

I fish a lot, but my advice is “get a good guide.” I had one in Andy, who in a very gentlemanly way pointed out my mistakes and helped me in every way. He was a good netman, a great fly adviser and he got as big a kick when I got a fish as if he had taken it himself.

Last observation

I found myself getting intolerant of those fishermen using hardware. There is something more sporting, more competitive, more difficult, more challenging about using a flyrod.

I know that the Drum paper is not quite the size of Toronto papers or the New York Times – but you know what? I bet the 800 or 900 readers of your paper know a hell of a lot more about fishing than the readers of those big city papers.

That made me hesitant about sharing these amateurish observations with you. But, on the other hand, maybe your readers will be better able to sense the exhilarating joy I feel when standing out there knee-deep in the ice-cold waters of the Tree River pools, communing with nature, counting my blessings, thanking God and catching some char, too.

I am a very happy and a very lucky man now. Because of my time spent fishing and the chance that fishing gives me to relax and think freely, now more than ever I see clearly just how blessed I really am. I served my country. I have a close family and a wonderful wife to who I have been married for 52 and a half years, and yes, I went to the Tree River and caught char.

Tight lines to all you fishermen!