This is neither a cautionary tale nor a work of fiction. Rather, it is a factual account of the activities that took place a week ago last Friday, as all official records will indicate, during my latest trout adventure. Little did I know that the roles were to be reversed and that it was the fisherman was to be the catch of the day.
For one almost fateful morning my person was the subject of a joint manhunt co-ordinated by agencies of both the United States of America, land of the not so free anymore since the passage of The Patriot Act, and Canada, land of the timid politicians who do not want to ruffle the feathers of the bald eagle. And then there was little old me, middle-aged, fish-addicted, and somewhat still suffering from two months of cabin fever who needed to feel the tug of a fish the way a junkie needs a fix. I was a trout junkie. A trout terrorist…..the Una-Trouter!
The day started quite inocuously, the sun was shining, birds were chirping in the treetops, squirrels played and life was finally returning after a long winter. Then it began to turn into a hellish nightmare which had nothing to do with the fishing. You see, I was fishing border waters and had parked my suspicious black truck at the end of a dead-end country road in the middle of nowhere, not fifty feet from a snowbank and large obelisk shaped stone with U.S.A. painted in red across it that demarcated the borderline between Canada and the US. This border is the longest unprotected border in the civilized world and many parts of it, like this one, are basically patrolled by squirrels and crows.
But on this particular morning, an unusually warm and unseasonably early Spring day, I knew instinctively something was afoot as a helicopter was doing fly- bys along the border as I parked my car. Naturally, a black SUV with a lone guy donning his waders, sipping coffee from his Thermos, and rigging up his rod was all highly suspicious activity to the uber paranoid forces of freedom and warranted further investigation. I waved at him from the middle of the road in plain view as a pre-emptive gesture of my innocuousness and to impress upon him that I was not trying to conceal my presence, but this apparently wasn’t sufficient to allay his fears that I would soon be terrorizing the drop-down brown trout planted originally by the New York State Fish & Wildlife Dept. As I trudged through the deep snow in the wooded valley that led towards the river, the helicopter hovered above me like a pesky insect for the next three hours, every so often dissappearing beyond the treeline for a few minutes and then returning quickly, as if to catch me in some felonious act, like priesting a brown and chucking it in my creel, or pissing in the middle of the river. It was like a cat and mouse game. It was beyond certainty that somethng important was going down although what I didn’t realize at the time was that it was me that was the center of all this activity. Standing in the middle of the river, helicopter hovering above me every few minutes, scaring the piss out of every trout for miles, I began to think that maybe they had been tipped off about some smuggling activities or perhaps the transportation of illegal aliens, remembering something like that that had appeared in newspapers a few months earlier.
It would not be the first time this area had been used for smuggling. Historically, this area had once been a notoriously prominent smuggling route during the era of Prohibition in the 1920’s in the U.S. and it was rumored that Joseph Kennedy, the scion of that great American political family from Massachusetts, built his family fortune from the booze smuggled along its dirt trails.
The water was still quite low, almost still at winter levels and there were no fish in the best pools, at least none that I managed to catch, perhaps none quite bold enough to feed with a giant pterodactyl hovering above their lies. After a few hours of fishing without any success and somewhat disconcerted with the airborne activities, decided to call it a day and return back to the car, hastened when the helicopter seemed to land near the area where my car was parked. This was not a good sign, nor a positive portent of what was soon to transpire. I cut across a wooded field as short-cut to the dirt road that led back towards my car. It was not longer than a few minutes after reaching the road when a black GMC Envoy pulled up quickly behind me, doors flung open, and two agents jumped out with their pistols aimed at my head. It was a scene right out of Cops! I almost shat in my waders as I raised both arms, steelhead rod in one and camera case in the other, towards the sky. Holy Shit! I thought to myself – what did I do now? I hadn’t even managed to catch a goddammed trout!
It sounds cliché but for a nanosecond my life flashed before me, like single frames of old super 8 movies that had been spliced together in a collage of my earthly existence, and one thing stood out as I stared at my fate down the barrel of cold steel as a victim of mistaken identity that eventually becomes part of the fabric of fishing lore and the stuff of urban legend. Hear the story of the poor bastard got shot fishing for trout on the Chateuguay? One thing stood out above everything, which was that the story could not yet be over as the end had not yet been written and there was more to accomplish. I was not ready to die on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and like all creatures cornered, immediately went on the defensive.
Whoaaaa!!!WTF is going on? I stammered, careful only to move my lips.
Is that your car parked at the end of the road?
Yessir, but what’s the problem? I’ve been parking there for thirty years.
I’ll ask the questions here. Get in the car!
They holstered their guns and my sphincter immediately loosened forty newtons of pressure. One of the officers opened the door for me after I had broken the steelhead rod into halves, trying to avoid more tragedy by snapping them in the door or something equally stupid. The driver – a young aboriginal, a definite asset for police forces in this area of Mohawk reserves that lie across both borders of the St-Lawrence river – radioed ahead and confirmed that they had got their man and would be arriving momentarily. I sat silently in the back, stunned that I was their man, yet secure and certain in my innocence and that I had not committed any infraction other than fishing poorly, and grateful that what brains I had weren’t lying splattered all over the gravel road behind me.
To my complete and utter amazement, when we arrived in view of my car, there were several other vehicles swarmed around it, like a pack of ravenous wolves surrounding their helpless prey, ready for the kill. The helicopter had landed in the farmers field next to the road, its rotors idle and shining in the sunlight and standing nearby were a total of twelve agents (they work in pairs in case somebody’s shoe becomes untied) with their hands on their waists, handguns menacingly visible in their holsters at their side, and none smiling like they were waiting to audition for a toothpaste comercial.
Look what I caught said the native enforcer, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
This was my welcoming commitee: Canada Customs, R.C.M.P., Homeland Security, I.N.S, A.T.F and F.B.I. – and not one of them thought to bring some Tim Horton’s cofee or donuts! The whole gang had showed up just for me, who hadn’t even managed to catch a decent trout that could be offered up as proof of my innocence. After twenty minutes of interrogation and the establishment of a reasonably credible alibi for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the atmospheric pressure in my underwear let up, the boys cooled down and laughed amongst each other at their error, realizing perhaps that they had acted somewhat prematurely and how they would ultimately have to write off the expensive manhunt in their report as an exercise. That was basically what my plan was as well and a few minutes later we were all laughing about it and drinking hot coffeee from the Thermos that my wife had brewed me earlier in the day. When I inquired about the sudden presence of activity on the agent replied 9/11 which I reminded him was over a decade ago. There were not too many Al-Quaida fishing this section of the river, at least none that I had come across. I had fished this section of the river for several years since then, both early in the season and in mid-Winter when it was at its best and most desolate of other anglers, and had never had any incident nor seen any human being at all, including other fishermen. At one point one of the agents conceded that the river was also used to smuggle drugs into Canada and it was ususally people disguised as fisherman that would pick up the drugs on this side of the border. It seemed their modus operandi was to float valuable bricks of cocaine downstream with a gps chip attached so that it could be located by the recipient somewhere downstream. Sometimes they never made it across the border, perhaps blocked by a deadfall in the middle of the river, or sucked into a whirling back-eddy, or maybe get lodged under a rock at the base of a rapid on its nefarious journey towards the destruction of some Canadian user’s septum. This was usually done early in the season when the river was in spate and smugglers dumped it in the water somewhere below Sam Cooke bridge in New York State a few miles upstream and hoped the package made it across the border, otherwise they needed to retrieve and attempt once again. It was not an entirely sophisticated system and we all had a good laugh about it. About twenty minutes later, when the agents finally cleared away and the helicopter dissappeared over the treeline and left me once again alone in the woods, I began laughing aloud at the absurdity of the singular thought that immediately popped into mind. It had suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the fish weren’t active because one of those packages had ripped open somewhere upstream depositing its contents into the clear waters and that the fish were too coked out and were way beyond the pedestrian lure of worms!