Bisset

Remember I showed you a cropped faded out picture of Jim Simister? Well here he is full, taken at the lake shore after a day of fishing near Bisset Manitoba. On the left is my grandfather, (Afi because he is Icelandic), Magnus Julius Johnson (1905-1971). On the right is my father, Harold, whose Icelandic name was Haraldur. He is wearing an Icelandic handmade wool sweater, knitted by my grandmother (Amma), his mother, Bjarney Kristin Kristmundsdóttir, also known as Kristine Johnson (1897-1993).

That is a string of pickrel, also known as walleye, that I am proudly holding up with Jim Simister. The picture was taken by the old codger whose cabin we stayed in. I don’t remember his name, but you’ll see him in a picture coming up. This picture was taken at the end of a day of fishing.

It was a bit of a drive from Winnipeg to Bisset, roads back then weren’t the greatest. But the drive from the small town of Bisset to the cabin on the back country lake was even more adventursome. We drove for miles over nothing more than a two track pathway, through heavy bush, that brushed the sides of Jim Simister’s green Pontiac, the whole way. The cabin was very spartan, a large single room, with hand made wooden furniture, no running water or electricty and of course the toilet was a rickety old weather beaten outhouse, that a strong wind could have blown over.

We used two boats in our fishing. My recollection is that they were both row boats but that could be wrong, there may have been small motors, we covered a lot of territory in our fishing that day. I had to wear an old fashioned life preserver, in case I fell overboard, so I wouldn’t sink and drowned. It was like wearing pillows strung over my shoulders, cinched to my chest and back. This is what I looked like.

I’m standing up fishing with one hand and eating a sandwich with the other. The man in the boat with me is the cabin owner. He was also our fishing guide because he knew all the best places to go for the pickerel. His dog came fishing too. Nobody else had to wear the bulky life preservers. I guess there was no danger of them falling into the cold water and drowning (because they were adults).

Here we are, mid lake, showing off a string of fish. I had short hair that my father used to cut himself, because he thought he had barber skills and it saved money. Not long after this picture, I got a chance to use the fishing net to retrieve a fish that was being reeled in. But I dropped the net in the lake and we watched it sink down and out of sight, through the crystal clear water. After that we had to lift the fish out of the water with bare hands. Jim probably took this picture.

It was the first time I had felt something alive, pulling on a fishing line. It was like I could feel its life traveling up the line, down the rod and into my hands. A creature with a sharp hook impaled in its mouth, trying to escape with its life. I didn’t really like the idea of causing a living thing to die, but we were being fishermen.

We made a shore stop around mid-day for lunch. There were dishes to wash and cigarettes to smoke. You can see that my father has the same haircut as me. I wonder if he cut it himself.

I got to play with the guide’s dog. I tossed and he chased a stick along the lake shore in a small hidden cove. Just off the shoreline under a few inches of water, I found a waterlogged wooden pallet. It was odd to find a man made thing out in the middle of an un-named lake in northern Manitoba. I lifted it, to check it out, and several water leaches slithered out from under and swam away.

Here I am posing with the dog on the lakeshore. If I recall, I think the dog’s name was Dog.

Back at the cabin that night, Magnus and Harald cleaned the fish on a granite outcrop down by the shore. They left a huge pile of fish guts there. The guts were all gone the next morning. The Guide man said that bears would have eaten them during the night.

The drive home was long. It took hours back over the two track into Bisset, where we stopped for lunch. It was nighttime by the time we got back to Winnipeg. I slept in the back seat of Jim Simister’s green Pontiac while Jim, my father and grandfather shared the front seat. I stayed awake long enough to hear a couple of stories my grandfather told of his days as a commercial fisherman on Lake Winnipeg.

We caught very many fish. They were filleted, breaded and fried in butter and were delicious. Amma cut the cheeks out of the fish heads and fried them up too. They were apparently a delicacy. I don’t remember if I got to eat any of them.

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