September 1948: I am 17 years old and a recent high school graduate. This is my last day of freedom, so to speak. Tomorrow, I am being shipped off to Ithaca, NY, to attend Cornell University, to become something, I suppose, but I do not know what, since it is my father’s idea, not mine. There are no community colleges or trades schools to attend at this time, so not many choices for a college education. I am afraid and uncertain of the future, but right now, at this moment, I am happy to be on the River.
I’m trolling in Canadian waters with a wooden red and white Pikie minnow lure about 150 feet behind the boat, my faithful Dobbs. The trees are in full fall colors – reds and yellows everywhere. Psyche Island looks like a colorful flowerpot floating ahead of me, maybe a half mile away. Across the head of Sugar Island is the town of Gananoque, marked by its church steeples and smoke from the steel plant that hangs above it in the air. The River is dotted with tiny rafts of multicolored leaves, floating and drifting for a beach nearby. I am aiming for the boat house on Psyche Island, so I hold my course until Scorpion Island and the head of Sugar Island line up. Along the way, I feel a slight tug or two as the lure bumps along the deep-water shoal. On this pass there are no weeds in the water and the Pikie lure is throbbing wonderfully along. I turn and head downstream closer to Axeman Island and look at the large cottage high up on the island.
Cruising along, I am still lost in thoughts of tomorrow, afraid of failure, and of letting my family down. Suddenly, a fish hits the Pikie lure as I was right opposite Sugar Island. The jolt of the fish jars me out of my far away thoughts.
The fish runs off another 100 feet of copper line before settling down to just pulling and twisting in its attempt to escape. The fish breaks the water’s surface 100 feet or so away; he is much bigger than my skills are to get him into the boat. I have neither the expertise nor the practice to handle anything that big. My guess is that the fish is at least 36 inches long or even bigger and much larger than any fish I have ever caught.
I begin slowly reeling it in and soon have the fish alongside the boat with about 1 – 2 feet of water between the boat and the fish. Uncertain about what to do next and how to get the large fish in my boat, I have to act quickly. I lay down my pole on the seat, still holding it down with one hand and grasping the gaff with the other hand. I attempt to grab the fish with the gaff, not realizing that I have the gaff barb facing out, away from the fish. When the gaff hits the big fish, it takes off, pulling about 50 feet or so of line. I quickly pick up the pole to fight back and finally get it about 2 feet away from the boat again. At this moment, the fish pulls off about 20 feet of line, turns, and heads for the stern of the Dobbs with enormous energy and loud flapping around. It appears briefly on the other side of the boat and then leaves for deep water, leaving my lure dangling on the strut. When I reel in the line, there is one tooth imbedded in the wooden lure, my only proof that this was not a dream.
I was destroyed. I had that massive fish right in my hand and failed to land it. It was all my fault; I lacked the experience and the confidence to handle the situation. I headed back home, so ashamed of my failure, I swore that I would never tell this story to anyone.
I never again caught a fish as big as the one that got away. This story, I know, is a typical fisherman’s story. Over the years, I have spent countless days trolling these same waters, over the rocky shoals and weed beds, to no avail. Perhaps Sugar Island held a curse over me that day. I was distracted about my future and not prepared when the big fish hit the lure. My short stint at Cornell University was similar to my experience with the big fish; I was too young, unprepared, and distracted. I only lasted only a year at Cornell and once again, I headed home defeated and ashamed of my failure.
By Manley L. Rusho
Editor’s Note: Manley Rucho has been writing articles for TI Life for several years – and each one is appreciated not only by his family and friends, but by readers on both sides of the border. When I read the last part of Manley's article this month, my first thought was that he was anything but a failure. In fact, after he returned home from Cornell he joined the Marines and served in the Korean war. He returned as a man and within a short time, as his daughter says, "he landed a good job with Bell System and he 'landed’ my mom!” He eventually went back to college and graduated in 1974 from prestigious Rollins College in Florida, with a master's degree in history. Yes, Manley L. Rusho is definitely not a failure! And as his friends all say, for sure he’s having a life well-lived!
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