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> The Muskie Bites Woman Myth
alfredo
Posted: May 29, 2011 - 06:45 am


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Ervin wanted to call the North Bay Nugget to set the paper right about the muskellunge biting our tourist. It took some persuading, however I finally prevailed and we kept the story alive. As I said to Ervin that day, we can live off this headline for years. This fall we closed Muskie Lodge for the last time, so you might be interested in learning what happened on August 28, 1972. The fishing is still good, down in the West Arm area of Lake Nipissing, but our camp relied on the American Plan system and the new rules by the health department simply made it impossible for us to turn a profit as they forced us to meet the new regulations.

Over the years, we upgraded the cottages, even put in private washrooms in each unit; we kept the communal showers since the health people allowed us to drain the grey water into a holding pond, not the septic bed. Three years ago, we put in satellite TV. However, installing a $40,000 walk-in freezer and fire-proofing the cooking area simply did not fit the bottom line of an old seasonal fishing camp. It was bad enough keeping sales tax records on chocolate bars, playing cards, jointed-pikies and Rapalas but the new HST on video rentals was just another straw we did not need. So we closed Muskie Lodge. We sold the island where Muskie Lodge stood for almost 80 years and we can retire on the proceeds. Ironically, the purchaser was the fellow whose wife at the time was bitten by the muskie.

For those who do not remember, the last week of August in 1972 was a scorcher. We talk about the dog days of summer and this was a prime example. A large high system had settled over all of Northern Ontario. The sky was the same dusky blue every day, the winds calm. The temperature hovered in the 80-degree range during the daytime and only dropped into the 60’s at night. It was hot, sticky in daytime, and not much better at night. The fish stopped biting. Ervin could not find the muskellunge and he was using the old standby tale about the muskie losing their teeth at this time of year as an explanation for the lack of action on the lake. The perch were still biting but the Bay Street Boys came every year at this time for muskie, not perch. Not even the promise of a catch of walleye would do for them. Despite the searing heat, they cast, they trolled and even bobber fished for that one big muskellunge.

The Bay Street Boys are a group of young hotshots who fish hard, drink hard, play hard and leave great tips for the women who clean the cottages and serve the meals. Young John, who hustles the boats and bait, does very well the last week in August. For reasons that slowly became clear, a woman came with the twelve men in 1972. She was the new bride of one of the men and she did not belong in a fish camp. I think she was worried that her husband was heading up north for a week of debauchery, not muskie fishing, and she insisted that she accompany him. The thought of touching a slimy fish was too much for her. The dining room was boorish because the cedar tables did not have tablecloths, only oilcloths. The food was too plain, the mattress too soft and the water too cold for swimming. The men played poker too late into the night and the one late-season mosquito in the camp bit her. Her name was Alice and she was very pretty, especially sunbathing on our dock when the men were out throwing nylon line around underwater stumps, lily pad roots and tree limbs growing too close to shore.

Despite her attractive looks, she finally ticked off everyone in the Lodge. She even lost all sympathy from Ervin our guide when, on the evening of August 27, Ervin warned her about dangling her feet off the dock in the evening. She might attract a big muskie that could bite her. When she told him to ‘###### off’ even Ervin was offended. Ervin has a little native blood in him and he held his tongue where I might not have. But that little native blood loves a joke too.

August 28 was hot. The still air was heavy with the taste of wood smoke from faraway forest fires. The sun took on an orange glow as it lowered in the evening sky, bronzing the ripples around the dock. The men, tired from another hot frustrating day in the boats, decided to sit out on the long porch on the lodge after dinner, sipping cognac, smoking cigars and talking of years gone by when the muskie were biting.

Alice, as was now her habit, went to the dock and dangled her feet in the cool water. Unseen, sixty feet away, I pulled the snorkel over my mouth and slipped into the water. Ervin wandered down to the dock and repeated his story about the muskie. Even the men on the porch were telling Alice to watch out. In defiance, she splashed her feet more vigorously. Waiting under the dock, I took a deep breath, dove and then grabbed her ankle with the rough leather glove I wore. I pulled her off the dock, tugged enough to scratch her foot and released her. Ervin jumped in to save her and the fact that he was fully clothed added veracity to the story reported by Alice’s husband to the Nugget the next day. Alice insisted on bandages for the little scratches but that made for a better photograph in the newspaper.

Yes, we lived off that story for many years. “Muskie Bites Woman” is a good headline. It was on our notice board at the Lodge for 35 years.

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