D.C. I have a fish story that was told to me by Ivor Johnson. I think it was Jake Smith, who ran the East Pine ferry, who told Ivor that he once caught a fish up there that was so big that when he threw it across his pack saddle the head and tail both touched the ground. Ivor thought this over for a while. The next time he saw Jake he skeptically asked him about that big fish touching the ground on both sides of the pack saddle. “I didn’t say the pack saddle was on a horse!” Jake laughed. Was that exaggerated?
R.N. Ernie Knutson used to tell some big fish stories too, but he told us lots of times that he saw fish in there as big as a man.
D.C. Ivor said that the Jackfish were a huge size in the Pine when they first came here.
R.N. There were bull trout. Esswein used to catch big bull trout. We were up the Pine once with Esswein. “I’ll get a bull trout,” he said. “That will be enough for three of us for dinner.” That was Bud Lineham and I and himself.
He shot a squirrel, and he had a hook big enough to tie a garden rowboat up with. He just stuck a leg of that squirrel on that big hook and threw it into what his wife called her “private fishing hole”. In a few minutes he had a bull trout. It didn’t take the hook but he didn’t let go of the leg of that squirrel. Esswein was down on his knees on a rock, and eased him along, and eased him along until he hooked his fingers in his gills. There was all the fish we three wanted to eat and we were hungry for fish.
D.C. Where was their breeding ground? The Pine doesn’t run into Azouzetta Lake, does it? Where did they winter?
R.N. No. But they wintered in those deep holes in the river. They still do. There’s always running water and feed is coming down all the time.
The whitefish stay there all winter. I’ve heard some people say they caught whitefish there in the winter, but personally I never caught any in winter. Also, we never did see a grayling. We’ve caught Dolly Varden, but where the grayling go, I’ve no idea. I’ve asked Ivor, but he’s never caught a grayling there in the wintertime. They’re there all summer but they go somewhere in the winter. A couple of winters Wayne Brown and I have opened holes in the ice, and covered it with a piece of tarp. There were two deep holes in the Pine near our cabin, one where Hasler Creek comes in and another one below the old bridge that’s gone now. On that road that used to come down past Ivor’s store. If you lie down on the ice and put a canvas over your head on a bright sunny day, you could watch the fish moving around below — bull trout and whitefish, but we never did see a grayling. I understand that a lot of people from Alberta call the Rocky Mountain whitefish “grayling”.
D.C. They have a different mouth.
R.N. And they have a different fin. The grayling has the big fin and the whitefish has a little one. The Indians called the grayling “big fin”. They’ll both take flies, but the whitefish has a very small, tender mouth and will only take flies at certain times. They used to run air shipments of fish out of Rocky Mountain Lake. Ross Tipton used to do the freighting. He had a floatplane which he used to fly in there. Esswein had a landing field on Johnson Flat right south of the store. They’d fly over to Rocky Mountain Lake; he’d fly the Murray River to the Wolverine and then in from there.
The trouble was that in the summer time they couldn’t get off that lake. It was up so high that on a hot day, with a big load they couldn’t take off. On a summer day there wasn’t enough lift in that hot mountain air to let the plane get up. In the evening after the sun went down they could wind up and take off.
McDonald, who used to fly from the lake over here — McQueen’s slough. He used to fly over pretty near to Jasper — he could fly off there. There was a dude ranch down there where he used to do a lot of flying.
We went down one Sunday and watched him. He had a heavy load and just couldn’t get off. Finally he went round and round and round in a circle, and just wound that water up, as fast as he could. All of a sudden he straightened out, then turned round and ran across his wash. The plane just bounced up and down, but on about the third bounce the plane was up, and he was gone. He had a heavy load on – too much. He was a wonderful pilot.
D.C. Yes, he was a local man, Ira McDonald.
R.N. But he eventually lost his license. He made a long trip on floats, as I heard the story – maybe true, maybe not – he couldn’t take enough gas to go away south. He had no cache, and couldn’t buy any so he put gasoline in the floats. They caught him, and he was carrying passengers, too. All he had to do was scrape a rock and rupture a float, and that would be that. But he made quite a few trips that way. Just that one time, they caught him.