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The One that Got Away…

Marilee’s Fish Tale…

My husband and I have been married now for fifteen years. On our wedding anniversary for the past 13 years, the only present I ask is that he take me fishing. There is only one spot for us. The Thousand Islands Region of upstate New York.

We found Wellesley Island, N.Y quite by accident. On our 3rd Anniversary we went to Rice Lake in Canada and found trailers as far as the eye could see. We quickly decided that we would rather be celebrating our Wedding Anniversary anywhere, but an overpopulated camping ground. We looked for 2 days for a good site close to Rice Lake but to our dismay found nothing that we liked. We gave up and decided to come home.

We packed up and left for home in Columbus Ohio. As we crossed the Canadian Border into the U.S. we saw a Sign for the Wellesley Island State Park. Since we had been packed for tent camping we decided to take a look.

That side trip decided, for the rest of our lives, where we would spend our Wedding Anniversary, celebrating our love for each other. (And our shared love for fishing.)

We found a beautiful secluded site, with old growth trees, and set up camp. That evening we decided to rent a boat for the evening and met Dave at the Wellesley Island Marina and rented a fourteen foot Lund with a 9.9 hp motor and went fishing. We caught a few perch and a couple of bass; it had been so long since my husband had cleaned a fish we sought the advice of Bill Conger; owner of the Nut’N Fancy. He and his family, along with Dave, have been dear friends since our first meeting.

Fast forward to one year ago, July, 2013. One of our best producing perch spots was not even producing what we call pooters in Ohio. We attributed it to the lack of chop, wind and extreme heat. As we were drifting down a channel, close to our friend Jacks’ dock I snagged a rock and remarked to my husband *####* SNAGGED ANOTHER ### **** ###! ROCK. After trying to pull it loose twice I noticed something peculiar, the rock was moving and so was the boat. She ran three times and ended up towing our boat about fifty yards, the third time she did a “Death Roll” and was thrashing just about 15 yards from Jack’s dock.

All my husband had was a woefully inadequate Bass net to land a 48 inch Muskie. We saw Jack’s cousin on the shore and yelled, ”DO YOU HAVE A BIGGER NET?”

He came out with a slightly larger net than I had; big help, thanks buddy!

As we got her beside the boat my husband called to our new friend on the dock, and asked him where to grab her, as we knew that Muskie’s have teeth even in their gill plates. Jack’s nephew responded don’t grab him too high or too low or you could get cut. Again “thanks for the help, dude.”

Joe put on a cotton glove and as he pulled her up she twisted her head and cut the line. Having no desire to be lacerated by those teeth and in the interest of letting her propagate the species, we let her go.

ONE BIG PROBLEM... We were so pumped on adrenaline, after being towed fifty yards by a fish, that we DIDN’T TAKE A FREAKIN PICTURE.

Everyone knows the routine. Yes, sure I believe you caught a Muskie on 10 pound Trilene test, on a crawler harness with a piece of worm.

Ridicule, disbelief and outright questions of our character and integrity soon followed. (Mostly from my own family of outdoorsmen.)

Round Two

This year, 2014, we were back at it, in one of our favorite honey holes at Jolly Island (also in the Lake Fleet Group) and I snagged another rock. Much to my husband’s dismay, we were on again. The fish of 10,000 casts and the Lord blessed me with having two on, in just two years. I didn’t think there was any way we could get her in, but here is the picture.

After the abuse my family gave me, my husband was determined to land her. Again, I want you all to know we spent the time required to revive her and stayed in the area for two hours to make sure she didn’t become a “floater”.

We feel so privileged to be able to share your part of God’s great earth and want to honor all who live there!

As told by Marilee and Joe Lupo


Scott’s Fish Tale

Late June, 2013. My nephew, Adam and I had just arrived on Axeman, and were assembling all the tools and parts we needed to commission the water system for the house. We were on the south side deck, which faces the channel, between our island and the nearest neighboring islands – about 100 yards away.

We hear a tremendous splash – clearly a good-sized adult had just jumped in… but there were no other people on the neighboring islands, so we were a bit puzzled, but we kept on about our task. Another huge splash; we looked at each other and agreed we needed to investigate.

From the end of our dock we could see a couple fishing, in the middle of the channel, in what looked like a 16-foot “tin boat.” The boat seemed to be drifting downriver much faster than the current, and then changed directions and started towards us – against the current!

The woman in the bow had a small, lightweight rod, and it was bent double. Her partner was in the stern, rummaging around in the bottom of the boat for something – turns out he was looking for his net.

Adam and I took all this in instantly and our eyes were naturally drawn to the water next to the boat, to see what was on her line. I will never forget the sight – the fish was on the surface, exhausted by its two jumps, and its back was breaking the water’s surface. This was the biggest fish I’ve ever seen in the St. Lawrence River – and I’ve been coming here all my life of 69 years! Its back was at least a half-foot across, and it looked like about three feet of its length was exposed and then the tail fin was at least a foot off the end of the exposed back. We could not see its head.

The fish was towing the boat towards us, against the current. The man was pleading with us for a large net – he had found his net and tried to boat the fish, and had almost lost it. No wonder! It was a six inch deep minnow net! Iran for my net, and in the meantime the fish reversed direction and started towing them away from us.

It stopped again about a hundred feet away from us and we told the man he was going to have to grab for the fish, and did he have any gloves? Yes, but only one! We said in that case it would be best for him to attempt a jaw-grab instead of going for both gills.

He made one attempt and started to pull the fish out, but it slipped free. Another try, this time in one gill and the fish was off!

They gathered themselves and came over to thank us, and I asked how they hooked this monster. They introduced themselves as Joe and Marilee, and explained that they had been perch fishing with worms just up-river from us. The huge splashes we had heard were the fish’s jumps! And Marilee was hanging on for dear life, with what I think, she said was an eight pound test on a very light five-foot spinning rod. And they almost boated the monster!

The whole thing left Adam and me shaking our heads in wonder – who ever heard of catching Muskies with worms? We were also very encouraged, as this was the biggest fish we’d ever seen here, and our fishery has been under severe stress from invasive species, including Zebra Mussels and Gobies. Adam spent the next week hunting a fish like that, and boated many nice Northerns, but this monster is still out there…

As told by Scott Ritson, Axeman 

Jack’s Fish Tale…

I am Jack Patterson. My part in this fish tale is instigator and recognizer of nice people and possibly unusual history being made in the Thousand Islands.

We have been on Axeman Island since 1926. Our grandparents, Frank and Marjorie Breyer, may God bless them, purchased Axeman that year,  and, as my grandmother said, in "5 Generations: A Memoir" (1975), "Nothing we have ever done or could do, has paid off so gloriously"

As to this lovely story; over the years our grandfather developed a strong proprietary interest and feeling for that portion of The River, contiguous to 'his' property - Axeman.

Therefore we as a family suffered. Suffered his battles with fishing guides (especially) who came, in his mind, way too 'close'. In fact, he would back the runabout out of the boathouse and 'chase' them away, by running full speed back and forth, throwing wash and wake at the poor clients attempting to fish.

The islands were mostly vacant back then (prior to WWII) after all, one needed to own an expensive motor boat to be out on the river regularly. This was especially necessary if one wanted to go to the 'off-shore' islands such as those which comprise the Lake Fleet Group. It thus meant, before the advent of the outboard motor, owning an inboard, and being able to afford storage, maintenance and care of such an expensive craft.

So, like with our beloved grandfather, it wasn't hard for this attitude to prevail;  to this day, I regularly check who's out there fishing along our shore; this sets up a 'watchful scene' wherein I learned a new use for worms and made some new fishing friends, Joe and Marilee Lupo.

I patrol our swim dock, which is located west of our old boathouse. It was back in 2013 - according to Joe and Marilee, when they were fishing in our ‘cut’ between Axeman and the adjacent islands. They appeared to be motoring up to the end of the 'cut' and then they would drift downriver, fishing. Repeating this process many times - and seemingly successfully.

I looked and they seemed the kind of fishing folk we most like - ‘low and slow’ as the hang glider (Ultralight) people say about themselves. Low - as to going at it with just basic gear - not too fancy but with all of those basics on board. And also, importantly, to us Islanders, they were in no way infringing on others use of the majestic Saint Lawrence River. Slow - as in determined, skilled and showing results!

I called out a hello, “Hi! What are you guys fishing for?”

“Oh, Perch, Bass - maybe, Walleye, Northern Pike.” I think was Joe's reply. He added, "We eat what we catch and what we don't finish we freeze and have over the winter!"

"How goes it today?" I asked. Joe holds up, as I recall, a well filled stringer of Perch, Bass and other catch; mostly the smaller of the fish mentioned above.

“What are you using for bait?” I then inquired.

“Worms,” he says.

Okay- worms;  but, Northern Pike on worms? Hmm?

So, I ask, “Worms for Northern Pike?” with some tone of disbelief and incredulity.

“Yup!” (No hesitation on his part)

Perhaps a week later they are out there again cruising up and down fishing.

I call “Hello.”

Without a word Joe reaches over and lifts the stringer and there in the middle of the stringer is a very nice sized Northern Pike!
Aha! Touché! I'm learning something here.

And then, weeks later in conversations with my cousin Scott, I learn that he and Adam, a nephew, were witness to the near landing of what Scott referred to as, "The biggest fish I have ever seen!"

Scott is not subject to hyperbole. I listened. He meant it! But I hadn't put two and two together yet. I didn't yet know this was Joe and Marilee catching the “biggest fish I have ever seen” and that it was the “fish that got away…”

Then, in conversation with my friend, Bill Danforth, I learned that this pair actually did hook a second Muskie - just off Jolly Island but in that case they landed the fish.

And the bait you ask?  Wait for it ... “on worms!”

So this is our tale! I meet the 'nicest folks' (the best kind!), who come to the St Lawrence River and make, what is to me (an old River Rat,) - history "on worms!”

By John F. Patterson, Axeman Island

John F. Patterson, or Jack, is a long time island resident on Axeman in the Lake Fleet Group.  He has spent summers on Axeman since before WWII - 1938; every year since, save only one. He is a proud outdoorsman, having hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002, from beginning to end.  He has also hiked substantial portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, including from the Mexican border to Lake Tahoe and further sections to the Columbia River. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College with a long career in various aspects of Finance, culminating in 1978 when he opened his own business, JF. Patterson and Co. Builders, in Westport, CT. He is also an avid reader and researcher and today, Jack says, “He is mostly retired!”

Posted in: People, Sports
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Kathie Patterson
Comment by: Kathie Patterson
Left at: 11:42 AM Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I'm Jacks sister & Scotts cousin and I've also spent almost every summer at Axeman. I did get a chance to meet Marilee & Joe Lupo & hear ' The fish story" except the last part where they caught the big one off Jolly. It really is a story of the spirit of a very special & rare place ! As a family we try to be good custodians of Axeman & the river, it means so much to all of us. Thank you .
Deane Parkhurst
Comment by: Deane Parkhurst
Left at: 5:21 PM Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time, maybe ten or eleven. A buddy, Francis (Tex) Halleck and I were in a small row boat fishing just off the rocks at the foot of Ontario Ave. at 1000 Island Park. We were using a pail of water as an anchor, a technique that would only occur to boys of our age but it seemed to work. Bait was some left over worms from an earlier adult fishing trip by my friend’s Uncle. Very shallow water so the bottom was visible and so was the large fish that took my bait. It was a Great Northern Pike and I had no clue of what to do. Not sure how but we got back to the dock, rod, reel, line and fish intact. I remember walking back to our cottage calling for my Grandmother to come help. The fish very much alive and dangling from the pole bent nearly double. Grandma was quick to the rescue and we had fish for dinner that night. So, yes, you can catch Pike with worms.