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Outdoors With Skip… Four Hundred Thirty Five Bottles of Beer on the Wall


“Are we there yet,” she said? It’s about 440 miles to Clayton, New York from our house. “I think we have gone five miles”, I said to Emma, my nine-year-old Granddaughter. “We’ve got a ways to go yet.” Nine years old is a great age to be; no worries about how you look to others, or for that matter, how you sound to others.  “I’m going fishing with my Dad and Grandparents. I have them all to myself, just me” (no sister to compete with). Then she resumed regaling us with the bottles of beer song.
This was our annual fishing trip to the Thousand Islands, which we have traditionally scheduled for the first week of bass season each of the past 13 years.  Some times we schedule two weeks at a time, and more often than not, take another week at the cottage sometime later in the summer. My wife and I have been coming up here for the past 15 years or so, at first discovering it totally by accident while dragging a camper around New York’s Finger Lakes. It turns out that the Finger Lakes are so privately owned that you literally can’t get near the shorelines of any of them. In frustration I dragged the camper up north to the St. Lawrence River where it would likely be much less inhabited. Back then the fishing was so good that we began leaving the camper at home and renting a cottage and bringing our own boat.  The area is very beautiful and a fisherman’s paradise. Eventually my son and his wife began following suite, bringing two very young little girls with them.  They fished off the docks, played with the minnows and ran around like banshees—like little kids do. They saw all the sights, visited all the family oriented activities, (there are not an abundance of those kinds of things in the north country), and used them up. Fishing and people spending summers on their island cottages are the main things to do here.  Only my son has been coming up to fish with us the past several years. This past Christmas Emma the oldest, announced that she wanted to come up fishing with us.  I said, “You know we fish for 6 days, we don’t go sight seeing.”  That understood, she still adamantly wanted to come.  “O.K., You’re gonna fish or cut bait then, (something that I used to say to my son when he was at that age)!”
Emma is a very bright, tall for her age, wiry, extremely good-natured chatterbox. She will go down as having talked, sang, and eaten her way across the Thousand Islands. Oh God, what was it like to be able to have eaten virtually anything and everything, and still be thin as a rail?
At nine years old kids get into a lot of repetition, engaging in repetitive play, repetitive activities, doing and redoing, over and over, things until they feel they have mastered it.  It’s a natural thing, a psychological phase. At times this can get to be, shall we say, wearing, on the adults.  It brings on such retorts by fathers like “Say it again Emma”, or “Enough already”, or “XZ#@&&DMXX@@!!!!! will you stop talking!” I think we’ve all been there!
The kid can eat! I personally witnessed Emma having  eaten about $50 worth of beef jerky this week, about five pounds of Goldfish crackers, two dozen doughnuts and a wide assortment of everything else that came into the cottage.  All I could say was, “Go for it kid”; If I had done that I would have been a 500 pound nine-year-old.
Over the past few years the fishing seemed to have fallen off around the Thousand Islands.  It’s hard to put a finger on why.  Some say the introduction of the dreaded Gobies, an invasive foreign fish species that has, in the last ten years, worked their way from Lake Superior to most recently the St. Lawrence River, competed with the smallmouth bass population, devastating their numbers. They surely have had a damaging effect on the native fish in the other great lakes, but the greater picture is still unclear.  Others say that climate change has altered the weather patterns and thus the breeding season for the bass, making them breed earlier and then getting out of their traditional shallow water environments and heading for the deeper waters.  At any rate the net result is that fishermen have been catching many fewer bass each year for the past five-six years.  The Northern Pike numbers have not dwindled though.  If anything they have increased.  Why? Because each time you fillet a Northern Pike, you find…. gobies in their stomachs.  Apparently Northerns have found them very tasty. Now we’re finding them in the stomachs of small mouth bass too.  This is the big problem with invasive species.  It is hard to know how deleterious they are, or will be in the long run.   When you come right down to it, all animals are, or have been, invasive species to every habitat on this earth at one time or another.  It is called evolution.  Some species adapt, others don’t and perish—become extinct.  It is fact that 98% of all earth’s animals have become extinct.  Suffice it to say, the fishing has changed in the past several years in the Thousand Islands.  Enter this year!
The past winter and spring have been cold ones, much more like winters and springs of yore.  This year’s water temperature is now 5-10 degrees colder than June 2012.  There was nobody swimming this year at the state park beaches and I saw not a single water tube being dragged about by boats.  There were no water skiers either.  Nobody was in the water.  But the fish were! This year we caught more fish than in any previous year. We caught big bass—many four and five pounders. We four fishermen probably hooked at least 30 bass this trip.  We only kept what we needed and returned most others to the water.  It was the same for the Northern Pike.  We did keep maybe 8 or so for eating but returned the vast majority to the water.  Barbara (my wife) even let the biggest one, a 10 pounder, go.
On the first day that we fished Emma, who was dangling a small twister tail lure over the side hoping for a perch, very unexpectedly brought a five pound Northern up to the boat.  When they saw each other, they both panicked. She dropped the rod; the fish bolted, breaking the line and departing for places unknown. Emma was traumatized for a bit and thereafter was very careful not to use that same type of lure ever again. She did, within a short time regain her composure and resumed singing.
In the course of the past week I have heard virtually every song that there is to sing, sung at least twenty-five times by Emma.  Now it must be said that the Schweitzer clan has not, –none of us—been blessed with voice abilities that might land us in the opera, or on Broadway. The phrase “couldn’t carry a tune in a barrel” comes to mind. So it now goes for the younger of us. It seems that the “Star Spangled Banner” is one of those songs that Emma feels she has to master. At first I thought she was attempting “Hard Day’s Night’ by the Beatles, but alas Francis Scott Key rolled over in his grave a few times last week. As she practiced it for, oh, maybe the 800th time it began to, at least word wise, become recognizable.  But I don’t think I will ever be able to attend a ball game and hear the “Star Spangled Banner” in the same light again. So, given that situation, please pardon my smirk or outright laugh.  I will have just been remembering something.

Pictured above is  Emma and some of the fish we caught.

Do you fish, hunt, trap, camp, go for nature walks? What else do you do outdoors? Drop me a line at THE VILLAGER, P.O. Box 331 Garrettsville 44231. E-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com or give me a call at 330-562-9801. I’d like to hear from you.

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Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.