By ANDREW CREMATA
There is a ketchup stain on my shirt.
This was the thought crossing my mind at 12:15 p.m. on the Tagish Bridge. It was chest high and dead center on my white t-shirt. Overnight, it had dried to a thick crust, and I was sure others on the bridge had already noticed.
It could pass for a blood stain, I thought, trying to feel rugged amongst the locals.
I had forgotten the details of how the blemish was born until that moment. It was a product of the previous night, where hunger necessitated the roasting of a wiener in the campfire. A dollop of ketchup, which seemed perfectly nestled in between the hot dog and bun, was forced out of the opposite end due to a ravenous bite from a distracted camper.
My distraction stemmed from the worried thought of a possible jinx.
Ive always fished with a certain amount of confidence because from the time I can remember Ive been blessed with the ability to catch fish, even when others seemed to have trouble getting a bite.
Call it mojo, luck or whatever mystical word you can think of; its the something that makes certain things happen. For a gambler its a pair of aces in the hole with a player betting into you, for the baller its a winning fade-away jump shot at the buzzer and for the angler its the unexplainable attraction of a fish toward your bait.
There is no way to pin this kind of mechanism down, and you may not even be consciously aware of its existence until its suddenly gone.
You can pass it off as superstition, but when that nasty blob of ketchup was falling through space toward my white shirt I was thinking of the week before.
It was a perfect morning in Tagish. The early morning sun was already warm. A swarm of cliff swallows were swirling overhead picking off hapless insects as a bald eagle sat on a nearby telephone pole eyeing a group of seagulls crying on the shore.
As I set up my rigs for big lake trout, I asked one of the locals if the fish had started to run.
We started catching them a few days ago, he said.
When I made my first cast, I had little doubt one of those big lakers would soon be tethered to the other end of my line. As the hours wore on, one person pulled in a seven-pounder, then another person landed a 14-pound beauty. Another fish was caught, and then another. Before I knew it, the afternoon was growing old and it was time to head home.
How could this have happened? I wondered. After all, I had the right bait, gear and, well, mojo.
The carefree attitude I usually enjoyed on the long drive home was gone, and instead of singing along to the music in the car stereo my mind was preoccupied with the thought, What went wrong?
The workweek was no better, and even though I would be camping and fishing on the following long weekend, doubt was creeping into my veins. Perhaps the magic was gone.
The following Thursday, I arrived at the campsite, set up the tent, and roasted the hot dog on the end of a manicured stick. Staring into the flames as the processed meat bubbled and popped, I was still worried what the following morning at the bridge would reveal.
Then, along came the ketchup blotch.
Two boys clean a fish while anxious fishermen look on at the bridge in Tagish, Yukon Territory. AC
Still preoccupied the following morning, I put on the same shirt and didnt notice the stain until I had already been on the bridge for a few hours.
I zipped up my coat to cover the imperfection.
Fish were being caught by the locals yet again. One was a healthy 22-pounder. Jealousy and fear were creeping in.
There are no words to describe the feeling of sitting there staring up at the rod tip for hours on end; hoping for a tug, waiting for any twitch which would indicate an interested fish.
I decided to pack it in, give up and relegate myself to the idea that I was, indeed, jinxed. As I walked off the bridge, one of the regular locals well call Tommy hooked a fish, and by the bend in the rod it was obviously a nice one. Tommy made it off the bridge and onto the shoreline while fighting the fish as a multitude of adults and children, out to enjoy the Canadian holiday weekend, gathered around to see the giant on the other end of the line.
I paused on the way to my vehicle to take in the scene and subject myself to a little more anguish by watching yet another fish caught by someone other than me.
When the fish was close to shore the anxious angler, and everyone else gathered, saw that it was a beauty that would push the 20-pound mark. Instead of reaching for a net, or grabbing the fish under the gill, Tommy decided to haul the fish onto the shore with brute force. He pulled hard on his rig, putting an abnormal bend in the rod.
Before I could finish the thought that this extreme pressure could be enough for his rod to break, it had already snapped in two different places and the sudden release of pressure on the line caused the hook to come out of the fishs mouth.
For a moment the crowd was silent, the fish lay still and Tommy stood slack jawed, his wide eyes focused on the fragments of his fishing outfit. The realization of what had just happened struck him and he dove into the water with arms outstretched in an attempt to grab the lunker trout.
Unfortunately for Tommy, the trout also became aware of his own particular circumstance and swam into the deep just out of the manic anglers reach. When he was in ice-cold water above his waist, Tommy conceded the fight and waded back to shore.
The crowd was still silent, some of their mouths were agape, even the excitement of the children had grown to a chill. Tommy picked up what was left of his rig, stared back out into the quiet of the river, clenched his fists and shrieked out the ugliest of one-word expletives, exploring the subtler details of every single letter.
As parents shuffled their children away, I mumbled to myself, THAT guy is jinxed.
I decided to give it another try and made a U-turn back up onto the bridge. It wasnt long before I was landing a nice trout of my own and a smile crept back on my face as I realized the idea of a jinx was only in my head.
Fishermen can be a superstitious lot, and rightfully so. Plying an invisible world for tangible results can often leave you contemplating the nature of unseen forces beyond human comprehension. Whether these forces are real or imagined is open to some debate.
But there is one fact I learned from this story that is indisputable. Trout cooked over a campfire tastes far better than a charred wiener smothered with ketchup.