1966 – or so, Vancouver B.C. Most Canadians are totally unaware that a delicatessen is swimming around in most creeks and rivers of B.C.
I had particularly luck in a secret creek in Coquitlam, winding around farms, lots of food and lots of crayfish. This particular evening was special, not just a fishing trip. My friend Joel, at Chez Joel in Gastown invited us all to a Crayfish party, in the fall sometime. The planning was as good as the actually fishing, and it took weeks to get in place.
We talked and planned this event. Over may meals, cognac’s and coffee “a la Oddvin”. Coffee “a la Oddvin” starts with a cup, put in a dime, enough coffee so that you can not see the dime, and enough Cognac that you can read the date, simple but good.
It must be rising moon in the fall, for any crayfish expedition, closer to full moon the better. Sky’s must be clear, to take advantage of the moonlight. One saturday night everything fell in place. I collected cod-fish head from the fishermen at the dock, they thought we were crazy, but they were used to crazy european that needed this or that for a party.
Dead cats is one traditional bait for crayfish. But they stink, and how can you get that many dead cats, in a couple of days, without your neighbour getting a suspicion. I liked fish heads, they stink too, but in a more pleasant way. I used no traps.
This is the real way to catch crayfish. Take a wooden stick, 3 to 4′ long, tie a 3′ string to the end of the stick, and when you get to the creek, plant the stick in the bottom, tie a fish-head to the string, place it in the running water, go to your camp and have a beer, come back half an hour later, with a flashlight, because now it is dark, grab the crayfish and put them in a large pocket or a plastic bag, yes they will bite, but is like a love bite, you know how good it is going to taste, when you eat the creatures.
I drove out early afternoon, took in a show at the local pub, prepared a site for the evening that would be going on into the late hours, we were all prepared to stay overnight, for many reasons. I set the traps, sticks and bait in the creek early, to get some good smelling bait, and action in the creek.
Joel ……….. came after midnight, after he closed his restaurant in Gastown, he had a ’57 Citroen, a classic French “mafia” car, black of course. Jean Jack ………..was one of the waiters he had with him. Jean-Claude ……… that ran the popular; la Creperie, had his 450 SEL Mercedes, another classic car. Umberto …………., with a classic Italian car, and a couple of other restaurant friends were with him.
Between them, they had the most popular restaurants in Gastown at this time. They could not serve crayfish, it was not commercially avaliable.
These gays were dressed in tuxedos, always, it was their working habitat, and they brought a large white table-cloth that they put on the ground.
The “table” was then filled with french bread baskets, pate, glasses, vine, plates, more special glasses for Cognac, Armagnac and especially Calvados. Buckets if ice cubes, candles lighting up the place, music from somewhere; it was a good party in the starting face.
I was busy with the rounds in the creek, with the flashlight, picking crayfish off the fish heads, bringing them live to a large tub at the central place.
A smaller pot was heated and crayfish put in to boil, for we had to sample the catch, the actual party was the next evening in Gastown. This was fun, the hours went by, we caught many hundred crayfish. The ones that could sing in French, did so, we others just sang.
We were far from the roads, but somehow the RCMP came to visit. With this much fun, they knew it must be something unlawfully. I showed them how to catch crayfish, some of them tasted the bread and the pate, but not the vine. I don’t know if they had a book to look in to, but there were nothing illegal in catching crayfish at that time, but is was probably just too much fun on the side. They wished us well and took off.
At this time there were no permit required, nor any fishing limit.
“Mafia” cars, dressed in tuxedos, vine, cognac, candles, strangers eating crayfish, singing french drinking songs, having fun, white tablecloth on the ground, all the trimmings, in the middle of the night in Coquitlam; all this fun this can not be legal.
The next morning we travelled back to Vancouver, I just don’t remember how. The following evening it was the Crayfish party at Joel’s in Gastown. We waited until after midnight, when the customers had gone home.
Joel prepared them two ways, the traditional way with Dill, the French way with a Cognac sauce. We had bets, what was the best way, indeed the only way, we both lost. The party lasted all night, I could not decide, I kind of liked the last one I ate, and that was quite a few. I remember people who came walking by Joel’s in the back alley that night, seeing this strange party having so much fun, with some small crayfish; well they probably made up their own thoughts about the european, and rightfully so.
This is the Canada I like, where one can do and live as one want, eat strange and exotic foods, foreign to some, accepted by most, no matter what your traditions are. You can not take that away from me.