Labrador Part 4: The Best of Days

Day 3 of Fishing

June 29

Wednesday would prove to be all we hoped for.

After breakfast, we hopped into the freighter canoe with Simon to make the half hour or so ride up the lake to the Quartzite River.

Simon had fished it the week earlier and caught some large ouananiche (landlocked salmon).

When we arrived at the landing spot where the river enters the lake, I knew today was going to be different. Simon said we would do better to try this spot later, as he was sure that we disturbed any fish here with our arrival. So we grabbed our gear and proceeded to take a 15-minute hike through the woods to get to Juniper Pool.

The Hike to Juniper Pool

The Hike to Juniper Pool

When we arrived there, I had an even stronger feeling that this day would be special. It was a beautiful spot.

Arriving at Juniper Pool

Arriving at Juniper Pool

Simon guided Tony to a spot on the far side, and it wasn’t long before Tony hooked into the biggest salmon I have ever seen. The fish had taken a dry on the far side riffle. The fish was airborne immediately; it was an immense salmon. I was in awe. On its second jump, Tony’s line went limp. The fish had broken the leader, not at the tippet, but at the butt! Apparently, the leader was old, and that’s all it took for that salmon to make his escape.

At that point, I realized that I had left my rod with the floating line at the canoe. Simon offered to recover it, as we were sure it was going to be very important today. We had no idea how much so. I felt terrible about my forgetfulness, but Simon dropped his pack and headed back to the canoe. While he was gone, I made due with my sink tip line, first casting one of my Grampy’s Copper flash fly. On my first cast, a pike engulfed it, and he and it were gone.

Next, because there was a number of large caddis hatching, I put on a Casual Dress Nymph. About my third cast, I watched as a large, 4- to 5-pound brookie rolled on it about 20 feet out in front of me. We were off to a promising start, but had little to show for it.

Simon returned with my rod about 25 minutes after he left, which was much quicker than I could have done it for sure. We packed up at that point and headed upstream.

After another 15-minute walk, we decided to break for lunch at the base of the water that Simon was anxious to fish.

As we sat there eating our fresh chicken and ham salad sandwiches on baguettes that Andrew had baked, we saw and heard fish taking the caddisflies, which were growing more numerous.

After the break, we walked upstream only a short distance before Simon spotted a big brookie rising. I took the first cast, actually the first three casts, and I got the fish to take on all three casts, but came up empty. Simon asked to look at the fly after the third cast, and much to our surprise, my leader was tangled in the fly so it was riding backwards!

At that point, I turned to Tony and said, “It’s your turn.” I’m not sure right now if it was his first cast or his second, but I watched intently as the big fish rose and let Tony’s Spruce Moth fly filter into its open mouth. Tony set the (barbless) hook perfectly, and the battle was on.

Tony's Spruce Moth Fly, Purchased in Montana, Of Course

Tony’s Spruce Moth Fly, Purchased in Montana, Of Course

The trout first rushed to the far side of this no name pool, and then up stream while shaking its head vigorously. Then she turned downstream, using the strong current to great advantage. Simon started shouting both directions and encouragement in a very excited voice with his French Canadian accent coming through in spades. The fight lingered on until the trout rushed for the near bank and all its brush. Simon knew that we were running out of options. The trout had the advantage of the brush and the current, and it had the option of running further downstream, which would test the dry fly hook for sure.

So Simon did what few guides, if any, would do and literally jumped in. Not as dramatically as Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It,” but almost.

A few four-letter words later and the fish, a beautiful 21-inch female that was pushing 5 pounds, was in the net. Luckily, Simon captured the whole fight on Tony’s GoPro, which was mounted on Simon’s landing net.

It was easily the biggest brookie of Tony’s life. Simon estimated the fish’s age at 15 years! This is due to the short “growing season” that these fish have here. Much rejoicing and hand shaking went around. A carefully taken care of trout was rested, photographed, and then gently released.

21-Inch, 5-Pound Female Brook Trout

21-Inch, 5-Pound Female Brook Trout

Now it was my turn. During Tony’s battle with his brookie we saw other trout scatter. Now the question was did they settle down enough to be “fishable.” Our question was quickly answered on my first cast, I think, as we watched another large trout rise to my Stimulator.

Again, the fish rose seemingly in slow motion and just let my fly flow into his mouth. He expended so little energy. A lift of the rod, and he was on. We knew almost immediately it was a male as we saw more red and orange as he rolled. A tremendous rush on his part told me this was a heavy and strong fish, and I knew I was going to have my skills and tackle tested. He then made a run down stream, heading for the same place that Tony’s fish ended up. I knew we couldn’t get that lucky twice, pulling a fish out of the brush and current so I applied all the pressure that I thought the rod and leader could take and maybe even a little more to turn him out from the bank and headed at least cross current.

The Strong Fish Making the Run Downstream

The Strong Fish Making the Run Downstream

It worked. He slugged it out with me for what seemed like eternity, before making a run straight away to some very shallow water that was just above a small island in the middle of the river.

Now I had to turn him again. If he made it onto the shallows, he would certainly cut the leader on the rocks, and worse yet, if I gave him any slack to avoid getting cut off, he would easily make it to the opposite side, which was all riffles. Then he would turn downstream and put the island and all its brush between us, and be gone for sure.

So again, I put more pressure on him to turn him up current and towards us. It worked again. I can’t tell you how much doubt I had been feeling about that #10 barbless hook holding firm under the pressure.

Once I got him back into our no name pool, I was confident we would win this battle. If that hook did not pull out under all that pressure, then it surely was secure in his jaw.

A few more runs, and then I got his head up and pressured him again towards Simon and the waiting net.

Simon Chasing This Brute to the Middle of the River

Simon Chasing This Brute to the Middle of the River

He was in! What a beautiful fish! Even more beautiful than yesterday’s. It was a male, measuring 21 inches and about 5 pounds, according to Simon.

21-Inch, 5-Pound Male Brook Trout

21-Inch, 5-Pound Male Brook Trout

We again rested him as we got the cameras ready. We took several pictures and then had the great pleasure in watching him swim back to the calmer waters in the bottom of the pool. Simon used Tony’s waterproof camera to capture the serenity of the moment.

The Battle-Weary Brookie Resting

The Battle-Weary Brookie Resting

It was surely one of, if not *the* very best fish of my life. I have tried to think of other fish as memorable as this one, and only a few come to mind:

  • My first trout ever
  • My first trout caught on a dry fly
  • My first bonito on a fly rod
  • My biggest striper on a fly from the beach on Chappaquiddick

This fish was up there, and right now (a month later), I still think he might take #1. Once the glow of that moment wears off, maybe that could change, but at this moment, I doubt it. We caught the end of the fight on the GoPro.

The day continued, and I will readily admit that much of it is blur. The thrill of those first two trout was giving me a hangover effect. I was on such a high that my mind became a little fuzzy. Then and even now, I find the next hour a little out of focus. I don’t remember the details of almost any fish that followed those first two.

I do remember that shortly after we released my fish, Tony stepped up to the plate and with seemingly little time having passed, was into another 20-inch brookie.

Tony's 20-Inch Brookie

Tony’s 20-Inch Brookie

I remember none of that fight or that of another 20-inch brook trout that I caught after that. It seems almost sad to say that, but it is true. Each of them were great fish in their own right, and although they were greatly appreciated, it was not the same as those first two. It was like they were the fourth martini; just not the same effect as the first few.

It became more dramatic as we caught more nice trout. I think Tony’s next one was a 19-inch beauty and mine a 17-inch brookie.

Tony's 19-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 19-Inch Brook Trout

Those two fish alone would have been cause for great celebration at any time in my previous fishing life. Then and now, they are a footnote in my memory.

We closed out the day with a few normal sized 10- to 15-inch brook trout and even a salmon, and after the emotional hour or so on the no name pool and Tony pulling one of the bigger fish out of “The Shute” (as Simon called it), we were ready to head back to camp.

This Salmon Was One of the Few Normal-Sized Fish of the Day

This Salmon Was One of the Few Normal-Sized Fish of the Day

I said to Tony and Simon as we prepared for the hike back to the canoe that this day was my best day of fishing ever and my best hour of fishing ever. Tony was stunned to hear me say that, but agreed that it was definitely *his* best day of fishing ever.

Now, some weeks later, I am still contemplating those words. There is no question that I had experienced the finest day of trout fishing in my life. It is also true that I had experienced the finest day of dry fly fishing in my life, and that both of those things represent my two favorite forms of fishing for the fish I most admire, native brook trout. Then there is the fact that I did all this with my son and favorite fishing partner. So now, I have looked back at other fish and people and places that I have enjoyed over the past almost 70 years of fishing. A few come to mind:

I’d have to say that my struggle, a very pleasant one I might add, is the memory of Tony and I fishing with several great friends, especially Bobby, on Chappy catching stripers, bonito, false albacore, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel from the surf on light spinning and fly gear. It was three days of fantastic fishing and a ton of laughs—a great trip with great friends and a lifetime of memories.

So for now, I think it is safe to say that the day in Labrador was my finest day ever. That leaves the Chappy trip as the finest trip ever.

Tony's Text to His Wife via Satellite Phone About Our Day

Tony’s Text to His Wife via Satellite Phone About Our Day

As a fisherman, I have been very blessed. Even to have to consider these things, I sometimes have to marvel at my good fortune, and to do these things with so many wonderful people, friends, family, my wife, children, and grandchildren, but especially my son, I have been blessed with many memorable days in my life.



2 thoughts on “Labrador Part 4: The Best of Days

  1. Pingback: Labrador Part 7: You Can Never Go Home Again, At Least Not Yet – WLAGS

  2. Pingback: Better than a Well-Laid Plan – WLAGS

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