A Plan and a Whim

A Plan and a Whim

On our last day, we made plans to fish a small and somewhat difficult pond to reach. On the drive there, we had the pleasure of seeing a cow moose kneel down right beside our truck to drink while her calf (a young bull with knobs on his head) whimpered like a dog. He was more concerned about our presence than she was.

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

That was quite a sight, and it was a great way to start our morning. Now on to that remote pond. It would require carrying the boat and all the equipment over a fairly steep, rock-strewn and root-covered trail.

Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting

As usual, Tony did most of the heavy lifting as we dragged his 15-foot canoe and all the necessary equipment to the pond. And thanks to the cold, wet spring we had, the black flies were mixed in with the mosquitoes, even though it was Father’s Day weekend, not Mother’s Day weekend when you’d normally see black flies.

We made our way to the brush-choked shore. It was worth it almost for the view. It’s a gorgeous little pond, even by Maine standards. We were anxious to get started.

Can't Beat the View

Can’t Beat the View

The weatherman had promised an overcast day and maybe even a little drizzle. No such luck! As soon as we launched, the sun broke out of what turned out to be a cloudless sky, and the temperature shot up; not exactly the prime conditions we were hoping for.

We did as well as could be expected, catching my first creek chub, and a few small brookies–both stocked and native.

My First Creek Chub

My First Creek Chub

We lunched on the porch of the only camp on the lake.

A Rustic Camp

A Rustic Camp

It was a throwback in time in its structure and what passed for furniture and equipment. The only access is by boat or across the ice. It looked like it had not been used in several years, but one can only imagine the many wonderful days and nights spent there by so many hopeful hunters and fishermen.

A Hopeful Fisherman

A Hopeful Fisherman

Of note was the cardboard cutout, which was often done back then so you could eat your catch, of a 17-inch brookie with the date and name of the lucky fisherman and the fly. After lunch, we left our respite and headed across the pond to our truck to make ready for an evening of fishing.

After a hearty supper, we started to head for one of the more famous rivers when I once again got a whim. I turned to Tony, as we passed a stretch of a river that looked great and suggested that we drop the canoe in there.

It is one of those places that is very difficult to wade, and it is almost impossible to cover all of the good water with a fly rod.

So we dragged the canoe down yet another steep, rocky bank, and we launched. This worked out great. The darker it got, the more fish rose, and we had a great night of dry fly fishing.

Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Salmon

We landed five salmon and one brook trout, and one rainbow trout, along with the odd fallfish and smallmouth bass.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Again a whim paid off!

WLAGS

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Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Sometimes a whim is better than a well-laid plan. We had planned to fish the Magalloway River, but we were skeptical about the number of fishermen, having seen so many on the Androscoggin yesterday. We figured that river would be crazy with fishermen this morning, but the weather was just bad enough that maybe some would not venture out so early.

But we decided to stop at the dam anyway. We were encouraged when we didn’t see any cars parked there, but as it turns out a couple of guys walked there. One of them had the premier spot, but we decided to give it a shot at a couple of the lesser places to cast from.

I got there a little before Tony, and I took a lower position and motioned Tony to one of the outlets as he approached.

On his first cast I could see that he was into a fish–a little smallmouth. That was quickly followed by a nice perch.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

A few minutes later, as the rain picked up in intensity, I watched as his rod doubled over and then started throbbing almost violently.

I was sure at that point that it was brook trout, and by the bend in his six-weight rod, I knew that it was a good fish. After a few minutes, Tony called down to me that it was in fact a brookie.

Then I saw its head come out of the water and saw the distance between its dorsal fin and tail, and I knew I needed to get up there. Tony always fishes with barbless hooks, and that can come back to bite you when dealing with brook trout because of their head-shaking tactic.

Even the other fishermen knew that this was something special because they stopped fishing and even offered their assistance, which included a measuring tape.

Finally Tony managed to get it to the net. It was a gorgeous 17-1/2” brookie. Other than our Labrador trip, this fish rated the biggest on his all-time list of brook trout.

Tony's 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

With a little gentle handling and a chance to recover, the trout was back where he belonged, in the river.

Tony had taken all the fish on this trip thus far, on a fly he tied himself several years ago, a small, dark streamer.

So I headed back down to my spot and immediately tied on the same fly. A nice brown trout found it to his liking on my first cast.

The rain was coming down even harder now. It was the kind of day that if you were inside, you probably would not go out, but once you were out, what the heck; what’s getting a little more wet and cold? It certainly was putting our rain gear to the test.

We caught several more fish, including a couple of nice bass, but as the rain let up, so did the fishing.

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

When the rain finally stopped, you would not have known that there was a fish in the river.

We then turned our attention to fishing with my friend Brian that evening. Brian is almost a legend in these parts. He grew up north of the Notches, and knows the woods, lakes, and rivers of this area of N.H. and Maine.

He is also a guide and specializes in moose, both for hunting and photography. He has taken photos of moose that ended up in many magazines.

Brian met us at Lake Umbagog at about 5:30 PM, and we jumped into his 21’ 250 HP boat and were ready for action.

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

I must admit that I never went 60 MPH on freshwater before, but that’s what we were doing in what seemed like seconds.

We covered the 10+ miles to our spot in about 10 minutes. I trip that with my 40 HP motor, would have taken me twice that if I dared to go full throttle, and I wouldn’t do that.

We got some nice photos of a mated pair of eagles.

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Despite Brian’s intimate knowledge of the lake, the fishing was tough. We managed only a few decent  bass (all caught by Brian), a few respectable pickerel, and perch, and that was that. So even with an expert and the best equipment, sometimes the fish win.

Brian with a Smallmouth

Brian with a Smallmouth

WLAGS

 

Things That End Well

Things That End Well

Instead of being on the road for our annual Father’s Day week fishing trip, I found myself in the E.R. with a bad case of dehydration. After being treated with a bag of saline, I was discharged and told to rest for 24 hours.

Heading to the ER

Heading to the ER

Thus our trip started out a day late, and we would have to revise our plans, at least slightly. We were going to try to stick to a few goals we had set.

After arriving at our cabin at midafternoon, we made our way to a boat that we had left at the famous Pond in the River.

Our Boat at Pond in the River

Our Boat at Pond in the River

It was a beautiful day, but a bit breezier than we would have liked.

We reached our destination, the northeast end of the mile-and-half-long pond with about two hours of light left.

Like almost everything about this trip so far, things started off slowly. When I was seriously thinking about starting the long trek back, Tony suddenly hooked up. We knew instantly that it was a salmon, as it was spending almost as much time in the air as it did in the water. After a great battle, we released it.

Tony's 14-Inch Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Salmon

Not long after that, Tony hooked up again. Another salmon, and it too had fallen for a fly that Tony had tied himself many years ago.

The light was dimming quickly, but I told Tony to try for another minute. Sure enough, two casts later, he hooked and landed another salmon—no easy task on a single, barbless hook, which is required at Pond in the River. That was last call, as it was almost dark.

Tony's Last-Cast Salmon

Tony’s Last-Cast Salmon

We had a lightweight battery that we used because of the rugged trail we needed to negotiate. Could that battery stand up to a stiff 10- to 15-mph wind that was now blowing right down the chute at us? Well, we may have overheated that little battery, but it got us back to the truck about 45 minutes later.

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

We hoped that this start to our trip, although brief, was a sign of things to come.

More to follow.

WLAGS

What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a WSI day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

WLAGS

 

Labrador Part 7: You Can Never Go Home Again, At Least Not Yet

Labrador Part 7: You Can Never Go Home Again, At Least Not Yet

Day 6 of Fishing

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Our final day of fishing, Saturday was finally upon us. Ever since Wednesday, we had been anticipating going “home” to our best spot of the week, the Quartzite River. We had no idea what to expect, but we were hopeful it might be something like the wonderful day we had on Wednesday.

As the canoe pulled into the mouth of the river, it was obvious the water level had dropped since our last visit. Again, we didn’t try to fish the mouth because we probably spooked the resident fish there, especially now with the water level even lower than last time. So we made the 15-minute hike up to Juniper Pool. As we approached the pool, Tony asked Simon why it was called the Juniper Pool. He said, because of the big Juniper tree. We were confused. In New England, we would call this tree a Tamarack.

Tony and Simon Having Lunch Under the "Juniper" Tree

Tony and Simon Having Lunch Under the “Juniper” Tree

When we arrived it was obvious that there were far less caddis hatching than before, but there were a couple of fish rising on the few caddis that were there. Tony and Simon made there way to the opposite side of the river to fish the riffles on the right side, where most of the fish were working.

I stayed on the closest, left side of the river as you look down stream. It was only after a few casts that Tony hooked what was obviously a great fish. It ran like a bullet train towards the right shore of the pool, which is actually a small pond. It leaped just a few times so we could see its great size before the hook pulled out.

Not to be flustered, Tony was right back casting, and even from my distance I could see his Stimulator making a perfect drift. It was quickly sucked under, and the split second Tony set the hook the fish was airborne. A nice salmon for sure. I had a great view as each leap was quickly followed by Tony bowing to the repeatedly jumping fish, learning from his experience from Thursday. The scene was worth the price of admission. Several minutes later, the salmon was in the net. A beautiful 20-inch, 4-pound specimen. A trophy by New England standards, especially taken on a dry fly.

Tony's 20-Inch Salmon

Tony’s 20-Inch Salmon

Now It was my turn. I made my way, with Simon’s help, closer to the far shore. I hadn’t made too many casts into the same riffle when I was on. It was another fine salmon. The battle was a duplicate of Tony’s, and a few minutes later a 19.5-inch beauty was in the net.

My 19.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

My 19.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

A little while later, after not raising anymore fish, we headed for No Name Pool. As we made our way upstream, it was even more obvious that things had changed dramatically. There were very few caddisflies in the air, and the lower water level was even more noticeable here than it was downstream. There were far fewer fish rising, and we could see that the there were not the number of fish holding in the pool as there was Wednesday.

We approached the pool carefully, more so than on our previous visit because of the lower water. Tony stepped up to the spot we used so successfully on Wednesday, because it provided the best angle, a good view, and the best drift. It wasn’t but a few casts with his orange Stimulator when Tony hooked a great brookie. The lower water level took off some of the current’s pressure that we had deal with on Wednesday, removing one item from our potential problem list, but it added a new one. Now the fish could run towards the opposite bank, pass through extremely shallow rock-strewn water, and easily cut the leader. Tony’s job was simply to keep this very ticked off fish in the pool. It wasn’t a simple task, but he pulled it off and another 20-inch beauty was in the net.

Tony and His 20-Inch Brook Trout

Tony and His 20-Inch Brook Trout

My best efforts produced a more average-sized brookie of about 12 inches. In fact, the two of us would land a half dozen brookies that would be what you would expect to catch in New England.

The last of our exciting moments would come when the three of us crossed to the opposite bank. Simon and Tony spotted a small fish jumping out of the water downstream, and he insisted that it was being chased by a salmon. He gave Tony an ugly fly that he bought off the Inernet for 86 cents. He didn’t know what it was called. We dubbed it the 86-Cent Fly. Tony made an cross-stream cast, stripped like he were Bluefish fishing, and hooked the biggest salmon either of us had ever seen. Like all such moments, it was all too brief. All I heard was a screech from Simon as the salmon went airborne. He estimated the fish to be about 8 pounds. He ought to know. A week earlier he caught a 10 pounder here. The fish threw the fly (barbless, of course) on a spectacular leap.

It was a fitting way to end the fishing portion of out trip, leaving us wanting for more. Now that we had attained our goals of big brook trout, I think we would like to return at a time when our prime target would be those monster salmon. They say late August is such a time.

After a great week, we were looking forward to going home tomorrow, but the next couple of days would be very trying, as the weather would delay our departure. We began to run out of food. Burt jokingly put Zula on the menu.

Zula Makes the Menu

Zula Makes the Menu

That delay offered Tony a chance to do some extra fishing. Sunday evening, he caught a nice pike right behind the lodge that the guides asked him to keep due to our food shortage.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

That night, Tony completed the McKenzie Grand Slam (Brook Trout, Salmon, Pike, White Fish, Lake Trout). In Sunday evening’s rain, wind, and fog Tony went to the buoys in his waders and completed the Slam with a 6-pound laker.

Tony's Long-Awaited Lake Trout

Tony’s Long-Awaited Lake Trout

On Monday, July 4, the fog finally cleared just enough for a float plane to come get us from Labrador City, and our fishing trip of a lifetime came to an end.

It was more than a fishing trip, it was an adventure. It was far more challenging than we expected, both in terms of the physical effort and the fishing skills required, but it was so rewarding.

Tony put it best when he compared this trip to fishing the Lamar River during our 2011 trip to Montana and Wyoming.

On that trip, he noted that it was like three different trips in one with regards to the fishing expertise required.

On the one hand, we fished a very remote part of the Yellowstone River that we accessed by horseback. The fish there were so unwary and so plentiful that anything that floated was going to produce. It wasn’t even a challenge.

On the other hand, the Gallatin River fish were so well schooled by the best fly fishermen in the country that just getting one to hit was a major accomplishment. It was challenging to the point of frustration.

The Lamar River, on the other hand, was both challenging and rewarding. If you made a good cast with a good presentation, you were often rewarded with a nice fish.

That is what this Labrador trip was like. Very challenging and very rewarding. This trip completes my personal goal of fishing Alaska, Montana, and Labrador.

The Adventure Comes to a Close

The Adventure Comes to a Close

I hope to go back to one or more of them someday, but if I don’t I’ll be more than happy to have had these moments, and be forever grateful to have experienced such beautiful fish in such utterly beautiful and wild places.

Labrador: An Utterly Beautiful and Wild Place to Fish

Labrador: An Utterly Beautiful and Wild Place to Fish

WLAGS

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Day 5 of Fishing

July 1, 2016

When we got going on Friday we were once again put in the very capable hands and feet of Simon. We headed to the lower portions of the McKenzie River because no one else had fished those sections yet this season. These sections are extremely important in August and less so in July. It would also require our longest walk and the most boat changes of our entire trip.

Simon was up and off right on time with us in tow. It is more difficult to negotiate the narrow trails with fly rods, waders, bugs, and mud. Thankfully some of the mud had dried up since our initial hike on Monday. Our trip took us through some of the nicest country and beautiful water of the entire week.

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

We noticed that the further we walked downstream the fewer insects and even fewer bait fish we were seeing. The water seemed cooler too. That all seemed to contribute to a lack of game fish. We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.

"We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another."

“We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.”

All we managed were three pike–another indication that the water was cooler and that the brookies in particular were not going to be sharing the water with those toothy critters.

"All we managed were three pike."

“All we managed were three pike.”

We did see and Tony did get some awesome photos of the eagle at Elbow Pool.

The Eagle Didn't Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Didn’t Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

So we reluctantly started our trek upstream, which included Simon having to pull the canoe upstream for 100 yards or more. Not an easy task even under the best of conditions.

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

We were tired and admittedly a little discouraged when we reached Salmon Pool, and Simon perked up as he spotted a “nice” brookie rising in the middle of the pool. He set up Tony in position to best reach the fish. This fish was going to be a real challenge. It was obvious that this fish was going to be very fussy about the fly and its presentation. It took some time, but finally the fish took Tony’s presentation and a great battle ensued. In the end he was netted. A beautiful 19-inch, 3.5-pound brookie. It took the edge off a tiring and somewhat disappointing day.

Tony's 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Tony’s 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Just as we were about to leave, Simon noticed another trout rising almost in the same spot. So I was up, and having Tony’s fish taking a liking to Tony’s fly, I used his rod. This fish, like Tony’s, was very fussy about presentation, and it took a few casts to get it just right. Eventually I did get the presentation right, and he took the fly. It was another fish that was greatly appreciated, even in this river of monsters. My fish was just shy of 19” and 3.5#.

Another Beautiful Brookie

Another Beautiful Brookie

 

Both of these trout would have been our biggest brookies of all time before this trip.

I then managed a smaller salmon to cap things off.

The rest of the trek up river and back to camp was much more enjoyable because of Simon’s sharp eye and those beautiful fish.

After dinner, we witnessed the “contest” that Andrew and JP had going. They had challenged each other to dive into Andre Lake each night that they spent there in 2016. We all ran down to the dock to watch them brave the chilly waters. The water in the lake had *warmed up to* 53 degrees Fahrenheit by today, July 1. Imagine the temperatures when they arrived on June 12, the day that the ice went out on the lake.

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

After that excitement, Burt said, “I bet I know where you are going tomorrow.” He was right. Nothing short of Hell or high water would stop us from going back to the Quartzite!

WLAGS

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Day 4 of Fishing

June 30, 2016

Thursday was a challenge. The weather was gray and windy, and we were headed for the Comeback River. It is more than an hour’s ride north in the biggest canoe with the 20 HP motor at full throttle. Tony and I questioned Burt’s suggestion about making this trip, but he assured us it was a good bet. We could see plainly that the wind was coming out of the south, and we knew getting there would not be much of an issue. We also knew that if the winds did not lie down, coming back could be another matter.

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

So we packed our gear and got into the boat with JP as our guide. It was clear to us that the further we went up the lake, the waves were building at our stern. After an hour, we reached Montgomery narrows, and JP turned to us and expressed his doubt about going through the narrows. His fear was that we would be sheltered on the other side and not see the waves building. We agreed.

He suggested that we troll right where we were. We agreed again and tried, but the waves were already too much to handle comfortably. We knew the ride back was going to be longer and wetter than the ride was to get there. After a few tempered attempts to troll, we headed back south towards camp. It was a very slow, wet, and bumpy ride, with JP having to cut across many of the larger waves. Finally, we could see camp, after more than an hour of getting battered to and fro.

Now we took a lunch break, and for one of the few times, we did that at the lodge. After lunch, under drizzly skies, JP suggested that we troll at the mouth of the McKenzie River. As we got about 200 yards from the mouth, in about five feet of water, we could see boulders all around us, and after only a few minutes, my rod doubled over. It was obvious from the first few seconds that this was a very large fish. Then the fish made four runs that put me over 100 yards into my backing.

The Fish Made Four Runs

The Fish Made Four Runs

He or she was towing us. I got most nervous when we found ourselves in only a foot or two of water with boulders everywhere you looked. Finally, after somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes, we had the fish parallel to the boat just inches below us in two feet of water. We all looked in amazement at its size. My first thought was “We’re going to need a bigger net!” Even JP was in awe. He was as excited as we were, for sure. Slowly I guided the fish towards the net, JP slipped the net under the fish, and there was much rejoicing…high fives, cameras flashing, and all of us in awe.

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

We were surprised when JP said it was the biggest laker he had ever seen as well as the biggest fish he had ever heard of being landed at camp. He guessed the laker was 25 or more years old, maybe even 30. JP’s best guess was that it weighed 15 pounds. That beats my previous biggest laker by almost 6 pounds. We measured the fish against my hockey stick-turned-wading staff since we didn’t have a measuring tape in the canoe. When we got back to camp, we measured JP’s mark to see that the fish measured 33 inches. That fish took the sting out of a disappointing morning.

Measuring Against My Bauer "Wading Staff"

Measuring Against My Bauer “Wading Staff”

A few minutes later I hooked a smaller, 19-inch laker, which by comparison felt like a sunfish. I actually had Tony land it for me because my arms were beat from the estimated 20-minute fight with the 33-incher.

19-Inch Lake Trout

19-Inch Lake Trout

I’m here to tell you that anyone that disparages the fighting ability of a lake trout, has never caught one in a few feet of 50-degree water on a fly rod. I can’t imagine that any 15-pound striper has ever given more of a battle than that 15-pound laker did. By the way, I actually caught both of these lakers on a striper fly with a saltwater hook.

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

After catching a nice pike while trolling, we decided to stretch our legs by wading and casting for some pike. It was ridiculously easy fishing. You would make a cast, usually with a popper, and if you didn’t get a hit immediately; then all you had to do was make like you were bluefish fishing (that is, strip really fast and erratically) and you would be on. There was literally a pike every 10 feet of shoreline that we waded.

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

Most of the pike were about two feet long, a few were bigger, and a rare one was smaller. Almost every one had scars on them where another pike, a lake trout, an eagle, a mink, or an otter tried to eat them.

All of the Pike Had Injuries

All of the Pike Had Injuries

I think I caught about six, and Tony caught more than that in very short order. It was great to see this big, toothy mouth come up behind your popper just a few feet away and engulf it. We missed many because the strikes were so startling, and that threw off your timing of the hook set.

When we got our fill of pike fishing, Tony and JP waded over to the “Jugs” to see whether any fish were hanging out there. The Jugs are a couple of white plastic bottles anchored at the end of the camp’s peninsula to mark the channel leading into the McKenzie River. That day, while we fished in waders at the Jugs, Joe Jr. was with Burt, fishing the mouth of the McKenzie in the pontoon boat.  

The wind slowed, a few caddis started hatching, and a few fish began rising in the channel. Tony had his target. After a number of casts, Tony hooked into a huge salmon that jumped and snapped his leader. I told him, “I know you’re excited, but when they jump…” “I have to bow to them,” Tony finished my sentence. “That’s right,” I said.

After missing several more takes on his dry fly, Tony eventually hooked up again. Each time the fish came to the surface, Tony bowed. He had learned his lesson. However, this fish never jumped all the way out of the water. Eventually we decided that this fish was not anything that we had previously encountered. The fish had taken a relatively small dry fly, which ruled out a pike and made it very unlikely to be a laker. Although it was giving Tony what for, it was not shaking its head very much, which ruled out a brook trout.

JP Prepares to Net Tony's Mystery Fish

JP Prepares to Net Tony’s Mystery Fish

As the battle lingered on, it became obvious to JP that it was a whitefish…very much sought after here for their taste for dries and their taste in the frying pan. You have to be careful when playing them or even setting the hook on one, as their mouths are very soft and the hooks will pull out very easily. I knew that this was bigger, by far, than any whitefish that I had ever seen, never mind caught. JP caught the end of the long fight on Tony’s GoPro.

I got a photo or two, and Joe Jr. got some great photos from his seat in the pontoon boat.

One of Joe Jr.'s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

One of Joe Jr.’s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

When the fish came to the net it was in fact, by my standards, a large lake whitefish at about 20 inches and 4 pounds.

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

Now Tony was only a salmon and a laker shy of the McKenzie River grand slam.

Tony Releases the Whitefish

Tony Releases the Whitefish

During dinner that night, Tony, JP, Joe, and I, talked about all the salmon and whitefish that were rising to Tony’s fly. This got everyone excited to do some dry fly fishing around sunset…sunset being at 10:50 PM!

JP and Zula Heading Out

JP and Zula Heading Out

After dinner, Tony,  JP, Zula, and even Andrew, and I took a canoe to the top section of the McKenzie to cast some dry flies.

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

True to form, Simon was already there when we got there. Soon after we arrived, Simon caught a brookie and a salmon. It was such a gorgeous night that Tony was torn between fishing and taking photographs. The lack of wind was a nice change from that morning, but the mosquitoes were awful!

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

We got schooled by the guides that night, but it was a pleasure to watch the guides work their craft. Simon is a fantastic caster. He can cast an entire fly line with relative ease. He muscles his way through the line, and he’s rewarded with lots of fish. Andrew’s cast is like butter. His considerable height gives him an advantage over Simon, but clearly Andrew has worked to perfect his naturally smooth, effortless cast. Andrew came up empty that night though, as did we.

JP outsmarts the fish. He wades far, casts short (though he can no doubt cast as far as he wants), and most importantly, he watches the water and the insects. He caught several caddisflies and inspected them closely. He then matched that hatch. Finally, he watched the water like a hawk to pick up on the patterns of the rising fish. His homework paid big dividends. Despite being distracted by a lifejacket-wearing Zula, JP caught more fish than anyone…brookies, salmon, and even a whitefish.

Zula Visiting JP

Zula Visiting JP

He captured a nice video of his whitefish with Tony’s GoPro.

The canoe ride home made for some beautiful views of the setting sun, which takes a long, long time to set this time of year this far north.

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

It was a long day, not the best day by far, but the fish we caught were nice ones, and you just can’t beat the views.

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Indescribable Views at Sunset

WLAGS