Lodge Rating: McKenzie River Fly Fishing Lodge 2016

Lodge Rating: McKenzie River Fly Fishing Lodge 2016

We here at WLAGS want to give you what we deem an honest evaluation of lodges, camps, and other places we have been. Today, we’re giving you our opinion of McKenzie River Fly Fishing Lodge in Labrador, Canada, and sharing some of our photos of our stay there.

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Cabin: Ouananiche

Ready for Battle

Ready for Battle

Location: 10

Service: 10

Check-out time (9:00): 9

Lodge: 9

The Lodge

The Lodge

* Cabin overall: 8

Water pressure: 5

Water temperature: 7

The Water Tower Dictates the Water Pressure

The Water Tower Dictates the Water Pressure

Beds: 9

Cabin location: 10

Cabin view: 8

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Cabin temperature: 8

Cabin structure: 8

Comfortable Beds, and Chocolates on the Pillows

Comfortable Beds, and Chocolates on the Pillows

Boating facilities: 9

Access to electricity: 8

 

* Food overall: 10

Food portions: 10

Food quality: 10

Food breakfast: 9

Food lunch: 9

Food dinner: 10

Food dessert: 10

One of Andrew's Many Great Meals

One of Andrew’s Many Great Meals

Fishing potential: 10

Fishing access: 10

The Fish of a Lifetime Is Just a Short Walk from the Cabins

The Fish of a Lifetime Is Just a Short Walk from the Cabins

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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 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

Labrador Part 4: The Best of Days

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.

WLAGS

 

Labrador Part 2: The Pike Disappointment

Labrador Part 2: The Pike Disappointment

Day 1 of Fishing

Juin 27

After getting settled in our new home last evening, eating a hearty supper and getting to know our hosts, we settled in for a well-deserved and very early night of rest after the trials and tribulations of our journey.

The next morning came very early, both in terms of daylight (daybreak was around 3:30 AM) and seemingly, not enough sleep. We made our way to the lodge and found Andrew had prepared a huge breakfast. There were eggs, of course, and the mandatory heaping platter of bacon. Bacon and butter are staples of life here. We went through about 10 pounds of each that week.

A Hearty Breakfast

A Hearty Breakfast

We discussed the day’s plans during and after breakfast. Burt, the head guide, thought it would be best for the Joes and Walter to fish the head of the outlet so that they could set up “Joe senior” in the pontoon boat (Burt calls it a pool toy).

The Pontoon Boat

The Pontoon Boat

The other guide would set “Joe Jr.” and Walt up on either bank, and fish from the freighter canoes. The canoes, by the way, were 18-foot- and 20-foot-long spruce and Kevlar, square-stern canoes, powered by 9.9- and 20-horse power four-stroke engines. They were amazing in both their stability and the shallow draft. Both of those attributes would very much come into play later in the week.

One of the Kevlar-Coated Canoes

One of the Kevlar-Coated Canoes

It was decided that Tony and I would go with Burt down to what they call “Second Section;” that is, the second part of the McKenzie River downstream from the lodge.

Artist's Rendering of the McKenzie River Area

Artist’s Rendering of the McKenzie River Area

Only the guides had briefly fished Second Section during their setup time the previous two weeks. (Ice went out on Andre Lake on June 12, just as the guides arrived.)

Our day began by walking behind the lodge to one of the 18-foot canoes. Given that it was in the 60s Fahrenheit, we were stunned to see a large snow bank.

The Snowbank Behind the Lodge...On June 27

The Snowbank Behind the Lodge…On June 27

As we walked down a narrow caribou trail, Burt cleared his throat loudly and yelled, “I am not a bear!” This was simultaneously amusing and unnerving, but it worked. We didn’t see any bears.

We were full of optimism, but the walk was a little grueling after a short boat ride to the head of the outlet. It was warm, buggy—very buggy, and with the showers from the night before, very muddy as well. We each had two fly rods, our vests, wading staff, a backpack with cameras and other essentials, and we were wearing waders, of course. Not exactly your typical hiking outfit. To top it off, we were over-dressed for a hike. We were wearing turtlenecks and long underwear in anticipation of the 50-degree Fahrenheit river water.

As we approached our first spot to fish, Burt said, “Young fellers,” and he shook his head disapprovingly. One of the younger guides had left a jacket hanging in a tree when they were clearing this old caribou trail in the previous week.

The Bugs Were Getting to Tony

The Bugs Were Getting to Tony

As we fished one pool or riffle after another, we took Burt’s suggestion to fish close first, then fish further out, and change flies often. We started out at the Mouse Pool, where Tony had to try a mouse fly. Where else can you catch a brookie on a mouse fly? Unfortunately, he didn’t have a sniff. What’s worse, he learned what Burt calls “The McKenzie Two-Step,” which is to say that Tony fell in the river. Luckily his rain gear and waders kept him mostly dry, except for the fleece liner for his raincoat.

We had no success for an hour or more when I finally hooked up on a fly tied in N.H., the Jackass.

Jackass

Jackass

It was the only time in my life I was disappointed to catch a pike. We quickly released him after a fair fight. Just a few casts later produced a nice 25-inch, 6-pound laker.

My First Labrador Lake Trout (25 Inches and 6 Pounds)

My First Labrador Lake Trout (25 Inches and 6 Pounds)

Burt got some decent underwater video of the lake trout using Tony’s GoPro mounted on the landing net.

It was nice, but not what we came for. Burt was a little dismayed to see pike and lakers here. He thought if they were here, the brookies would not be. He was right.

We stopped for a nice shore lunch and fire, including some “Canadian bush tea,” according to Burt, which was very good. We hung Tony’s wet fleece liner, still soaking after his “dip” in the river, by the fire to dry it out.

Shore Lunch, Complete with a Fire and Canadian Bush Tea

Shore Lunch, Complete with a Fire and Canadian Bush Tea

As we sat by the river eating the lunches Andrew had prepared for us, I realized that my wading staff was only half there. I had lost the bottom half of it along the trail; probably in one of the mud holes that we navigated. Burt took a walk back up the trail to try to find it, but he came up empty. Tony lent me his wading staff for the rest of the day.

We worked our way down to the end of Second Section, where we trolled briefly in a large pool where they kept another canoe. I managed another laker that measured 26 inches and weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces.

26-Inch Lake Trout, Weighing 6 Pounds, 4 Ounces

26-Inch Lake Trout, Weighing 6 Pounds, 4 Ounces

Two more pike were all that I could manage that day, and Tony was fishless. We stopped by the lunch spot to pick up Tony’s fleece that we hung out to dry. Unfortunately, we had two short downpours and some drizzle in the interim. His fleece liner for his raincoat was even wetter than when he’d “taken a swim” in the river.

As we continued our hike back, Burt found the bottom of my wading staff stuck in a mud hole in the trail.

I must be honest, and say that I was disappointed. We were tired, warm, and sick of fighting off bugs. I’m not sure how far we walked, but at the end of the day Tony’s Fitbit said we had walked 10 miles and took 22,000 steps. We know that that number is inflated because his Fitbit counts reeling as steps, but we didn’t do very much reeling today. That’s still a lot of walking even under the best conditions.

We Walked 10 Miles (Give or Take 5 Miles)

We Walked 10 Miles (Give or Take 5 Miles)

We made our way back to the lodge about 5 PM, with the sun seemingly in the high-noon position.

At supper, we learned that the Joes and Walt did very well at the outlet. That gave us hope for tomorrow. They had caught a couple of big brookies and hooked at least some salmon.

After dinner, two guides, Jean-Philip (“JP” for short) and Simon invited Tony to go trolling on Andre Lake that night. JP caught a nice 26” pike out on the lake with spinning gear and a spoon.

JP's Pike and Zula

JP’s Pike and Zula

It is legal to do that on the lake, whereas the rivers are restricted to barbless flies, and all trout and salmon are released.

We were optimistic about tomorrow.

WLAGS

 

Labrador: The Journey Begins

Labrador: The Journey Begins

Every journey has a beginning, and this one did not have a very auspicious start. It stumbled because of today’s technology, but it was saved by human concern and effort.

We changed planes four times and made five stops on our way to McKenzie River Fly Fishing Lodge.

Each plane was smaller than the previous one. As we approached Sept-Iles, Quebec (pronounced “set EEL”), our third stop and second plane change, I noticed we were going to be late for our connecting flight to Wabush Airport, which serves Labrador City. I asked the flight attendant about this, and she assured me that the flight to Wabush would wait for us. When I saw the airfield (you could not call it an airport) I understood why. The buildings were no more than 80’x60’, I would guess.

Sure enough, our flight to Wabush was sitting there, engines running (propelers, of course, as were all of the flights after our arrival in Montreal), waiting for us and a few other passengers.

Our Prop Plane from Sept-Iles to Wabush

Our Prop Plane from Sept-Iles to Wabush

We took our carry-ons off one plane, right on to the next, and boarded. We had an almost full plane with about 12 passengers. The previous flight was about half-full with 17 people. They seated Tony and I right behind the pilots’ open-door cockpit. We were on our way for the last of today’s flights.

Cockpit View

Cockpit View

When we arrived at Wabush Airport, which had even smaller buildings, we found that our luggage did not make the trip. We rushed to the Air Canada counter (about 40’ away from the sole luggage carousel) just as Faith and Jackie, Air Canada employees, were locking up for the night. They were more than concerned and very accustomed to dealing with fishermen and well aware of what was at stake here.

They were reassuring and said that they would follow through from home that night with people that they knew. Sure enough, at 10: 30 that night, the phone rang in our hotel room. It was Faith. She found out that our luggage had never left Montreal, even though we had a four-hour layover there. She assured us that it would be in Wabush early the next afternoon. We were relieved but had other issues to face.

Immediately after our first discussion with Faith and Jackie at the airport, Pascale, the Native American (or “First Nations,” as they say in Canada) lady that runs the float plane/charter service brought us from the airport to the Two Seasons Hotel in Labrador City. They had no record of our reservation. Tony would have to put the hotel room on his credit card even though it was part of our package with the lodge. Pascale called the lodge to straighten things out. Luckily, the Two Seasons had plenty of available rooms. They assured us that it would be straightened out by the time we returned from dinner.

The Aptly-Named, Two Seasons Inn

The Aptly-Named, Two Seasons Inn

Then the Two Seasons employee gave us more bad news. Labrador City, if you can call it a city given it has just 9,000 inhabitants, has to shut down all power every quarter to refuel the generators that run the entire town. As it happens, we arrived at just that time. Power would go off at 4:00 AM and go on again at noon. So far, today, Tony’s birthday of all days, was not going as we had hoped. Thanks to the pending power outage, we had to do everything we needed to do that night, including: shower, eat, and make calls from the hotel phone (no cell phone service, of course). We ate at one of the three open restaurants, had a nice home-style meal of ribs, and called home, the owner of the lodge, and the booking agent to let them know about our difficulties.

The next morning, daybreak was before 4:00 AM, all was quiet. No restaurants were open. In fact, the only place that was open was Jubber’s, a convenience store that had its own generator.

The Oddly-Named Jubber's

The Oddly-Named Jubber’s

Jubber’s was crowded when we entered. We grabbed some fruit bars, water, and a Snapple for breakfast. Tony had a head cold, and he was hoping to buy some NyQuil too, but they didn’t have anything like that. It was a nice morning, if not a little hot in fact, and we enjoyed our “breakfast” outside in a shady park next to the town clock, which was stuck at 4:00 AM due to the power outage.

The Clock in Labrador City

The Clock in Labrador City

At noon, Pascale brought us to her “airport” to weigh us, our luggage and gear (minus my and Tony’s lost bags, of course), along with some of the goods necessary to stock the camp for a week or more.

It was here that we met up with the other guys that were going to the lodge with us: Joe, his son Joe, and Walt. You will hear more about these great guys later. It was also here that we met Burt, the head guide. He would be flying with us to the lodge. He also got on the scale with his gear, some fly tying supplies, and some shelving for the guides’ cabin.

Weighing Our Gear and Burt

Pascale said that Air Canada would have our luggage to her plane by 2:00 PM. She’d delay our originally scheduled 8:00 AM flight until 2:00 to accommodate us. Until then, she let us borrow the McKenzie River van, a “well-used,” red monstrosity with flies stuck in the fabric above the driver’s seat. The younger Joe took the wheel, and Burt let us follow him to the 250,000-square foot Labrador Mall.

The "Well-Used" McKenzie River Van

The “Well-Used” McKenzie River Van

We had noticed that Pascale had trouble starting the van when she picked us up at the Two Seasons Inn. When we arrived at the mall, we debated whether to turn off the van or leave it running. Joe decided to tempt fate and turn it off.

This Wal-Mart was like no Wal-Mart you have ever seen! It was small, dark, and the prices were incredibly high even taking into account the exchange rate ($1 CAD = $0.70 USD that day), but it was what we needed and where we needed it. We also stopped at Canadian Tire, which is like a combination of Home Depot, Tire Warehouse, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a farm store. Great place.

While eating “breakfast,” I had noticed that almost every pickup truck we saw had a bright orange flag sticking up 4 to 6 feet in the bed. I asked the young man at the register at Canadian Tire what the flags were all about, having speculated to Tony earlier that it was because of the snow banks being so high, and the employee confirmed my suspicion. He said a single storm of 50” of snow was common.

The five of us returned to the floatplane site to find that only my bag had arrived. Tony would have to borrow what he needed for the next two-plus days. The guides would lend him waders, tackle, and boots, and I had enough of whatever else he needed to get by along with some clothes from our new friends next door. The pilot said, “Hurry up. There’s a thunder storm brewing. We need to get off the ground now.”

Joe the Elder Boards Our Floatplane

Joe the Elder Boards Our Floatplane

The flight was reminiscent of our bush flights over Alaska 26 years earlier. There was water everywhere—and some patches of snow, despite it being June 26—and raindrops were starting to hit the windshield.

The View from the Floatplane

The View from the Floatplane

There were hundreds of lakes as far as you could see in any direction, and Tony had the best seat of all. He was in the copilot’s seat, out of necessity.

Tony as "Copilot"

Tony as “Copilot”

Finally, our destination was in sight. A speck of four small buildings on a carpet of evergreens surrounded by water.

Flying Over McKenzie River Flyfishing Lodge

Flying Over McKenzie River Flyfishing Lodge

The pilot pulled the Beaver to within inches of the dock. We were greeted by our hosts and guides and a dog named Zula, on a typical Labrador-like day—gray and drizzly.

Zula Greets Us

Zula Greets Us

We helped our new friend, the older Joe Jr. (who we usually called “Joe Sr.”), an 86 year-old Air Force veteran from Texas onto the dock, along with his son (also named Joe) from Florida, and their friend, 75 year-old Walt, also from Texas.

We had arrived.

WLAGS