The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 4

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 4

The next morning (our last) found us back in the stretch on the upper Magalloway where the big trout had been the evening before. He or she must have fed all night and decided to sleep in. That fish never showed. Some of his or her offspring were more cooperative, and we caught and released a couple average-sized brookies.

My 10-Inch Brook Trout

My 10-Inch Brook Trout

It was a beautiful morning, except for the clouds of mosquitoes and black flies. This was not the norm. Usually when we fish here at this time of the season we only have to contend with the mosquitoes, but I think because of the late spring, we had to deal with the black flies as well. We were however encouraged by what we saw and made plans to return that evening.

Beautiful Morning = Bad Fishing

Beautiful Morning = Bad Fishing

Later in the morning we dropped downstream in hopes of finding some feeding fish. We did but they were all fallfish.

Tony's 7-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 7-Inch Fallfish

We returned to the upper Magalloway that evening in hopes of getting another shot at that big brookie, but it never showed up. In fact, despite adequate insects hatching, the rises were few and far between. We did manage another average-sized brookie each.

8-Inch Brook Trout

8-Inch Brook Trout

It probably does not make sense to a non-fisherman, but the highlight of our trip was that missed fish. Why? Because in my lifetime of almost three-quarters of a century, I have seen very few brook trout of that size. The only ones I have seen, I had to travel hundreds of miles at great expense and physical effort to accomplish in Labrador.

It is even more special knowing that this trout was not born in a hatchery, but instead was born in this beautiful river surrounded by these incredible mountains.

The Cloudy Sunset Behind the Mountains

The Cloudy Sunset Behind the Mountains

I am very happy knowing that that fish is probably still there, and I can’t wait until September in hopes of fooling him with a grasshopper fly.

Grasshopper Fly

Grasshopper Fly

So despite the low number of fish landed, it was a most productive and rewarding Father’s Day weekend, and I will cherish the memories of it.

WLAGS

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The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

On the third morning we put the boat in Aziscohos Lake near the inlet of the Magalloway River. To get there, we needed to drive about 16 miles down dirt roads.

At one point, we came upon a doe standing in the road, licking it to take in the minerals, much like a cow does with a salt lick. Unlike all the moose that we saw, she was not very skittish at all. In fact, she was reluctant to leave the road. We needed to drive right up to her before she would scamper off into the woods, which she did very slowly, giving Tony a chance to take a few pictures of her. One look at her ribs made it obvious why she was so reluctant to leave the mineral-rich dirt road.

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

This is what a deer looks like even several weeks after 17 feet of snow has melted. That’s not a typo. They received 17 feet of snow this winter.

As we were preparing to launch, we met the new warden in the area, Officer Egan. After we exchanged pleasantries, we offered to show him our licenses, but I assume after our conversation he knew that we were legal. Besides, he was far more interested in some campers that were camped right under a sign that said, “No Camping”!

It was a beautiful morning, which inevitably makes for tough fishing. We each caught a small brook trout.

Tony's 8-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 8-Inch Brook Trout

A loon was also fishing for those small brookies.

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The highlight of the day was seeing a mated pair of bald eagles feeding their eaglet on the nest.

The Eaglet Being Fed

The Eaglet Being Fed

That evening, we went to the upper Magalloway River. There were fish rising, but they were very fussy. These fish no doubt had seen many a fly in their day as this stretch of the river has strict fly fishing only, catch-and-release, and barbless hook regulations.

One of Many "Fly Fishing Only" Signs on the Magalloway

One of Many “Fly Fishing Only” Signs on the Magalloway

It became obvious that there was one very large brookie occasionally feeding in the pool. Knowing that too much activity would put them down, I stopped casting in hopes that Tony could get that big brookie to take. Tony carefully measured his casts so as not to let that fish get a glimpse of his fly line.

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

It worked. After several casts and a perfect drift came the unmistakable sound of a big fish rolling on the fly. Up came Tony’s rod with a deep bend in it from the weight of the fish, but almost as quickly it went limp.

The good news is that that miss did not seem to deter that fish from feeding. Tony stayed there until last light, as did the fish. Once darkness set in the air cooled, the flies stopped hatching, and the fish stopped feeding. Both Tony and the fish called it a night.

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

As we made the long trek home, we saw five moose (including three calves), a doe, and a red fox.

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

WLAGS

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 2

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 2

Monday would be our first full day on the water, or I should say “waters,” as we changed spots a few times.

We started out by heading to the Magalloway River—one of the most iconic native brook trout rivers in the lower 48.

Along the way, I was hoping to show Tony his first bluebird. Unfortunately, with everything being a few weeks behind schedule due to the cold, wet spring, the bluebirds hadn’t yet arrived. Swallows were in the bluebird boxes instead. With his 300mm zoom lens, Tony was able to catch some cool photos of a male swallow handing off a large, white feather to a female as she prepared their nest. At one point, the male dropped the feather and was able to swoop down and catch it before it hit the ground!

Nesting Swallows

Nesting Swallows

As we drove by the Mailbox Pool on the Magalloway, a very famous spot on the river, we saw only two vehicles parked alongside the road. It was a Monday morning, but still only two vehicles was a great temptation. I have driven by this place countless times, but never fished it because it is always being fished hard by talented fly fishermen. We had to stop, at Tony’s insistence, if only to be able to say that we have fished it.

We passed a group of three fishermen that appeared to be a three-generation group, and they informed us that the gates of the dam had been opened the night before. That meant that the river would be unfishable. We went and checked it out anyway. We took a few casts, but those guys were right; the water was flowing at 635 feet per second (fps).

The Famous Mailbox Pool

The Famous Mailbox Pool

So we headed for the upper portion of the Kennebago River. It was another place we had never fished, despite having fished the lower portion many times. I had heard that this upper section would hold many smaller brookies and salmon. Like everywhere else, the water levels were up there as well. It was a beautiful stretch of water.

Upper Kennebago River

Upper Kennebago River

It was nice to see after traveling 15 or so miles of rugged dirt road.

Logging Trucks on One of the Many Dirt Roads

Logging Trucks on One of the Many Dirt Roads

Despite the high water, Tony landed two nice native brookies.

Native Kennebago Brookie

Native Kennebago Brookie

That evening, we swung by the dam again. We managed to catch a few smallmouths and fallfish to end the day.

Tony's 10-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 10-Inch Fallfish

WLAGS

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