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

 

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Labrador Part 3: “It’s a Big Brookie”

Labrador Part 3: “It’s a Big Brookie”

Day 2 of Fishing

June 28, 2016

Day 2 started out very much like the day before with a great breakfast and getting more familiar with our environment and our fellow guests and hosts.

It was decided that today Tony and I would be in the very capable hands of Simon on his 26th birthday. It was also decided that we would fish First Section of the McKenzie River, mostly the waters immediately below where “Joe Sr.,” “Joe Jr.,” and Walt had fished yesterday. Those three went out on the lake to target pike and lakers.

So again, we took the short boat ride to the river’s outlet, and we started working our way downstream.

Again, it seemed for quite some time that the fishing gods were against us. We saw some hatches, but little in the way of fish activity.

One of the Few Mayflies That Day

One of the Few Mayflies That Day

Finally, we got down to Goudie Pool, and again I hooked up on one of my flies, Grampy’s Copper Flash. Again, it was a pike. It was a nice fish, but again I was disappointed.

Goudie Was a Trapper Who Walked for 30 Days to Trap Here Many Years Ago

Goudie Was a Trapper Who Walked for 30 Days to Trap Here Many Years Ago

The pike’s sharp teeth had decimated my fly, and I noticed my leader was growing short I decided that I needed to tie on a new tippet while standing in the middle of this rushing river.

The Pike that did a Number on My Leader

The Pike that did a Number on My Leader

So there I was, trying to tie a good blood knot with the river gushing at my legs and me too stubborn to put on my glasses for fear of losing them in the river. I tied the knot and tested it as best I could, and it seemed fine. I tied on a smelt pattern that we use back home, and started to cast downstream of where the pike had been.

The Smelt Fly that I Tied

The Smelt Fly that I Tied

Simon had come over to net the pike and remove the fly, and he was just about back to the bank and Tony. About the time that he reached the tree line, I hooked up again. I gave a little yell, but didn’t want to get too excited for fear that it was another pike.

Simon grabbed the net and ran—and I mean *ran*—back towards me, with the river’s water gushing to the top of his waders. I knew that this fish was not a pike, or if it was, it was considerably bigger than any of the others.

Simon barked out, “It’s a laker!” Then he yelled, “No, it’s a pike.” My heart sank. Then again, he said, “It’s a laker.” I felt a little better. The fish started shaking its head violently, and I told an anxious Simon so. Simon said, “It’s a big brookie,” but followed with “Brookie or a laker—I saw a white fin.” Then Simon yelled “Big brookie, *big* brookie!” As you’ll see in the GoPro video, he was as excited as I was. I got nervous now thinking that this is what this trip was all about for us.

Then I remembered the knot! What if I didn’t snug it up, or what if I cut the tag too short? There was a little panic as I inched the fish closer to Simon. “It’s a big brookie,” he chirped again. He yelled to Tony, who was up river, “Bring the camera, it’s a big brookie!” My heart was in my mouth. Now was not the time to panic. I needed to steer the fish at an angle and to keep his head upstream to get him to the net. It worked! Simon gave out a gleeful yell as he got it into the net.

There was a sense of relief and excitement that I can’t describe. Relief that one of the goals of this trip, and in fact one of the goals of my life, had been realized.

Tony felt it too. Many times I said to him over the years, “I’ll die a happier man if I can catch just one 20-inch brookie in my life,” and here it was.

The fish measured 20.5 inches and 4.5 pounds. It was as beautiful as any fish I had caught in my entire life, maybe the most beautiful of all.

My First 20.5-Inch Brook Trout

My First 20.5-Inch Brook Trout

We kept it well rested in the water while we readied the cameras. After a quick photo or two, we made sure that it was well rested and then gleefully watched it swim back to where it came from. High fives all around.

Now it was an all-out effort to get Tony hooked up, but we came up short. Tony caught a couple of average brookies and even a couple of smaller salmon. The water was still cool, and the fish had not yet moved out of the lake and into the rivers in any numbers.

Simon with One of Tony's Small Brook Trout

Simon with One of Tony’s Small Brook Trout

It wasn’t how we wanted to end the day, but for now it was OK. Dad had the biggest brookie of his life, and we knew Tony’s time was coming.

Shortly after the excitement surrounding the brookie, I found myself in the middle of the river as I looked downstream to Tony and Simon. I headed towards the shore when suddenly my wading staff snapped in two. Thankfully, I dropped to my knees in an effort to keep from falling in. I gave out a call to my companions to let them know that I was in the need of some assistance. Simon and Tony rushed up to help. Simon, again with no staff of his own, was there quickly to grab hold of me. He then walked sideways to the current and instructed me to do the same. We made it to shore without incident, thanks to his skill. He told me that there is a bucket at camp full of expensive wading staffs that became victims of the McKenzie River’s current.

As we stopped for a shore-side lunch, Simon use the hatchet in his pack to create another wading staff for me. He even attached the safety strap to this stick. That would get me through today.

Simon Making Me a New Wading Staff

Simon Making Me a New Wading Staff

For the rest of the week, my wading staff would be an Eddie Bauer special—a hockey stick. The aluminum shaft would serve me well the rest of the week.

The one thing that went Tony’s way while we were fishing was that we heard a floatplane—a rare occurrence in these parts. As we saw it approach the lodge, we knew that it was delivering Tony’s luggage from Montreal. Air Canada footed the $3,500 to fly it there. Losing his bag was an expensive mistake on their part. It was waiting for us inside our cabin when we returned. Tony spent the night returning all of the things that he had borrowed from guides and guests alike since we arrived.

The Most Expensive Bag Air Canada Ever Delivered

The Most Expensive Bag Air Canada Ever Delivered

That night at dinner, we celebrated Simon’s birthday with a nice cake that Andrew made from scratch. At this point, we didn’t feel like we were roughing it out in the middle of nowhere.

JP Serves Simon His Birthday Cake

JP Serves Simon His Birthday Cake

Burt, a master fly tier, let Simon choose a dozen of his flies as his birthday present. The other guides were quite impressed with this.

Simon Choosing a Dozen of Burt's Flies

Simon Choosing a Dozen of Burt’s Flies

As we discussed the day’s fishing, everyone was a little more hopeful that things were beginning to change. Warmer water, more hatches, and it seemed that the pike were moving back into the lake as “Joe Jr.” caught about 20 of them sight casting in the lake with JP.

High hopes for tomorrow.

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

 

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

Of all the things that an outdoorsman has to deal with as far as weather in concerned, wind is the one he has the least control over. Rain is easily dealt with, for example. Put on the proper apparel and you are good to go. Snow and cold? That’s the same scenario. With wind however, in most instances, there are is nothing we can do to alter its effect on us or our activity. Maria simply wins out.

Such was the case on our most recent trip to Moosehead Lake. We arrived late afternoon only to find the wind churning up the lake to the point that even boats larger than ours were tied up to their docks. No one was fishing.

An early alarm Tuesday was just to get an earlier start to the same gusty, even stronger winds. We launched and took a brutal and wet beating for a couple of hours that included snow flying horizontally, but even the fish were sitting this one out. A few days before our arrival, the annual smelt run had started and everyone was catching fish even the feathered fishermen. Eagles, osprey, mergansers, were all enjoying the spawning fish and the larger salmon that were in hot pursuit of the smelt. The cormorants arrived with us.

The next morning was marginally better, and Tony managed a nice salmon (shockingly caught on a perch Rapala, even though there were smelt everywhere). Now the problem included a bright sun that salmon shun. It was bitter cold and windy, and the sun was now another obstacle to any success at all.

 

Tony's 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

After a morning of more frustration, we decided to let Maria have her way for the rest of the day, catch up on our sleep, and take a badly needed hot shower. While Tony showered, I took to the dock to take a few casts. I put on an old favorite lure that had served me well in similar circumstances over the years, and I proceeded to lose it on the bottom on my very first cast. When would my luck change? I went back into the cabin and purposely put on a lure that I had never caught a fish on and would not blink if I hung it up on the bottom.

My first cast with it resulted in the lure getting tangled on itself, no doubt due to the wind. I pulled off my next cast without a hitch. The lure landed at just about the midpoint of the river, and I started a very aggressive retrieve. BANG! I hooked a beautiful salmon, but now, not having not thought this situation through, I found myself in an awkward place. Here I am on this dock, a couple of feet above the waterline, between two boats that the salmon could use to hang me up on, and not a soul around. I resolved the the dock issue by borrowing a boat net from one of the boats, but I had to keep the fish away from props and such. It worked. I landed him, and as luck (good) would have it, Amy the camp owner came by just in time to take a picture so I could release the 20″ salmon quickly without harm.

 

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

By all that is holy, that incident broke many standing rules for catching a salmon, but I don’t care. It worked and I was officially off the schneid. Well that turned our luck around. We conceded the lake to the wind and decided to fish smaller bodies of water where the wind would be less of a factor.

To do this we would have to enlist the services of an old friend, his son, and even his daughter. Mike, a retired game warden has known us for thirty years. Someday I’ll tell you how we met, but not today. Mike’s only son, Kody at 20 years old, is a mountain of a young man, whose arms are bigger that my legs. That said, he could not be more soft spoken, gentle, or more respectful. Top that off with an intimate knowledge of everything that lives in these parts, and he is the perfect guide.

Tony and I had pretty much made up our mind to fish a secluded pond where we had had success on previous occasions, but Kody was very convincing in an effort to get us a to fish another pond. We had some luck at this pond many years ago, but our last few trips there were anything but rewarding. Kody convinced us that by adding a canoe to the mix, it would be a good place to go. Who were we to question a young man who spends his days working with game wardens and biologists surveying streams and lakes?

He would supply the canoe and meet us there down a long, rough dirt road. He beat us there, and by the time we arrived, he had taken the 140-pound canoe on his back and set it in the pond for us!

As Tony and I got into the canoe, we noticed a leak. I didn’t think much about it, thinking that we could bail if we needed to. Kody however was having none of that, insisting that he was going to fix it now. I was thinking to myself “How’s he going to fix a leak in a fiberglass canoe here, now? No way!” He walked back to his truck and returned with a small propane torch, a plastic Gatorade bottle, a knife, and some duct tape.

This, I had to see. Kody proceeded to heat the surface of the canoe. Kody then takes the piece of the Gatorade bottle and heats it on the bottom of the canoe, partially melting it. He then covered it all with the duct tape. It worked! Yankee ingenuity at its best.

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

This pond is a beautiful, solitary place, and it was a great break from the hustle and bustle of the lake. However, it was not out of Maria’s reach; even this little pond had whitecaps. The long and short of it was we did not catch a fish. But we had many short strikes and follows from what were exactly what Kody had promised, some beautifully sized and colorful brook trout. We left very pleased, and knew that under better conditions we would have some success at this beautiful pond.

As we departed in the dark, we saw several woodcock, snowshoe hares, and a moose. We agreed then to come back the next evening.

We were exactly right. A change in the weather resulted in a change in the trout’s attitude. The next night they were so aggressive in their strikes that they all but took the rod out of our hand. We caught several gorgeous brookies, the smallest of which was 13″.

Tony's 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

This evening made the trip, thanks to Kody and his sister Delaney, who came along the second night to help us and later help her brother check smelt nets to check the runs for Fish and Wildlife biologist surveys. She, by the way, shot her first buck last year, at the age of 15, with the help of her brother, after putting on 15 miles in those mountains in one day!

Kody's Smelt Net

Kody’s Smelt Net

When you meet two young people like these, you are left with so much hope and appreciation. The hope being that there are many more out there like these two hard working, caring, and respectful young people. The appreciation that these youngsters have managed to become who they are in a place so void of the now expected norms of what a teenager needs to just exist, is astounding to me. Yes they have cell phones, but with limited service and they use them for more practical things, like a flashlight, a GPS, or for an emergency. I never heard a ring tone, nor did I ever see them checking their phones once in my presence.

Tony and I discussed next year’s trip during our six-hour ride home. Was it worth it? We are getting tired of the hassles involved in fishing the big lake, such as depending so much on trying to time the smelt run, finding the accommodations to meet that timing, putting up with boat traffic, and very unpredictable weather.

We came to the same conclusion. We would not come back next year but for the fact that we are blessed with a good friend and his wonderful children. We, at this point are planning to go back, but only if we get to spend more of our time with Mike, Kody, and Delaney.

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Many years ago, when I first started taking Tony here, we did it simply. We fished the smaller rivers, lakes, and ponds using only waders and a 10-foot Jon boat. As we got older, we increased our tools, our expense, and our levels of aggravation.

Sunset Over the Pond

Sunset Over the Pond

What brought me here originally with my father so many years ago was the simplicity and beauty of it all. Thankfully, the place has not changed a bit. We have to change back to those simple ways with simple expectations, and a greater sense of appreciation for what was and what is…

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

On many occasions while we were here, my father would say, “This is God’s country” or “This has got to be Heaven.”

I hope heaven is half this beautiful.

WLAGS

Carrie Stevens: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

Carrie Stevens: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

I was 9 years old in the summer of 1954 when my father returned from a fishing trip to the Great North Woods of Maine. I listened intently as he described in detail his adventure—the guides, the lakes, the fish, and the flies. He might as well have gone to Darkest Africa, because it all seemed so unbelievable to me.

After that, I read everything I could get my hands on to learn more about the big brook trout and the most mythical of fish, the landlocked salmon. One article in Field & Stream said that it required more man hours to hook a landlocked salmon than any other fresh water fish. I think it said that it took an average of six hours to hook one and eight hours to land one because of their incredible leaping ability. The one lure or fly that always came up in those articles was the Gray Ghost streamer. That fly was invented by a lady from Upper Dam, Maine by the name of Carrie Stevens.

Carrie Stevens

Carrie Stevens

She was the wife of Wallace, one of the most noted guides at one of the most famous fishing places in the country at the time. Upper Dam was home to a sporting camp that sat at the dam between Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson lakes.

It was the heyday of sport fishing that started in the 1860s and lasted until the 1940s.

Carrie had experience as a milliner and worked with feathers and fur for ladies hats. She soon started tying flies for the sports that came from the big cities to fish these most historic waters.

In 1924 Carrie caught a trophy sized brook trout on a fly partly suggested to her by a friend. It was called the Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get ‘um for the man that requested a fly with certain colors.

Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get 'um

Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get ‘um

She walked to the dam to try it, and she would hook a brook trout so large (6 pounds, 13 ounces), that it would take her over an hour to land the fish. That fish took second place in the Field & Stream contest that year. Today that would be equal to a Super Bowl appearance. She was immediately vaulted to national acclaim, and her flies were in demand from every corner of the continent and Europe.

Her single most famous and consequently most productive pattern was the Gray Ghost. If you were going fishing in the wilds of Maine you had to have one.

Plaque at Upper Dam Dedicated to Carrie Stevens

Plaque at Upper Dam Dedicated to Carrie Stevens

I have a poster in my home that has 120 of her patterns, and she is credited with many more.

Tony and I with the Carrie Stevens Pattern Poster

Tony and I with the Carrie Stevens Pattern Poster

She supported her and her husband with the flies. She tied until 1950, and she lived until 1970. Her flies sold for the handsomely some of $1.50—a lot of money in those days. Today, every manufacturer of fly tying hooks in the world has a Carrie Stevens hooks. They are extra-long shanked and just the right gauge to handle big fish without inhibiting inhibit the action of the fly.

Carrie Stevens Hooks

Carrie Stevens Hooks

No one was every allowed to watch her tie a fly. One of her secrets was that she would glue, I’d love to know what kind of glue, all the feathers together before attaching them to the hook. I can tell you that I have tried that method, and it is just this side of impossible. I have never heard of another fly tier that succeeded in doing that. It would require far more patience than I—and I guess any other tier would—possess.

A Few of My Versions of Carrie Stevens' Flies

A Few of My Versions of Carrie Stevens’ Flies

I give you this history lesson merely so you may better understand my obsession with the flies, the fish (thankfully there still are fish—trout and salmon—born in these waters, never having seen a hatchery), and most of all the places where she and her famous “neighbor” Louise Dickinson Rich lived and fished.

Louise Dickinson Rich

Louise Dickinson Rich

They were two women way ahead of their time, making a life for themselves while living where they wanted to and doing what they wanted to, in what was then a man’s world.

WLAGS

…And Sometimes You Figure It Out

…And Sometimes You Figure It Out

After a season of coming up mostly short of our plans and expectations (Exhibit A: Just When You Think You’ve Figured It Out), it’s nice to have a trip meet or beat those plans and expectations. This was that trip. I had been humbled too many days this season. I, or rather we (Tony and I), needed this one.

The trip was to Bosebuck Mountain Camps on Aziscohos Lake, but the fishing was to be done at Parmachenee Lake, where we had fished for a day last September. (See 60 Years of Waiting.)

Like last year, it was to be a quick, one-day-plus trip. The goals were simple, catch fish, native brook trout and wild landlocked Atlantic salmon, and hopefully one of us would catch the biggest brook trout of our life.

Things did not look bad as far as the weather forecast was concerned, but those forecasters had been a major factor in the disappointments in our earlier trips, especially in June. Sure enough the forecasters were wrong again. They had called for clouds and maybe some showers, which would have been beneficial to our cause. Instead, Monday morning’s fog broke with an absolutely clear sky and no wind. We started to think that we were jinxed again.

The Fog Broke to Reveal Clear Skies

The Fog Broke to Reveal Clear Skies

We had a big advantage this time though. A good friend had fished here last week, and he gave us some strong tips on where to start. If the fish had not moved much, that information could save us hours of exploration. His info was still right on target. Once we neared the rocky shoreline that he suggested to us, we were almost immediately into fish, and it was very obvious why. There were dimpling bait fish in a variety of sizes all along the shore and the rocks.

In fact the first brookie I caught regurgitated a 3½” baitfish that we think was a fallfish. We were not able to get a great look at it as it slipped towards the bottom as we netted the 13½” brookie.

It did tell us that we were on the right track by fishing my Carrie Stevens-style streamers that I had tied over the last month. The law requires that we use only flies here.

Again the conditions were far from ideal for anytime of the year, but particularly for August, so we were still guarded in our optimism, even after a few fish had come to net and quickly released.

A 13.5-inch Brook Trout

A 13.5-Inch Brook Trout

We were sticking to our plan, regardless of conditions, and we were getting enough strikes to keep us optimistic and motivated. We managed a couple of landlocked salmon and smaller brook trout.

16-Inch Landlocked Salmon

16-Inch Landlocked Salmon

We each even caught a six-inch rainbow smelt; a first for Tony, and only the second time I had a smelt take a fly or lure.

Six-Inch Rainbow Smelt

My Six-Inch Rainbow Smelt

 

Tony's Smelt Shows Why They're Called "Rainbow" Smelt

Tony’s Smelt Shows Why They’re Called “Rainbow” Smelt

Suddenly Tony chirped “I’ve got one,” followed by “it’s a good one!” I knew instantly it was just that. Now the only question was, “Was it a salmon or a brookie?” Not that there is anything wrong with a landlocked Atlantic salmon, but our primary target was the native brookies of the Kennebago strain.

The fish was obviously heavy and then started shaking its head. At this point, we were hopeful that it was a brookie, but we were still not sure. As it neared the boat, it became obvious that it was a brook trout. Suddenly it came into view from the depths, and it was confirmed.

Tony's 17-inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17-Inch Brook Trout

It was a fat, hooked-jawed male that was starting to color up for the upcoming spawning season, still a month away. I started to shake as I said to Tony, “It’s the biggest brookie of your life!”

The Parmachenee Belle fly I tied appeared in the corner of its mouth as I slipped the rubber net under it.

My Version of a Parmachenee Belle Fly

My Version of a Parmachenee Belle Fly

Tony mounted a GoPro on the handle of the net to help capture the moment on film.

Net With a GoPro

Net With a GoPro

I was visibly shaking as the fish came to the net. I believe that I was at least as excited as Tony, if not more so.

Video: Netting a 17-Inch Brook Trout

Video: Netting a 17-Inch Brook Trout

He had worked hard for this moment, and had had several close calls in recent years. I’m sure it was a moment that we will remember forever.

A Moment That We Will Remember Forever

A Moment That We Will Remember Forever

That moment made the tribulations of our earlier trips a distant memory, and we are already making plans for next August on the lake named after a beautiful Abenaki princess.

WLAGS

Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Imagine my surprise when I turned to Page 61 of the Maine Open Water & Ice Fishing regulations (Page 63 of the PDF version). There, below the heading Catching and Releasing Fish, was my 18-inch brookie from the Rapid River.

That Photo Looks Familiar

That Photo Looks Familiar

If you’ve been following this blog, you might recognize that photo as a cropped version of the second photo in our August 19, 2014 post “Rapid River: A Challenge and a History Lesson.”

I emailed with the biologist, to whom I had sent the photo three years ago, and he said that he had submitted the photo for the Catch and Release section.

18-Inch Brook Trout in 2012

18-Inch Brook Trout in 2012

He hadn’t remembered where he had gotten the photo. When I reminded him that it was from me, he put Tony’s name on it as a credit on the online version

I told him that I was flattered that he thought enough of the photo and how I handled that fish that he put it in the “release” section of the regs.

I’m starting to see a trend. A year ago, I turned to Page 100 of the June 2014 issue of On the Water, and saw a photo of myself with that 32” pike. Again, it was the second photo in one of our blog posts. This time it was “Sam’s First Pike.”

32”, 8.3# Pike

32”, 8.3# Pike

Again, it was a photo that I had sent to a biologist—this time a New Hampshire biologist.

I guess we should be flattered that our photos of fish are magazine-worthy.

WLAGS