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

 

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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

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