A Plan and a Whim

A Plan and a Whim

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

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

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

Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting

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

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

Can't Beat the View

Can’t Beat the View

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

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

My First Creek Chub

My First Creek Chub

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

A Rustic Camp

A Rustic Camp

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

A Hopeful Fisherman

A Hopeful Fisherman

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

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

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

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

Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Salmon

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

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Again a whim paid off!

WLAGS

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

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

Day 6 of Fishing

Saturday, July 2, 2016

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

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

Tony and Simon Having Lunch Under the "Juniper" Tree

Tony and Simon Having Lunch Under the “Juniper” Tree

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

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

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

Tony's 20-Inch Salmon

Tony’s 20-Inch Salmon

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

My 19.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

My 19.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

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

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

Tony and His 20-Inch Brook Trout

Tony and His 20-Inch Brook Trout

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

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

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

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

Zula Makes the Menu

Zula Makes the Menu

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

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

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

Tony's Long-Awaited Lake Trout

Tony’s Long-Awaited Lake Trout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventure Comes to a Close

The Adventure Comes to a Close

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

Labrador: An Utterly Beautiful and Wild Place to Fish

Labrador: An Utterly Beautiful and Wild Place to Fish

WLAGS

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

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

Day 5 of Fishing

July 1, 2016

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

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

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

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

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

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

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

"All we managed were three pike."

“All we managed were three pike.”

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

The Eagle Didn't Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Didn’t Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

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

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

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

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

Tony’s 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

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

Another Beautiful Brookie

Another Beautiful Brookie

 

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

I then managed a smaller salmon to cap things off.

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

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

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

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

WLAGS

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Day 4 of Fishing

June 30, 2016

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

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

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

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

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

The Fish Made Four Runs

The Fish Made Four Runs

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

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

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

Measuring Against My Bauer "Wading Staff"

Measuring Against My Bauer “Wading Staff”

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

19-Inch Lake Trout

19-Inch Lake Trout

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

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

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

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

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

All of the Pike Had Injuries

All of the Pike Had Injuries

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

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

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

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

JP Prepares to Net Tony's Mystery Fish

JP Prepares to Net Tony’s Mystery Fish

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

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

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

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

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

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

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

Tony Releases the Whitefish

Tony Releases the Whitefish

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

JP and Zula Heading Out

JP and Zula Heading Out

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

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

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

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

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

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

Zula Visiting JP

Zula Visiting JP

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

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

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

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

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Indescribable Views at Sunset

WLAGS

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