We grew up with the strange notion that the only fish worth pursuing were trout and that the further one ventured afield the better the fishing would be. For some reason, perhaps owing to the fact that trout only lived in the most beautiful places, where the water was clean and because they were also were great sport on rod and reel, and delicious to boot, they seemed to occupy the higher rungs of the sport fish ladder. In part this was due to our geography as our small town was surrounded by a countryside of lakes and rivers that all held trout of some sort. A river ran right through the center of town and the rapids pools behind the dry-cleaning shop always held some good trout, mostly browns and rainbows although every once in a while we would catch a surprise laker or brookie that somehow washed down from one of the nearby lakes, usually during the high water run-off in Spring. The best holes on the river were also the toughest to fish as they coursed through a deep ravine surrounded by almost vertical cliffs that were intolerant of any error. But once the walls had been scaled there were three beautiful pools, deep and dark, that always held some big fish, our record being a grotesquely hook-jawed twenty-six inch monster brown caught by my friend when we were fifteen years old. It wasn’t pretty, nor was the water clean as the dry cleaners dumped their untreated water into the river which left a thick brown foam scum that formed in the back eddies, but the fishing was still good and these were big trout for any river.
As we grew older and began to drive cars we were seduced by further away places, always searching for the magical waters that held this most precious of creatures – trout. We explored the back roads of the surrounding countryside searching for new rivers and brooks, or followed logging roads leading high into the mountains as we looked for headwater lakes in which to put our canoe. Admittedly, much of our exploration was a waste of time although it was always an adventure and we did indeed discover a few areas that were memorable and which we continued to fish for many decades thereafter. One of these places we named Blindfold Lake for each time we brought somebody to the lake, they were forced to wear a blindfold for the last twenty miles of the drive to prevent them from figuring out the exact location lest they decided to return on their own at some later date. This was our place, our discovery, and we kept our fishing secret closely guarded fearing it would ultimately get discovered and fished out by the locals.It was high up in the mountains, nestled between two hills, with a river at each end that cascaded down through the thick forest. We had found it by mistake, following a dirt road through a municipal dump yard where we went to see some bears and then ventured further beyond into the forest where logging roads had been laid. It was few miles into the forest, a slow journey along a rocky and sometimes muddy road that narrowly winded upward into the hills. This was not a place you wanted your car to break down or get stuck for it would take hours to walk out of there and find some sort of assistance. We slowly followed the road until it narrowed and then suddenly vanished into a thick opening of scrub and brush on the crest of the hill. A few hundred yards away, almost hidden from view in the valley between two ridges, stood a beautiful blue lake that glittered under the bright morning sun and beckoned us to fish her waters. We portaged our equipment down a muddy hill and under hanging tree branches that stood over us like a portico until suddenly opened to reveal the lake. The surface was calm, mirror clear, reflecting such a perfect image of the sky above and the trees against the other shoreline that it was almost hard to tell where the water ended and where the sky began, so perfect was their embrace. It was a hot day and the mosquitoes and black flies were had gathered in thick clouds around our heads which forced us to get out on the lake quickly. We were not yet twenty yards from shore, in fact just letting our fly lines out, when we got the first indication of what was in the lake. The strike was hard and the fish jumped before throwing the streamer. It was a good fish and looked like a rainbow trout although it happened so fast we couldn’t be sure. But our thoughts were confirmed a few minutes later when we got our second strike and managed to land a beautiful five-pound silver rainbow. The action was non-stop with a fish on every few minutes and by the end of the day, when the sun began to set, we had tallied over seventy trout between 3-6 pounds. It was a spectacular day and for several years we returned almost every weekend although never quite experienced the same fishing as on that first day, yet it always remained one of our favorite lakes.
But hidden lakes like this were rare gems and were becoming harder to find unless you were prepared to sacrifice a lot of time and had a predisposition towards the suffering in many forms that comes with blind exploration. In those days we used a map and compass to find our spots and often had to trek several miles into the thick bush, using machetes to blaze a trail into the wild until finally reaching our destination. Most of the time was spent hiking and not fishing and one of the first things we discovered was that not all the lakes were created equal, or rather, held trout. On one occasion, following a creek that cascaded from the side of a mountains into another lake we happened to be fishing, we climbed the mountain and discovered a beautiful little lake that held some sizable smallmouth and that was easily fishable from the shoreline. There was fallen timber all around the lake and we cast our poppers between the branches and were almost always rewarded with a bass. We could never figure out what the bass were doing so far up in the mountains in a cold headwater lake intended for trout but they seemed to be happy and thriving. It was always a rewarding feeling to know that you were probably the first human beings to fish a certain body of water. With an estimated twenty-five million lakes in our province, most of them never fished, it was fair to assume that some of the best lakes were virtually unknown bodies of water that existed only on a map and not yet in a man’s memory.
For every great lake we discovered we also found many that proved entirely devoid of life. It was difficult to gauge a lakes potential from a map. We discovered so many lakes that looked like they should have held fish although somehow did not. On one of the most beautiful lakes we ever saw, surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff walls, with clear deep tannic waters that prompted us to return one day hauling our canoe through the thick bush to try our luck, first going for a swim where we quickly found out the lake only held massive quantities of thirsty leeches. The truth be told, our methodology was more miss than hit, with more time spent slogging through mosquito and black fly infested marshes and forests, more time spent suffering the journey, than we did actually catching fish. But we were young and energetic, bursting with a sense of adventure and fully believing in the catechism that suffering would ultimately lead to trout salvation, which, on occasion, it truly did for when we did discover a good new lake the fishing was always spectacular and memorable, made all the more so amid the long history of all our other failures.