The Fishing Life fishing Mon, 24 Dec 2018 03:23:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Blindfold Lake Wed, 19 Mar 2014 18:37:44 +0000

gaston reflectionWe 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.

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The Malay Musky Man Thu, 02 Jan 2014 00:18:56 +0000

felixmusky5In many ways Felix was one of the most enlightened individuals ever aboard my boat. Like most clients who book my services, he was quite an experienced fisherman although had never succeeded catching the elusive musky and was counting on me to assist him in his holy quest. Our relationship began almost a year earlier when he called late one night and proceeded to interview me for the job and once satisfied that I possessed all the requisite credentials, he then blocked off three days in October,  almost a year in advance. Most of my clients  – businessmen, engineers, doctors, usually visiting the city on conferences – tend to book one or two days in advance if they suddenly find an opening in their schedules. The other unusual thing was that usually I’m the one who filters out prospective guests, lowering their expectations, whilst at the same time gauging the relative strength of both their physical and mental constitutions to determine if they have what it takes to endure a full day of hard work in adverse weather conditions and be satisfied with a day that at best will only mean a few fish. But he had done his research, disclosing that he had studied ichthyology in college, and was aware of the quasi-mythical status of the musky. It was clear he understood the mathematical odds and was familiar with the proverbial dictum that these fish were not so much caught as they were earned. But this elderly, articulate, soft-spoken and somewhat idiosyncratic old world gentleman from Malaysia was both funny and insightful, and furthermore was most certain, particularly after having the same conversation with other local guides, he would catch his fish with me offering assistance. While there was no deposit required to secure his reservation, a few weeks later a certified cheque arrived in the mail accompanied with a handwritten note thanking me for my hospitality and for convincing him to book three days on my boat. I sensed that it seemed really important to him that he catch this fish and that there was something he wasn’t telling me. It was only a few months later, when he called me one night out of the blue asking about the weather conditions in October, did he fully explain his personal situation and the importance of this trip. He loved to fish, travelling all over the world in search of new fishing challenges, although had never succeeded in catching a musky. But now he was dying and catching a giant musky was part of his bucket list that he was emptying before, as he so eloquently phrased it, “the currency of his life ran out”. But although he was dying, suffering from a variety of ailments that proved difficult for him to live with, he was neither bitter or angry about his circumstances and approached his impending death with both courage and equanimity, fully accepting his fate with absolute peace of mind. He was dying but decided to live. As he explained, his imminent death afforded him the opportunity to take control and plan out the rest of his life according to what was important to him – fishing and family. He was passionate about fishing and told me he had been travelling far and wide in the quest for new species and new personal records: a 45 inch pike with his daughter Mimi in Lac La Ronge, a 300 pound sturgeon in the Fraser river, a fifty year old laker at Plummers, a nine pound bonefish in Andros. A fifty inch musky was his next target and I was to guide him on his three-day quest to catch the unicorn of freshwater fish.

October rolled around and one cold morning at eight a.m. found myself in front of the posh Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal awaiting for my client to walk through the front door. When I had asked him who I should look for, he replied with a hearty, high-pitched giggle “a small and very old but dashing Malaysian with silver hair”.  A man fitting this description soon shuffled through the front doors with a huge smile on his face. He looked like a well-fed Mahatma Gandhi except he had a full head of silvery hair and had forsaken the sari in favor of a ski suit.

“How are you man?”  he called through the open car window. “Are you Ari the musky man?”

I pointed to the design on my shirt, a large musky, telling him “that’s what the t-shirt says!”

We drove for an hour until reaching the western tip of Lake St-Louis, somewhat of a misnomer as it was not so much a lake inasmuch as a wide section of the St-Lawrence river. The put-in was off the road, across from a farmer’s field. As we inflated the boat the farmer drove past in his tractor and waved to us  with his hat in his hand. This ritual had gone one for decades before we actually met one another. There were three generations of family living in the large farmhouse, originally from France, they had come to Quebec in the seventies and were among the first organic farmers in the province. They were hard-working people and we used to see them in the fields before sunrise until long after sunset.

The weather on our first day was too nice to be good for musky. Zero wind, full sun, low pressure, and warm – the ingredients in a recipe for inactivity for clear water muskies. We fished hard through the day without even a follow. Felix worked hard through the day and cast like a pro, catching several pike and bass, but it was as though the musky were not even there, which was in sharp contrast to three days prior when doing some recon with a friend we saw seven fish, hooked five, and landed four although none was over twenty-five pounds. Felix understood the mathematics of the musky game and remained optimistic as we began our second day. The weather had changed, winds were blowing out of the West and skies were partially cloudy.

We got our first drop on a drifted live bait a little after ten o’clock. It was a quick take, followed a brief run before the fish suddenly dropped the bait. However, it stuck around and on the retrieve back to check the bait, slowly stopped the float a few feet away, and watched as a green shape rose slowly from beneath and inhaled the sucker minnow – fish on! I set the hook and handed the rod over to Felix who expertly brought the fish to boat after a few acrobatic jumps and some stubborn runs. The fish taped out at forty inches, a respectable fish, in mint condition without a scar, a magnificently patterned tiger musky, even rarer than the average musky – although it fell short of the fifty inch mark we were trying to best. Felix was overjoyed with his capture and we took a few photos before gently releasing the fish back into the river. He sat silently in the bow of the boat for a few minutes after, soaking in the moment, wild excitement still in his eyes which had grown youthful again, full of spark. A wide smile was plastered across his face,  the look of both satisfaction and contentment with having finally checked off another fish from his bucket list.

“You have made me very happy, Ari”, he said, adding “the happiest this old man has been in a long while”

I’m not certain who was happier, him or myself, or the fish that had gained its freedom, but it truly was a moment in time neither of us will soon forget. These are the moments that make me love guiding, helping people realize their dreams and creating a memory within them that will last a lifetime.

“But now this old man needs to piss again, can you please take me back to shore for a moment.” He was type three diabetic and needed to urinate quite frequently, and almost every hour necessitated a trip to the shoreline.

We puttered towards a dock still in the water as Felix felt it would be easier for him to disembark my inflatable boat. This proved wrong as the moment he got had one foot securely on the dock stair, he was unable to lift his second foot over the chamber and slowly lost balance, pushing the boat away from the dock until he fell almost in slow motion onto his side, and almost rolling over into the water before I could reach over and pull him up on his feet. Only his leg was wet but he didn’t complain at all for the rest of the day. After this minor mishap we decided to break for an early lunch before fishing another stretch of the river where some big fish had been sighted a week earlier.  On his third cast near a submerged tree, a huge musky inhaled his spinnerbait and the fight was on, only this time, after close to a minute, the fish got away. Felix was shaking from the violent encounter but was not at all upset with the outcome, rather pleased in a certain way that at least he had the chance to dance with the great beast. I had seen the fish as it came out from under the tree and watched its jowls widen as it inhaled the bait. It was easily over fifty inches and thick , certainly a healthy mid-thirty pound fish. But not all fish are landed, which is both the reality and salvation of this sport, otherwise if they were, we might lose interest and not fish that often.

We fished throughout the afternoon until well after sunset, usually the magic hour for clear water muskies, yet without another strike. The day passed quickly, our long silences punctuated by conversation about all and everything, but particularly about the details of his life, almost as if he was retracing the path of a long and winding journey that had brought him to his present state. He knew his day of reckoning was not far off and our conversation, more a monologue, had all the elements of a confessional, as who is better to confess to than a complete stranger who will not pass judgement. I listened with fascination as he recounted his early family life in Malaysia, the inequities and racism of “jati”, the caste system inherited from India and how his family was not part of the Dalits, or Untouchables. He was raised by a single parent, his father who worked as a military clerk. Although they were not poor, they lived modestly and eventually his father, suffering from personal issues and no longer able to care for all eight of his children, sent Felix to live with his Grandfather, an angry and abusive man who reigned with terror over him. It was safe to say Felix had an unhappy childhood. Sixty years had passed yet he still remembered the scent of after shave lingering on his face after his grandfather had slapped him in the face for accidentally breaking a dish.

Felix decided he wanted to fish another day even though he was tired. We had a long day and he was physically exhausted from the fishing and mentally exhausted from the weight of his memories under which he languished.  Taking stock of one’s life, acknowledging both successes and failures, good and bad decisions, is an exhausting exercise, which is probably why most people avoid too much introspection. On the ride back to the hotel he fell asleep in the car as soon as we hit the highway.

Our third day turned out to be the best. The fish were active and within ten minutes of putting in we had our first follow on a spinnerbait which was almost converted by a figure-eight at the boat. There was no hesitation with the next fish, a nice twenty pounder that inhaled the bait and immediately went airborne when feeling the sting of the hook. As it was almost the same size as the fish the day before we unhooked it in the water and let it swim away without taking any photos. Felix then switched to dead bait, expertly working it along the edge of the weed line. A few minutes later a fish exploded next to the boat, right in front of his eyes, barely a few feet in front of him and almost caused him cardiac arrest. Even though the fish had missed his bait he was excited about just having seen the fish rise so violently. He was as excited as a child, his eyes sparkling with felixmusky3wonder and awe.

Not long after we finally had a big fish take one of our drifted baits, a large sucker minnow drifting beneath a float thirty feet behind the boat. The drop was instant and the free-spooling ratchet clicked loudly as the fish took the bait and swam away into the weeds. We waited a few seconds after it stopped, allowing the fish to turn the bait in its mouth before setting the hook. The rod bent to the cork handle as Felix battled the big fish. It was a heavy fish, refusing to rise to the surface, thumping deep under the boat. Felix was ecstatic and began to yell something in Malay. He gradually gained on the fish which soon tired and rose to the surface next to the boat, a large female with a head the size of a cement block. I reached into the water and scooped up the big fish and handed it over to Felix for a quick pictures. It measured 53.5 x 23 and weighed somewhere in the high thirties, perhaps even close to forty pounds. Felix was ecstatic beyond belief – he had finally realized his dream of not only catching a musky but a real trophy. We celebrated his capture with a few cold beers and some tuna sandwiches. A giant flock of migrating snow geese, miles wide and long, numbered easily in the tens of thousands, darkened the sky as they flew overhead on their way to warmer climes. Felix, overcome by the beauty of his surroundings and with the memory of his capture still fresh in his mind, turned to me and said with complete conviction, “Ari, if I died today I would be a happy man.”  Then he put his hand on my arm and confessed he was tired, and with somewhat of an apologetic tone, asked if I minded bringing him back to his hotel. On the drive towards the city he fell asleep as soon as we hit the highway and didn’t awaken until we were downtown, in front of his hotel. We embraced like old friends on the sidewalk, both of us aware of the special bond and friendship formed between us and that in all likelihood we would probably never see each other again. Promises were made to maintain contact, co-ordinates were exchanged, and we parted company. Long after I pulled away from the curb and drove down the busy avenue I looked in my rear view mirror and saw him still standing on the sidewalk outside the hotel, a smile of contentment painted across his kind face, his wide eyes fixed on my truck until it disappeared from view.




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the karnatzel jerkbait Wed, 04 Sep 2013 00:53:15 +0000
kosher karnatzel jerkbait

kosher karnatzel jerkbait

Some people are like magnets to strange shit. It is not as though they choose to be, or derive any pleasure out of it, it is just that weird stuff tends to happen around them more often than anyone else. If it is true that some have a Midas touch while others have the opposite, that is everything they touch turns to crap, it also seems reasonable to assume that for whatever reason, there are those individuals that draw forth or extract what can be considered to be the strangest element in any given scenario as well. Case in point. My unnamed friend (no not me) is a pretty normal guy yet somehow seems to draw out the weird factor inherent to any environment. Even fishing becomes weird when he is in the vicinity. Just last week we were fishing for muskies when he gets a nice fish to follow boatside and starts to figure eight under the boat. His sunglasses, which had been giving him problems all day, finally fell for the last time, bouncing off the side chamber of the inflatable, but of course not before he he tried to grab them and missed, loudly banging the side chamber of the boat, which then spooked the musky who bolted just as the glasses fell and sank into the water, the timing so impeccable as they landed square on the fishes head and it swam away looking like quite the cool cat wearing my friends shades….

Another occasion also saw things go pretty weird when we ran out of live bait on the lake. While there was no shortage of artificials to choose, both plastics and hardbaits, he chose instead, perhaps due to the bottle of wine he drank with lunch, to use a nine inch strip of kosher karnatzel, which for those not in the know, is a thin and long beef sausage loaded with meat and sodium. While a million jews as well as others can’t be wrong, as it is quite the noshable treat, it did sort of seem wrong to me at first, as it didn’t seem to meet (meat) the requirements of a good musky bait. However, its color and action were impressive, much more so than the plastics we had on hand, with the added benefit that it stayed on the hook after even hours of hard casting. The same could not be said about a minnow. An hour or so  after working the weedlines with his karnatzel, he reeled in and left the piece of meat on top of the water, next to the boat while he rested. He didn’t realize he had a follow and no sooner than he turned his attentions back to the cooler, maybe looking for a carrot or cucumber or chicken leg he could use as a popper, or for another bottle of wine, there was a large splash and we both turned to witness a big musky inhale his karnatzel and proceeded to swim away with the unattended rod in tow as we watched dumbfounded. Within seconds, the rod gradually dissappeared into the dark depths, never to be seen again, although on the plus side we did indeed confirm that karnatzel has its merits in any tackle box…


postscript: I’m pretty sure the next time we go out together we will catch a musky wearing shades, chewing on a karnatzel, and trailing a loomis rod behind it….

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Jurassic Park Sun, 26 May 2013 17:28:37 +0000

lrAR2garreleaseIt is the time of year so eagerly awaited, the memory of which has sustained us through a long and cold winter, the time when the ice finally melts and winter relinquishes its icy grip on the world. Slowly, the water in the shallow bays warms and in a ritual as old as time, the river monsters slowly begin to invade the bays in search of bait and to spawn, and for a brief time the hunter becomes the hunted. At first, they are reluctant to feed for other urges preoccupy their immediate concerns. Their arrival follows a few days after the legions of carp show up by the thousands, wallowing in the shallow water, as they too are responding to a primordial urge that supercedes their hunger. Like ghosts, camouflaged by their spotted leopard markings, rendering them almost invisible at ones feet, they cruise in and out of my line of vision, swimming with a sense of purpose and urgency. This is the best time of the year to catch a giant longnose gar on the fly. The males are usually the first to arrive as they search for a suitable female. Once they find her, several prospective suitors will remain by her side until she is ready to drop her eggs. It is not uncommon to see a female spawn with several males at the same time, a dangerous orgy of teeth and scales as they roll over each other in barely a few inches of water until her eggs have been fertilized. During this time, for obvious reasons, as no creature on the planet interrupts a session of coitus to enjoy a meal, they will not hit a fly or any other bait. When this happens, most of my time is spent observing their behavior rather than actually fishing for them. I choose not to disturb them at this time, not even fishing for them, just watching like a curious voyeur, a fish pervert. They don’t seem to mind or fear me as they have evolved as creatures with no natural predators, except man. As I walk across the basin, stumbling over algae-covered rocks formed in the the basement of time, the ancient riverbed of the St-Lawrence now lies exposed in the low water conditions, my thoughts wander until I slip on a boulder that has suddenly shifted under my footstep. It is the slipperiest place on earth and each footstep is a metaphor for life as it must be planned well in advance. You need to keep your eyes on the ground and plan three steps ahead to keep out of trouble. Sometimes, the smaller boulders are more firmly grounded than the larger ones, some weighing up to a ton, that are precariously balanced and shift under the slightest disturbance. The riverbed is littered with stones that have split and shattered with the ice break of every new year, testimony to the unrelenting will of water in all its forms. My partner is wading further up the shoreline, his fly rod bent into an arc that telegraphs that he is into a good fish, another huge smallmouth bass.  Before the day is over, he will have hooked over a hundred of these hard-fighting fish so eager to take his fly. But bass are not on the program today, at least not on my program. I am here exclusively for the gar. My eight weight, fully loaded with a gar fly tied to my tippet and anchored in the cork handle, waits patiently at my side, ready to perform at a seconds notice. There is no blind casting, only sight fishing to gar that swim by my post. The casts are usually hurried, short and crisp, a quick flick of the wrist and the fly is roll cast a few feet ahead of their path. Several of them swim right by me, some of them between my legs, but none seem interested in my fly. They are cruising beneath the surface and have no interest in feeding, most swimming away from the fly as if it was an irritant or social pariah best avoided at all costs. I roll cast to a few dozen fish without so much as a glance. Perhaps the water is still too cold. I hear a splash behind me and wheel around to see my friend who is once again locked into a monster bass. It does looks like fun and for a moment I consider putting on a leech fly and joining him, but remember my quest and decide against it.  I am not here for bass. As all hope for a gar is abandoned, a group of three are spotted lying stationary in the water off the point, as if involved in serious discussion. These guys look like they will hit and on my first cast one of them slashes at the fly but misses and returns to the pack. The next cast falls in front of the group and the two smaller males, like gentlemen, defer to the appetite of the larger female and allow her to take the fly. Maybe they think this sacrifice will endear them to her, like taking a date out for dinner in the hope it leads to other things. For a second, as she tries to figure out what has just happened, she lays confused on the surface and shakes her head angrily before peeling off towards deeper water. The males follow her as if this is part of her ritual. Like most males in the animal kingdom, they have no idea what is going on. They only want to get laid. Meanwhile, the fish is is strong and tests my drag, jumping acrobatically and running until finally tiring and coming to rest at my feet. She is close to fifty inches, a third of which is a thin mandible lined with miniscule yet razor sharp teeth from which there is no escape. She is the last of the great dinosaurs that still roam the planet.  A highly evolved creature, a hunter throughout the eons. For a brief moment, our eyes lock and we recognize ourselves in each other before parting company, both of us heading in separate directions.

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Two Legends Collide Thu, 10 Jan 2013 20:29:54 +0000

franck - picture for blogWorld famous angler Franck Hiribarne of France (photo on left) recently engaged my services as a guide to help him land the trophy fish of a lifetime — a musky — which had always eluded him. Our three-day expedition on Lake St. Francis, one hour west of Montreal, was both exciting and successful. So exciting, in fact, that word got out and an old journalism friend, Warren Perley, founder and chief editor of a new ad-free, long-form journalism site called convinced me to share our adventure with the public, resulting in a story in excess of 5,000 words and 20 photos describing the drama behind the scenes. Below is a teaser for the story with a link to the site, where you can buy the article itself for 40 cents using a credit card through PayPal. You can read the story from any web-enabled device, including a tablet or smart phone, and you have access to re-read any story purchased on the site forever. Hope you enjoy Franck’s amazing fishing adventures as much as I have.

Posted: JANUARY 2013
World renowned angler tormented
by predator fish which got away
Writing from Montreal
Globe-trotting, adrenaline junkie Franck Hiribarne, a fishing celebrity on network television in France, has never met a dangerous critter he didn’t want to caress: razor teeth, big fangs and sharp claws turn him on. He returned to Canada recently for a fifth attempt to catch a musky, the largest member of the pike family which had always eluded his previous efforts. Witness the drama when two legends – obsessed expert angler and alpha piscatory predator – collide in dark icy waters.
5,344 words – 20 photos


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end of days trout Wed, 26 Dec 2012 19:22:15 +0000

It made perfect sense to want to spend our last day on earth fishing. It seemed natural that if there was going to be an apocalypse the best place to witness this cataclysmic event would be on a lake fishing. If one knew the exact time of their death and had the option of choosing their exit strategy from life, an option given to us by the Mayans that predicted this day as the end of all days, could there be a more ideal fashion than going out chasing some end of days browns and rainbows on a five weight? I think not so armed with my inflatable boat and fly rods in the truck we headed away across the Champlain bridge and south down highway 10 towards the Eastern Townships. As if by serendipitous chance, the  date of the opening of the winter trout season coincided with the Mayan end of the world and the unseasonably milder temperatures had kept the lake open, for normally this time of the year it would be covered under a foot of ice. Lake Massawippi, straddled between the sleepy towns of North Hatley and Ayer’s Cliff, is arguably one of the most picturesque lakes in the area. 

 It was the first lake I had ever fished, with my uncle for trout when I was six years old and it was here that I caught my first trout, so it only made perfect sense that if my fishing should end it should come full circle and end where it began.   

A light and playful snowfall began to swirl as we turned down the winding dirt road leading through the mountains towards the western shoreline of the lake. We would put our boat in the water at my friend Guy’s cottage, one of the oldest residences on the lake. His late father Sylvio had owned the property for over sixty-five years and was one of the first cottages on this side of the lake. He had spent almost every day of his life there, working around the house fixing things, exercising on his rings, and going for six kilometer runs around the lake eery morning. The first time meeting Sylvio was entirely by chance. It was late December during a blizzard when my outboard suddenly ceased, forcing me to paddle in crazy winds to the closest shoreline with a dock. It was his. Our car was parked several miles away and he was kind enough to give me a ride back down the road to the public ramp. During the drive he mentioned that his son also fished the lake but his boat was temporarily out of service, waiting for a gasket valve replacement. This sounded a lot like the mechanical problem my friend was having with his boat and I turned to ask him if his son’s name was Guy. He looked at me wide-eyed and nodded his head. Guy Bissonnette? He nodded and we had a good laugh as he drove me back to my car. Of all the places for me to land ashore it somehow seemed that it was destiny that brought me to his dock. 

The lake was flat, mirror calm, reflecting the somber grey sky. There was not another boat on the lake.  A pair of black ducks  flew across the sky. We slid the zodiac across the newly fallen snow, lifted it gingerly over the dock and plopped it into the water. While letting out my fly line missed a good fish that shook its head a few times and was gone before the hook could be set. It didn’t feel like a laker or a brown, the mainstay fish in this lake, more like a rainbow. A few moments later and we were fighting our second fish, a small brown trout that splashed on the surface. The fish were active, perhaps aware that  the end of the world was near and wanted to go out on full bellies. From the bow of the boat Mark cast the shoreline with a spinner and caught several nice rainbow trout, exceptionally rare for this lake, although a few years back one of Guy’s friends hit a six-pounder in November.

At around noon, precisely twelve minutes before the scheduled end of time, we opened up a bottle of Mirrassou white wine, an excellent vintage to accompany cataclysmic events, ate the sushi leftovers from the night before, and waited for the end of the world.  As we got drunk, we talked at great length about the roadmap of our lives, our profound regrets, the poor life choices we had made, both professional and personal, our successes and failures, agreeing that in the end the only important thing in life other than family and friends, or at least not less important than anything else, was fishing. The fish seemed to agree as well and kept hitting our flies the rest of the day. The Mayans had apparently forgot to tell them it was the end of the world.

Have a great post-apocalypse. 


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Requiem for a Rod Fri, 28 Sep 2012 17:26:25 +0000

As it is with people, the life of a fishing rod can terminate in a variety of ways. Some live long and prosperous lives, beating all odds and avoiding the many pitfalls of life, while others less fortunate fall victim to the vagaries of accident or disease, their lives claimed before their time. It can be as sudden and inglorious as a traffic accident, or perhaps carelessly broken in a car door or trunk, or worse still, trod upon by a careless friend, or maybe even fall victim to a low ceiling fan with an insatiable hunger for rod tips. On other occasions, it can also be in the blazing glory of battle, under the weight of a large fish, when an overexerted rod has a sudden coronary and the graphite explodes into an aneurism of fibers unable to maintain their corporal integrity. But no matter how the death occurs, as it is with people, there is always a deep sense of personal loss. There is nothing as obvious in life as that which has been lost.

On several occasions, it has fallen upon me to lay several rods to rest and each time it has proved difficult, realizing that like an old and trusted childhood friend that had recently passed, it could never be replaced by any newer model. There was a comfort, a mutual trust, a history built over the years, a confidence in each other that couldn’t be replaced by a quick over the counter purchase. 

The first broken rod was a steelhead rod, a ten foot GLX noodle rod that despite my ineptitude, always managed to find a sweet spot in those wild rainbows of the Niagara River and somehow managed to control their attempts to return to Lake Ontario. Its parabolic bend, like a ballet dancer or a gymnast in full stretch, was a combination of both grace and power, strength and flexibility through the marriage of physics and space age composite materials, which possessed a life of its own. With properties capable of detecting the minutest strike, light as a feather yet strong enough to tame a tyee salmon, it had been in my comany for decades and was a most trusted companion.  Ironically, its demise came about not as a result of a fish but basically of human stupidity, probably the root cause of all rod mortality. Without elaborating on the details, suffice to say that fishing in a small creek with a rod a few feet longer than the creek is wide is not recommended.  So my ten foot wand gets circumcised six inches off the top, and although still somewhat functional owing to a surgical tip replacement, the feng shue of its anime has been thrown off kilter and the damn thing never felt right since that fateful day. But I stubbornly refused to discard it, or even redeem the lifetime guarantee because in the intervening decades since my original purchase, the company had been bought out and  no longer manufactured the same product anymore – only a reasonable facsimile, now outsourced to China, that they deemed to be an equivalent model. Besides, when I finally relented and called their customer service department, the polite lady at the other end of the line, unaware of the magnitude of my personal loss, instructed me to break the rod into eight inch pieces to facilitate transport.

“Excuse me – you want me to what?” I responded mortified at the thought. Breaking it once unintentionally had mortified me – now they expected me to break it into another twelve pieces? The mere thought of doing so reminded me of a gangland style disposal of incriminating evidence, hacking off appendages with a chainsaw to facilitate disposal.

“You mean, you want me to break it more?”

The thought of causing more damage to my trusted rod seemed morally untenable, as reprehensible as the desecration of a dead body.  Who knew what fate awaited it back at the factory, if it would be melted down and recycled into another rod to serve again or would just end up in a garbage bin. After much deliberation my decision was to keep it close to me, where it enjoys the honor and respect so rightfully deserved through decades of dedicated service, now holding a permanent resting place in my office where every so often I can pick her up and reminisce as I run my fingers over her still smooth and strong blank. She is the Eva Peron of my fishing rods.

The second rod laid to rest was a fly rod given to me by my father.  He had bought it from his friend, a fly tier of some renown who also tinkered with building rods and needed some Guinea pigs to test out his new products.  Paul was a great fisherman and he put so much of himself into his rods, as he did with his flies, that the sum of its components was always greater than its constituent parts. The rod had a spirit and life of its own, only satisfied when bent into a large arc. It was a nine foot eight weight, which basically meant that in my unconventional world of fly-fishing, it would serve well for everything from bluegill to barracuda. Thousands of fish were beaten up on that rod, from the inland lakes of Northern Quebec, mostly fishing for large pike, to the backcountry of the Everglades fishing for small tarpon.  This rod taught me how to cast and fight fish, rewarding me richly when the secrets of its properties were learned.  But everything has its limitations, particularly graphite, and sometimes envelopes are pushed too far. Such was the case several years ago, wading for ghostlike bones and permit in the Keys, flinging beaded Crazy Charlies in the stiff winds. The heavy fly kept whacking my rod on the forecast, possibly creating a hairline stress fracture along the graphite blank for on the next hookup, the rod bent and snapped as the bone headed for Cuba.  It was a clean break, midway between the handle and the ferrule.  It was a long walk across the flats back to shore. The rod was a complete write-off. A thousand miles away from home, having soldiered so valiantly for decades, it deserved a better fate than its unceremonious disposal in the dumpster behind the Bayside seafood restaurant. The only reminder I have of this rod, other than fond memories of course, is the cork butt extension that sits new on a library shelf, as I never once got around to using it. But the rod ended its existence doing what it was made to do and fulfilling its ultimate purpose,  which at least made its exit a little more tolerable, although I still harbor suspicions that my poor casting and those heavy Crazy Charlies had something to do with it as well.  Perhaps the worst fate of any rod, like that of any man, is to lack purpose and remain unused to gather dust in some corner, until they die of old age.

The last loss was perhaps the most intolerable and tragic, as unacceptable as the life of someone whose youthful promise was suddenly snatched away by the angel of death before their time.  It was an unnecessary end, the result of both inattention and a ravenous fish. While there are no statistics compiled to bear truth to the following statement, as most victims are too probably embarrassed to come forward, there is strong reason to suspect that many rods have also suffered a similar fate.  It’s the type of thing that is actually funny in a slapstick sort of way, blooper funny, but like a pie in the face or slipping on the ice, usually when it happens to somebody else. We had been hanging around forever, me and Senor IMX, a feathery one piece, six-foot fast action meat stick that was equally comfortably horsing out intransigent bass from thick cover as  breaking the will of fifty pound sturgeon in open water. Its hook setting power was infallible and once hooked, the fish was almost always landed. The first time using this rod on the Ottawa River, I hooked over sixty bass and only lost one.  It was a magical wand. For years we traipsed across the countryside searching for large fish and it was always equal to the challenge, and very versatile no matter what was thrown its way – Muskies in Georgian Bay, steelhead in Superior, bass in Quetico. We did it all.

Our history came to an end several weeks ago while fishing for musky, those crazy, enigmatic creatures of a thousand casts.  I was twitching sucker minnows off a deep weed line when suddenly feeling the irrepressible call of nature. The action had been steady all morning and the fish were hot, landing one and losing another with a few curious follows in between. I laid the rod across the tubes of the inflatable boat, the minnow still seductively dangling a few inches under the water, and turn to do my business. The next second my partner yells out “fish on.”  Because I didn’t have a rod in my hand, it only seemed logical to assume that the fish was on his rod, until when turning to see the commotion and peeing all over the boat in the process, was instead horrified to catch a final glimpse of the butt end of my rod, now several feet beneath the clear water  trailered by an angry musky disappearing at light speed down into the depths of the lake. It was like a hit-and-run accident. There wasn’t enough time for either of us to react and besides, the water was too cold to go overboard after it. It was an expensive sacrifice to the fish gods. While we tried snagging it off the bottom but to no avail. While the location of its watery grave has been marked in the g.p.s. of my mind, there still remains a faint glimmer of hope that one day we might still be re-united gain.  In my mind, perhaps as somewhat of a consolation to my unwillingness to let it go, that rod is not considered dead quite yet, just in limbo, comatose, missing in action, or a P.O.W.

And in the end, usually because we have no other choice, as the clock never turns back and the past can never be fully reclaimed, and because our lives continue despite all suffering through all conceivable categories of loss, both personal and material, we do eventualy wind up making new friends and replacing our old rods. But it is never the quite the same again, which I suppose in the long run, is really the way all things are meant to be.

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culvert city Tue, 21 Aug 2012 00:11:10 +0000

All my life I have been fascinated by culverts. There is something about them, not from a civil engineering perspective but from a fisherman’s standpoint, that inspires the imagination and fuels a vague optimism that despite all the rapid changes taking place in our landscape, there was still a faint glimmer of hope that life could sometimes flourish in the unlikeliest of places. Since early childhood, creeks have always played an important role in my streamside education where it was quickly learned that brook trout, the gleaming jewels of these bodies of water, only thrived in the most pristine and beautiful places where the water flowed cold and clear and clean from the hills. From beneath the logs and stones that cluttered these little creeks, dark shadows would quickly dart out into the current to hit your fly or worm and then just as quickly, return to the safety of cover. Sometimes the creeks ran under the gravel road through a stone or steel culvert, spilling into deep pools that formed beneath that often harbored large schools of trout.  Culvert pools were veritable magnets to trout in the summer for they offered cold and deep water that remained well oxygenated throughout the entire year and held an abundance of food. All in all, a perfect micro habitat for trout to reside although admittedly, not all culverts were created equally, nor do they all hold fish. A good culvert, in my estimation, would usually hold a dozen or so trout.  

One of my favorite culverts is located up North in the Laurentians mountains where my childhood friend Marco had an uncle who owned a summer cottage somewhere on a large lake near L’Annonciation. We spent many countless summer days exploring the surrounding countryside, fishing creeks and their headwater lakes in the mountains, undertaking many futile prospecting expeditions that required  arduous portages with either canoe or inflatable boat in our relentless pursuit of brook trout. We were young and eager and followed the time-tested catechism of brook trout fishing which, simply stated, was that if the water was not easily accessible and didn’t involve suffering of biblical proportions, plagued by black flies and mosquitoes and  tenuous treks through muskeg and swamps and involving a degree of physical agony theretofore only suffered by the early Voyagers who were the first to discover this country – it was not worth trying to get to.  For brook trout only lived in the wildest and most beautiful places, away from civilization and people, and conditions needed to be exactly right for them to survive. But despite our immature fits of trout induced sadomasochism, which saw us driving down every dirt road we came across in our attempt to discover new frontiers and the promise of undiscovered waters, we also happened to stumble upon the unlikely fact that sometimes the shortest path to trout was often the one of least resistance that virtually lay right at the side of the road, in the undistinguished form of a culvert.

It was a hot summer day and we were hopelessly lost, as usual, short on gas yet high on hopes, and we had pulled over to the shoulder of the road to study a map and assess our relative position vis-a-vis the nearest trout lake holding suicidal fish. Off to the side of the gravel road, coming from the middle of nowhere, through the thick brush and bramble and warble of songbirds in the trees, we overheard the hush of a slight trickle, faint yet certain, almost as if somebody had left a faucet running in the kitchen. At first, we thought our minds were playing tricks on us but a closer inspection of our surroundings revealed that there was indeed a trickle running through the ditch on the other side of the road. Not large enough by any standard to be confused with a creek or brook, but much smaller, perhaps best described as a rill; for it was merely a three-foot wide swath of shallow water that barely cascaded a few inches over some pebbles and stones for about fifty feet before suddenly disappearing under the road. We crossed over to the other side, scaled its muddy bank, and suddenly descended into a magical world of darkness where it was cool and humid, musty with the smell of wet earth and shaded from all sunlight by the massive maple and oak trees that stood guard. A thick carpet of moss carpeted the forest floor and tall rhododendrons and ferns rose luridly from the humid earth. We were immediately drawn to the faint sound of water. A small corrugated steel pipe of around three feet in diameter jutted out from the bank like a broken tap and spilled its contents into a small and well-rounded pool of crystal clear water. The basin that had formed beneath, eroded by countless years of run-off water, was a few feet deep and the size of a bathtub that barely had enough overflow to trickle through the large boulders stationed at its tail out, into another nanocreek that trickled into a lake further below. But more incredibly, a few large shadows flitted about the pool, sending us scurrying back to the truck for our rods.  On the first cast the water erupted and we soon hoisted a huge brookie from the basin. It was close to fourteen inches, a gleaming bar of orange across its ivory belly, speckled with lilac and red spots along its flanks and a vermiculated olive markings along its back, creek camouflage from overhead predators.  It was a huge fish for this size creek, despite its small size compared to its brethren in lakes or larger rivers, fully matured in every physical way, including the small kype indicating it was a male and the fine white lines on the caudal fins, maybe a six year old fish. We marvelled at the brilliance of its colors as it flopped around on the wet ground. We decided it would make an excellent supper and tossed it in our creel, continuing to fish the basin and getting a fish on every cast, until we finally limited out at ten apiece. It had taken us less than fifteen minutes to fill our quota for the day with the added bonus that and there was no suffering involved and we would not go to bed hungry.

This secret culvert became our go to place whenever we got skunked elsewhere and really wanted to eat fresh trout for supper. For years we continued to fish this place and it always produced the same miraculous results. It became known as the trout tub. No matter what changes were occurring to the surrounding landscape, the trout tub below the culvert remained a guarded secret and very few people even knew of its existence, although many drove right over it.  As we grew older we lost touch with each other and rarely visited our secret creek. It became an afterthought, often when found travelling alone through the area coming home from more distant waters. But curiosity and the bet of a sure thing always got the best of me, and every so often would take the side road off the highway to go check in on my little creek and say hello to the trout and see if all was still well in their world.  If they were there, and they always were, it was a reassurance that nature was still holding her own, as their existence was the best barometer of the creeks overall health.

It had been over a decade since my last visit to the creek until recently, when both schedule and circumstances allowed me to roam across the places of my youth, still hopelessly in search of trout, or rather, the beautiful ideal of what they represented in my mind, a perfect fish that lived only the wildest of places yet to be touched by the hand of man. But change, so relentless and constant in its sometimes blind march towards progress, had finally reached my little creek. The gravel road whose dusty passage led to the foothills had now been gussied up in a dark suit of asphalt that was both ill-fitted and looked slightly out-of-place, like a man in a cheap tuxedo attending a country fair. A few designer homes had sprouted up like weeds along the roadside, a sure sign the neighborhood was going to hell. It was surreal, disheartening, and maddening. There was also a brand new no parking sign posted next to the road. How dare they?

With heavy heart, braced for bad news, taking a deep breath like the kind you take when the police or a doctor calls in the middle of the night, I stumbled down the bank to survey the inevitable damage  left by the road work. Surprisingly, the trees had been spared and still stood their ground, their voluminous branches continuing to shelter the area from sunlight. The original steel pipe had been replaced by another, the new one slightly wider but the basin below its trickle still remained intact as somehow the workers, perhaps through conscientious design, managed to delicately work around it and avoided allowing earth to fill in the hole. Everything looked exactly the same as it always did, except that the precipitous rocky bank along the road had been tarred and covered by some sort of geotextile to prevent further erosion. The first cast into the dark basin produced one of the most beautiful trout I had ever seen. Its colors were so perfect, so vivid, a vibrant work of living art that wriggled between my fingers. But it was more than that. It represented a victory for mother nature, however small and slippery its form. Like a proverbial canary in the coal mine, its simple existence proved that all was still well in my secret trout tub, that its waters still flowed cold and clear from atop the surrounding mountains, undisturbed by developement, and that change had not yet discovered my secret corner of paradise.

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where wild things roam… Fri, 20 Jul 2012 23:10:23 +0000

It has been a while since my last post as we have rented a cottage in the Laurentians during the entire month of July. The weather has been spectacular, sunny and warm every day and for the first few weeks, despite been surrounded by babbling brooks and countless lakes teeming with trout, the agenda has not included much fishing. Instead, my wife and I take long romantic hikes through the woods, sit idly on our porch with its million dollar view of the green mountains, listen to the birds singing in the trees, watch life go by and generally don’t do much other than eat and sleep. It is an idyllic life, as close to living like a canine without having to eat from a bowl or take your morning dump outdoors.

Speaking of which, my dog Lucas, a small bichon frise with a Doberman sized attitude who by default recognizes me as his master, has not adapted well to his new surroundings. On our first day, when returning to my truck to retrieve a forgotten bag, he waited for the door to open and jumped into the front and refused to come out. He simply was not coming out and stubbornly decided to wait until I drove him back home. For over an hour we had a mexican stand-off, glaring at each other through a car window, both of us waiting for some concessionary action. Finally, and only by way of extortion by cheese, usually a game ending choice when negotiating with stubborn dogs, he ceded his position and came back into the cottage. Then in a gesture to secure the homestead as his own, he summarily pooped at the top of the stairwell.

Nor has my recent interaction with local wildlife been successful. On the first night we were visited by a family of free-loading raccons that decided to become squatters in the garbage bin. Somehow, like refugees or stowaways on a ship, they all managed to get inside the tiny confines of the bin where they immediately began to eat their way through its contents. They are smart animals and a solid kick to the plastic bin served nicely as an eviction notice that sent them scurrying across the road and into the forest. The biggest one of them, presumably the mother of all the others, waddled lazily across the road, fattened by a life of leftovers of foie gras and brie. Truly an epicurean racoon that would surely return nightly to sate its gastronomical  cravings. She has returned every night since, the opening of the bin and rustling of plastic bags breaking the nighttime silence. A rock tossed in its general direction usually does the trick most on days of the week , but not nearly enough to deter them on Wednesday nights when all the garbage is put out for pick-up the following morning. These critters have an internal time clock, a calendar that tells them when Wednesday rolls around as they show up with a sense of purpose and gusto that is only realized early next morning walking the dog, when remnants of their Bacchanalian feasts lay scattered over the gravel road leading up the mountainside. They also have the habit of leaving poop on my garbage bins, perhaps their attempt to mark it as their property.

But if the raccoons reign the forest during the night, the scourge of the daytime are most certainly the hyperactive chipmunks; or at least two sociopathic rodents in particular that have come to be known as Chip & Dale, both of whom could use a strong dose of Ritalin. From their perch high above the pine and maple trees surrounding us, they rule over everything with an iron tight paw. At first our presence disturbed their serenity and they chatted madly as they conspired for hours to have us vacate the premises on grounds of noise pollution. But they soon realized that their new neighbors provided new opportunities, quickly discovering that outdoor meals meant crumbs for them everywhere. A routine was quickly established. We had coffee and ate our breakfast on the porch and when entering inside to clean the dishes, the duo jumped onto the balcony and quickly gnawed on everything that had fallen from our plates. One of them, after ingesting a chocolate covered cashew, which is basically crack for chipmunks, kept watch on the balcony chatting madly and pacing back and forth until one was tossed in its direction. In return for my daily hospitality, he pooped all over the balcony, presumably marking his space. We left the door open one day and found him gnawing on a sesame bagel in the kitchen when we returned. Chased with a broom from the house, he ran up the nearest tree where he came out onto a branch at eye level and began to vent his frustrations. We all have our problems.

On the second week, when my wife returned to work in the city, it was time for me to roam around and do some serious fishing. The catch-22 was that there were very few lakes remaining that had any type of public access, and those that did were usually poor lakes. Most of the lakes that we had fished decades ago were now private and restricted to non-owners. Almost all the lakes were posted, forcing me to use the Park system. My first outing was in Tremblant National Park, entering the southernmost entrance in the Pimbina sector near St-Donat. It cost me six dollars to access the roads and another twenty-five to secure daily fishing rights on one of their lakes. Lac Gaston is located in the Northeastern territory of the park, the Assomption sector, which although lies only thirty-eight kilometers away from the gate, it is a good hour-long drive down the winding gravel road. The last few miles, through a rutted road that is half-washed awayby spring flooding, with fallen trees blocking its path in two places, took me close to thirty minutes. It is a beautiful head lake, crystal clear waters, with bleached deadfalls surrounding the entire lake. It is a typical brook trout lake. A loon cackled in the bay before diving,  its call echoing hauntingly through the hills.

It seemed a day to troll streamer flies, at least until there were some rises on the lake. Several passes around the lake and down through its center yielded nothing. The water was warmer than normal but there was no excuse for failure. This is a big lake, surely not fished out. SEPAQ, the government organization that operates the park system, does not stock any of these lakes and closes them for the season once their quota is reached. It is a pretty well-managed system if catch reports and limits, based on an honor system, are not abused by fishermen. Hours later, still without a strike or any sign of activity, I continued to ply the waters maniacally using almost every trout tactic known to man. Yet perseverance does not always guarantee that one catches fish. Most of the time it does but not on this particular day. In the dead calm heat of the afternoon, with temperatures soaring above ninety degrees, I retreated to my truck for a quick siesta, falling fell asleep in cab to the irritating buzz of a nasty deerfly doing  recon missions around my head and awakened from my slumber an hour or so later to the crackling sound of radio static, belonging to a walkie-talkie strapped to the side of a game warden that had come to pay me a visit.

He came to see, quite hopefully, if there had been any fish caught. He didn’t seem surprised when given the activity report. He sighed, remarking that the girl at the gate had not chosen a good lake, although when he first started working in the park twenty-five years earlier, it had been one of its best lakes. It was in high demand, probably overfished through the years, and then fished out and forgotten about. He did mention, perhaps to ignite some encouragement, that somebody had in fact caught a big one last year. This didn’t make me feel any better, although it did feel like one of those lakes that only held big fish. Hopefully in the evening there would be some hatches.

That night there was more of nothing – not a strike, rise, splash, sniff, or sign of life other than the loons that seemed to laugh at the futility of my actions. When had brook trout become so difficult? The long drive back through the dark gave me plenty of time to think about the day. It hurt to fill out the catch report, checking the box on the bottom that contained a no-catch result, and depositing it in the box at the gate on my way out. The trout had been intransigent. But at least they hadn’t pooped on my porch.

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a day for dragons Mon, 04 Jun 2012 20:07:10 +0000

One of my main fishing partners is an actor and as such is often prone to fits of embellishment and excessive emoting, perhaps somewhat of an occupational hazard as a character actor typecast into bad guy roles, so it was not without a healthy degree of skepticism on my behalf when he disclosed the secret location of a place that had apparently never been fished by humans since the beginning of time. This unsupported and historically inaccurate claim was fairly dubious, for we were not flying to virgin waters in the wilderness but rather fishing a spot within an hour of a major metropolis with over two million inhabitants.  To his credit, he had stated unequivocally that there would be muskies in the newly formed basin, adjacent to the weedline where he had seen one a few days earlier while wading off the point. It had swam in perfect view right next to him. The water was almost to shallow for the inflatable. We lifted the engine and drifted over the giant weed mat with the wind. Some carp spooked from the weeds leaving clouds of mud behind. A dead walleye, close to ten pounds, bobbed in the weeds. It was impossible to determine whether it had died after spawning or simply of natural causes, like old age as it did not look as though it had been sick. There was little probability that it was a post-release mortality, for such a monstrous walleye would never be released in this part of the country, where very few local anglers practiced catch & release –  hook ‘n cook was their mantra.

We spotted the first fish just as we reached the deep water on the outside edge of the weed line. It was a fifty inch fish and bolted at the sight of the overhead inflatable. Mark turned to me with a familiar smirk and   “told you so” look on his face. He felt validated in the accuracy of his prognostication. It seemed only fitting that a few moments later, a large fin emerged from the weeds, like a shark, and inhaled his bait. The fish went wild, tailwalking across the water and taking several nice runs before allowing herself to be ushered boatside. She was a large fish, with incredible spotted patterns, almost like a tiger musky and her upper jaw was gruesomely deformed, the result of some trauma suffered in youth that had since completely healed over. Most likely the fish had been captured by a negligent fisherman who in an effort to retrieve his lure, managed to rip off part of its upper mandible. Despite the handicap, the fish had survived to full maturity and showed all signs of being an extremely healthy specimen. We beached the boat on a small rock island and took a few quick photos before releasing the fish into the clear water. It was a good start to the day.

There was a series of rapids above the island, inaccessible by boat yet not by foot and we waded upstream. The rapids were loaded with bass and we quickly caught several dozen on flies before wandering further upstream, dragging rods, cameras, and a bucket full of minnows in tow. On the way, we both fell in the water twice as we negotiated our way across the slick algae covered stones that made up the riverbed. It was a veritable comedy of errors, a blooper reel of highlights but thankfully there weren’t any cameras rolling. Above the third set of rapids, nestled between the slate rocks was a smooth rock basin carved out by eons of cascading water that had dug a deep trench in the rocks. This pool turned out to carry the mother lode, holding almost every specimen of fish representative of this ecosystem. There were gar, smallmouth, pike, musky, channel cats, and quite possibly, both trout and sturgeon in this pool. We tossed some minnows in and within seconds the floats submerged and we had a double header of acrobatic five-pound bass. For the next hour, until we depleted all our minnows, the action was non-stop and most of the fish were all between four and five pounds. They were all large post-spawn females and would feed voraciously in the river for a few weeks before returning to the lake. These were the same fish we had encountered a month earlier just as they were entering the system. Since our first meeting they had entered the river, moved all the way up into the back bays, paired with a partner and spawned in the shallow flats, then deserted their beds for the males to guard as they moved upriver in search of massive schools of minnows to gorge upon and replenish their energy. Once the minnows ran out, we fly fished with leech imitation patterns, and while not as effective as the minnows, nonetheless managed to deceive a few bass, including a huge twenty-three inch fish that hit like a freight train.

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