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.