Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Lost Salmon Rod

 Warren told me a good story the other night. He and his fishing partner were out on the Medway River early in the season. The water was high and very dark. As they lined the boat up with landmarks on the shore to pinpoint their position, Warren got ready to drop the anchor.
Now most boats rigged for salmon fishing on the Medway have a special rig attached to the bow that the anchor rope is passed through and by lifting the rope you can lower the anchor, or raise it, or just adjust it a little.

When the anchor is out of the water it hangs off the bow or can be lifted into the boat.
As long as there is a forward pull on the rope, the line is held fast which makes handling the anchor a one hand job if you need to adjust position to chase a fish or get a better angle for a cast.
That doesn't matter much because this boat didn't have one. The anchor was just tied-off to a thwart with the line in loose coils on the deck under their feet. Once the boat was positioned exactly where they wanted it in the pool Warren heaved the anchor overboard. The anchor line whipped away following the weight into the depths. One of the coils came tight around the tip of one of their salmon rods, flipping it over the gunwale and dragging it deep into the river.
What a commotion as the boys first stared in disbelief at this catastrophe then frantically pulled the anchor back aboard hoping beyond hope that the rod was some how still attached. It wasn't.
The Medway River in the full flow of early summer can be awesome. The water almost black and running free from dams or other human interference has incredible power. It can pull the bow of an anchored boat under if you get your anchor fouled when retrieving it. But that is another of Warren's stories for another time.
The current had moved the boys a fair ways downstream from where the rod went over by the time they got their thoughts organized. Edging the boat back forward, making careful sightings and note of the landmarks, they anchored again at what they figured was the place of the disaster.
Peering over the side into the black and roiling water it seemed hopeless, the rod was lost. The other fellow in the boat who happened to be the owner of the rod, tore a strip of cloth from his brightly coloured shirt and wrapping it around a wrench or some other sinkable from the boat, dropped it over the side. The fluttering strip of cloth faded from sight long before hitting the bottom and there it stayed.
As fierce as the Medway River can be in full spate, come the hot days of summer the river settles more placidly into its banks becoming a beautiful, tea coloured stream. The current flows in a dignified, slow procession carrying tiny islands of foam kicked up from the progression of small falls, Bangs Falls, Bear Falls and so on down to Port Medway and ultimately the sea.
It was August when the boys thought to head out on the river to search for the lost rod. They were optimistic but not hopeful. In short order they were lining the boat up with the aid of meticulously recorded landmarks and carefully this time, dropping the anchor at what they thought was the spot.
They leaned out over the sides of the boat scanning the tannin coloured water. The bottom was clearly visible. There, a couple of feet away was the calmly waving strip of torn shirt. About three feet downstream from it was the lost rod.
And so the salmon season on the Medway ended with a few new stories and a valuable lesson or two. I wonder if the boys caught any fish that year? I must ask Warren next time I see him.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Never Too Old to Learn

See the fish?
 I was thinking today about one of my favourite fishing spots up in the Musquodoboit River valley. Brad McCaughan and I used to fish there often, always with good results. If memory serves it was the place where Brad became a committed fly fisherman after we fished it side by side, he with a spinning outfit and me with a fly rod.

Anyway, I started out thinking about an old timer who used to stop by and see me when I worked in Liverpool many years ago. Once a week we would have a good bull session.

One day he told me about fishing the Meadow Pond brook back in the late 50's or 60's. He described how the brook had undercut banks that sort of floated when you walked on them. Most people would walk down stream fishing short casts with worm and spinner. It used to be a pleasant place to fish although only a very small handful of fellows ever caught more than one or two small trout for a hard day's fishing.

The handful of guys who did catch fish there did extremely well, catching lots of fish and more than a few big ones. The difference between " most people" and those fellows was knowledge not luck.

The thing was that every time a fisherman would take a step downstream on those floating banks the trout would be spooked and flee downstream. This would in turn frighten the fish the angler was casting to and so it would go as the fisherman worked his way along. To catch one while fishing like that would truly be lucky. For us kids, who normally travelled in noisy packs, it was down right miraculous to get one of those lovely speckled trout up on the bank .

The secret to fishing the boggy, Meadow Pond brook was to start at the other end, the down stream end, and fish upstream with just a worm or a worm and one split shot. You had to go along stealthily, casting upstream and letting your bait drift as naturally as possible through every bit of cover and especially letting it sweep in under the banks.

You might still have spooked a fish or two but it didn't seem to put the fish down upstream of you.
By applying this little bit of hard earned wisdom a brook, that most people thought of as pretty but not very fishy, revealed itself to be a haven for big, wily, speckled trout.

So to get back to the original thread of this story, there I was remembering this little brook I'd known since my childhood, its secrets only revealed in the light of adult knowledge, when it struck me: I know another brook that is almost its twin, my little spot up in the Muskie!

Now here is the darnedest thing, even though I have enjoyed this place for years, have had some great days there and more than my share of trophy trout from its waters, I have been fishing it wrong!

I had forgotten the lessons of Meadow Pond brook and its floating banks. I can only guess that I'd gotten away with it in this spot because there is a lot of room to cast so I could fish it fine and far off.

Come spring I will return there and fish it again, this time with some sophistication as befits a grown man.
I guess I just never really outgrew the little boy who couldn't wait to get a line in the water.

Heck, I still usually run those last few steps to the fishing hole even though I know better. No Sir, this spring will be different. I can't wait to see what that brook really holds.

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

A Good MicMac Steak and Great Fishing Stories

 My brother Warren and my nephew Drew stopped in for a visit the other day. Best of all they took me out for a great steak and beer at the MicMac Tavern. In my opinion, Nova Scotia's tavern food is one of the most underrated schools of world cuisine. It is simple, delicious, filling and totally unpretentious. Besides, if you don't like it you can just have some more beer until you do.



It was great to sit back and spin some yarns about places we have fished, often together, sometimes apart. The Pinware, Grandy's River, Garia River, the Old Fort, the Gander, the Humber, the list goes on and on.

Each with its fame, its stories, its legends,and best of all, its memories.

These pictures are of a trip to the Pinware in Labrador back in 1995 I think.

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Why I Don't Like Ice Fishing

When I lived in British Columbia my enjoyment of fishing blossomed. I had always liked fishing but when I discovered a book by R. Haig-Brown and through it Fly fishing my enjoyment turned to a passion It is hard to explain how something so fundamentally simple can be so engrossing. It is just difficult enough to be a challenge yet straight forward enough to reward any effort.

The advantage to making this discovery while living in B.C. was that it seemed that every brook and puddle was full of fish. One didn't need to be an expert to connect with a trout or two, even from the first.

 Seasons were long and the weather tolerable throughout the year so fishing could be a year round avocation. I was living on Richter Street in Kelowna at the time.

One crisp, January day my fishing buddy and I set out to try our hand at ice fishing. I stood in the yard beside my car and absorbed the pure, crisp morning. The sun was rising, bathing everything in a reddish glow. There was just the hint of a fruity, grape scent from the winery barely penetrating my awareness as I tried to blow a smoke ring with the puffs of vapour my breathing created with each exhalation.

The promise of the morning, as I crunched through the the snow the last few feet to my car, washed over me like the sun finally topping the roofs of the neighbouring houses.

We were headed for Bear Lake, a beautiful alpine pothole nestled in the hills above the west side of the Okanagan Valley. I knew this lake to be loaded with small Rainbow Trout. The trout in this region are a unique strain known as Kamloops Trout. Feisty and aggressive, they can grow to tremendous size but my experience on this lake was that the trout were small but plentiful.

It was a perfect place for a fledgling fly fisherman so doubtless a great spot for some January ice fishing.
We used a hatchet to cut a hole in the ice. Take my word for it when I tell you, that is the worst way to do it. About six inches down, the water started welling up into the hole and the next few minutes were a cold, soaking, splashing, mess.

Each stroke of the axe sent ice water flying but didn't make much progress toward opening a fishable hole.
Eventually we got an unsymmetrical gouge hacked through the ice. Of course we were so wet and cold by then that we took another hour to gather some wood, build a fire and warm up enough to be interested in fishing again.

In the meantime the hole had frozen again but that was quickly dealt with and we soon had lines dangling.
One eye for the rod tips, one eye for smoking boot tips, we waited, huddled just a little too close to the fire to avoid being scorched. Man it was cold.

For bait we were using the West Coast traditional ice fishing bait -Niblets Brand canned corn. I don't know why, but it works. One kernel on a tiny hook and a small handful thrown into the hole is the standard recipe. Within a few minutes we had our first fish.

The rod tip started shaking and I snatched it up off the ice. There was a substantial weight on the other end which I just derricked straight up and out of the hole. Within seconds and with no ceremony at all there lay flopping on the ice the biggest trout I had ever caught.

I didn't even know that there were fish of this size in this lake. Just then my partner's rod started thumping and he repeated the snatch and derrick to leave another trout laying at our feet. This one was if anything a little bigger than the first. And so it went until we each had three magnificent Kamloops Rainbows and decided to call it a day. It was barely ten o'clock in the morning.

I should have been happy but the truth is I was flummoxed. Having spent hours carefully crafting flies to match the fauna of this particular lake, having spent days reading the water and sweat practising with wispy leaders to put the perfect cast in front of a cruising fish, I had never managed to land anything even close to these trout, these trout taken almost off-handed on a kernel of Niblets corn.

I guess that it didn't feel sporting or even gentlemanly. The poor buggers were probably so cold that they were willing to do anything to get a little closer to the fire we had going up on the ice.
The day was pleasant and the company superb. The fishing though, well I guess it was too good. I was faintly ashamed of myself and resolved that if I couldn't entice fish like these fair and square with a well planned and well placed fly I would leave them unmolested henceforth.

And so it is that I don't ice fish. I do however tie a great imitation of a Niblets corn kernel in a number twelve and am presently working on a little fly pattern I call the Kraft Mini-marshmallow.

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