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Back-Water Goldmine…The Beauchene story

The white wolf’s breath steamed amidst the fog as he drifted peacefully through the trail into a clearing. For several hours, Roland Zeitz, a 40 year-old veteran outdoorsman, had been following tracks in the wet snow. The animal remained close, yet elusive. After crossing a few valleys and streams, Roland was cold, wet, and tired, but he only needed one shot… The wolf cautiously leapt onto the stump of an oak. Feeling his prey was near; Roland crouched into the clearing’s maze of fallen trees. Like a pile of forgotten corpses, the husks of dead branches surrounded him, their frozen hands extending skyward. Disoriented by the forest’s evening mist, he waited for a sign from the beast… Beauchene FogRoland hated fog. It reminded him of the death-clouds of gas that crept between French and German trenches during the Great War. A sharp shooter in the Canadian infantry, he was badly wounded at Paschendale, lost consciousness and woke up in a field hospital with no recollection of how he was rescued. Upon returning to Canada, he settled in the Temiscaming area, got married and began working for Lawrence Jones, a rich Kentucky distiller who commissioned Roland to build and manage a summer retreat – a fishing camp on
Lake Beauchene. After building the main ‘white house’ lodge in 1924, he survived the hardships of the elements and the pains of the great depression, raising many children with his loving wife. As guardian of Lake Beauchene, he ensured the surroundings were rid of bears, wolves, or any other potential dangers. He had hunted many animals, but this one was different…

Suddenly, he saw movement. As the white shadow danced through the branches, Roland raised his rifle… He could barely make out its form in the mist. The forest held its breath… The gunshot thundered through the valley, scattering several black crows out from their treetop vigil. Racing out from his cover, Roland reached the spot where his target had been. Nothing. Cursing his impatience and pre-mature marksmanship, he suddenly heard a rustling noise… movement in the underbrush behind him. His heart skipped a beat as he swivelled to aim the rifle. The white wolf bounded off a mound of dead wood over his shoulder. Roland tried for a shot, but his aim only fell upon branches… He charged frantically after the animal, but soon stopped dead in his tracks, nearly stumbling into a large pit, around which lay the remnants of an old campsite. “Goldmine?” he murmured. During the depression, an old hermit would occasionally come wandering into Temiscaming with nuggets of gold, from a small mine within a day’s walk from Lake Beauchene. “This is it” he sighed. As he approached the pit for further investigation, he saw the silhouette of the wolf move, as if taunting him, deeper into the forest. Determined, Roland set after the animal, thinking he would return to the site at a later date. He followed the white wolf into the night, but never caught it; nor did he manage to find the goldmine again. Instead, he founded the legacy of a goldmine fishery that continues to grow today.

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of photographing for the book project CADADA’S CLASSIC FISHING LODGES. I was enthralled by the rich history of our pioneer outfitters, a history that remains unknown to most Canadians. The hardships and visions of these pioneers helped forge our outdoor heritage. Roland’s time was another era. For example, although in complete isolation for most of the year, his wife Ethel helped raised their 4 children at Beauchene for 14 years without ever even going to Temiscaming, only a day away. For eight of those years, they hired a school teacher to educate their children, paying her only room and board and some spending money – 200 $ a year – a fine sum in the depression years. Roland was a consummate guardian. When the lake had been netted for food during the war, they began re-stocking with bass, and trout. In an amazing testimony of will, Roland once drove from the Eastern townships of Quebec to Temiscaming to fetch a new batch of trout. In order to keep the fish oxygenated in their barrel, he had to keep stirring the icy water with one frozen hand while the other held the steering wheel… for the whole half-day ride.

The Beauchene stocking story is similar to many Canadian lakes and watersheds that have seen foreign strains complement their native fishery. At Beauchene, the main success story is small mouth bass, trophy ones, and brook trout. In addition to the main lake, The Beauchene territory offers several intimate lakes to fish with small boats geared for bass and trout. The lake’s original species are lakers and whitefish. They are numerous and can be caught by the traditional trolling and jigging methods. I was attracted to Beauchene because it has fast become a sought-after trophy small-mouth bass haven. The Beauchene motto of conservation ensures it’s catch-n-release only for bass on the main lake, so very large specimens are not uncommon. On my first evening of fishing, a spectacular thunderstorm gave way to an overcast calm. As we drifted a magnificent shoreline of rocks and boulders, one of many, my companion and I switched from spinners and jigs to Pop-Rs and surface baits. Minutes later, my first 5 pound Beauchene bass leapt as if on command adjacent to a boulder field before being landed and released.

The lake offers a fine mix of clear water rocks and boulders, and gorgeous coves with backbays surrounded by fallen stumps and wood. Some of these bays even remind me of the Amazon, where one hunted for ferocious peacock-bass under fallen trees. Such structures are also attractive to the avid fly-fisherman, armed with popper flies. The lake is divided at its centre by narrows which also serve as a good spot to fish. Although ‘Beauchene’ means ‘beautiful oak’ in French, the name may also come from the Algonquin word ‘bauching’ meaning two waters. With respect to brookies, La Reserve Beauchene offers a mix of stocked and wild strains that can reach up to 5, or 6 pounds, namely in lake Taggart and David. Groundwater springs are essential for allowing incubating brookie progeny to survive the winter, ensuring they do not freeze in shallow water. Splake trout have also been stocked, but these cross-breeds do not reproduce in the wild. The barbless hook rule is enforced on all brookie lakes and it’s no kill for most them, including Joanna, Taggart, Jeffrey, Bobcat, and Tank.

Close to many of Eastern Canada’s urban centres such as Ottawa, Toronto, or Montreal, the territory is only a few hours drive, and remains a quality angling experience. Trout fishing is best in spring as the fish are closer to the surface. Post spawn bass will retreat to deeper waters by summer, but return to their favourite shallow feeding areas often, especially in the early morning and evening. Not only is pike fishing possible as specimens of up to 20 pounds have been landed, but large walleye are also commonly caught. La Reserve Beauchene caters to corporate needs as well and private planes can land on the lake. In addition to choosing from 30 smaller lakes to fish, clients have the option of booking secluded outpost cabins, some situated on small islands, or simply taking a room in the fully staffed white-house lodge. As for Roland Zeitz… He lived to see his hundredth birthday and spent most of his retirement years in Bimini, where he built a house for his daughter. For more information, contact La Reserve Beauchene at tel: 819-627-3865, 888-627-3865; or visit: www.beauchene.com

Big bass from shore

On a lazy hazy midsummer Friday afternoon, we expected nothing but perfect calm as we arrived at one of our favorite weed lines. But before my fishing partner and I could make a cast and lose ourselves in the hum of churning top-water lures, another distasteful noise greeted us… The roar of 100 horse power engines were on us in seconds… Two bass boats surrounded us like wolves around an injured caribou… One boat cut us off on the inside to fish a patch of lily pads we intended to approach quietly. As I tried to catch a glimpse of the intruding anglers, I was instantly blinded, despite my polarized glasses, by the dazzling display of chrome emanating from their vessel. The other bass boat maneuvered in front of us, plunked its electric motor immediately, and before we could breathe, two lines were casting along our weed line…

arillilylargemouth.jpgI understand why these boats behaved as if we were never there; we were in a small Zodiac. In their minds, canoe or rubber-boat people do not count as being real fishermen. We were peasant perch fishermen and they were shining bass knights hunting for trophy dragons… We tried another bay but, of course, found a disco-chrome-blue vessel in our path. Disgusted, we turtlted our way back towards our vehicle. In front of our truck was a thick weed bed inaccessible by boat but wadable from shore, so we decided to give it a try. On my first cast, the buzzbait was annihilated by a giant bucket mouth. he fish heaved and tangled itself immediately around the stems of several lily pads. As my partner lipped the 6-pound specimen and I ran to get the camera, the disco-chrome-blue vessel was upon us…

The chrome boat had over 30 fishing-lances on deck and at the steering wheel was a peculiar creature. Wearing a racecar helmet, leather gloves, and more patches on his uniform than a veteran World War II fighter pilot, he spoke with the authority and efficiency of a four stroke fuel-injected engine. “Nice fish. Mind if I get a photo with it? My people would be very interested. Did you catch it here?” We soon understood that his people were not a unique undiscovered race of hominid, but rather people working for companies that sponsored him to do what he does: fish the bass tournament circle. We also learned that tomorrow was the biggest tournament of the year on the Ottawa River, and that he hadn’t really caught any fish today because he was out test-fishing the water…

Test-Fishing… What a noble concept, I thought, as my companion released the monster back into its maze of lily pads… Unlike pristine trout lakes up north, largemouth waters are limited to a few, mostly populated areas. In traditional big bass havens such as the Ottawa River, the bay of Quinte, or even the many smaller lakes in cottage country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find trophy fish. One solution is to fish where others do not and surprisingly, many hot bass spots accessible from shore continue to be over-looked.

Since so many largemouth live in populated areas, dams, canals, and other man made structures, such as bridges can be ideal places to find trophy largemouth.

CANALS:

In Southern Canada, anglers are exposed to miles and miles of fishable shoreline. Though most canals have big bass in them, catching trophies is another matter. Structure is essential for baitfish and big bass, so any fallen tree, old pylon, beaver dam, dock, or shallow weed bed is prime target water. These structures are often not big areas so the key to locating big fish is to keep mobile. Most canal shorelines are monotonous and void of feeding fish, but by targeting only structure areas throughout the day, the angler’s increases his chances. If access via car is impossible, bike or roller blade paths often run along canals, allowing access that is easy and fun for the lightly equipped angler looking for both trophy large and smallmouth bass. Usually, a light spinning or bait-casting set up with 10-pound test and a handful of lures are sufficient.

handjba.jpgLearning to adapt fishing methods in the new zebra mussel era of clear water is necessary in most canals today. Big fish in crystal clear water do not often respond to artificial lures, favoring more natural presentations. Float fishing with minnows, or twitching dead bait can be deadly as well as natural colour power worms and crank baits. Over deep clear water, top-water lures do not work as well as along weedy shorelines where bass anxiously await frogs to swim by. By the en of mid-summer, most canals have a canopy of thick weed covering the shoreline. Under such conditions casting into the deep clear water is not as effective as casting a moss boss parallel to shore, and slowly twitching it on top of the cabbage cover. I have caught many big bass by alternating between a fast and slow twitching a Moss Boss slowly on top of such cover, without the lure even getting wet. The biggest bass tend to follow and inspect the lure carefully before inhaling it in a remarkable, exciting explosion we affectionately call – the blast! Generally, natural colour lures, such as green, pumpkinseed, and black work best. In off-color water, if the weed cover isn’t too thick, noisy lures like spinner-baits are prime choices.

Old canals, with no modern boat ramps often shelter the biggest fish and bare minimal fishing pressure. Often along canals, one side may be cleared and the other lined with trees, making the shoreline difficult to wade or access. These shaded, hardly fished areas have the most fallen branches and trees that often yield the biggest bass. In thick wood cover, heavier line is often more effective. The only danger here is poison ivy, but anglers who do not over-expose their skin or who wash any exposed skin thoroughly to remove the ivy’s leaf oil from the skin have nothing to fear.

manirich.jpgBACK-BAYS:

In busy bodies of water, especially in mid-summer, early morning, evening and night fishing can be especially productive. Bass tend to move of weed lines and head for the shallows. The best way to tackle feeding bass is often the quiet wading of a shoreline. The stop-and-start of an electric motor makes more noise to a fish underwater than most anglers realize. Back-bays adjacent to deep-water bays are prime target zones.

Often these large, weed-infested areas are inaccessible to bass boats and overlooked by most anglers. Here, top water lures reign supreme and are excellent search lures. Even if the lure is missed, following up with a weedless power-worm will more often then not hook a trophy. If wading such areas is difficult due to muddy sediment, taking a small dingy or canoe and fishing from tree or tree stumps can yield excellent results.

DAMS and BRIDGES:

Although fast water is generally associated with small mouth, big largemouth also lurk around foundations and corners of man made walls. When fishing a dam, the corner of lock walls, especially when covered with floating weed, can be a deadly zone. Natural colored curly tail or tube jigs in purple, crayfish, or black work best in clear water, but chartreuse or white jigs in off-color water can be very effective.

In heavy current, the calm side of foundations and bridge pylons can also be prime jigging areas. Light can also influence smallmouth activity significantly in shallow rocky conditions. Most big fish are often caught in low light as they stalk the shallows.

On hot bright windy days, it is possible to spend many hours casting weed lines on big water, far away from home with limited results, whereas the biggest bass lie close to shore only minutes away from your front door. We have often caught countless big bass while stopping at a few choice spots on our way home from distant fishing trips. There are miles of shoreline available to anglers living within city limits. Many big bass have learned to survive in man made settings, or lurk in lake or river back-bays within spitting distance from shore. For some, being in a boat all day is relaxing and fun. Others prefer the exercise and freedom to move and enjoy their surroundings. Under pressured fishing conditions, big bass can be caught regularly by wading anglers armed and ready to tackle the shorelines at strategic places and times when most boat anglers dare not venture.

Bad-ass bass

The ocean was dead calm, but the crisp October air sparkled with life around a handful of fishing boats spread-out over Rhode Island’s Watch-Hill reef. Shrouded in a fog, we could hardly see the jagged rocks outlining the shore where a lighthouse appeared and then vanished in veils of mist. The hungry screams of diving seagulls and the haunting echo of distant marker-buoys accompanied us as we slowly drifted with the incoming tide. My angling companion and I were focussed on our live bait – small shad-like fish about ten inches long – that were defiantly being dragged behind the boat… A school of bait-fish soon erupted close by – and a formation of birds came to investigate. As I considered casting surface lures towards the area, I noticed my little shad was swimming erratically at the surface. We used no leader or weight. With our drag open – and our thumbs stopping the line from un-spooling off the reel – we waiting for a strike, and a fish to run with the bait.

striper-2.jpgThere came a thunderous splash! A silver-white tail slammed my bait-fish into the air, only 20 yards behind the boat. I released my thumb and watched my stunned shad floating at the surface… A few seconds later, a dark shadow engulfed my bait and the line peeled off my reel. After a few more heartbeats, I engaged the drag. The butt of my rod jolted me in the stomach as the heavy fish immediately protested the hook-set… It was a glorious fight ending in my first striper ever – a magnificent 20 pounder. The night before I arrived, a night fisherman casting live eels from shore landed a 55 pounder. It is not hard to understand why striper fishing becomes an obsession with so many East-Coast anglers.

Before Expo ’67, Anglers from Montreal to Quebec City would catch striped bass regularly in the St-Lawrence, but pollution and has since help extinguish the population. Today, the MLCP is making efforts to re-introduce the species with a trial stocking program. In Lake Ontario, before wildlife management officials from New York State and Ontario decided to massively stock Pacific salmon, they had seriously considered introducing Striped-bass. And why not? These fish grow big, fight hard, and offer everything else a game-fish is supposed to.

Although Canada does possess some virgin striper fishing off the coasts of Nova Scotia and New-Brunswick, the sport fishery is vastly undeveloped. Along the American coast from Canada to North-Carolina however, it is a different story. Along the East coast stripers are extremely popular because in addition to being ‘sporty’ they can be targeted from shore or on reefs close to the shoreline. Stripers have a specific migratory pattern.

Migration

striper-1.jpgIn the winter months, striped bass travel as far south as the lower Carolinas. They spend most of their time in the winter in deep water. In early spring, somewhere around early March, the stripers begin to move north to spawn in huge schools. Most stripers will spawn in either fresh or brackish water at the mouth of Large Rivers. They tend to reach the Connecticut area in early to mid April, Cape Cod around the first week of May and points north later into spring. Water temperature has a great influence on this process. Once waters have reached the 50 degree mark, action starts suddenly appearing along the coastline. Bass also can remain in an area all winter. It is rare but not impossible to find a fisherman catching stripers in December. These fish are generally smaller and are caught in rivers such as the Connecticut and Hudson. There is a prime time for angling. Season and time of day seem to have a big impact on fish presence. In the New England area, fishing is best in June and then again in September and October when the bass begin their fall migration south. Cooler water temperatures will turn activity on, while warm waters found during the peak summer months and at midday, tend to drive the fish deep.

Smaller stripers school-up and travel in large numbers, but big stripers tend to be loners, staying deeper than the pack. They often arrive a few weeks later than the schoolies. In New England, May brings the arrival of the “cows” or any fish really over 28 inches. Big fish tend to feed on herring and larger bait as well. It is not uncommon for fisherman to witness big stripers working a school of bait-fish together, like a pack of wolves, cornering them before moving in for the kill.

Fishing tactics

monsterstriper.jpgThe official world record striper was caught by Al McReynolds on September 21, 1982 from Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was 78 pounds 8 oz and about 53″ long. Heavy tackle is required when targeting such monsters. Surf-casting is one of the post popular methods; big spinning reels with 15-25 pound test are mounted on 7-12 foot heavy rods. Anglers wade the shoreline while casting surf lures like the ‘popper’ – a cylindrical plug that, when jerked, thrashes at the surface, mimicking an injured bait-fish… Live bait is an extremely successful method for big stripers. Since such trophy fish feed close to shore at night (especially under the visibility of a full moon), live eels are used frequently by bait fisherman who cast and wait patiently for a strike…

When trying to locate bass, the sight of feeding birds is often the best sign. Incoming and out-going tides are preferred periods for travelling bait-fish over reefs – because all stripers love structure. Bluefish also inhabit most of the stripers range. They are equally sporty gamefish with sharp teeth, so using a metal leader for bass is often a wise idea: both species strike the same lures. Lately, fly-fishing for stripers has grown in popularity. Weighted, shad-dart type flies are striped over reefs and in the surf by Fly-casters generally using a ‘stripping basket’ and 9 – weight saltwater rods and reels.

Stripers were successfully introduced along the Pacific Coast, and San-Francisco Bay is now a very successful striper area – but not as popular as Chesapeake Bay on the East coast or other famous beaches. Some fresh-water reservoirs in the Southern U.S. have stocked stripers with great success since the species takes well to fresh water. Perhaps Canadian anglers one day will enjoy a wide striper sport-fishery, but until then, the best guides, and most knowledgeable striper anglers remain our American cousins. For more information, contact Chatham Charters at www.HookedonStripers.com.

Jurassic gar

Our bass boat entered another bay that looked like bass heaven, but after a few unanswered casts, I began loosing confidence again. My guide and long-time fishing partner, Glen Hales, and I had spent all morning launching juicy bass-poppers into the mid-summer wind, stripping in between mazes of lilly pads, looking for the trophy-size largemouth that were once so bountiful. This year, however, they all seemed to have vanished. Every time conditions are perfect, and fishing is lousy, I enter what psychologists would call the denial fish-phase, when an angler begins ranting and formulating new hypotheses about why he is not catching fish. “It must be the fault of all those bass tournaments they organize on the Bay… that kind of over-fishing has to bring down the population…” But before I could babble on about water temperature or barometer, Glen yelled: “gar”! A four-foot shadow glided through the weeds along the sandy shoreline, before spooking off at the sight of our boat. The wind had died down and the muddy, windswept shore ahead of us was churning with activity. “Carp ahead”, I muttered; but as we approached, we did not see the typical raised tails of feeding carp. Instead, we were surprised to see schools of shiners breaking the surface, trying to escape the jaws of the gar that hunted them. Glen immediately lunged for his tackle box and had a gar fly on before I could snip off my popper. After his first cast, it had begun…

glengar.jpgGar are among the most primitive of fishes. In North America, fossil records reveal the species has remained relatively unchanged for the past 50 million years, making it much older than species such as salmon or trout. Though the gar family is perhaps best known for the giant alligator gar down South which can reach into the hundreds of pounds (the IGFA record is 130 lbs.), the longnose gar is the second largest (the IGFA record is 80 pounds) and is very common up North, including Lake Ontario. The Great Lakes are a spectacular watershed. Only a few hundred years ago, Lake Ontario, from the mighty Niagara Falls to the St-Lawrence River was a landlocked Atlantic salmon paradise. Giant twenty to forty pound salmon, or Ouananiche, as the native Indians called them, returned every year to spawn in the lake’s numerous tributaries. Across both borders, from the Salmon river in Pulaski, NY, to the Moira, Credit, and Ganaraska rivers on the Canadian side, the early 19th century angler could expect endless adventure with rod and reel. Unfortunately, as the shadow of human population continued to expand, milldams were constructed on every spawning river and creek. Farmers also needed fertilizer for their fields, so wild landlocked Atlantic salmon were also pitch-forked by the thousands on their spawning beds. A half-century later, another unique strain of salmon was completely extinct.

Then came other man-assisted invasions. The building of the St-Lawrence Sea Way allowed the sea lamprey to reach all the Great Lakes and feast on the healthy population of lake trout. Today, it’s the zebra mussel. In only a few years, nutrient-rich waters have been so filtered or de-eutrified by the infestation of mussels that the ecosystem has been irreversibly unbalanced.

garathon.jpg But perhaps even more dramatic is the introduction of so many foreign fish species to the watershed. The first species to be introduced was carp, then many strains of Pacific salmon, steelhead, and brown trout. The charter boat sport-fishing industry has grown so rapidly that some biologists even attempted triploidity experiments on chinook salmon, shocking their eggs to prevent sex organs (gonads) from growing so that these adult ‘eunuchs’ would grow even bigger, and create more hype for the dozens of fish derbies held annually. No wonder during fall salmon season, I have noticed in tributaries around nuclear power plants especially, that some fish (and certain combat fisherman that chase them) seem to have a Frankenstein-like aura to them…

I was thirteen years old when I caught my first coho salmon. It was a warm X-mas eve. In the mist, heavy wet flakes of snow danced through the air as a distant church organ continually broadcast through mega-speakers the haunting instrumental chime of every X-mas Carol. I landed a 15 pounder to the sound of ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Lake Ontario had hooked me for life… In the following years, much to the chagrin of our abandoned family members and loved ones (repeatedly during Thanksgiving, or Easter, or a birthday) my friends and I would huddle all night in a bus, or a train, and later, a car, soaring across the highways along the lake, filled with the anticipation of angling adventure. We would wait for rain and spend countless nights, drenched, cold, tired, watching migratory salmon and trout leaping rapids. There was a time when nothing on earth would stir us more than the sight of a male hook-jawed brown trout at sunrise adorned with explosive spawning coloration, or the be-jeweled pink band flanking a winter steelhead…

Over the years, Glen and I shared a love of angling and photography that continued to grow. In addition to being a consummate fly-fisherman, Glen’s fly-tying prowess has led him to tackle many alternative species in Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte. Aside from catching carp, suckers, walleye, fresh-water drum, musky, pike, bass, channel catfish and even eels on a fly, Glen has invented the ‘Belleville Stinger’, a streamer tied with a small metal leader ending with a tiny treble that is deadly for gar. The fish is hard to hook under any circumstance, due mainly to its needle teeth and extended, bony jaws — allowing virtually no room for a hook to set. When hunting the shallows, gar tend to corner and slash at a baitfish with their teeth, then they run with it for a while before turning and swallowing it head first. Thus, normal flies are dropped almost instantly. A good gar fly has mesh or material that attempts to entangle itself in the fish’s teeth, but the small treble stinger seems to hold longest, especially since gar are also famous for leaping out of the water when hooked and swirling around the line. Using wire tippet such as Surflon is also recommended. Gar have also developed the strange tactic of ambushing their pray by swimming sideways, imitating a floating branch. Their diamond-shaped scales are covered with an enamel-like substance called ganon with gives them armor-like skin, and makes it easy for anglers to handle them for release.

The Bay of Quinte is the largest shallow water section of the lake, fed by five main rivers. It makes for an ideal spawning ground for many species. Recently, Glen had caught the Ontario record carp, a 40 pounder on a small caddis nymph. “It’s only a matter of time,” he would say, before we get the record gar… Although extremely numerous in the Bay, the Ontario record, taken from the Moira, one of the lake’s tributaries, is just under fifteen pounds. Seeing fish over twenty pounds are not uncommon, but hooking and landing them is another story. As we grew older, we noticed that the quality and quality of our fishing days were progressively decreasing around the lake. We watched our favorite fishing spots become more crowded, and the number and size of fish seemed to dwindle with every passing year, suggesting that our best days were behind us. Today was a significant day though. Glen was getting married in a few months, and since I was to be best man, this was our last ‘bachelor fishing party’ before the big event…

The gar erupted from the surface and immediately shook the fly. “They’re everywhere!” Glen shouted. Next to the boat, I watched a 10-pound gar rise to the surface and release a bubble of air. The gar’s swim bladder is connected to its oesophagus, operating as a primitive lung and allowing it to breathe atmospheric air, very useful in low-oxygen conditions. As I stared at the ring of ripples expanding towards the boat, the gar swallowed another air bubble and sank slowly below… That’s when I realised I had lost track of my surroundings. The other boats that were trolling close by were gone. In the maze of back-bays, I no longer knew or cared in which direction was the boat ramp. The wind had become a soft steady drift, which pushed the boat parallel to shore within perfect casting distance. All was silent. Even the periodic howl of the distant train had faded. Three large fish followed my twitching streamer before a small one nailed it at the boat. “Let’s go back for those big ones”, I proposed as Glen pulled a 10 pounder into the boat. “No, there’s more ahead” he answered, then tossed the fish in the live-well for future picture taking. We had fished for gar many times before but never, never had seen this… As far as the eye could see, long shadows and shapes emerged as we floated by. On every cast we got a strike or a follow: it was gar heaven.

Normally on the Bay, finding groups of a few fish are common. Gar love the heat. In mid-summer, when it’s too hot to fish for much else, we wade the weedy shallows searching for bait fish or the give-away sign of a gar breaking the surface, exposing it’s beak. In June or July, Bay of Quinte gar also head up stream to spawn in rivers where it is possible to catch them in rapids and shallow rock beds, great fun on light line. We thought we had seen it all… We were dead wrong. By the time we had our fourth or fifth double-header, we had spotted several hundred fish. “There must be thousands! No one will believe us!” I added, reaching for the camera. Since the live-well was full, I suggested we take some shots and release the fish. “Oh my God!” Glen murmured. Ignoring me, he made a frantic false-cast before tossing a badly mauled fly in between two patches of weed. The fly was smashed immediately and the 8-weight heaved in protest. The creature bolted forward with one thrash of its tail. “It’s huge!” I yelled, placing my camera on the seat. The thick back of the fresh-water dinosaur headed under the boat. Since many fish are lost when tangled in weeds, we tend to use the ‘little or no drag, heave and pray’ method. Glen plunged his rod tip into the water allowing the fly line to narrowly escape entanglement with the electric motor shaft. The fish made another run and the reel squealed off some line, almost pulling Glen over-board in the process. “The Ontario record?” I wondered out loud as I positioned myself on one knee ready to grab at the fish. “Yup”, Glen answered dryly as the monstrous gar surfaced next to my hands. The fly was barely hooked in its jaws. Without thinking twice, I grabbed the beast with both hands at the shoulders and heaved it on deck as the fly immediately dislodged from its jaw.

The fish was obviously close to 20 pounds and unquestionably a record. But what follows is one of those blurry moments, fit for the reel of America’s most funny angling videos. So sure was I that the fish was secure, I released one hand from around it’s flank and grabbed Glen by the shoulder in congratulations. At that moment, the fish went ballistic, wrenched itself from by hand and bounced off the deck of the bass-boat platform. The fish landed on the edge of the boat balancing perfectly still – half in the boat, half out. Of course I immediately lunged after it and of course… It was too late. The fish gave one last heave and torpedoed perfectly back into the water. Glen was speechless. I attempted to babble a pointless excuse, then offered “Still want me as your best man? I promise not to lose the ring…” Glen didn’t answer. He made a half-hearted cast towards a pod of gar but got snagged in some weeds. We decided to count that as a sign and end the day early. Even though fish still loomed about, we had caught more than our fair share. Glen returned the following weekend, but the summer heat wave had ended, fall was around the corner, and only a few fish remained along the shoreline. He caught enough gar though, to make him forget about my dumb maneuver and allowed me to be best man at his wedding… And no, I didn’t lose the ring.

In Search of King-Size Salmon

giant75lbking.jpg…Two boats spiraling into the eye of a maelstrom; one of them is being toed to the sea by a Skeena river king determined to ignore the minor discomfort of a heavy rod, reel, and hundreds of yards of 40 pound test… Just another day at the office for veteran guide Noel Gyger of Terrace, British Columbia. We had been anchored side by side with his nephew’s boat when they hooked into the `screamer’ that nearly stripped them before the anchor buoy could be tossed. Not wanting to miss any of the action, Noel and I decided to join in the chase.The Skeena’s glacial current is swift and unforgiving. Our boats finally drifted towards a sharp river bend where the flow intensified into a whirlpool. Of course, of all the miles of river to rest, the salmon decided to choose the whirlpool! In between the sudden bursts of engine acceleration, Noel managed to meet my gaze and whisper: “it’s a big one.” So there we were, under a snow-peaked horizon, circling the whirlpool… and somewhere deep below in the dark green water, the king lay resting… waiting…

In the last century, the pursuit of trophy salmon has fuelled the hearts of countless anglers. Yet, as we enter a new millennium, the realm of the trophy salmon hunter has changed considerably. What can today’s angler expect in terms of size on the West Coast and in the Great-Lakes? Has overpopulation killed the golden age of trophy king fishing, or is there still much to look forward to?

The Great-Lakes

a28.jpgIn the Great-Lakes region, the introduction of pacific species has caused the sportfishing industry to boom. These stocked salmon, however, do not reach the size as some of their Pacific Coast cousins. Although some rare forty pounders have been landed, fish over twenty five pounds are considered trophies. To compensate for such shortcomings, researchers such as Dr. Don Garling and Dr. Howard Tanner of Michigan State, are conducting triploidity research to produce monster-size Chinook in the Great-Lakes. By heat-shocking salmon eggs, sterility is caused in the majority of adults, and it is believed that this negation of the reproductive urge in salmon will enable them to live longer and grow larger.

This preoccupation of engineering a salmon paradise, however, is not going unchallenged. Great-Lakes biologists are confronted with the delicate task of monitoring how stocked fish affect the fragile baitfish/predator balance within the ecosystem.

The Fountain Unicorn

giantbrook.jpgBeginnings
Like many young anglers, my first fishing experiences were on small stream I got hooked between the age of 11 and 13. My uncle would take me fishing to upper New York State and, at that time, nothing on this earth was more enjoyable than plunking worms for trout. Around each river bend was a new adventure. Boulders, submerged branches, undercut banks… All could yield a big brown trout. In the fast riffles and rapids, there were acrobatic rainbows… But occasionally we caught something even more alluring—a fish which always brought a hint of a whisper to my uncle’s voice. We rarely used the prosaic name “brook trout”, but its Latin name fontinalis, which means “of the pure springs”. For it was only in the pure, cool, headwater springs that that it could live. It’s bright colours, which complemented the bright waters where it lived, enhanced its mythical allure. I listened with awe as my Uncle spoke of the wild, cold waters way up north where fontinalis grew huge.I was caught under its spell. The elusive giant brook trout became my fresh-water unicorn and capturing it one of my recurring dreams.

As I grew older, I developed intricate, nocturnal worm-collecting routes that would lead me to explore, by flashlight, some of the most beautiful gardens in Montreal’s rich upper Westmount. The police stopped me several times, but I developed alternate routes and insisted worm collecting was the ideal first date to bring a lady on. My uncle became concerned with this development and decided it was time to teach me to fly fish.

Touching The Unicorn
megiantb.jpg Labrador! The thunderclouds gathered along the horizon as our floatplane desperately tried to land on Lake Minipi before being engulfed by the heart of darkness. This is a primordial land: deep forests, pristine lakes and miles of wild river pulsing through it. From the air, I could already feel the heartbeat of adventure. For, though I had caught many brook trout over the years, I was finally embarking on the quest for my unicorn—to catch a giant majestic, bejeweled fontinalis that would satisfy my boyhood dream.

Minipi is renowned for its brook trout. Throughout summer, fly fisherman search the narrows and shorelines of the lake for the swirls made by fish feeding on the surface. The boat stealthily approaches, and the angler casts in the anticipated direction the feeding trout might take. The fall, however, is the best time, for then the majority of the fish head towards the rivers. Here, they feed on lemmings and mice, which frequently cross the river (often at night) when they are very vulnerable. The opportunistic giant brook trout is very familiar with the silhouette of a small rodent struggling across the surface and they strike with reckless abandon. The hit is often savage—frequently not just one hit, but a series! I’ve had some leap up from the side and slam the fly on the way down. Sometimes it feels like fishing for pike.

Discovering india’s hidden land

taj.jpgA strike!? A student strike… I could not believe my misfortune. Here I was in Delhi, about to embark on a three week trek into the foothills of the Himalayas… It had taken months to organize the expedition, and now I paced in my hotel room like a caged animal, wondering if the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh and the Assamese plains were ever going to materialize… Tomorrow morning, we were booked on the only flight to Dibrughar, but the students had blocked the airport to draw attention to the Arunacheli independence movement… And the flight, of course, was cancelled. Our group consisted of seven anxious anglers, avid sports-fishermen ready and willing to explore exotic destinations in search of the world’s prized gamefish. Yesterday, like good tourists, we visited the Taj in Agra, and while at the old fort, I watched with slow-motion horror, as my camera strap strangely unlocked, sending my only wide angle lens crashing to the ground, disabling its focus control. Was this to be an omen of things to come…?A FISHING TRIP?

goldenseer.jpgBack home, during the planning phase of the trip, our friends and relatives would invariably ask the same question? `Why go fishing in India?’ India was famous for her mahseer (barbus tor), a species that once roamed throughout the major river systems, but like the tiger, it had been hunted to near extinction. Today, save for some stretches of the Cauvery River in the South, the majority of India’s wild mahseer populations exist in the tributaries of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Recently, India has facilitated tourist access throughout most of the Northeast. In Assam, Restricted Area Permits are no longer required, and In Arunachal, small groups (minimum 4 tourists) may obtain 10 day access permits.

With the world growing larger, finding a sanctuary or geographical paradise, is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in such densely populated areas as India. The North-eastern states, or 7 sisters, like most border areas of the world, have had a history of conflict, namely between India and China. Many aboriginals still protest India’s occupation, forming an underground which occasionally reaffirms its resolve through militant action. In Nagaland and Assam, the underground is more active, but in Arunachal, protest is done more peacefully.

As it turns out, my angst lasted less than an hour. As we arrived at his home, our group leader, John Edwards of Tiger Tops made a few phone calls, booked us on another flight to Guwahati, gathered more jeeps, and requisitioned a helicopter… And poured me yet another gin – in almost the same breath. In the end, the student strike only added spice to our adventure…

John Edwards is a chronic explorer, who works for Tiger Tops/Mountain Travel, a tour company which pioneered treks throughout the Himalayas and its surrounding areas. John has twenty five years experience in jungle tours, especially in Nepal, where he has built spectacular lodges catering to a wide range of clientele. Those interested in watching tigers from the houda of an elephant, river rafters, mountain climbers, photographers, naturists, all may practice their bliss amidst breath-taking surroundings. Although forced to be a Jack-of-all-trades, I believe Edwards is mainly a mahseer fisherman at heart, and together, our group was on a mission; to fish one of the last angling frontiers, in search of a specimen that time itself, had forgotten…

THE FIRST GLIMPSE

bridgetoheaven.jpgCreated by the slow roar of tectonic plates that splintered the rock buried beneath the sea and carried it into the clouds, the Himalayas are testimony to the cosmic insignificance of Man. Their ancient peaks, weathered like the wrinkles of an old man’s hand, made the Rockies pale in comparison. When our jet banked its wings and crossed the mighty Bhramaputra, the sun’s brilliant, dying rays meandered along the river, ushering us into a corridor of silver and gold. A lone island immerged out of this shimmering divine fire as we descended towards our destination. `That is Peacock Island’, John said. `Legend has it that those who see Peacock Island for the first time must always return, at least once during there lifetime.’ After spending the night in Itanagar, we flew by helicopter up the rest of the Bhramaputra (at ground level much of the way) occasionally passing by villagers paddling their skiffs, fishing or moving their herds. These are true `boat people’ who, each year, must suffer the wrath of the monsoons and rebuild their homes.

Upon landing in Pasighat, we met Ozing, John’s charming Adi agent, who led the convoy of three jeeps into the heart of an impenetrable jungle. We had arrived on the last day of the monsoon which, much to our chagrin, ended a few weeks later than anticipated. This meant the rivers were still high and murky, and most of the fish would still be upstream beyond our grasp. As always when battling with less than ideal conditions, catching big fish was going to be a challenge.

india1.jpgWe headed up the Siang, one of the Bhramaputra’s main tributaries, on a mud road barely one car wide, which was great fun on sharp turns, overlooking bottomless chasms. Most of the Villagers were part of the Adi tribe. They live in a spectacular rain forest, cultivating rice wherever the forest will let them. We enjoyed stopping occasionally in a few villages such as Boleng, where inevitably a crowd gathered to watch the pale foreigners. Several wood bridges span across the Siang, allowing for magnificent vistas in the morning mist. Upon visiting one of them, John explained the dangerous task that certain British colonialists had in establishing first contact with the natives in the Northeast (including those who were head-hunters.) Conflicts would occasionally result in a few dead British officers, which invariably led to costly retaliation expeditions to punish those `responsible’ for the offences. The sight of a British regiment snaking its way upriver on boats accompanied on shore by cavalry units mounted on elephants crashing through the forest must have been no less than surreal. Eventually, the British grew tired of such endeavours and drew a border line which excluded these traitorous regions.

AMIDST THE ANIMISTS

Adi are Animists; they celebrate several festivals a year, many of which include the sacrifice of a `mithun’, a semi wild bull. Dance plays a significant role in Arunacheli rituals; their costumes are extravagant. In the war dance we witnessed, the men wore feathered headdresses and displayed their petrified tiger jaw medallions. One day, a middle-aged, beetle-nut chewing Adi man came to our camp and with the help of our translator opened a theological discussion with me. He asked me if I was one of those… Christians. Although my birth certificate does have something Roman and Catholic scribbled somewhere, I assured him that I worshipped the River and that I revered many of the rivers I had frequented in my travels. He, in turn, revealed that he worshipped the Sun, which was the same as the river since they both brought life to people. He then shook my hand. Although I probably weighed 75 pounds heavier, his vice-grip palm almost brought me to me knees (this brought a chuckle from my colleague Jeremy, a UK designer who when fishing was slow, seemed to enjoy how the local village girls were fascinated by, and often attended to his long hair.) The Adi men have incredible musculature. They have spent every day, from sunrise to sunset either working, hunting, or carrying insane loads on their heads and walking remarkable distances. It puts the western ` three hours of aerobics a week’ to shame.

On our next to last day in Arunachal, our fishing efforts were rewarded when Peter Gamarano, a retired US Navy commander landed a spectacular, large specimen which we thoroughly photographed and then released.

THE LAST STRETCH

We then moved to Assam to fish the Bhorelli, another mahseer river that was still murky from the late monsoons. Here we completed daily rafting runs pausing to have lunch on shorelines rich with fresh tiger tracks. We stayed at the Bhorelli anglers club who offered us the grandest of Indian hospitality, and the food… Well, I certainly don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. But if I did, I’d probably use `deeeeelicious’. On our last day, while visiting a tea estate, Rocky Kelly, a 76 year old Rhode Islander who’s business card reads `retired and really enjoying life’ came back to camp with great video footage of the group amidst a large group of wild elephants.

giantmahseer.jpgAlthough we had stayed three weeks, our focus on fishing led us to many missed opportunities in terms of exploring the numerous ruins, or experiencing new cultural exchanges. The hidden land is vast, and we hardly scratched the surface. But perhaps the legend of Peacock Island is true, for already I feel an invisible pull, leading me back. Last I herd of John Edwards; he was leading yet another expedition deep into the Jungles of Arunachal. This time it is a team of anthropologists looking to record two elusive rituals, the Reh and Boori Boot. Among the other known festivals practiced in Arunachal are Mopin, Solung, Losar, Kahn, Sangken, Ohilyale, Tamladu, and the Nakum. For those interested in exploring this magnificent part of the world, John Edwards and Tiger Tops can organize `custom-made’ itineraries. If they can’t do it… then it simply can’t be done. In Guwahati, we had the pleasure of encountering V. Abrahum, the deputy resident commissioner, who said to me `If one tree has to be cut here, I want to know about it’. I hope this concern for the North-East’s environment perseveres into the new millennium, such that the world is granted the opportunity, and the privilege to treasure this exotic land.