Tuesday, April 29, 2008

First Trip Is Good As Always

In the past few years i have delayed a season opening trip until the last Sunday in April. The fishing is slow before that so waiting seems a good option. This past Sunday we made our first trip up to the camp. Here are the details:

The Weather: Cloudy in the AM, the sunny in the afternoon, with winds out of the South East around 25km/h, all day long. High temperature was 16.

The Camp: Every year that first walk back is a bit scary. Wrecked or burnt or damaged, we imagine all of the scenarios. Fortunately it was fine. 3 sets of visitors were in through the winter, but all loved it, and cleaned up and took their garbage out. We couldn't ask for better. Outhouse door needs hinges replaced, chimney is leaking through the top cap. No big deal.

The Fly: It is earlier than the past 5 years or so, a good sign for us on our trip. A nice size hatch was on Sunday, and looks like it was the first of the season. This means the fish will be looking and feeding on fly for a whole week before we get there. In the past few years, we have been a bit early and the fish are just turning on to the fly. This year the timing should be perfect. The lakes have a lot of nymph, meaning the hatch should be healthier than ever.

The Fish: On what appears to be the first day of the hatch, the fish are not interested. It takes 4 or 5 days before they become aware of the fly, and a couple more before they are feeding heavily on them. The wind made fishing hard and a bit on the cold side. Rolled one trout and that was it, but these aren't early season lakes, so we weren't surprised. The fish will be more than ready next week when we are there.

Overall it was a great trip, fish or no fish. We had lunch back the camp and enjoyed the quiet and the view. Next week, the real action will begin, and i will have a full report.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Day Three - "What I Wouldn't Give For A Cellphone"

I wake up groggy to a comforting sound. My wife and i like to lay in bed and listen to the rain, and it is raining hard. I turn my head. That ain't my wife. Steven B. is waking at the same time. We get up and light the Coleman stove and start cooking up 2 pounds of bacon. The others join us. It's 6:00 am. Hungover, tired, sore and most of all, wet, there will be no fishing today. All of us agree we have to finish that woodpile today, because we have nothing left inside of us. We are now running on willpower and stubbornness. Breakfast tastes great, although moss would probably taste great in our current state.

So we start. We are wet all the way through from three days of steady rain, and today is the hardest rain yet. We haul wood all day long. We overload our shoulders most of the time because we are finishing today, come hell or high water. Finally, we are making the last trip to the wood. It is close to dusk and Steven, Stephen, Derrick and I are heading for the last of it. There is one piece of pine siding left for each of us. We each grab one and we carry it in a parade of sorts. A real life parade of fools. We walk proudly to the campsite, and dump off our last pieces onto the new woodpile, and then open a celebratory beer. There will be no more walking today, no more tripping in that path, now more sloshing rubber boot noises. We are done.

Steven F. then looks at me. "Did you tell your wife you would call her?" The colour drains from my face. Quietly, i say yes. "I told mine too" he says. Without speaking, we both get up and prepare to walk yet again. Through the path, tripping more than ever because it is dark. We get out to the 1985 Chevy Diesel and start it. In minutes it is warmed up and the heat is on and feels better than anything i have felt in three days. Steven is driving and he is running an Indy race on a logging road. We are getting sucked into ruts, plowing through soupholes. I have a lit smoke hanging out the window and brown muddy puddle water splashes up and drenches it. About half way out, we see lights. Lots of lights. We pull to the side and agree it must be a logging rig, but it is really moving. As it gets closer, we see it is a Ford F-350, almost brand new, with lights all over the cab, and it is hauling a trailer behind it. That trailer is bouncing and rocking back and forth as the truck blows by us without even slowing down. He coats the front window of the Chevy so thick with mud, we had to get out and wipe it off before the wipers could do the rest.

When we get to town and we have to drive to three pay phones before we find on that works. We make our calls. I wanted to be home right then. I would never have admitted it, but i wanted it bad. We drove back quicker than we drove out. We trip through the path but as we do, the rain stops. The winds die down. The heat of the truck has made me realize how cold the air really is. When we got to the camp, the woodpile is done, neat and tidy. The fire is blazing, and on our new camp floor sits a bottle of rum, a Coleman lantern, a bottle of Pepsi, and six glasses. A celebration of sorts. The six of us sit down and pour drinks. The air is now vividly calm. We all start our drinks, and then it begins to snow. That's right, it is snowing on the 5th of May. Our defense mechanism kicks in and we all start to laugh. It is either that or cry. A few drinks and we are all off to bed. Wet beds that offer little comfort, but when you are as exhausted as we were, it doesn't really matter. Beyond any other feelings we may have had, two brought us some comfort. One, we had a finished floor for our camp, and two, we are going home tomorrow. Thank God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Does A 40 Ouncer Really Ease Pain?

Day 2 Of Four Days I Will Never Forget, Even Though I Want To
Of all of the guys involved in the camp, i have known Steven B. the longest. We were friends since i was 16 or so, and we have fished together ever since then. On the morning of day 2, we did what we have done so often before. Out of bed at 5:00 am, make some tea, and off to the lake. At 6:00 am we are on the water, at 8:30 we are back at camp cooking trout for breakfast. Our walk to the lake was over the hardwood hill, and far from the woodpile that both of us pretended didn't exist, even if it was only for a moment.

After breakfast, Day 2 went like this. Walk, get wet, haul wood, trip, drop wood, pick it back up, keep going. Repeat. From 10:00 am till dark, breaking only for the odd beer, a smoke, or something to eat. By the fire, Steven and i started to feel it. A burning sensation on both of our shoulders, from the weight and friction of pine siding and tongue and groove flooring. Everyone feels it. As the rest of them head for their tents, Steven brings out our pain killer. A 40 ouncer of Captain Morgans Rum. It's an old standby, also dating back to our early days as friends. We crack it open, and drink it. Quickly. The rum makes lots of things disappear. Quiet, intelligence, even common sense. To our regret though, not pain.

We complain as we drink. The more we drink, the more expletive laced tirades we give about how sore our shoulders are. ("more marks on my shoulders than a whores headboard", that sort of thing). As we drink the last of the rum, my arms hurt to even raise the glass. The tent is looking better all the time. We got into the tent, and Steven asked what time it was. My wife bought me a Timex Hooks watch, which was awesome, with an Indigo backlight. I pressed the light button, and influenced by fatigue and rum, the light seemed like a spotlight, burning our eyes, and causing us to erupt in laughter. I press it over and over, and each time we laugh harder. Then the novelty wears off. It's 11:30 pm, and we have been up almost 19 hours.

We are both laying down now, and both very impressed with how quiet it is. I am almost asleep within a minute. Then it happens. From Derricks tent, a loud snore. Steven and i erupt in laughter right away. We quiet down, another snore from Derrick. Again we laugh like fools. After the fourth snorting sound, the novelty wears off of that. Derrick snores again. No laughter. Robert belts out maybe the loudest snore i have ever heard. We are now roaring with laughter, stopping only long enough to hear the next guy let one go. Derrick, then Robert, then Stephen F, the Merle. After five minutes we have laughed ourselves to tears. I figure we fell asleep finally around 12:30, with guts that hurt almost as much as our shoulders.

On day 3, we wake up at 6:00. There will be no fishing today. Sore arms, shoulders, stomachs, and a hangover talk us out of it. Steven tells me we have to get that wood finished today. If we don't, he may never come back. I couldn't agree more.....

The Annual Trip Before The Trip

Every year, Stephen F. and i make a day trip the last weekend of April up to the camp. The idea is to check out the lake, see what the water temperature is, see if the nymphs are active, try for a fish, and of course make sure the camp is cool and take stock of what we need for our annual trip. Oh, and i bring my canoe up. The weather lately has been pretty warm, and water temperatures are up to about 8 degrees.

My wife could give you many examples of how my focus in fishing season gets a little narrowed. Ok, maybe a lot narrowed. I can give you one from last year. Stephen and i were walking back to the camp last year around 7:00 am. After crossing the small lake, we made mention of how bright the sun was this time of the morning over the hardwood hill, without really looking over the hardwood hill. Again, walking the path, another comment about how bright it was. In our mind though, the only thought is get to the camp. We got there, put on some tea, and checked everything out. I walked out back to get an armload of wood, and look toward the hardwood hill.

It was then i noticed it was extremely bright. I walked about 200 feet, and where there used to be woods, now stood a huge clearing, courtesy of you friendly pulp and paper company. Walking out of the path, the new chopping was in plain view. If we had looked on the way in, we would have tripped over it. We only saw the path, straight ahead, to the camp.

This Sunday, i will wet the first line of the year, and likely get my first trout of the year, and get ready for the first two weeks in May. A Nova Scotia fly fisherman's time of perfection. Before black flies, moderate temperatures, a ton of Mayfly, and hopefully, a lot of hungry trout. I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Camp Is Made Of Wood Part 5,

Steven Makes A Giant Steak, Even A Coyote Won't Eat It

The first day of hauling lumber seemed fairly easy. Although it rained almost non stop, a fishing break netted some large trout, and the lumber was traveling nicely on shoulders that were not tired, at least not yet. In fact the first day and night is more remembered for our sleeping in the woods in tents. We went to bed around 10:30 pm in three tents each sleeping two guys. The tents were covered in orange tarps to try and keep the contents dry, and on the first night that seemed to be working fairly well. A few shots of rum served to warm up your insides, and then it was off to sleep.

I tossed and turned for an hour or two, not able to find the rhythm to get to sleep. Between snores from some of the others, i hear something shuffling through the woods. Keep in mind, we are in black bear country. Black bears don't like humans so much, but are known for liking their food and garbage. With the protection of only a tent, the thought of a bear is less than comforting. So i am quiet. I figure there is no reason to let a bear know i am here. I next hear something shuffling through a plastic bag. The bag is tearing and things are being more or less tossed around. Still quiet, Derrick whispers from the tent next to me. "Dave, you awake?". "Yes" i whisper back. "Do you hear that?" "Yes i do" was my reply. As i am whispering back, i am thinking how Derricks eyes are likely popping out of his head from his fear of Bears.

In a few minutes, the sound is gone. Derrick and i both get up and get out of our tents. I shine my flashlight around the campsite, and everything looks fine, except our garbage bag. It is torn apart, and it's contents are strewn. Derrick and i examine the damage. The mess includes wrappers, and pop bottles, and cigarette packages. They are torn apart, and the plastic pop bottles have punctures in them from fangs. About four feet away from the mess is the rest of Steven's steak from supper. The steak was a round steak, maybe the biggest cut of round steak i ever saw. Steven cooked it that night over the fire. He used no marinade and cooked it too long, and like any round steak would be in those conditions, it was as tough as wood. Near the steak, was a pile of shit, full of hair, the true mark of a coyote, not a bear.

So the Coyote took the risk of coming near our camp, tearing through our garbage while we were asleep. He tore through cigarette packages, he punctured through pop bottles, he even ate paper towels that were soaked with fat from cleanup. Then he found what should be the best prize. A big piece of steak, cooked very very well done. He picked it up and started to walk away with it. This should have been the very thing he wanted. Four feet later, with only a small amount eaten, he dropped it, and took a dump. We like to think of this as an editorial comment on Stevens method for cooking steak. "Maybe he will tell his friends about the steak, and they will stay away" i said to Derrick on the way back to the tents.

We crawled back into our tents to get some sleep before Day 2. The woodpile still sits in the path 10 minutes away, and although we hauled a lot today, it looks almost unchanged. We notice that the morning of day 2.....

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Camp Is Made Of Wood Part 4

What The Hell Were We Thinking?

It's a Sunday Morning, May 3, 1999, and on a logging road in Nova Scotia, a Green 1985 Chevy Diesel, and a 1989 Dodge Caravan pick their way through soup holes and tire ruts, making a 12 kilometer trek take almost 40 minutes. It's raining lightly with an occasional peak of sunshine. Inside the vehicles, 6 of the most naive and demented men seen in many, many years. Parking in the clearing, they pile out of the vehicle, eager to get to work to make their mark on the backwoods of Nova Scotia. A fishing camp. We walked hurriedly down the path, across the rock bar on the first lake, and into the path. On the right of the path, a sight that would punch them in the gut and knock the wind out of them. A horrible, almost unimaginable sight.......... a pile of lumber.

Not just any pile. Enough to do the studding, floor, roof trusses, siding and roof for an 18 by 24 lodging which would later be known as the Chateau. Normally a pile of lumber is not a scary sight. This one however, was a 10 minute walk from it's final resting place, and would have to carried there, over our shoulders. After a walk to the site, we set up our tents and gear for a 4 day stay. The sun was shining and the air was warm. That would be the last time we would see that for the next 4 days.

Standing in front of the pile, Steven B. simply asked "what the hell were we thinking". The reply, was a quiet "we weren't". And so it started. When you felt good, you take 4 lengths of pine siding, or 3 studs. When you were sore, you could handle two studs, or maybe two lengths of siding. We stumbled over roots, walked through mossy bog, tripped and fell more times than we could count. Stopping only to eat, smoke or drink the occasional shot of rum to warm your innards. For 4 days straight, from mid morning until last light, the four of us hauled wood, while Merle and Robert built a floor. The story of those 4 days doesn't stop there. Over the next few entries there will be mentions of Coyotes eating pop bottles, strange noises in the woods, red raw shoulders, a 40 ouncer of rum that led to a snoring contest, the worst drive in my life to a pay phone, an early May snowfall, and a blood blister the size of a golf ball.

These four days were the defining moments in the journey to a backwoods haven, by four guys who didn't know what they got into, and were too stupid to care.

Locked And Loaded, Almost

It's April 16 and now i am starting to itch, bad. The weather has been pretty good, 15 degrees C today, and all of the lakes are iced out. Now it's preparation time. The other night, i went through the vest, put in a new liscence, a new flashlight, and a bunch of new flies. Tonight, check the reel, load the line on, get my new leaders ready, and unwrap a new, imported from Australia Innovator Velocity fly rod. It's a 9 foot number 6 wt, and perfect out of the canoe.

The first real trip will be up to the camp, likely on the 27, to haul in the canoe and some gear back to the camp for the May trip. As my wife pointed out in a funny post about our "He Man Woman Haters Club", the phone calls and drop in visits have started, a sure sign of spring.

So i have a new rod, a new vest, a very cool Backwinder reel, and a whole load of new Blue Uprights for hunting the big Brookies on a dry fly, a camp to keep me warm and dry, and most of all i have a wife who puts up with me in spite of all of this (Note from the author: Love Ya). What more could a guy ask for.

There may be a day trip or two before then to check things out. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Take A Look Around, Look What I've Found

The backwoods experience is all about exploring. In the picture with this post, is a small lake, a pond really. In our home waters, a trip to a far cove to get some fly led us to a tract of water. I t was small and came out between some rocks, amongst thick bush. Steven and myself, with the fishing slow, decided one day to follow it. It meandered through the woods for about 600 or 700 meters, through a clump of Alders. On the other side of the Alders, it opened up into a small pond, surrounded by a floating bog shoreline.

Despite it's frog pond look, we decided to go back and get our rods and kill some time there. There were no fly on it, and despite it being totally calm, no fish rising. That never stopped us before, and it wouldn't this time. Steven cast in first with a Muddler Minnow, and had a strike on the first strip. My Dark Montreal came next, and after a 5 or 10 second sink, it got hammered on the first strip of line. All in all, we caught 8 trout, with each of us getting one over two pounds.

Since then, it has been a private excursion. No one we know of fishes there, or even cares it is there. We always go in once during our May trip, and spend an afternoon pulling wet flies and streamers through it. One afternoon a year, and thats it, thats enough.

If we were too lazy to take a ten minute walk through some thick bush, we'd never have found it. I think we'll keep it now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Lure Of Calm Waters

Its 6:00 am and the 10 minute walk to the lake from the camp has helped wear off any after effects from a few drinks of rum the night before, and helped digest a great breakfast that was probably too greasy for any man. The walk down the path to the canoe is shielded by trees, but the last right hand turn reveals the view of the lake. The sun is only just coming up, and a thin mist is rising from the water. The lake is flat calm. My love of stillwater fishing started at the age of 10, and hasn't stopped since.

I have walked that same path hundreds of times, on many many mornings. My first job when i get there is simple. Light a Swisher Sweet, sit on the rock by our homemade boat launch, and watch for emerging fly, and rising fish. There is no need to hurry, only a need to observe.

I have read a ton of magazines. I have read about structure, and littoral zones, and cover. I have read about the life cycle of trout, and the life cycle of Mayfly. All of the minutia that makes you a better fisherman. For anyone starting out who asks me, i always tell them the same thing. Go to the lake early, pull up a rock, and start watching the day develop.

Big Brook Trout are often active early in the morning. Picking up the spent fly from the day before, and any new emergers that may be coming alive. The smaller trout will gorge all day on any type of fly, spent or otherwise. Most people who fish backwoods lakes don't bring fish finders, and can't read the structure of a lake electronically. They learn to read lakes by paddling around them and watching. They watch, over a period of time, where the Trout like to feed. They quickly identify points, shoals, sand or gravel bars, and incoming or outgoing streams. Those areas get marked in you mind. They become your go to areas.

The differnce between a person who always gets fish, and one who struggles to get them isn't always based on technique, or what they have read, or the flies they use. It is the time they have spent watching, and learning the way a stillwater works. There is no substitute for it.

I am by no means a professional angler. I have a passion for it. After 32 years on the water though, i do have information i can share, and advice i can give, and i will be doing that here. You can take it for what it is worth. I hope someone will find it helpful. A lake is always a challenge, even if you have fished it for years and years. Sometime when you don't feel rushed, take a walk in early in the morning and while you fish, pay attention to the way the day develops. Enjoy the surroundings and the solitutde. Do yourself a favour and get a journal and start logging everything from water temperature to weather conditions, to fly conditions and wind. The best anglers have something in their home waters that others don't. Familiarity.

I remember fishing a small stillwater with my grandfather when i was 10 or 11 years old. We walked up the path along the boggy sided brook that ran out of the lake. When we got the first point, he showed me a shoal of rocks that jutted towards the center of the lake. He told me to cast to the right of it and bring the fly back slowly. I had a nice brook trout on the first cast. I was in awe. I thought he must simply be the best fisherman ever. He knew that fish was there, and couldn't see it. It was his go to area, and he lent it to me. Like me, hopefully you will find yours.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An 8 Foot Punt, An 18 Foot Timber, And A Windstorm - A Camp Is Made Of Wood Part 3

From the clearing we park the vehicles in, we found the easiest way to get wood into our land. Sort of. You see, it is a 500 meter walk to the side of the small lake, and it is all downhill. Until you have to go back up of course. From there, you have to go across the lake, and meet up with the path on the other side. Then it is a kilometer or so to the actual lot. Sounds easy, i know. During the winter, with the infamous 85 Chevy, we got most of the wood across the frozen lake, and left it next to the path, to haul it the rest of the way in the Spring. One of the bigger challenges was roof trusses. We decided we would build them, and through the good fortune of a demolition project, we found 18 foot timbers in excellent shape, perfect for our roof.

Now the challenge. It is spring and we want to start building. You can't have a camp without a roof though. So the solution is simple. Very simple. We will bring them over on the boat. The boat being an 8 foot punt, more than 15 years old. So Derrick got elected to drive, since it was his boat. On his first trip, we load 2 18 foot timbers onto the punt, from front to back, one on each side of Derrick. On the back of the punt, a 1 &1/4 horsepower Johnson, older than me. We push Derrick out from the shore we he can drop the motor and start it. One pull, two pulls, three pulls. Thirty pulls, even more cruse words. There is no motor sound yet. None of us ever saw what would happen if you put two 18 foot timbers across the length of an 8 foot punt, and then started to gust the wind, until that day.

It looked harmless. The wind grew slowly at first, then the gust got strong. By this time Derrick has pulled 100 times or more, and still no start. He is in the middle of the lake, and has no oars because they were in the way. The boat slowly starts to rotate counterclockwise. Then gets a bit faster. Then faster still. Within a minute it looks like a carnival ride. Spinning at a good clip, with Derrick still pulling away on that motor. Then, he gives up. He is a prisoner of the wind, the boat, and the wood, and can only watch. The wind spins him still and now is leading the boat into a cove still on our side of the lake, with a rock shoal jutting out ahead of him. The next 10 seconds is an excruciating mix of scraping noises, bangs, and crunching sounds, followed by the proclamation, "Jesus Christ!".

A perfectly sound old boat now had three leaks. They were slow, and manageable, but still leaks that weren't there 5 minutes ago. The boat sat on the rocks until the wind subsided. We walked down, handed the oars into the boat, and pushed it off into the now calm water. Derrick gave the motor one last pull, just for the hell of it. It purred right away. If Derrick had looked back, he would have seen three guys sitting on the shoal, laughing to piss themselves at the dance of the 18 foot timbers, and a motor with a personality of it's own.

The punt still sits by that small lake, on a homemade boat stand. It is heavily fiberglassed, and the sides feel mushy. It leaks at a pretty steady pace, and more or less looks like hell. Every year though, we take it across to the shoal on the opposite side of the lake, where it once crashed like our own version of the Exxon Valdez, and we get out and fish what we have discovered is one of the lakes best spots for large trout. It was like the boat, the motor and the 18 foot timbers all conspired to lead us there. The punt sits in the woods like a trophy at lakeside. If you walked by it you wouldn't dream of putting it in the water. For us though it is a landmark for the best trout fishing any of us have ever been lucky enough to find.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

I Have My Father To Thank

If you ask any angler why they fly fish, you will get as many different answers as anglers. For me, there were two main reasons. The first was simple. On many trips to Governors lake at 9 or 10 years old, i cast my spinning rod without result while the older guys caught fish after fish on their fly rods. That's reason enough. The main thing that changed it was a particular event, on a lake called Baker's Lake, in a 12 foot aluminum boat tight to the shore with my father. I was 11 years old, it was 1976.

He tied a rubber minnow on my line, with two treble hooks, and got me to cast it at the mouth of an incoming stream on the north side of the lake. I had two brookies, and lost a third, within 15 minutes. During the excitement i tried to throw another cast. My rod fetched up behind me. I gave it two sharp tugs. There was no give, but a strange sound followed each tug. I gave one more tug as i turned my head to see what bush i had caught with my new best lure.

There was no bush, no tree, no side of the boat, and no clothing in the way of my lure. There was only my fathers face, with a rubber minnow embedded in his cheek. Two of the three points on the treble hook were completely through his cheek and into his mouth. It was likely the best hookset i had made in the first 11 years of life. My uncle was 20 feet away in another boat, and he was as pale as a ghost. He grabbed my rod and quickly cut the line off at the eye of the rubber minnow, and we rowed back to his camp. In the camp he performed backwoods surgery, cutting the two hooks at the bend, inside my fathers mouth, and then retracting them back through his cheek. Within 30 minutes, it was almost like it never happened. That was until he ate his lunch, with an orange for a snack. His mouth burned for another 30 minutes.

Overall, we had a great trip. Two days, a lot of fish, and my Dads cheek. The drive home was quiet. We pulled in the driveway after dark. Before we got out he asked me if i had a good time. Of course i did, and told him so. "I think we should get you a fly rod", he said. He never said why, but i know he was thinking that a fly rod won't take a treble hook, and so neither would his cheek. It has been 31 years of fly fishing and counting, and i owe my start to my father, a rubber minnow, and an orange.