Monday, January 5, 2015

How The Toronto Maple Leafs Ruined May Fly Fishing (For One Day)

May 8, 2000

I know what you are thinking. The Leafs don't play hockey in May. Usually, you would be right, but once upon a time, they did occasionally. For me, a Montreal fan, I could care less. Derrick however was a huge Leaf fan.

It had been a long day on the water. Sunny in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon, and the temperature satyed at about 7 degrees for the better part of the day. The conditions though, were perfect. A light breeze was just enough to carry fly across the lake and the fly were thick. So we did well, right? Well, not exactly. You see the small lake not far from the camp is not your typical lake. You have to work it hard to get fish, but it holds the biggest fish in the area. So it is a risk/reward lake. My favourite kind.

For Derrick though, tonight was Game 6 of the conference semi finals and his goal, was to leave the lake before dark (prime time) to watch his Leafs stave off elmination. So shortly before game time, he came to us and asked if we were going to go back to the camp and watch the game. Our reply was swift. "It's prime time". Derrick nodded and told us he would get the camp warm.

Now it is almost dark. Stephen and I caught nothing so far. Seen a few big fish move, but that was it. So we decide to go back and join Derrick at the camp. As we paddle back in low light, in the North side of the lake we see a raise. then another, then another. There is a big fish getting spent fly in the cove, and Stephen decides to go after it. As he is paddling to it, I see a raise just 50 feet of the shoal. I paddle out. It moves again. Another big fish. As I drop my anchor to move the boat around. As my anchor hits bottom, Stephen hooks his fish. It is large and the rod bends deeply. I check to see if he wants help, he says fish mine. I cast, and as the fly hits the water, the fish takes.

The next few minutes, we are landing our fish near the shoal. Derrick arrives as we do. He watches us bring them in. "Holy shit" was all he could muster. We measure the fish, both are 18 and 3/4 inches and close to four pounds. Almost like twins. We ask Derrick about the game on the walk to the camp. "It's over. The Leafs had 6 shots on goal, lost 3-0."

Stephen and I laughed. Like true Habs fans, our team missed the dance, we found our joy in the relative failure of the Leafs, and the biggest double header either of us will ever experince, for Trout at least. As for Derrick, we got back to the camp and he poured a drink. He took a snap of it, looked at us and said "The Leafs Ruined The May Fly". You can only laugh.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Long Walk Home

I have written about our trips the camp many times. I usually keep them light and focused on fishing but the truth is the camp was and is always about more than that. My wife calls it the he Man Woman Haters Club and while that is not true, the sentiment that it is a sanctuary where us, as friends take a week and do what we like to do best, May Fly fishing. We have done it for a lot of years now. 25 maybe as a group.

I met my friend Derrick Gage, oddly enough, fishing. The first time was at a meadow stream in Stewiacke. He was friends with another friend of mine and we hit it off right away. Derrick and I fished on a regular basis from that point on. Many trips yearly, leading into the time we decided, along with Steven and Stephen to build a camp.

In May of 2010, at the camp Derrick informed us he had cancer. He told us, and to this day I think it was for us, it was skin cancer. He would take drugs for it, some Chemo and all would be good. It was treated by him as minor and we fished, drank, told our stories and moved on from it. Over the course of the next two years though, things got worse. We rarely spoke of it, respecting his space and how he wanted to deal with it.

In May of 2012, we brought Derrick back to the camp. His health had deteriorated, so we wanted to make sure that he made this trip. Unlike the other trips in the past, this one was not about the rum, and the laughs, and the stories. This one felt necessary. It was about making sure that our friend got to spend May Fly at his favorite place in the world.

Sadly, Derrick never fished there. The walk to the camp was hard for him. A 10 minute walk for a healthy man, took us over 30 minutes. Derrick sat and caught his breath, got some sleep, but never really got his legs under him. Over the next 24 hours, fishing was not important. We ate, we talked, we kept our friend in good spirits. We talked past trips, the best catches, the funniest stories.

The next morning all went fishing except for me and of course Derrick. He slept, and was clearly uncomfortable. When he woke, I offered to drive him home. We agreed that the next morning we would make our way out.

The next day we all walked Derrick out. The trip took longer than the way in. Frequent rests, many stops, slow movements and a lot of pain. Once we reached the car, things got difficult. Long time friends, all saying goodbye. It was a difficult time. Everyone tried to keep a brave face. When Derrick and I got in the truck, he turned to me and said " I am never going to be back here again." I bit down hard and patted him on the shoulder. Sadly, he was right.

Derricks last fish was caught on the Bonaventure River, in September of 2011. It was his bucket list trip and he got the fish on the last full day of fishing. A large Hen Salmon that any fly fisherman would have been proud of. He passed away on August 18th, 2012 at the age of 48.