When it comes to fishing and karma I’m a total believer. No good will come without some sacrifice, and great happiness one day should mean that come the next you’d best be watching for falling anvils. Unless of course you can beat karma with luck, yet so few actually have that in any regularity.
Last trip upriver with Bren was all about karma. Elated to have caught a big walleye and some beauty trout in the same outing, I could only expect that cloudy days lay ahead. I was right, for snow, high winds, drizzle and pure garbage all blew over the north after the long weekend, keeping me housebound during most of my fish vacation from work.
One attempt on the water in that time proved to be a pure gong show, and all I could think was that I had it coming. Man did I get my butt whipped by the elements and karma that day. It’s the price of great fishing though, no trophy comes without first having to play the game… and games sometimes see ya win, and other times they beat yer punk ass down.
Nearing the end of May six trips on the river had been taken, a far cry from the 12 to 14 days I had planned for the month. The 29th came and weather looked to clear up nicely so, I packed up all the camp gear and made a lone escape into the wilderness, eager as ever to find fish.
Equipped for anything the plan was to take no chances. For the last few years trapping minnows in the spring by the hundreds has never been an issue, but this season all that have been caught are fifteen in a dozen days. The pond is blown because of the flood, and just the day before leaving on this trip I was back at the spot to find others have been checking my traps. They also weren’t so kind and chucked one trap into a spot where it got hung up, forcing me to return with chest waders on just to retrieve it.
Was a peaceful morning having the North French to myself while making the trek up. Where I started at the boat launch is four feet above sea level, and where I was headed to camp was 38km from home and an uphill climb to 56 feet. A few fishing spots at the 57km mark would take me to 65 feet, but that was later in the day.
First spot hit I tried for trout, but not quite ready blew the first fish. Hoping to be given another crack a few casts later and I was struck hard by a fish that gave up quick. No trout, turned out to be a fallfish, so moved on.
A few minutes later I stopped off the back of an island and fished the seams and slack water in behind. First cast and felt some ticking, and a couple casts later had the first eye of the day.
Staying there twenty minutes I picked off four walleyes and another fallfish, then in the distance heard a motor and spotted a boat coming my way. I decided to stay ahead of it and took off, not looking back nor stopping again until reaching camp.
Was a speedy set-up before getting back to the river. At the campsite while I had been there with Bren on the long weekend I marked the water level. Turns out even with all the snow and rain it had dropped more than a foot. I was finding on the river that I needed to be more careful reading the water as many areas were shallow now.
Fishing was great with good numbers of eyes and pike along the way. The pike were really aggressive and just smashing big spoons. Sizes though were not too good, especially the pike. Most walleye were eaters with a couple in the 18 inch range. One spot being shallow I chucked Wholly Buggers with a 6wt floating line to a 5 foot leadcore lead then 5 foot – 6 pound florocarbon tippet, to get the offering to drop and swing along bottom in the current. Chartreuse was good, then yellow… and black not so good. The winds switched after awhile and became more gusty so the fly rod went away and the jiggin’ stick came out. Finished one productive spot off with a pink grub before continuing on upriver.
Finally around 5:00pm I made it to the eddy where I’d caught a big eye a couple weeks earlier. Quietly pushing wide around and past the tiny spot, I shut the motor off then drifted back into position carefully dropping anchor. First cast and plunked it right into that exact hole and immediately felt a big walleye. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz……. zzzz……. clink. And she came unpegged. I recast, hopeful. Sure enough a couple later… TINK…. zzzzz…zzzzz………zzzzz and into the current. Right away though it became obvious I had a pike. Made me wonder then if the first was really an eye.
Wasn’t a bad pike, maybe five pounds. Just after catching it, next cast a small grub eating eye came boat side, then after that it was a few more pike and a fallfish. The long journey up to this hole was not quite turning out how I’d hoped. Rested the pool then for a short while and took time for some grub eating of my own.
Evening was turning out beautiful. After supper on the retreat back to camp I savored a cold one and stopped a number of times to wet a line. As the sun began to set pink and white grubs gave change to pumpkin, then black Gulp leeches. The shades of the day darkened, the winds died down, and all became so silent. The only sounds heard while fishing the last hole back near camp were distant birds, and my jighead gently ticking rocks below the water. At home on the North French both feet were up over the gunnels in Lazy-Boy fashion, and walleye kept dropping by to say hello. Before long I had to say goodnight and retire.
Back at camp I was quick to take notice of this at my landing.
Seems while absent I had a visitor. Prints about eight inches left in the mud revealed what I already knew, that the black bear just seen on the opposing riverbank about 150 meters from my camp had his nose in my business earlier this evening. Poor hungry bugger just awake from his winter nap was probably some upset to realize I had my food in the boat with me. (ALWAYS) Still though, an hour of poor daylight remaining, this black beast left me a little unnerved. Thought about packing up but, riding home through rapids in the dark isn’t an option.
I quickly talked myself into staying. These aren’t park bears up here, these guys know locals carry guns and usually run skittish of humans. I carry nothing and only pretend to be armed, but the bear shouldn’t know that.
Thinking of my pale face now red from the sun and wind, before hitting the hay I lathered on some hotel room coconut scented skin lotion to treat my weathered dermis. In the tent laying still I drifted off with the calls of cranes, geese, toads and an owl naturally singing me to sleep……………………….. sniff-sniff … CRACK!!!
I abruptly woke to an eerie dead calm.
Sniff, sniff. I heard it again. WHERE THE HELL ARE THOSE CHIRPING BIRDS NOW!?!?!? screamed in my head.
The bear was right on the corner of my tent. All I could smell was the fawking tropics, and I had a darned awful feeling the big black tourist outside my cabana was thinking Pina Coladas…………… sniff-sniff… and a licking of the chops sound.
I shuffled in bed. Probably a shuffle that inched me that much closer to the fetal position and entirely under the covers. The bear outside the tent shuffled his feet and likely wondered if the vinyl dome fortress between him and dinner could be penetrated.
What was in all likelihood maybe only a minute, lasted an eternity. My heart pounding loud enough the bear could probably dance to it’s beat, and if not, in the very least smell that coconut disguised adrenaline.
Then I heard him walk on. In fact, heard him walk on down the way about fifty feet to my boat where he must have clanked the anchor. Now I’m thinking hey, I’m on the backside of a little island slightly off the beaten path here, on a shallow and frigid river forty kilometers from any people. Just perfect if the bear would set my boat adrift or sink it. And so it was at this point I started to make grunting noises like a bad-ass beast stirring from a slumber.
My food was sealed and tucked away tight under the seat of the boat. Unsure if there was much there to smell, he at the very least might have noticed the aromatic scant remains of the couple dozen fish that may have pooped or flopped in the boat that day. Whatever he was looking for he passed up because the sounds of my desperately mean fear were enough to send that bear running scared……. I guess……. OK, well, at the very least, he was moving along yet probably curious still of what could have been cowering under the vinyl dome.
I let out a sigh of relief and felt around for my watch and flashlight on the tent floor. Time had stopped. Seriously, my watch had stopped at 11:05:40. The bear gave actual time a heart attack too, didn’t kill me though, just my Fossil watch. Guess it really is a fossil now killed good and dead. Question was, what time was it really?
Time is something I’ve spent a fair bit of in the bush. Remember taking walks on full moon nights in the winter, going a few miles into the forest on packed skidoo trails while I lived on the night shifts in Attawapiskat. Used to find those cold journeys both peaceful and exhilarating alone with just the shadows. Don’t scare easy… but don’t scare too hard either. Had I been that type I probably would have packed up at first sight of the bear and at least moved down river a little.
The deep woods can quickly make logical men pretty spiritual some days. This is a reality. Laying in the tent wide awake, thoughts raced back to other times I have felt the presence of Boogie men and ghosts that might go bump in the night. Truth is, I could argue with near certainty that I have felt the Windigo’s cold chilling breath on the back of my neck, and once seen a Water Walker float above the rapids, this ageless soul of an ancient trapper carrying his pelts over his shoulders. But only outside of the hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle would spirits like this ever be given a place and time to exist. I opened the tent door and peered outside to make sure no more Windigos, Chupacabras, Yetis or other demons were lurking about in the dark.
A short sleep and I was happy to see the sun. The view from just outside the tent… welcoming.
Planned to make quick work of breakfast and get back upriver to my honey hole for some morning walleye action. It was almost just as I had said it, except that breakfast made quick work of me. On route threw the whole bloody mess up and over the gunnel while never releasing the motor from full throttle. It was a violent 6 or 7 rounds but a predictable loss, as I was quite dehydrated, sleep deprived and just out of sorts.
Up river the fishing was great again. Picked off a bunch more eater sized fish but never kept a one. Catch and release is my new thing… wonder if they’ve ever even heard of it in the south? HAHA!!! It was so far a great trip and I hadn’t remembered a solo effort on the North French ever coughing up so many fish. Numbers were probably 2 to 1 walleye over pike and totaling forty plus fish.
On one cast I got nailed by a hard bite and the fish gave the first good bit of reel peel on this trip. Probably the hardest fighter of all. Was getting pretty excited to see this big walleye when I saw the grey back flash at the surface. Ahhhh he!!, fallfish..? Darned big fallfish though… as far as minnows go.
Gave it an hour or so then drove back to camp and began packing up. Inspecting the site I found a path Brenda had once pointed out to me in the past. Thought about the bear and how it likely came in that way, right up behind my tent all in stealth ninja mode until it sniffed and cracked that stick.
Took some time for an early lunch which I managed to not purge, then drifted out back of the island to take some casts for pike in the slack waters there. Just a ways around the corner I got a birdsnest in the Abu. The boat got blown ashore and it was here I noticed the other end of the island path. Closer inspection revealed foot steps which came from out of the water up onto the shore.