Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Despondency in Paradise


Last week I wrote about our fly fishing trip to Labrador. This is a continuation.

We fly fished primarily the inlets and outlets of Anne Marie Lake, Big Minipi and Little Minipi and the rivers in between for several days; trolling for pike occasionally, casting from rowboats and square backed canoes and wading the rivers. Float plane fly-outs to other nearby lakes in the Minipi River system were usually available, but due to repairs we were unable to take advantage of them until day 6.

I was a little uncomfortable fly fishing out of the canoes where two fishermen in waders stand up casting while the guide controls the canoe. Did I mention that I can't swim?

For the first five days, neither Mike Lange nor I had caught a trout — in spite of 40 or 50 of them having been caught by others. Gary Hebert and Ron Amidon actually had "doubles" fishing out of their boat (two fish caught simultaneously). Mike took it with grace, simply pouring himself a glass or two of wine each night and smoking a cigar out on the deck.

I didn't handle it well at all. Beginning to doubt my fishing abilities, I asked the guides what I was doing wrong. "Nothing," they said, "just think positively." That lodge rafter started to look pretty good as a solution to my fishing problems. After five fishless days, I texted my wife Jan saying, "Another lousy day in Paradise." (That's the title of a book by fly fishing author John Gierach). Jan thought I was referring to the weather.

I considered praying for help, but I didn't want to waste God's time on a lousy trout. I would rather ask for his Divine Intervention to ensure that our 1952 vintage de Havilland Beaver float plane kept us airborne.

Everyone was sympathetic and the guides had been taking note of our plight and were doing their utmost to see that we caught a trout. Even the camp cook, Nancy, quietly approached me one day before dinner and discreetly placed a pink button into my hand, claiming it would bring good luck fishing the next day. Hocus pocus, yes, but I would try anything about then. The next morning, when she asked if I was taking the button, I realized that I had lost it. She immediately got me another one, this one attached to a piece of string, and I pinned it to my vest.

On the way out to go fishing on the sixth day, the camp cleaning lady, Dru — all of 4-feet, 6-inches tall — massaged my ear lobes for good luck. I don't know must be an Innu or Inuit thing. The bush pilot who was flying us out to the Little Minipi absolutely guaranteed us success that day, too.

So there I was, after having spent thousands of dollars, casting away on the Little Minipi, placing my trust in a button, shiny ear lobes and an unwritten bush pilot's guarantee. It seemed to have worked for I hooked a fish and brought it to the guide's net. The guide missed it and the fish got away! Shortly thereafter, I hooked a larger fish and it also got off. More despondency! Meanwhile, I was watching Mike Shepard catch seven trout just several yards downstream from me. He conceded the spot and I finally caught my first fish, a six-pound beauty.

After releasing that fish, my thoughts turned to Mike Lange across the river, hoping he would catch one, too. Later that day, when we got to our float plane to return to camp, he told me that he caught two nice fish. Good for him, for he and Bob Wilson had to fly out that evening.

On our last day, Mike Shepard and I had the camp boss Ray Best as our guide. He was very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area. As we trudged through the woods, he crushed leaves from a shrub along the trail and had us smell it. It was called Indian tea and had a pleasant aromatic smell. Later, he picked some small white berries and had us taste them. They were tasty, with a minty flavor. When asked their name, he said, "We call them little white berries."

We were fishless until about 2 p.m. Mike was standing in a fairly shallow part in the middle of the river while I fished with Ray from the boat. Mike hooked a good fish but before we could get over to him, it got off. Then he hooked another, and this time we were there to net it for him. While there, Mike suggested I fish the area.

"The plane leaves in an hour," I heard crackling through Ray's radio. We still had to cross the river, stow the boat, hike a trail to the outlet of Anne Marie Lake get into another boat, cross that lake to the lodge and finish packing. I reeled in the line and readied to go, when Ray said that we still had 10 minutes of fishing time. I made a short case and watched a big trout come up from the bottom and take the fly. The seven-and-a-quarter-pound trout was netted, photoed and released. Another cast and bang, another, this one was seven-and-a-half pounds. It was time to leave. Go figure.

During this trip, the 10 of us caught 90 brook trout over three pounds, 16 of them over seven pounds and an eight-pounder. All were gently netted, weighed, photographed and released.

Incidentally, when I got home and finally read Gierach's above referenced book, I was surprised to learn that it was about fishing where we were on Anne Marie Lake on the Minipi. The title is facetious, for he caught lots of big fish there.

But for me for a while, it was real.

Questions/comments: Phone: 413-637-1818.


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