JUST A LITTLE BUMP IN THE NIGHT……YEAH, RIGHT!
Saturday afternoon, perched on a rock beneath the cascading waterfall and
playing a forty-two inch long pike to a standstill on his light trout
tackle, Gord tested Murphy’s Law, commenting, “God, I hope they stay out
of trouble and keep an eye on the time, Lee. If we have to make the trip
back to camp in the dark it would be pretty scary, to say the least.”
He was on
his twenty-fifth trip there along with first-timers, Lee Pantridge, Tas
Candaras and his fishing buddy, Paul Kennedy, making his seventh. It had
been a regenerative and satisfying camping and fishing trip for the four
men on their favourite river, one of Northern Quebec’s many turgid flows
wending their way westward towards James Bay through several hundred miles
of scrub bush and rocky eskers.
A week had gone since they
had driven for sixteen hours from Toronto then flown in a Turbo Otter for
another three-quarters of an hour before the pilot put the big pontoons
down near an old Cree Indian hunting territory. After paddling up-river
for several miles, their camp had been set up in its usual location on a
Gord is the president of the Scarborough Fly and Bait
Casting Association and holder of numerous awards, National and
International, for competitive tournament casting. According to another
fishing buddy, famed author, Paul Quarrington, he also holds the record
for the largest speckled trout caught on a fly ever reported, eleven and a
trips to Northern Quebec though have all been attempts to surpass the
all-tackle record established by another fisherman, Doctor J.W. Cook in
1916. That humungous trout weighed fourteen and a half pounds. To surpass
that world-record has been Gordon’s goal since he was a twelve-year old,
sixty-five years ago and saw the original crude mount of Doctor Cook’s
record brookie in a railway station in what used to be Fort William, now
Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Paul Kennedy, almost forty
years younger, is Gord’s favourite fishing buddy and a long-time member of
the Scarborough club, while Pantridge, twenty-five and Candaras,
forty-nine, are comparatively new members who had worked hard enough in
the club to improve their casting and angling skills to earn their first
trips with Paul and Gord to the ‘promised land’, where they all were
convinced the record brook trout lay awaiting their offerings.
unusual or untoward had occurred during the first five or six days of the
trip, with great fishing, fine camp cookery including three pans of wild
blueberry scones thrown together by Kennedy that were devoured in short
order one evening around the camp-fire. The crew, as always had a
satellite phone with them in camp in case of emergencies, or should one of
the crew be lucky enough to nail ‘Mr. Big’ the name they had tagged the
hoped-for trout that would finally exceed Dr. Cook’s record. If that were
to happen, a call would be made to the air base that flew them in to fetch
a Cessna, as getting the trout out of the bush, back to town and
officially weighed quickly was considered to be a priority.
They knew that a fish of that
size loses considerable weight in fairly short order, even if kept on ice.
Another factor in that reasoning, apart from the pride that would result
in conquering the oldest fishing record on the books, would be the
potential endorsement rewards that they contemplated could be available to
the lucky new record holder.
almost a week on the river and with only one day left to do battle with
Quebec’s gorgeous speckled trout, ‘Mr. Big’ had once again yet to be
located. Although it had been a great trip on all accounts to that point,
the four anglers had some hard thinking to do regarding their next and
final fishing day, Saturday. Most of the fishing had been done above and
below the three or four falls and rapids within five or six miles of their
customary campsite at the foot of a long and grand waterfall.
As had been the custom on
their many previous trips to the territory, after the first day or so in
camp and fishing around the perimeter of their ‘home’ waterfall, the canoe
and motor had been carried up and secured on shore a safe distance above
the crest. That would become the launching area for their investigative
trips up-river to fish the various potential hot-spots during the rest of
the week. One of these ‘hot-spots’ over their many past trips to the area
was at the foot of another waterfall, more than five miles up-stream.
It was actually at the
furthest point of what they considered to be their ‘territory’ from the
camp at the base of the bigger waterfall. Around the campfire on Friday
evening the discussion centred around where they would spend their last
fishing day on the river before having to break camp, meet the plane and
The consensus was that
although it had already been fished once earlier in the week, the ‘Far
Falls’ should be given another chance to produce ‘Mister Big’. Even though
it would require running one set of rapids, a quarter-mile portage and two
long-lining procedures with the canoe and would take a couple of hours
just to get there, possibly being their last chance ever to fish that
gorgeous and previously productive area, it had easily emerged the
Saturday 11:30 A.M. At the
top of their falls above the camp, Paul untied the canoe while Tas and Lee
took their places then steadied it as Gord got in. Cautiously pushing it
out a few feet Paul then carefully took his customary seat in the front as
the motor was cranked up. They moved out into the current and with young
Lee doing his best to entertain the crew singing Allouette, headed
up-river for the ‘Pot ‘O Gold’ at the ‘Far Falls’. It was performed with
much more vigour than his rendition of Frere Jacque by the campfire the
1:30 After negotiating the
various fast-water areas and making a few casts here and there, they were
about a mile from the ‘Far Falls’ where a smaller stream enters the main
flow; one that actually breaks away from the big river above the falls
then travels a couple of miles away from it in a circuitous route,
creating a large island between it, the main river and the falls. Gord
mentioned that the smaller body of water had never really been fished and,
“Maybe some day, we should give it a go.”
Paul took the bait, saying,
“Why don’t I fish it! It looks interesting enough and who knows we may
never have another chance.”
Gord, by far the oldest and
team leader said, “Okay, but not by yourself. Would you care to go with
him, Tas? Lee and I’ll go on through and fish the falls.”
“It won’t be a walk in the
park, you know,” he added.
Continuing, he said, “Let’s
synchronize our watches. It’s 2:30 right now. Heh, guys, we don’t want to
have to do the trip back to camp in the dark, you know, so if you find you
can’t get around the island to the falls by 5:30 then you had better make
a point of getting back here by then. We’ll either pick you up there at
5:30 - or right here where we’re dropping you off. Okay?”
As the two intrepid
adventurers headed off, Gord and Lee motored and paddled the remaining
distance to the falls to fish while nervously awaiting the return of their
5:30 Two pair of eyes studied
the bushes continuously, hoping to see their confreres emerging from the
thick black spruce. Nothing!
6:00 Lee and Gord canoed back
down the river from the falls to the stream-mouth where they had dropped
Paul and Tas off. Nothing!
6:30 They settled into a spot
in the river half-way between the two proposed pick-up points and
straining their eyes in both directions, waited. Nothing!
7:00 Back at the foot of the
falls, they began discussing how they would go about spending the night if
it came down to that. It was cold, with the temperature about thirty-seven
degrees Fahrenheit and a slight on and off drizzle. Still nothing!
7:15 Gord suggested that the
much younger man, Lee climb up the side of the falls as far as he could
get then yell his head off, hoping for some sort of distant response.
7:45 Lee returns to the canoe
at the foot of the falls and reports that he thought he heard something or
another but couldn’t identify it.
8:05 Finally, in almost
pitch-black darkness two exhausted and bedraggled warriors emerge from the
bush, full of apologies.
“We thought we were closer to
the top of the falls than we really were,” they said, “obviously we were
wrong. It was tough, Gord. Goddam tough! Sorry, guys!”
8:10 Heading back down-stream
while Gord, using the tree-tops to mark the many twists and turns on the
serpentine waterway and depending on his twenty-five years of experience
on the river, with Paul in front signalling go right or left when boulders
loomed out of the eerie darkness, they slowly motored down to the first
rapids where the canoe was cautiously long-lined through.
9:30 Then another mile of meandering river,
followed by the portage being completed
although now in almost total darkness.
10:00 They approach the first
dangerous fast water, a chute with a three or four-foot drop where, with
the river narrowing at that point, the water surges down and through a
trough with only about a four or five foot margin to work with if it is to
be run safely. The chute had been negotiated without incident hundreds of
times previously - but never in darkness. It calls for a curving
approach from the right then acceleration to straighten the follow-through
in order to avoid huge, menacing boulders on either side of the track.
In the darkness, not being
able to assess it properly on the initial approach, Gord abruptly
accelerated into a U-turn to re-align the canoe’s path in the heavy
current. Although seemingly reckless, that turned out to be a lucky and
wise manoeuver because with the subsequent approach on the correct path
and only metres away from the chute, his ‘always reliable’ old outboard
motor mysteriously quit. Fortunately, as is their custom, Paul’s and
Gord’s paddles were at the ready and they dug in furiously and safely
swooshed down through the middle of the chute.
10:30 With the motor
re-started with no apparent problems and thanking their respective gods
and stars, they continued on towards the next obstacle, the ‘First
Rapids’. It was the last one remaining between them and the couple of
miles of serpentine river that they would hopefully get through safely and
back to their camp and sleeping bags.
10:45 ‘First Rapids’ had been
run safely in both directions hundreds of times over their many previous
trips, but never in total darkness. It too required a precise and
specific approach in order to track between the dangerous rocks, both
above and below the surface. It could not be approached directly, but
necessitated a wide circular run, followed by a sharp accurate left turn
into the track, about a five-foot path if the rocks were to be avoided.
With the river’s water level
about a foot below its normal average, a Volkswagen-sized underwater rock
threatened just right of centre in the track. It had been monitored and
carefully avoided all week during at least a dozen previous runs through
the ‘First Rapids’.
Although in the dark Gord
could barely distinguish the initial sentry rocks at the top of the run,
he confidently wended his way through the curving approach before making
the hard turn left in the heavy current towards the obligatory safe path
between the rocks. Now committed, with zero chance to correct, he suddenly
screamed at the others, “Hold on. Grab the sides. Shit! We’re gonna hit
and hit hard! Shit!”
At the last minute in the
awesome darkness he had discovered he was two feet off-line in the track
and realised that they were unavoidably rushing toward danger, the huge
and menacing, under the surface, but fortunately smooth, boulder.
They struck, with the impact
lifting Paul and Lee out of their seats in the canoe’s front. They hung on
as the torrent threatened to flip the canoe over, but Paul, in the front
and Gord, in the stern, threw all their weight into counter-balancing the
craft as the bitterly-cold water surged into the canoe over the side.
Paddling furiously now, while praying the canoe’s bottom hadn’t been
completely pillaged by the crash, they somehow managed to negotiate the
remainder of the fast water without further harm.
After taking stock of the situation, little else was said as they began
the final couple miles of the tortuous course down-river back to the top
of the falls, below which their dry, comfortable camp and warm sleeping
bags awaited them.
11:30 After they had
cautiously paddled the final few hundred yards keeping tightly to shore,
tied the canoe up safely and before beginning the steep trek down the
trail to camp, there was an emotional group hug and high-fives all around.
There was also an unobtrusive, but very special thank-you, made from Paul
to his buddy, Gord, for somehow getting them all safely back to camp in
almost total darkness even though they had had to deal with what
they later deemed to have been, “just a little bump in the night”…..yeah,