A Short (Fishing) Story by Gordon Vincent Deval  
  September 2006 







2:45 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 tiny island.

           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 quarter pounds.

           His twenty-five 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.

             Nothing too 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.

           However, after 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 fly out.

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 unanimous choice.

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 night before.

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 fishing buddies.


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 uneventfully, 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.

11:00 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, right!