James and I with my two caribou bull’s antlers, killed two hours into my hunt.
It had worked out perfectly and I was grinning like a wave on a milk bucket.
I have known Riley, his wife Eva, son James and daughter Nicky for a long time. When I stepped out of the Otter float plane, on a lake near the Quebec-Labrador border, I knew I was going to have a good time. It was almost like coming home though I was a few thousand miles north of Cedar City.
The camp was on a nameless lake in the middle of the Taiga. I was bowhunting for caribou but had no idea Riley and family were running the camp. Riley and I had become fast friends at a different camp a few years before. I grabbed a splitting mall and jumped in the boat with him to go get firewood. Riley said in all his years guiding, he had never had a hunter even offer to help get wood. Eva fixed sumptuous meals and Nicky once rubbed my back when I fell on a boulder pile. James and I were prone to wander and stay lost all day. I like that family and was just delighted to see them in the slap middle of nowhere.
So, I should not have been surprised when as soon as I had my gear sorted, Riley said, “Grab your bow and come on. I want to go look at an old crossing way up lake.” Two hours later, I had two bulls on the ground and we were all skinning and packing meat back to the boat. James and I even got the velvet off the antlers before dark. Officially, my hunt was over.
But I had two pack rods in my equipment and the lakes were full of lake trout, the streams coming into the lake were loaded with brookies. Riley loves to fish and our assignment was to catch enough to feed the 15. Eight hunters, three cooks and house keepers, camp manager, Riley and three guides composed the wilderness camp. I figured 18-trout would do it. Knew that would be no problem.
I have never been able to figure it out. Although edible, lake trout to me, were well down on the preferred food list. For some reason, up there, just a whisker south of the true tundra, they are delicious. The brook trout are even better.
In early September on the Taiga, you only have about four hours of darkness. I guess it is getting ready for winter when it is the opposite. After an hour of picking and grinning on a bunch of old Stan Rogers songs, I finally made it to bed and snuggled deep into my sleeping bag. The wood stove knocked off the cold but with temperature is in the upper 20’s at night, the good bag felt great.
Night slowly blended into daylight I was the first to hit the hot shower, (Yes, even up there we had hot showers.) and then, the cook tent. Pancakes, sausage, eggs and oatmeal, called porridge up there got me going. Riley after getting the guides and hunters lined out, was waiting for me at the boat.
We motored up lake for a few miles, admiring the colors and the scenery then, turned into a small river and beached the boat. In that area, the Taiga is a composite of lakes, streams, low brush, moss, scattered jack pines and the major component, boulders. The glaciers left all manner of depressions making the lakes and just left rocks and boulders everywhere. Walking, especially in rubber boots, can be treacherous. It seems everything rolls or sinks. But who cares when you are catching a fish on almost every cast?
Watching our step and careful to not step over the tops of our knee boots, we worked our way upstream. We were casting 1/6-ounce brown Rooster Tails and at least one cast out of three produced a strike if not a fish. The brook trout all came out of the same mold- pound and a half to two pounds-and using the current, they fought about as hard as we could handle on four pound test line. Bears are not numerous that far up but they are there.
We kept a wary eye and talked or sang loudly as we fished.
After a couple hours, we worked our way back to the boat, carrying stringers of trout. We made the executive decision to go with brookies rather than lake trout for dinner and we had 22 on the willow stringers. Riley noted the big and well used caribou trail leading to a crossing. Twice we saw herds of ‘bou in the distance and agreed, someone needed to hunt here tomorrow. I volunteered to guide a couple hunters on an experimental jaunt. Riley grinned and said, “Okay, but don’t forget your fishing rod.” He knows me well.
Back at the boat, we got around the outside of some caribou sandwiches, washed down with water right of the stream. There are no beaver that far up and the water is about as pure as you can find. It is so cold, it hurts your teeth. It was cool enough with just enough breeze, the flies were minimal. It was just a perfect day.
After a short nap, we walked the lake shore casting for lake trout. I have caught them up to 10-pounds up there but that day, we caught a ton in 3-8 range. We kept four about 4-pounds each for a future supper. The trout, cleaned and gilled joined the brookies hung on a stringer and kept perfectly in the ice cold water.
That night, due to Eva and Nicky’s skill, supper was magnificent. My brookies were sautéed perfectly and just flaked off the bones. Butter- boiled new potatoes and a salad made it perfect. I was even able to cajole Nicky into a shoulder rub.
I don’t know what a trip like that would cost today, maybe $10k with all the various air fares. You fly to Montreal, then take a charter flight to Schefferville then a float plane to the camp. On these hot summer days, I often think of those cold nights and cool days and the streams of caribou on the horizon. Often you see wolves trailing the herds and to keep you interested…you go fishing. Riley no longer guides there. Like me, he stays pretty close to his Halifax home. Nicky is a nurse in Montreal and James was working construction last I heard.
I hear the ‘bou are still plentiful and I know the trout are there. I could take a few days like that right about now. Caribou steak at night, good guitar picking around the big stove, sleep without turning over and a fish on your line almost every cast.
When the dog days of summer cannot be helped even with the pool at the Floyd or an early morning on Old Chickory, that is how you spend your time way up north on the Taiga.
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