The winner of FR&R's Angling Expedition Sweepstakes reports back from Quebec
- By: Chuck Duncan
When you try to decide whether it's been a good year or a great year, a lot of factors figure into the equation. The birth of a child, a big business deal and a fishing trip out West all are things that in the past have counted toward my estimation of a terrific year. Then, in March of 2004, something totally unimaginable happened. That was when Fly Rod&Reel informed me that I was the grand-prize winner of the FR&R Angling Expedition Sweepstakes, co-sponsored by Ford and Cabela's. I was working at my desk on a Friday morning when a courier rang the doorbell.The envelope he carried was from a company in Nebraska that conducts sweepstakes for clients. The enclosed letter merely said that I had been chosen as a prize winner, and asked for documentation to prove my eligibility. What particularly piqued my interest was a request for my driver's license information. Still, I knew the sweepstakes offered many great prizes, so I did not immediately realize exactly what was happening to me. I complied with the request for information, and sent the envelope back via overnight delivery. The following Monday morning, I received a call from FR&R editor-in-chief Paul Guernsey, who enthusiastically informed me that I had indeed been chosen as the grand-prize winner. That meant I was the proud new owner of the FR&R Angling Expedition, Outfitted by Cabela's-a brand-new Ford Expedition, which Ford, Cablela's and the magazine had customized into "The Ultimate Fly-Fishing Vehicle." The shock was immediate as I scrambled for words to thank him. As we talked we began to compare notes on rivers across the West and trips that we had both experienced. I have been a loyal subscriber to FR&R for 13 years. I told him about my love for the sport and the fact that it had become something I could share with my son, Chris, who had been fly-casting since the age of five. Chris is now 18 and soon will be leaving to pursue his own ambitions. The phone call lasted for over an hour. Afterward, I started making plans to fly to Hartford, Connecticut, with my son to take possession of the Ultimate Fly Fishing Vehicle. The "UFV" has every conceivable piece of equipment that a fisherman could want. But that wasn't the end of the good things I had coming to me, because my prize also included $3,000 worth of fine fishing gear from Cortland, Diamondback and Hardy, as well as an all-expenses-paid fishing trip for two people to my choice of three great fly-fishing lodges. Too good to be true! In Hartford, my son Chris and I got to pick Paul's brain about the three fishing-trip possibilities. It only took one story about a 46-pound Atlantic salmon caught and released by Paul in 2000 to make up our minds about choosing Gaspe Salmon Destinations' offer of a 6-day/7-night salmon adventure in Quebec. On the way home to West Virginia Chris and I talked constantly about our upcoming trip. You can imagine some of the looks that we received as we piloted the UFV around some of the biggest metro areas in the East… . As soon as we got home, I contacted Dave Bishop, the owner of Gaspe Salmon Adventures, and I immediately knew I had made a great choice. It was evident from the beginning that the sole mission of Dave's business was to cater to his clients' every whim and to make sure they had the best angling experience possible. Dave and I decided on a date during the second week of July, and then we began to craft our plans. He quickly filled me in on all the equipment we would need, and he assured me that he could supply anything we were missing. He also gave me directions on driving in from Presque Isle, Maine, where we would arrive by plane. It would be an easy three- to four-hour drive to Cascapedia -St. Jules from Presque Isle. After I hung up the phone I was more excited than ever to begin our salmon adventure. The following months found us practicing often with our new set of Diamondback VSR rods, which had come complete with Hardy Gem Mid-Arbor Reels. They seemed like the perfect system to do battle with a salmon fresh from the ocean. I knew we would have to become more proficient at longer casts, since our West Virginia trout streams don't really require much distance casting. I also tried to read every article I could find about salmon fishing and the Gaspe area. In general, the season begins around June 1 and continues through September. There are more fresh fish in the early part of the season-though usually the largest fish are caught during the latter part. Rainfall and the flow of the rivers dictate how many fish move up from the ocean and how far they progress during the season. I remember David telling me that the runs of fish from year to year are becoming more stable. That meant that almost any time during the season would be a good choice. August and September are generally the busiest months for David's business, and the local fishing pressure is much lower then. Chris and I had opted for an earlier date that assured us plenty of fresh fish and complied with my son's need to prepare for the start of college in August. It seemed to take forever, but July finally came. After securing our rental car we began the easy drive to the lodge. As we pulled into the driveway, the beauty of the 100-year old Salmon Lodge, overlooking the Grand Cascapedia River, struck us full force. It's a place, we learned later, that through the years has seen visits from presidents and captains of industry. Dave Bishop has restored the lodge to its full grandeur after acquiring it a couple of years ago. While Chris and I sat on the deck we met up with our "culinary guide," chef Jacques Lefebure, who is responsible for the cuisine at Salmon Lodge. That evening we finally got to meet David in person and had the chance to plan our strategy for the week. David introduced us to his head guide, Marc LeBlanc, whom he has known for some 30 years. We also met our guide for the first day, Francois Blanchet, who was scheduled to guide us on the Petite Cascapedia. The Petite is one of three rivers that Gaspe Salmon Adventures utilizes. All three rivers are located close to the Lodge. Early the next morning we found ourselves on the Petite. I was amazed at the clarity of the water and the sheer beauty of the river. You could literally read a newspaper off the bottom at a depth of 20 feet or more. Francois spent a lot of time educating us on the proper way to fish the wet flies we were using. It is somewhat like the streamer fishing we do back home, but it still had subtle differences. At any rate, we could not get enough of this newly learned method of fishing for salmon. Later in the day, as I fought my first 10 pound grilse, I was in awe of the sheer power of these fish. This young salmon was giving me all the fight I wanted. I could not imagine doing battle with a 30- or 40-pound fish. Chris and I each hooked up several times that first day, though Chris was not lucky enough to get one in to hand…and that's just another reminder of who really has the upper hand in the fight! That night, as we enjoyed one of Jacques' fabulous meals, the sense of Salmon Lodge's history and its impressive guest list began to take hold. We were truly in special company in a special place. The Bonaventure River was the destination for our second day. Marc took us on the middle section of the river, a place loaded with big fish. We were awed every time, and for no apparent reason, one of the piscatorial torpedoes left the water and then came crashing back down. The day was sunny and bright, which made the fishing a little more of a challenge, so we headed upstream above the Salmon Hole to a deep run that had a lot of structure. It was easy to see the rocks in the fast-moving water, and every now and then we could see a dark shadow moving behind and around each rock. I was impressed with the way Marc would pole the canoe through each run or pool and spot the fish in their respective holding lies, when most times Chris and I had to strain to see even a glimpse of a vertical tail stripe or a tell-tale eye of the salmon. But with our guide's help, we got much better at spotting fish as the week wore on. That afternoon was the highlight of the trip for me, as a 25-pound female Atlantic took me on the ride of my life. When I first hooked her I thought I had allowed my fly to come too close to a rock and had gotten hung up. When the "rock" began to pulse and my Hardy reel began to scream as she took off down stream I knew I had a big fish on. After a 40-minute fight that included a 100-yard chase, the hen salmon was in Marc's net. The 38-inch fish looked more like a tuna to me than a salmon. Every bit of her was lean and solid, and I got the impression that she still had plenty of fight left in her as we released her back into the stream. The funny thing was that Marc was just as excited as we were about the catch. Marc is an accomplished fly tier, and the pattern that we caught the fish on was called a "Picasse," which he had tied. The rest of the day brought some more hookups with grilse and smaller salmon. My arm was genuinely sore that night-but it was a good feeling. As the week went on, the weather took a change and rain moved in-in other words, perfect fishing conditions! Our destination for the next day was the Petite Cascapedia, with both Marc and Francois guiding us. As we put in the canoe it was apparent that the river had undergone some severe changes due to flooding in the past. Most of the runs on the upper end were choked with driftwood and that made great holding spots for fish. We did not know it at the time but this day was going to be a full of hook-ups with fish. The overcast weather had switched them "on" and the first two fish that we spotted took our flies. As the weather worsened and the rain intensified the fishing only got better. The day consisted of eight hook-ups, with several fish landed. I will never forget the fight with another very large fish toward the end of the day. I was waist-deep in a fast moving run, making quartering casts below me. Marc spotted a very large "active" fish at the bottom of the run just before it dumped into a pool. I had been watching this fish leaping out of the water in the pool below for some time. I knew that the pool was loaded with fish, and I secretly wanted to rush right down there and have at them. It was all I could do to reach the spot that Marc pointed out with my fly. As soon as it began its swing the line tightened, and suddenly I felt like I had hooked a freight train. The fish immediately broke water on the first of what must have been a dozen leaps. Each time I prayed that my leader would hold and the fish would not throw the fly. My reel screamed as I watched my fly line turn into backing and just keep on going as the fish tore downstream. It was a valiant fight, and I think I did a pretty good job of getting back line when I could and controlling the line during the leaps. But finally it just got to a point where the fish had too much of my line out, and I could not follow due to the force of the water. My heart sank as I felt the leader come loose. Marc and Francois both were very happy with the effort and commented on how it would be a fight that I would always remember. After that, I was content to sit and watch my son fish the pool below for the rest of the evening. He hooked several fish, but again they had the upper hand. I was amazed at the patience and encouragement that the guides had while working with Chris. That is something I have not witnessed before in my many fishing travels. Thursday's destination was the Lake Branch of the Grand Cascapedia, with David Bishop as our guide. The water here was darker with more of a "tannic" quality to it than the other rivers. This made it harder to spot fish. The fishing was also made challenging by the dense the streamside vegetation. David expertly poled the small canoe from pool to pool as we thoroughly fished each one. I learned as the day wore on that David had been on the Canadian Fly-Fishing team for the past 10 years or so. David is very serious about his sport and is equipped with a type "A" personality. That day, he taught me more about rollcasting than I'd learned in my previous 13-year fly-fishing career. At one point, I was humbled when my son whipped out a perfect Spey cast across the river in front of me (obviously, David had worked a little too long with him)! As with every other day, there were hook-ups but only two grilse brought to hand. I consoled my bruised casting ego over an expertly prepared rack of lamb that night at dinner. By the end of the week, Chris finally overcame his salmon drought. Under the tutelage of Marc Poirer, another fine GSD guide, he hooked and landed a 12-pound fish on the Petite Cascapedia. At Mark's suggestion we had downsized our flies, and Chris promptly took his fish on a green stonefly pattern. We learned many things while at Salmon Lodge. You're not required to have a guide to fish for salmon in Quebec-but I would highly recommend it. Not only do your odds of catching a fish increase dramatically. In addition, the casting and fishing instruction we received from the guide staff was worth the price of admission alone. We fished longer and harder with the GSD staff than with any other guides we have ever enlisted before. I also highly recommend the lodge experience we received. No aspect of convenience or comfort was lacking. At the end of the week I felt like David and his staff were family-and the morning coffee rituals in Jacques' kitchen were something I looked forward to each day. Each night's dining was a five-star affair without all the pomp and circumstance, just great conversation. For information on fishing with the folks at Gaspe Salmon Destinations, visit their Web site at www.gaspesalmon.com, or call David Bishop at 418-392-6768. Chris and I are planning our next adventure right now… Finally, Chris and I would like to thank the Ford Motor Company, Cabela's, Gaspe Salmon Destinations, Cortland Line Company (and Cortland's Diamondback and Hardy affiliates), along with Rod Mounts and Fly Rod&Reel Magazine for giving us the dream prizes and memories that will last a lifetime.