New adventures from a favorite fly-fishing penman
"This was my fifth trip to Labrador, but the first one when, if I hadn't exactly gotten enough of the giant brook trout the region is famous for, I was at least ready to try something different," John told us. -The Editors Read more in the June issue »After several hours in the air, Marco landed smoothly on a small lake and put us ashore near the inlet of a river with an unpronounceable Innu name. While the four of us set up camp in a light but steady rain, Marco grabbed a fly rod and trotted over to the mouth of the river, where he quickly landed and killed five or six large char. These fish are a delicacy and in the normal course of things, one of them would become dinner, while the rest would enter the regional subsistence economy as currency, gifts or bribes. Before Marco took off, he squinted meaningfully at the lowering gray sky and said he'd be back to pick us up in a couple of days-weather permitting. Of course "weather permitting" is the caveat that accompanies all plans in the far north and that gives you a specific twinge of loneliness as you watch the plane bank out of sight.
Within a few hours the storm had socked in like it was there to stay, with rain and a stiff, chilly breeze coming steadily out of the northeast, straight off the north Atlantic. (The air may or may not have smelled salty, but I imagined it did.) We'd set up the wall tent behind a copse of black spruce trees that acted as a windbreak and had the dry sleeping bags stashed safely inside. The food boxes were roped up into a tree out of reach of bears, and Robin and Jimmy had rigged an upwind tarp to a tripod of spruce poles to shelter the campfire from the rain. There was a pot of coffee on.
We had a few days' worth of groceries, a basic kitchen kit, assorted tarps, a hatchet, spare coils of rope, a chainsaw for firewood, a handful of 12-gauge shells and an ancient Russian-made shotgun that looked like it would be equally lethal at either end. We'd found the skull of a large caribou near the beach and were using the antlers as a convenient rod rack.
The surrounding countryside was rolling hills with scattered stands of stubby black spruce and a few tall, feathery tamaracks set in mostly open ground. The tight ground cover was a preview of Arctic tundra not far from the northern tree line, which isn't a line at all, but a ragged edge where one kind of habitat gradually gives way to another until the northernmost wins. It may not have been literally true, but there was the feeling that we were about as far into the remaining North American wilderness as you could get without being in danger of coming out the other side: relatively cozy and safe from anything short of an extinction-level event.
Over at the river-a quarter-mile walk from camp over a low hill-countless char had nosed up into the first two sets of rapids above the lake, where they were hungrily feeding on a sputtering but often heavy hatch of size 14 mayflies. The river is wide there and from the top of that rise you could see that literally hundreds of fish were working from bank to bank. This is exactly what you hope for (but don't quite dare to expect) when you've flown three-quarters of the way across North America in order to wet a line.
Over the next few days we learned that this hatch would come off more or less predictably between around noon and six o'clock. There were times when the water was fuzzy with mayfly wings and the char would happily take a parachute dry fly. When the hatch slowed down a little, they preferred a size 14 nymph swung down and across the current, wet-fly-style. The char ran anywhere from three to six or seven pounds, not to mention the ones that spooled off fly line and backing, parked out in the main current and stayed there, eventually either breaking off your fly or sending back a straightened hook. With the usual variations, this would go on like clockwork for no less than six hours a day.
From Fool's Paradise by John Gierach. Copyright 2008 by John Gierach. Reprinted by permission of by Simon& Schuster, Inc.
Go to flyrodreel.com for John Gierach's book-tour schedule.
Shop Weathers the Storm
One of the top fly shops on the East Coast, The Compleat Angler, is set to re-open this spring. Last autumn, that didn't look so likely. On October 12, a series of severe storms came rumbling through Fairfield County, CT, bringing high winds, torrential rains and flash floods. The Compleat Angler was located in the torrent's path. In less than 30 minutes, four feet of water poured into the Darien, CT, shop, leaving it in ruins. Long-time owner Frank Cavolo decided this was the end. However, local fly fishermen came to the rescue. Over the next several days, more then 50 caring customers helped clean up the mess in hopes of somehow convincing management to reopen. Scott Bennett had been managing the fly shop for Cavolo for more than a decade. Bennett said, "Having the shop disappear was just not an option. All the local support we received after the flood convinced me that the shop had to survive."After months of negotiations, Bennett and his financial partner (an anonymous local fly fisherman) decided to keep the long tradition of The Compleat Angler going. The shop's new location is 555 Post Road, Darien; stop in and say hello.-Henry Cowen
Cortland Brook Series Rods
Designed for small-stream fishing-brooks, creeks, meanders, culverts or even along an overgrown bank or other tight quarters-Cortland's new Brook series starts with a 6-foot, 6-inch 3-weight and stretches up to an 8-foot, 6-inch 5-weight; in between are a 7-foot 3-weight, an 8-foot 4-weight and an 8-foot, 6-inch 4-weight. The rods are all four-piece models and have medium-fast actions made for fishing small flies with delicate, accurate presentations. They also feature nickel-silver fittings, and slim-specie cork grips; included is a special rod/reel hard-case carrier, so you can keep the outfit at the ready, right in your car. $179.95.
Redington Stratus II Jacket
The new Stratus II Jacket is made from the nylon Redstorm waterproof breathable fabric system, which allows the jacket (and the wearer) to keep moisture at bay; taped seams, double-front storm flap closures over pockets and an adjustable hood and cuffs help in that regard, too. Other features include fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets, reinforced elbows for abrasion resistance, front fly-box pockets, a rear storage pocket that you can reach without dislocating a shoulder and a gadget cord. And no doubt there's a size for you, as the jackets run to XXXL. $130. www.redington.com
On the WEb
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*2008 Robert Traver
Fly-fishing Writing Contest
The deadline for the 2008 Robert Traver Fly-fishing Writing Contest is fast approaching. All short stories and essays must be postmarked by April 14. The prize is $2,500 and publication of the story in the November/December 2008 issue of FR&R. Each year, the contest celebrates the best in fly-fishing writing.
*"Sporting Life" Sweepstakes
It's been 16 years, and soon-to-be 100 issues, since John Gierach and Bob White teamed up to create the "Sporting Life" column that graces the back page of FR&R. Now two lucky readers will win a set of prints of the first and 100th "Sporting Life" paintings. Each winner will also receive a Winston 5-weight Boron II-MX fly rod. For complete entry and contest info, visit flyrodreel.com.
Perhaps no other form of fly-fishing is so dispiriting. Not even Atlantic-salmon fishing…I must say that angling for Atlantic salmon is light and breezy fishing compared to waiting for tarpon-enduring the heat and fighting off the inclination to gaze and to daydream by forcing the eyes to examine every dark patch, while hoping for the push of fish that will sweep away the frustration.