Published on June 27, 2014
Rod Hale casting a line on Spruce Pool. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on June 27, 2014
A lovely evening at Island Pool. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on June 27, 2014
Matt Brazil with a fine Castors River salmon. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on June 27, 2014
Walking in the trail across the marshes. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Longing for a long lost salmon fisher’s paradise
About two decades ago, I experienced a most wonderful day of salmon fishing. It was special and has reserved for itself a permanent slot in my often overwhelmed neural network.
I forget lots of stuff, but I’m happy to recall this day in vivid living, albeit mental colour space. That day I carried no camera, and my jury of one is out on whether that’s a good or bad thing. It would be nice to show others the wonders of that day, yet I gravely doubt if justice could be served.
At that time my photographic skill and art was in infancy. Even after 20 years of effort at becoming a decent photographer of things wild and fly fishing, it’s an incredible challenge to capture the essence of angling and its glorious surroundings.
I drove my pickup from Spaniard’s Bay to Plum Point on the Northern Peninsula. After 12 hours on the road, I met up with my two salmon angling comrades, Chris Coombs and Frank Samson. Chris and Frank are both from Plum Point and both know the woods and waters of their region quite intimately.
Chris started hunting and fishing with his father, Ben, as soon as he could walk. He spent several youthful summers as a fisheries guardian on local salmon rivers, and went on to do several stints of guiding. Frank’s father Garland was a highly respected local trapper and outdoorsman, teaching the boys the ways of the woods like only a person living off the land is capable of.
I consider myself very lucky to have become acquainted with such a lineage of knowledge and craft. I met Chris when we both resided in Rothermere House while studying at MUN in 1977. We quickly became friends and Chris taught me how to tie flies when we both should have been studying. But I don’t regret a minute.
So, that’s how I got the inside scoop on the Northern Peninsula angling scene.
Back to meeting the boys after the long solo run on the TCH and Viking Trail. For my first few trips we had been mostly fishing on St. Genevieve River. Chris and Frank figured we needed a change of scenery and water. I was up for it.
Back when Chris worked with DFO he had done several anti-poaching patrols on Castors River. If you ever cruised the Viking Trail, you crossed over the river’s bridge at the community of Castors River South. So you know to where I’m referring.
There’s a snowmobile bridge running across the river parallel to the highway bridge. You can’t miss it. Look to your right and you will see a big roundish pond that’s maybe two miles in length. If you’ve never been there, have a look on Google Earth. Castors River flows out of the pond at the bridge and into the pond on the far eastern end. Back in those days, if you paddled across Castors Pond and then headed upriver you were venturing into remote wilderness and solitary plus prime salmon fishing. The further you walked, the better the fishing, or so it seemed. It was a place where sweat equity paid big dividends. I’ve always liked that.
The three of us in one canoe paddled across the pond into the teeth of a choppy mid-morning breeze. We made it safely to the river and beached the canoe about half a mile upriver at the first rapid. From there Chris, the expert non-paid guide for the day, reckoned we’d leave the river and walk along the big swampy bogs that parallel the south bank of the river outside a riparian tree line of several hundred yards.
By now it was approaching noon and, my God almighty, was it ever hot walking in waders. This was before the breathable sort. Chris was supposed to know where he was going, but Frank and I were beginning to have doubts. Good thing we weren’t paying him for this guided hike under the blazing July sun.
There was much good humoured banter. We are all the sort of folks who make fun out of woodsy physical hardship. I choose my friends that way. Complaining is a game changer.
Chris redeemed himself and restored our confidence in his bush craft and orienteering capabilities. He called for an abrupt turn north and an ensuing tangled bushwhacking stint which put us right on Chris’s Rock, a pool since named by me, that lies just below The Ledges.
You know what? That’s right where he said we were going to hit water. Sorry for doubting you, buddy.
Now we were in the middle of nowhere, alone, and on a river full of salmon. If there’s a heaven, than this is how I want mine. I was never much for harps and gold streets. Give me flowing water, blue sky, green trees and good company any day or the week. What a spot!
A relatively cool breeze blew downriver, at least compared to trudging through those marshes. Old growth forest lined the edges of a myriad of eddies, riffles, tail-outs, seams and dark deep runs.
I sat on a rock and lit my pipe, while Frank cracked open a cold beer he had iced away in his pack. I like beer, but not enough to lug it up Castors River.
Chris tied on a Blue Charm and cast it with a grin on a seam just outside Chris’s Rock. I was thinking by now that he had this spot sized up pretty good from his DFO days. On the second cast, a fat grilse attacked his fly and went somersaulting into the air. Pretty cool.
We fished our way on upriver to Spruce Pool.
This is a quintessential salmon holding pool.
It has shade from a big overhanging spruce, deep dark water, and is located just below a substantial gauntlet of tumultuous whitewater and boulders. There’s also a challenging stretch of water below the pool. So it’s a natural place for salmon to rest and rejuvenate in significant numbers.
Needless to say, we experienced amazing fishing.
Having satisfied ourselves, we headed downriver as the sun began its evening dance with the tips of tall, swaying spruce along the river’s edge.
The blending of colour, pink skies, darkening water, earthy tones of evening, created an inspiring kaleidoscope for the long walk out.
So, Chris decides to exit via an alternate route. What could Frank and I offer up in argument? He had navigated precisely to his rock and caught a salmon on the second cast. Now it was dark and we were still walking in the river. The rocks were slippery and muscles getting fatigued. Lofty spirits had sunk with the setting sun, at least a little, but we are not the sort to sulk. The gods had seen fit to bestow a wonderful day upon us; we would not display unworthiness.
Chris, leading the way, although we can barely see him, stops abruptly and declares his intention to hike south by compass until we cross the main bog trail leading to the canoe.
Now, here’s the dilemma.
The water hike downriver is a sure thing. We might slip and slide on slimy rocks, but it will inevitably and surely lead to the canoe. If we leave the river and somehow miss the path — entirely possible in my mind — then it’s a night in the woods with the nippers for the boys.
We opted to roll the dice and go for the beaten trail and easy route out. The trek was true and we were at the canoe in under an hour. A full moon rose as we silently paddled across a flat calm Castors Pond. What an end to a wicked day.
• • •
Much has changed on Castors River. Some misguided soul cut down the spruce tree — tangled his fly too often, I suppose. Spruce Pool is crowded and fished constantly each and every day.
How can this be? It took Chris, Frank and me three hours to reach the canoe. Logging roads have delivered easy access. No sweat required. Is this good or bad? Stay tuned for more in coming weeks.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted
at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.