Do you need to be physically fit to fish for salmon? Not necessarily, but on some days it makes the whole experience lots more fun — or should I say, renders the effort to catch fish more bearable.
If you find yourself puffing and blowing while trying to keep up with your buddies, you might need to spend a little time at the gym. Or if exercise machines are not your style, maybe you could paddle a few laps around the pond or pedal hilly trails on a mountain bike.
There’s lots of fun ways to stay in shape, outdoor activities that nurture not just the body, but the mind and soul. I’ll talk more about this another time. For now, let me relate a fishing tale where conditioning was every bit as important as double hauling.
For those of you not versed in fly-fishing lingo, double hauling is a technique that helps you cast further. I’ll give you the physics on that some day as well.
The setting for this tale of galled feet, sweat, bruised butts and angling bliss is the very late ’90s, a time of sporadic cellphone coverage, expectations for total collapse of the Internet at the stroke of midnight, plus minimal use of Gore-Tex and felt (the latter being the most serious case of Newfoundlanders resisting new technologies I’ve encountered in my half century of living here).
In those days, only sports from the United States wore proper fishing attire, and maybe a few anglers from upalong. And we can’t blame it on the government. There was no media blackout or any sort of North Korean style censoring of outside influences.
We were just so madly in love with our rubber boots and “Ranger Tough” oil skins. Thank God we finally saw the light and embraced breathable fishing accessories. The days of sweaty suffering are past.
Rod Hale, Frank Samson and I canoed up Castors Pond as the sun cleared the treetops on the Northern Peninsula. Rod and Frank were leading the way and I took advantage of their wake paddling solo.
I had our three packs stowed in the bow to my boat level and tracking. A light breeze freshened from the west as we entered the flow of Castors River into the pond. We beached our canoes about a half kilometre upriver and shouldered our packs to walk east across the bogs leading to Crosby’s Pool, our first stop on the river. It was about a 45-minute walk, just enough to work up a light morning sweat.
These were days long before the logging roads made Spruce Pool and Falls Pool accessible to angling folks not willing to walk many miles in waders. Those of you who know Castors River will be familiar with the place I’m talking about.
Nowadays, the woods around Spruce Pool is cleared for tents and the place has been converted from a wilderness setting to a camping ground. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the price we pay for paper and jobs.
Anyway, back to that sweaty morning before millennium day. Our goal was to reach Spruce Pool and catch some nice plump salmon. There were plenty of places along the way to hook a fish or two, but we had a hankering to drift Bombers over one of the premier salmon pools on the Northern Peninsula, maybe even all of Newfoundland.
If you left the canoe, and didn’t fish or take a smoke break along the route, it would take about 2 1/2 hours to reach the Spruce. That’s givin’-er, as we say in these parts.
Three hours would be a more leisurely pace. But it’s no walk in the park. The treadmill won’t adequately prepare you for this little jaunt. There are lots of slippery tumbly rocks, and deep wades.
You must cross at five locations to follow the river’s path of least resistance. First there’s Crosby’s, then below Clay Banks, again just above Clay Banks, on to Island Pool, and finally you cross just above the big rock at Dry Fly Pool. From there it’s only a 20-minute dance to Spruce Pool.
The Island Pool crossing is the longest, deepest and trickiest. In darkness, it separates the men from the boys.
We didn’t rush things, having a flick here and there along the way. The fishing was pretty decent along the ledges, the best pocket water angling on the whole island, I think.
There were a bunch of Americans camped at Dry Fly. They were doing well and we stopped for a chat with them. They were dressed in the latest breathable attire from Orvis and Patagonia. I bet they didn’t sweat half as much as we locals, being sealed in rubber or vinyl from feet to armpits.
But what we lacked in gear we made up for in spirit. We dodged on and arrived at Spruce Pool by mid-afternoon.
The fishing was fantastic. Salmon snapped at our Bombers and attacked Blue Charms ferociously. We grilled a fish on the river bank and puffed a fine cigar. Life was good and the sky was blue and clear. We weren’t thinking of the walk out or the setting of the sun.
The wind changed and the sun disappeared behind ominous looking clouds. The light was fading and it would soon be dark.
A big salmon had poked Frank’s fly with its nose several times. Mr. Samson is not well-known for giving up on a taker. Just before dark, he finally hooked the beast and battled fiercely for 15 minutes before busting his line.
Now it was dark and pouring rain. We donned our waterproof coats and cut walking sticks to help us along the wet and slippery path. Now sealed from head to toe, not an ounce of sweat would escape. Those were the joys of the good old days.
The Americans at Dry Fly Pool had a rousing fire going and were cooking a late supper. They seemed surprised to see us. I assume they thought we were staying in a cabin somewhere for the night.
They seemed bewildered when we told them we were heading out. It was 11 p.m. now. We chatted for a while and departed. The last words I heard in a southern twang were, “You guys are crazy.” I suppose we were.
We had at least a two-hour walk to the canoes, including five river crossings and long stretches over angled ledges that get very slippery when rained upon. And of course we had no felts, just rubber soled chest waders.
The end result included two bruised butts. I suppose it wouldn’t have been challenging enough with the right gear. I’m joking.
Walking several hours on a river, in the rain, and in total darkness, is tough going in anyone’s book. I was just thankful to have been in reasonably fit physical condition. I had been swimming, biking and walking for months.
Exercise pays off when the trail is demanding. Nevertheless, I ended up with a noteworthy gall on my heel from two weeks of fishing in those wonderful boots.
We made it to the canoes shortly after
1 a.m. Only a 45-minute canoe ride to our truck. The wind was in our faces and lightning streaked across the sky. The gods were testing our mettle. We manned up and paddled with gusto across Castors Pond. The gods were pleased, and I had no problem falling asleep.
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.