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The Fish Whisperer
By: Tony Chubbs

The weather was down on the Labrador coast, delaying the return of our chartered Twin Otter aircraft, which was to take us on our weekend excursion in July of 2016. Our departure time was initially postponed from early morning to noon, then to 3 p.m., which actually fit our schedule just fine because we were awaiting a last-minute member of our fishing group, Darren Wells, to arrive.

We were off for a weekend fly-in fishing trip in one of the many unnamed lakes in central Labrador. Martin Schaube had built a cozy A-frame cottage on the lake some 20 years earlier when he piloted his own Cessna 172 floatplane, and thereafter the lake became known as Martin’s Lake. This would be the first time fishing this area for Darren and I, although I had fished in adjacent waters several times over the years.

These inter-connected lakes were known for feisty trophy-sized brook trout and eating-sized Northern pike. Our friend Brian Corbin was a frequent visitor to the camp, accompanying Martin in his plane on a couple of excursions each summer for many years. We all knew each other well and this trip had the making of a great adventure right from the start.

Brian had booked the charter through Phil Earle, owner of Air Labrador, a very reputable company of exceptional bush pilots who had opened up the Labrador wilderness. Even though the weather was poor with rain, drizzle and fog, we were able to navigate “under the ceiling,” and with Brian’s knowledge of Martin’s Lake and GPS coordinates, we were able to reach the camp safely in spite of the inclement weather. Even with the heavy rain, we managed a campfire and a barbecue of steaks and baked potatoes, washed down with some fine red wines and a couple of drinks before hitting the sack.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast fit for the hungriest lumberjack, we donned our oilskins and loaded the boat. Brian was the captain and manned the 25-hp engine on our 14-foot aluminum boat, Martin took his place at the bow watching for rocks and providing direction, while Darren and I filled the mid-ship with the gear and  grub.

We headed to the small outflow west of the camp, trolling our way into the cove when Darren hooked a fish on his William’s Wobbler.

“Not much fight; must be a small one,” he commented as he retrieved his line and I prepared the dip net. “It’s just a pike,” he added as he angled the two-pound fish into the net.

I quickly unhooked the fish and released it, adding, “We’ll keep a few larger ones to fillet if we get a chance.”

Brian manoeuvered the boat near the run-out and instructed that the anchor be lowered so we could all fish for a spell. Darren picked up the anchor and tossed it into the dark, tannin-stained water. We all looked as the anchor sank out of sight and the end of the rope lay floating on the surface.

“Works better, mate, if the rope is tied to the anchor,” Brian quipped sarcastically in his distinctive British accent.

A great laugh was had by all as went ashore and acquired an appropriately shaped rock for our new anchor.

We were back to casting in no time when Brian announced, “Got one!” as I placed my spin cast along the gunwale to again tend the dip net.

“Looks like a good one,” Brian reported as his rod bent U-shaped while he wrestled with the fish.

“Don’t lose him, Brian! Play him slow, buddy! Play him slow!” Martin advised as the fish tore the monofilament from the reel and went under the boat.

Everyone jostled positions as Brian’s rod tip circled the boat and was handed under the anchor rope and back to the stern. The fish took another three lurches to the bottom before Brian worked it back to the boat. When the fish broke the surface, Darren exclaimed in amazement, “Wow! Look at the size of his tail!”

This was a respectable brook trout, to say the least. With the net submerged, Brian guided the fish in, and with a quick dip I landed the fish in the boat.

“See lads, that’s how she’s done!” Brian commented as he lifted his five-pound trophy from the net and held it as I took a few snaps.

As soon as we resumed fishing, Darren and I hooked a pike apiece in the four-to-five-pound range, which had been lurking in a weed bed near the center of the cove. They both put up a decent fight and thrashed on the surface until we dipped each other’s fish into the boat.

“We’ll take some nice fillets off them for a fry-up,” Daren said, as he placed the fish in the cooler.

“Not bad for a couple of beginners,” Brian chuckled as the good-natured ribbing continued.

With the words hardly out of his mouth, Brian calmly announced again, “Another one, boys; nice one, it seems.”

This fish broke the surface immediately after Brian set the hook and it was obvious this was another decent sized brookie. Everyone was laughing and joking as he played the fish and I dipped the 4-1/2-pound hook-billed male and brought him aboard.

“That’s your limit, ol’ boy,” I said “Guess well get a chance now.”

We fished a couple more coves, released several small trout and had an on-boat lunch of sandwiches and hot thermos tea as we continued casting.

As the day was coming to an end, we trolled back towards camp and Martin snagged a plump three-pounder that he reeled in and flicked aboard the boat before we could even slow the boat down or get the net ready.

“That’s how you really do it, eh Brian?” Martin joked in his thick German accent.

Darren and I managed a couple more nice Northerns in the six-pound range before arriving back to the cabin for the evening. We filleted the day’s catch, then bagged the fillets and placed them on ice in our cooler.

It was a fantastic day full of laughter, sport and camaraderie. A beautiful crimson sunset promised a “Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight” weather prediction for the following day.

The next day didn’t disappoint, with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. I had taken my Little Chief smoker with us, so after lightly salting and air-drying some trout fillets for an hour or so, we put them in the smoker and made our way down the east end of the lake to a couple of choice run-ins. The first had a beautiful white rapid bubbling into a deep, cool pool to the lake.

Again, Brian was the first to holler, “Fish on again, boys!” before we had even set the anchor. This fish also battled hard, making several runs around both sides of the boat before Martin dipped the 5-1/2-pound lunker aboard.

“Wow, now this is what I call fishing!” exclaimed Martin.

“Who the heck we got on board with us – the fish whisperer?” Darren asked in a rather dry tone as he made another cast.

Each of us had several casts before Brian was back into action and immediately struck into another fish. This one made a couple of strong runs before being dipped and we gauged it to be in the three-pound range.

Darren, Martin and I managed to land a couple of beauties in the two-to-three-pound range before we trolled our way to the second run-in where the fishing was a little slower. We added a couple of pan-sized trout to our limit and landed three more nice pike in the filleting-size range before heading back to the cabin for the last evening.

Motoring along, we all commented on the tranquility and remoteness of Martin’s Lake and that we should do this again in the near future. We watched a pair of Common Goldeneye ducks dive before taking flight, then had an Osprey soar overhead looking for its catch of the day.

After unloading the boat, we put another pan of cherry wood chips in the smoker and prepared another barbecue for the evening meal, with smoked trout as the appetizer. It was the end to an exciting, fun-filled fishing trip into Labrador’s wilderness, where we had an entire lake system to ourselves for the weekend. Over a couple of refreshments we retold the embellished “largest fish” stories, along with some anchor-setting instructional discussions.

The next morning the Twin Otter showed up on schedule and we took the customary group photo before departing.

“How was the fishing, boys?” the pilot asked.

“It was pretty good, but I’ve had better,” Brian replied.

Darren looked at him and chuckled, “Yes, fish whisperer.”

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