Part Nine: Time to Say Good - by
|Split Rock from below and Camp Alexander Rapids|
by F. Adams
The night after we left Camp Victoria we camped at Pine Portage, pitching our tent at the lower landing, where from the door we could see the rapids below us shining in the moonlight, which was so bright that we ate our late supper by the light. It had been a hard day, and soon after supper we were glad to roll ourselves up in our blankets, for the last night on the river. Nip, the Indian dog, barked loudly about the tent, and we feared some Indians might be prowling around, but we slept soundly in spite of that and the cold high wind which shook the tent above our heads. Next morning we were up early, for we had a long journey before us - the "Long Portage" to make - and the wind , which was strong, was against us.
Running down the rapids and crossing Island Portage, we rowed laboriously over Lake Maria, the large waves and fierce wind making our progress very slow. When almost across, we saw the dark clouds gathering quickly behind us. We hesitated about going on, but as we talked about it the angry sky warned us that there was but one wise course to pursue. Hastily rowing towards land, we reached shore just as the storm burst. We tumbled out of the canoe in all directions; fishing tackle, tents, blankets, frying pans and kettles were thrown here and there, and in two minutes we were under the canoe, all mixed up with our baggage, and helpless with laughter and excitement. The wind blew a gale, the water was lashed to foam, and the rain fell in torrents; but in ten minutes the worst was over, and before long the guides were building a fire, cooking the fish caught on the way down, and we ate a hurried dinner, trying to dry ourselves at the fire at the same time.
As the storm subsided the wind changed, and as we re-embarked we found that a favouring breeze increased the prospect that we might reach Red Rock that night. We had very little for supper and nothing for breakfast, and with our Nepigon appetites, it was important to get as quickly as possible to the Hudson's Bay Company post, with its supplies.
We made the "Long Portage " that afternoon, and the guides worked hard; but the sun was low in the sky when we left the lower end for the final unbroken run to twelve miles down to Red Rock. Soon scattered tents of the Indians camping by the river near Lake Helen came in sight, and as we passed quickly by, the guides exchanged greetings with groups on the bank, receiving from all the assurance that they were wanted badly at the post - that two clergymen had been waiting impatiently several days for them.
The rosy clouds were reflected in the river, the pine-trees stood in dark relief against the sky, the white-fish were leaping on every side, and the voices of the Indian women sounded plaintively across the water as they called to one another, and as we turned into Lake Helen, across the water came the klingle-klangle of the cow- bells at the mission. We were nearing home, it is true, but it was hard to say good-by to our wild life, our beds of hemlock-boughs and fragrant, spicy air. It was dark when we landed at the foot of the lake, and left the missionary's wife and her little boy at their summer home, and then the guides and I started for the mile run down the rapids to the post. The moon shone bright and cold on the high cliffs as we were carried swiftly down the dark braided current of the river, and in a few minutes we had landed. I had climbed the hill, given on lingering look at the shining river and dark forest beyond, and knocked at the door of the Hudson's Bay Company agent.
|A Chippewa Teepee, near Camp Alexander|
It was after our return that my big fish was caught. Many larger ones had been taken that year, but I had never fished for trout until the week before, and this one I captured after a fair fight, and he was a fish to be proud of.
One cold morning, with the wind blowing from the north-west, a young boy and I started out by ourselves. Four old anglers, waiting for guides to go up the river, watched us pass with an amused tolerance, and it must be confessed our hopes were rather feeble. We stopped here and there to cast, but saw no signs of fish; we crossed the river into deeper water with no success, and at length were about to give it up and start for home; but as we passed a stretch of quiet rapids, and I had cast once more in a listless way, allowing the flies to sink a little below the surface of the water, a fish rose, turning completely over as he seized the fly, and falling on the water with a loud splash. I remembered my loss in the Victoria Rapids, and struck vigorously; a wild whir, and the line spun out fully seventy-five feet as the fish darted down the rapids; then came a sudden stop, and the boy, who had been struggling with the rapids, unconscious of it all, turned his head, and called out, "You've caught a rock," and prepared to go back and dislodge the hook. The line was motionless. I could feel nothing but a heavy drag on it, and feared that the fish had torn away in the rapids and the hook was fast in the rocks below. I was raising the rod slowly, but firmly, when a welcome jerk at the line told me that he was still fast; then another and another jerk, fierce tugs that seemed as if the fish would certainly break loose. I had heard of salmon's "jigging," and wondered if this harrowing performance could be called that name. I don't know how he did it, but it felt as if he was throwing himself backward violently in the water. I could do nothing but let the line go and bear it as coolly as possible till he was pleased to get through. This he did at last, with disconcerting abruptness, and immediately charged on the boat. When within twenty feet of it , he turned and ran down the rapids again. Then came another despairing time of jerking, and we had the whole thing over again. The reel was an old one, the leader a little doubtful; the trout made for the rocks and fallen trees, and I thought I never could land him. Once he came near enough for us to see him. How beautiful he was! with his great red fins and iridescent sides showing distinctly as he swam slowly to and fro, collecting his strength for another rush, but resisting all efforts on my part to bring him nearer.
It was the first time i had been thrown quite on my own resources; before that, our guides had been with me to manage the canoe and the landing-net, and give an occasional word of advice. But I had faith in my Imbrie rod, and felt that with so many fallen trees and rocks around us, I must land him as soon as possible. I brought him close up to the boat once, when he caught sight of the landing-net, and was off again, apparently as fresh as ever. The next time I told my companion to hold the net quietly a little under the surface of the water. We were more successful in our second effort; the fight had been a hard one, though lasting less that fifteen minutes. As I reeled him slowly in, anything but an easy matter in the rapids, he turned upward his broad side and was led into the net with hardly a struggle.
"Four pounds full" he weighed, with dark-red , white-bordered fins, bright spots, and a bar of white underneath. He seemed rather short, I thought for his weight - only twenty inches, but it was made up in the girth, which was over thirteen inches. The flesh was highly coloured, with flakes of creamy curd.
I had always heard that large fish are not very gamy - they know that they are big, have confidence in their strength, and are not easily alarmed - but this one fought as hard as a black bass. Perhaps he was not heavy enough to be classed among the large fish. A number were taken after that on the river, weighing from four and three-quarters to six pounds; but a beginner must not expect to rank with the experienced anglers. As I looked at the beautiful fish lying at my feet, I did not envy the best fisherman "up the Nepigon."
Taken from the Nipigon Historical Museum Archives.