Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Labor Day Weekend Salmon Adventure

H: Wow, it's been a few months since I've posted anything. My apologies! I'll try to catch up in the next few weeks, at least post some pictures if nothing else.

To start, here's a trip report from my last atlantic salmon fishing adventure for 2016.

I went back to the Gaspésie for a long Labor Day holiday weekend. I hadn't planned on going alone but it worked out that way. I texted a couple of fishing friends up there to see if anyone could fish with me. I've salmon fished by myself before but I didn't relish the thought of trying to land a huge salmon by myself (always the optimist :). I entered the 72- and 48-hour draws and waited. As luck would have it, I got drawn for both the Grande Cascapedia and the Bonaventure.

According to Claude, it has been one of the worst fishing years on record for the Boni with salmon returns the lowest in 30 years. Like most places in northeastern North America, they desperately needed rain. I religiously read weather forecasts for over a week before the trip but it changed daily. One day there'd be some rain in the forecast, then the next day, none. I realized whatever happened way up in the stratosphere or out over the oceans, would happen, and there was nothing I could do about it. So, I stopped checking until the day before to pack accordingly. I was going, rain or no rain.

I was especially excited to fish the Grande for the first time! I'd seen so many pictures of monster salmon being caught there all summer long on social media. It was actually one of these pictures that I commented on in Facebook a couple of days before the trip that would change the course of my trip.

David Bishop, who I met at the Sherbrooke spey forum earlier this year, posted a picture of a huge buck he landed on the Grande. When I commented and mentioned that I'd be fishing Pools XYZ in the Lake branch (which I'd won in the draw), David replied that he might be able to get me on the main river and to call him. Within minutes after reading this, I got in touch! :)

Super excited about my trip, I could barely sleep a wink the night before. I drove into the city at 6 am so I could leave directly from work at 2 pm Thursday afternoon. Without traffic, it would take 12.5 hours. Well, there was plenty of rush hour traffic in Massachusetts and I ended up driving 14+ hours, not including stops for food, gas, and oh, yeah, being searched at the border.

I arrived at the border crossing a little after midnight the following day. I guess the female officer in the booth thought my story about driving 14 hours from NYC to the Gaspésie by myself to go salmon fishing for a long weekend sounded a bit fishy LOL. I was asked to pull over while she and another officer conducted a fairly thorough search of my Subaru. But once the male officer opened one of my gear bags, found 4 fly boxes, and exclaimed in surprise that there were lots of fishing flies inside, the search went a lot faster.

I certainly didn't need the extra 20 minute delay at the border, but I took it in stride. Heck, what's 20 mins out of 14 hours? The general theme for the weekend would be "just go with the flow...." I only had 2 days fishing planned (the Grande on Friday and Saturday). I wasn't sure where I would fish Sunday and I had yet to decide if I was fishing or driving back on Monday. For those who know me, this is rather unusual. I'm normally the type of gal who likes to plan things out.

Somehow I drove into the early morning hours and didn't pull over till after 3 am. It was slow going in the middle of moose country and I needed to be alert. I hoped to get an hour of sleep in the car. I reclined the seat and shut my eyes for maybe 30 minutes before realizing it was futile. Despite being completely exhausted, I just couldn't fall asleep. I picked up a grande cafe at a 24-hr Tim Hortons and drove into Quebec. Shortly after 6 am, I arrived in the Baie des Chaleurs, just as the sun was rising.

A beautiful sunrise on the Baie des Chaleurs, Quebec
Not being a morning person (except when fishing), I enjoyed watching the sun rise over the Baie des Chaleurs, Quebec.

I pulled over to admire the beautiful sunrise, took in the fresh sea air, and snapped a few pics before driving the last leg to the Cascapedia River Society where I was meeting David and his son Dylan at 7:30 am.

Dylan arrived as I was brushing my teeth in the parking lot and David followed shortly afterwards offering me a cup of coffee which I gratefully accepted. We picked up our passes and drove up to Middle Camp to meet up with Daryl, my guide for the day. All I knew about Daryl was that he was a little bit rough around the edges but an excellent guide.

Salmon outside the Cascapedia River Society, Quebec
Outside the Cascapedia River Society, Quebec

We started our day fishing right at Middle Camp. David and Dylan took a canoe to a nearby spot where Dylan ends up catching a small salmon. I fished right out front at home pool. I could tell Daryl wasn't sure what to make of me. He asked for my spey rod, tied on a fly, pointed to a spot and said I should start fishing from there. "Cast as far as you can," he said. He watched me cast, suggested I quarter further upstream, and that was it. He was the strong, silent type and I appreciated that. I was too tired to make lots of small talk. It's been years since I've fished with a guide. It's mandatory to use one on the main river. I must confess, I enjoyed having him tie on my flies and occasionally carry my fly rod :).

Daryl, Dylan and David Bishop, on the beautiful grounds of Middle Camp on the Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Daryl, Dylan and David (left to right) on the beautiful grounds of Middle Camp on the Grand Cascapedia, Quebec

Honestly, I'm not sure how I made it through the day, let alone that morning. I was literally a walking and fly fishing zombie. At the next pool, I hooked a nice salmon. It started to slowly register in my foggy brain that I had a salmon at the end of my line when it leapt out of the water and came unbuttoned. David and Daryl both looked at me like a complete newbie, saying ever so politely, "you need to lower your rod when a salmon jumps." I didn't bother replying that I was operating below 50% mental and physical capacity. The mid day break couldn't come soon enough.

During the break, I stopped at the IGA to get some groceries and went to check into my cabin on the Petite Cascapedia. Unfortunately, housekeeping was in the process of cleaning and my cabin had yet to be cleaned from the previous tenant. I looked longingly at the bed and thought ever so briefly of napping on used sheets.... Instead I made myself a light lunch, opened a bottle of wine, sat on the porch and just chilled.

I thought about the salmon I had hooked earlier and how lame it had all been. What happened to the girl who was so excited to fish the Grande? I swore that if I was lucky enough to get a second chance, I would NOT f**k it up. I got back in my car and drove to the Camp. I was 20 minutes early so I waited in the car and tried to nap.

Dylan Bishop hanging out with sweet lovable Forrest on the Grand Cascapedia.
Dylan Bishop hanging out with sweet lovable Forrest on the Grand Cascapedia.

By now, Daryl and I had gotten to know one another and built a rapport. I was casting terribly and talking to myself all day about it. But he was always encouraging and patient with me. I guess exactly what a great guide should be. We fished a couple of really tough spots that day. It took every ounce of concentration (the little I had) to maneuver from rock to rock to cast without stumbling and cracking my skull. Daryl warned me to be careful and mentioned a girl he had guided who had done just that. Oh yeah, and there was maybe 3 ft of casting space behind me to form a D loop. I was running on fumes.

We ended our day at a beautiful spot. David and Dylan went upstream while Daryl and I fished a long nice looking run. I went through it twice with different flies without seeing a single fish or having a single grab. Daryl suggests we go up to where David and Dylan are fishing. Then we hear a loud excited yell and realize they must have hooked or landed a fish. We hiked up to join them just as they are releasing the biggest salmon I've ever seen in the flesh. It was a monster!

With Dylan done for the day, I'm up. As I'm getting ready to fish, a salmon jumps out of the water towards the tail of the pool. The adrenaline starts to kick in. I'd swung my fly maybe a dozen times when a salmon comes up from the depths to take a look and swirls by it. Dylan mentions that it had done that to him as well. Daryl comes over and says he wants to change my fly. He puts on the secret fly and says I should cast and swing it exactly like the last time. Somehow I was able to execute my guide's command, and sure enough, fish on! This time, I made sure the hook was firmly set and I was ready to do battle and bow to my salmon if it decided to go airborne.

Hyun Kounne fighting an atlantic salmon on the Grand Cascapedia River.
Me fighting my salmon on the Grand Cascapedia with Daryl, Forrest, David and Dylan as my cheering squad :)

It was a strong fish and a great fight. I'm not sure where the energy, and more importantly, the focus came from—adrenaline I guess. After 5? minutes, my salmon was brought to net. Thanks David for netting my salmon! To everyone's surprise, it was a bright, fresh run fish, a September blue back. It even had sea lice on it! A handsome buck.

David Bishop and Hyun with a salmon in the net, Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Daryl was all ready to tail my salmon but David had a net. Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Portrait of a unicorn (atlantic salmon :) complete with sea lice. Photo taken by Dylan Bishop. Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Portrait of a unicorn :) with sea lice. Great photo taken by Dylan Bishop. Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Hyun with a handsome September buck salmon and great guide, Daryl, from Middle Camp. Grand Cascapedia, Quebec
Me with my handsome September buck and great guide, Daryl, from Middle Camp. Grand Cascapedia, Quebec

There was plenty of daylight left but I was happy to end it early. I wanted to settle into my cabin, eat a big hearty dinner, and more importantly, get a good night's sleep. I said goodbye to Dylan who was leaving for Montreal to start University and thanked David and Daryl for an unforgettable day. I was fishing the Grande again the following day, but with Neil Houlding as my fishing partner. Turns out adrenaline takes a while to get out of your system. Despite complete exhaustion, I didn't fall asleep till around 11 pm. But 7 hours of sleep was a luxury!

Early next morning, we picked up Neil's pass and drove up to met our guides at Middle Camp. Daryl would be my guide again! Even though you and your partner don't fish side by side, you must both fish the same pool. Usually one starts up top and the other further down. Having never fished with Neil before, I didn't know what to expect. I knew he was a great spey caster as well as a super nice guy. He also calls me madam :).

Well, it turned out Neil and I have different fishing styles. Being younger and having fly fished for only 6 years (2nd year salmon fishing), I'd gladly hike 10 miles to a pristine pool to catch a unicorn. Neil being a little bit older, wiser, and having fished for many more years, believes in conserving his energy and fishing opportunistically ;).

I wanted to return to the pool where Dylan and I had landed our salmon the day before but Neil had no desire to go. Too much of a hike he said. Oh, well! We still had a great day on the water and saw a few fish, but unfortunately neither of us hooked into anything except a few pretty sea trout. Mid day break was spent on the Grande. Neil had packed us a picnic lunch which we enjoyed riverside followed by a nap next to a warm fire. Thanks for fishing with me Neil! And thanks again Daryl for guiding me! Hope to see both of you again next time I'm up there.

Neil Houlding taking a mid day nap by a nice warm fire on the Grande Cascapedia.
Neil taking a mid day nap by a nice warm fire on the Grand Cascapedia.

Later that evening, back in town, I listened to a message from the Bonaventure ZEC saying I had won Sector E for Monday. I've heard stories about the beauty of Sector E and there were bound to be fish up there. But it requires an ATV to access the upper pools plus it's pretty isolated—not exactly a place you want to fish alone for the first time. I'm not sure what to do.... I could fish the Nouvelle? Boni open water? Petite open? I decide to sleep on it and make a decision in the morning. I had till 9 am to pay for my water.

After a big early breakfast I decide I'm going to stay and fish Monday on Sector E of the Boni. I get in touch with J. P. Tessier, a local guide who I've met a couple of times. He has an ATV plus a canoe and is well equipped to take you fishing just about anywhere :). Turns out he's free so we make plans to meet early the following morning.

So, now I had plans for Monday, but still didn't know what I was doing today. After washing up, I decide to take a short nap. 3 hours later, I wake up. Yikes! I drove 14 hours for a long weekend of fishing. Damned if I was going to take it easy today. There were salmon out there just waiting to take my fly :). Since Boni open water was close by, I decided to get a half day fishing pass.

I get to the Boni shortly after 3 pm and head to a pool I had fished by myself last fall. There's a car parked in the lot and a tent set up on far bank but I don't see anyone fishing. As I'm gearing up, two anglers come out of the tent and cross the river. As they get closer, I realize it's two women. I wave and say bonjour. It's great to see other women salmon fishing! They wave back before heading to the car and driving off.

As much as I enjoy the comaraderie of fishing with friends, I relish the times when I fish alone. It's hard to describe the zen and intangible connection you feel with your surroundings. Not long after I start swinging, a salmon announced its presence in the middle of the run with an acrobatic leap. I took my time fishing down to it, covering every inch of water methodically. I was finally casting well and reaching the far bank with my fly and leader turning over perfectly. If the salmon was a taker, it was definitely going to take my fly.... :)

Well, it didn't—at least not on the first pass. I fished out the run, went back to the top, changed flies, and swung through one more time. Second time and second fly was a charm. She took it! She was a leaper, a graceful ballerina. I swear she jumped and pirouetted at least 6 times if not more! As I'm fighting her, I'm also playing out in my head, how to land her by myself.

But not long after I hooked her, a car door slams. The two female anglers I'd seen earlier had returned. I asked if they could tail my salmon for me and they gladly agreed. As I tired her out and brought her closer one of the anglers went into position to tail it. Just before she attempted to grab the leader, I yelled out, "please don't grab the leader. I will drop the fish towards you. Just grab hold of the tail." She understood and with her help, I landed my second salmon of the trip. It was a lovely hen, just starting to change into her fall colors. Thanks again Marie of Bonaventure for tailing my salmon and for the photo!

Hyun with a beautiful salmon (hen) from the Bonaventure. She was a jumper!
My Boni saumon. She was a jumper! Bonaventure river

Needless to say, I was on cloud nine. I could have stayed and fished the run again but I left it for Marie and her friend and wished them both luck. It was only 4:30 pm so I did a little reconnaissance for my next trip and checked out a pool I've never fished before. There was one other angler there. I made one pass and called it a day.

Sector E

Sector E turned out to be just as beautiful as I've heard. The Boni becomes more intimate the further up you go. Riding the ATV to the top pools was an adventure with the warm breeze in your face, the sweet intoxicating smell of pines.... Riding while holding 2 fully assembled rods, including a 13 ft. spey rod through the very narrow trails was a bit challenging. They should consider making rod mounts for ATVs ;).

The beauty, color, and clarity of the Bonaventure river will never cease to amaze me. A gorgeous pool in Sector E.
The beauty, color, and clarity of the Bonaventure river will never cease to amaze me. A gorgeous pool in Sector E.
J.P. Tessier on the ATV. Riding on it to the upper pools in Sector E was an adventure! Bonaventure River
J.P. on his ATV. Riding on it to the upper pools in Sector E was an adventure! Bonaventure River

The previous 3 days had been on the cooler side. Unfortunately, my last day had bluebird skies and super warm temps (over 80 degrees). It would have been great to wet wade except for the bugs. They were relentless and they always love me, even with repellent on. I had to cover up from head to toe using the hood of my hoody and my buff as a face mask.

We only fished 3 pools in Sector E but we fished them hard—both swinging flies and drifting dries. I had one salmon chase and grab my stripped fly at one pool in the morning but couldn't get a hook set. That was pretty much it till later that evening when a feisty grilse took one of the salmon flies that I had tied, which was definitely satisfying.

Several atlantic salmon hanging out in the clear waters of the Bonaventure River.
How many salmon can you spot? Unfortunately, none were takers. Bonaventure River.

J.P. Tessier by the fire. Bonaventure River
J.P. built a lovely fire to help keep the bugs away once it got cooler. Bonaventure River

I've never caught a grilse before or seen one close up in person. They are super cute with their pointy faces. I tried tickling its belly to get it to relax so I could scoop it up with one hand, but I'm going to need some more practice with that maneuver :).

A cute Bonaventure salmon grilse. I love their pointy faces.
A cute Bonaventure grilse. I love their pointy faces.
Hyun releasing a Bonaventure salmon grilse.
Hope to see you again when you're all grown up :). Bonaventure River.

There was still an hour+ of daylight left but I was content. I'd had an unbelievable weekend—a sweet grilse to top off 3 and a half days of amazing fishing. Plus, I had a long drive ahead.

I thanked J.P. for a great day and hit the road a little after 8 pm. I hoped to cross the border before taking a nap in the car but that didn't work out as planned. Less than two hours later, I was struggling to keep my eyes open and on the road. I was once again in moose country and that was dangerous. I pulled over in a semi rural/suburban area and parked by a big field. There were a few houses nearby, one just down the road. It seemed safe, quiet, and secluded. This time around, despite being pretty cold, I had no trouble falling asleep.

About an hour later, I awoke to the sound of knocking on my window and a bright light shining into my eyes. There was a policeman standing outside the driver's side window with a flashlight in his hand. As I became more awake, I noticed there was a pretty light show outside. I uprighted the seat, fumbled around for the car key, and turned the engine on so I could roll down the window.

He asked for license and registration. Still half asleep, I again fumbled around looking for both before handing them over. I thought, oh great! I'll be asked to get out of the car and it will be searched again LOL. I asked him if I'd done anything wrong? He replied he had been dispatched to check out a possible stolen car. I explained that I was driving back to NYC from the Gaspesie after several days of salmon fishing. That after a long day of fishing I was too tired to keep my eyes open so I pulled over to take a short nap.

He peered into the back of the car with his flashlight—wet waders draped over the back head rest to dry, muddy fishing boots on the floor, half disassembled fly rods.... He asked if I had had any luck. I replied rather excitedly, "yes! I landed 2 salmon and a grilse!" He smiled, returned my license and registration, and suggested I take more than a short nap before driving back since there had been several moose sightings recently. I thanked him, went back to sleep, and woke up 3 hours later. Feeling refreshed, I resumed my 11-hour journey back home.

When I think about the weekend, logically, it all sounds so crazy!

But, it was soooooooo worth it! :)

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