I’ve been blessed with many great fishing adventures, primarily in Montana, Alaska, Quebec and Labrador. Of course, most of my fishing time is spent in Maine, where I began as a young boy hauling home buckets of white perch, eventually moving on to catch great brook trout and landlocked salmon in the rivers in the Rangeley region, and, after we purchased our camp on Sourdnahunk Lake, focusing on our native and wild trout in and around Baxter Park, while catching lots of smallmouth bass in waters around our home in Mount Vernon.
In this column, I’m going to tell you about my favorite fishing adventures, starting in Montana, where Maine native Joe Sowerby owns Montana Fly Fishing Connection. Joe is my favorite fishing guide, and anytime I could sign up for a conference in Montana, I did it, staying after the conference concluded to fish with Joe.
While we fished all over Montana, my very favorite experience was a 5 day float through the Smith River canyon. This is a beautiful canyon and small river. We tented out, floating and fishing a new section of river each day, while one guide took our tents and gear downriver and set everything up for us, including a bar right on the shore of the river.
On Day One, Joe told us if the water was over our ankles, we were standing in the fish. And we were! They hovered very close to the shore in the shallows. We caught many many brown trout, and many were sizeable. My most memorable was a 7 pound trout which leaped out of the water, only to be caught in the air by Joe in his net. Wow! That was a sight.
One really hot day another angler and I, after arriving at our final destination, grabbed a cold beer and walked into the river, sitting down in the water, leaning up against a big boulder. Twenty minutes later, Joe came out with hot hors d’oeuvres for us. Now, that’s really great guiding!
My good friend Les Priest once had a travel business focused on lodges in Alaska, and he took me, twice, to Alaska to visit many of the lodges he represented. We had some amazing adventures. I caught all of the various kinds of salmon, an 85 pound Halibut, lots of Dolly Varden trout, rainbows, and greyling.
I had a great experience one night fishing for grayling. We were 100 miles up the Yetna River, in a very remote sporting camp situated on a small pond. After supper the first night, they gave me a small dry fly and sent me out in a canoe. In an hour, I caught 43 greyling, and got so excited I knocked my glasses into the pond and lost them.
I have two all-time favorite angling experiences in Alaska to tell you about. One was a 5-day float of the Karluc River on Kodiac Island. We caught King salmon up to 35 pounds all day long, and had many close encounters with bears.”
There was daylight for about 17 hours a day, and I fished them all. A guide would stand behind me with a gun, watching for bears, and eventually he’d say, “George, I can’t see behind you, so you’ve got to stop fishing.” And I’d head for my tent.
The portable toilet was placed outside the tent, in an alder patch. One morning after finishing up my business there, I stood up to pull up my pants, and turned around to see a giant bear walking behind the toilet, about 30 yards away. If he’d walked past me while I was on the toilet, I wouldn’t have had to go to the bathroom for a week!
My other all-time favorite Alaska fishing adventure was the time I took my wife Linda to Rainbow River Lodge. I’d met the owner at a couple of national conventions, and he offered us a free trip, in return for starring in a promotional video for him. I also wrote a lot of stories for his new website.
We flew out each day to a river to fish for silver salmon and/or rainbow trout. The Kamishak, where we fished two days for silvers, was very busy with bears. We saw about 2 dozen a day, some fishing in the same pools with us. Luckily, they were catching lots of fish and never bothered us.
I deliberately selected August for that trip, because silver salmon are my favorites. They run up to 12 pounds, fight like crazy, and leap out of the water a lot. One day Linda got so tired of reeling them in that we moved further up river to catch Dolly Varden trout – which only got up to about 5 pounds.
On the rainbow rivers, I caught trout up to 10 pounds. We fished one larger river and one really small stream. Rainbows were everywhere. You could see them, pick one out, and cast to it and catch it.
When Harvey Calden, who owns Tim Pond Camps with his wife Betty, owned Little Minipi Camps in Labrador, he invited me to fish there with my teen-age son Joshua. That was another wonderful adventure.
The river is fairly small and we caught nice brookies every day up to 8 pounds. Josh would tie flies each night for all the anglers, and it was a trip neither of us will ever forget.
I’m going to finish this with two trips to Quebec. The first, with my friend Harry Vanderweide and his business partner Andy Collar, was to Mistassini Lake, the largest lake in Quebec, 2,335 kilometers of surface area. We stayed in camps owned by the Cree Indians, and caught mostly pike and walleyes.
One day we boated 50 miles to a bay at the northern end of the lake and caught dozens of huge pike. Harry reeled one in that had grabbed his lure but was not hooked. That fish just refused to give up the lure!
That was the trip where I fell in love with Walleyes, a very tasty fish. The day we were supposed to fly from Mistassini to the Rupert River, I asked my young Cree guide to take me Walleye fishing one more time. Well, the fishing was fast and furious, and I stayed a bit too long. On the boat ride back, my guide pointed up in the sky to a float plane and said, “George, I think that’s your plane.” And sure enough, Harry and Andy had left without me!
I had to boat 50 miles across the lake to the Cree camps at the mouth of the Rupert River, where Harry and Andy were sitting on the deck of a cabin, enjoying a great laugh when I arrived. There were no Crees there, a big surprise, but we made our own dinner in the lodge, and the next morning they all returned. They gone to their village for a funeral. We caught more pike and walleyes in the river, along with some nice brook trout. And our Cree guide cooked some amazing shore lunches of walleye.
And now, to finish up, I’ll tell you about my favorite place outside of Maine to fish: the Leaf River in far northern Quebec. These camps are on open arctic tundra, very remote. The first two times, I went with Harry to do TV shows. I went a third time by myself.
The camps don’t open ‘til mid-August and offer fishing for just two weeks. Then they start hunting Caribou. The first time Harry and I went we saw 10,000 Caribou. They migrated across the tops of the mountains single file, and swam across the river while we were fishing there.
The Leaf is loaded with eager brook trout (up to 4 pounds) and huge lake trout. I’ve also caught Atlantic salmon there. They have exclusive use of 65 miles of river, and you and one other angler fish a different section every day. I believe I caught 300 fish the first trip. We also saw musk ox and lots of wolves, some right around our camps.
But, as a brook trout man, those were the fish that are most memorable to me. One time I was fishing a pool filled with trout while Harry was up river shooting some video. I could see many of the fish, and would choose one and cast to it.
At one point I caught a heavy trout, fought him for 10 minutes, then he broke off. I forget the fly, but it was the only one of its kind that I had, so I tied on something else and kept fishing. About a half hour later, I caught another big one, and that time I managed to reel him all the way in. In one corner of his mouth he had my current fly, and in the other hung the fly I’d lost!
One time I released a laker, and caught him again on the very next cast!
Well, let’s end this with one of my most important fishing experiences, right here in Maine. I took my then 6-year-old grandson Vishal to a favorite pool on Sourdahunk Stream, carrying him across the stream so we could hike to this spot.
I would cast the fly line and hand the rod to Vishal who would hook and land the fish. We caught a fish on the first cast, and after separating it from the hook, I handed it to V, who was bent over next to me, and told him he could release it. He stood up quickly and heaved the fish like a football, out into the stream.
“Well, V,” I said, “I think I need to show you how to do that.” He got the hang of it right away. Our 25th trout was a big one, and after he carefully released the fish, V looked up at me and said, “Grampy, we’re both very happy!”
Boy, he got that right.