A trip to Quebec one summer showed what tourism can offer an economy when done right, and also provided an opportunity to step back in time with the Cree Indians.
I was a guest on a fishing trip with Harry Vanderweide and Andy Collar of Ursus Productions in Waterville. They were doing television shows for Quebec Tourism, and we got sidetracked for a day when our flight out of Montreal to Chibougamau was delayed from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm.
That turned out to be a blessing, because I got to see the old section of Montreal for the first time. Although Montreal is only four hours from my home, I’d never visited. It didn’t take long, after this trip, to return to Montreal with my wife.
Featuring a working waterfront, fascinating and well-kept historic buildings, great restaurants, lots of shops offering crafts, art, and more – even an Imax theater and what appeared to be the world’s largest flea market full of books. I could have spent all day just at the book market.
I noted that the restaurants and hotels were full. It’s a great city for walking, and the bus and subway system is excellent.
Off the beaten path
The next day I entered another world in Mistissini, where the Cree Nation balances between old traditions and a new existence never dreamed by even their most recent ancestors. The Cree live in a modern village with all the modern problems of today’s society.
A short float plane ride moved us further back in time, halfway up Lake Mistissini, the largest in Quebec, to Osprey Excursions Camp. Newly constructed over the last five years, the camp is well run by the Cree, whose guides, cooks, and service staff share a jovial sense of humor.
We weren’t exactly roughing it. Osprey Camp features gourmet food, hot showers, flush toilets, and wonderful cabins. It is modern in every sense.
But we did learn a lot about the Cree history and got a glimpse back in time watching the Cree smoke piles of lake trout filets in the traditional manner and participating in an incredible feast on our last night at the camp. With 16 guests, guides, owners and managers seated around a large table in a colorful teepee, we enjoyed a traditional Cree meal featuring moose and caribou stroganoff, caribou meat pie, and a 16-pound lake trout. I would be lying if I said I did not overeat. I had three pieces of the meat pie just to be sure it was as good as I thought when I ate the first piece.
Too much fun
Fishing enthusiasts will want to know that we caught brook trout, lake trout, walleye, and pike at this camp, which is known for its lake trout (we saw one over 30 pounds). But this is the place I became a walleye man. If there is a better tasting fish, I’ve never had it. And they are plentiful and easy to catch.
Guests of the camp have the entire northern end of this 130-mile long lake full of fish to themselves. One morning we boated 50 miles all the way up to the northern end of the lake, and hauled in pike one after another after another in a small cover where the water was only about 10 feet deep. Harry even caught one that had grabbed his lure sideways. It wouldn’t let go even though it wasn’t hooked!
The morning we were scheduled to fly on to another Cree camp on the Rupert River, I convinced my young Cree guide to take me walleye fishing. We motored down the lake to a good spot where I caught dozens of fish – so many that I hated to leave. We were scheduled to fly out at noon, and we did cut it close. As we were motoring down the lake toward camp, my guide looked up and said, “George, I think that is your plane.” Yes, Harry and Andy had left without me! I had to motor 50 miles across the lake to catch up with them at the Louis Jolliet Camp on the Rupert River.
This was a more traditional set of camps set on a high bluff above the river. The first night, there was no one there. We were pretty sure they were expecting us, and couldn’t imagine what happened. But we moved into a cabin, cooked our own dinner in the lodge, and turned in for the night. In the morning, the entire staff motored in. They had returned to the village for a funeral.
While Harry caught a 5-pound brook trout in the river, and we hauled in sizeable lake trout too, and enjoyed more shore lunches with those tasty walleyes, it is here that I became obsessed with northern pike. Pike strike viciously, fight tenaciously, and appear prehistorically fierce. I loved them.
Once, reeling in a walleye, I discovered an 8-pound-pike attached sideways to my walleye. The pike would not let go and finned beside the boat while I took photographs. Eventually I pulled the hook from the walleye and let the pike have his meal. That was one tenacious fish.
This camp offers the kind of river fishing I can only dream about here in Maine, a mix of species and a setting that is every angler’s fantasy. While there, we were the only ones on the river. It is reserved for guests of the camp and the Cree Nation.
As we sat in the modern dining room at Jolliet Camp, a young Cree girl sang softly and beautifully in the kitchen. We lingered over our coffee, just to listen.
I could not understand the language, but you did not have to know the words to understand the timeless message it conveyed, in this very special place only a few hours from this hectic world we live in, but so far away, so far away.
This story is in my book, A Lifetime of Hunting & Fishing, published by North Country Press.