albany river log
My Albany River adventure was beyond my wildest dreams. The folks at Wilderness North took care to make this the adventure of a lifetime. I made new friends, learned new skills and finally caught my dream brookie. Here is a day by day log to walk you through it. If you are interested in your own Albany/Keezhik River adventure, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can hook you up.
Day 1 - Border Crossing
My family dropped me off at National Airport in DC (many locals still don't call is Reagan yet) and after being treated like a cow and being searched prodded and puffed (they have a bomb sniffing thingy that blows air all over you body, kind of stimulating!) I settled into a long flight to Minneapolis...with a 400lb man crammed into the window seat next to me. He was soft like a pillow (a big sweaty, fleshy, snoring pillow) so I put on the ipod and pretended to be smaller than I really am.
The flight from Minneapolis to Thunder Bay was a stark contrast. The entire flight was filled with crazy people who had been delayed due to a flight cancellation the previous day. They were very punchy. The plane was a crappy prop plane that looked like it was on its last leg. It was a blast. I love meeting people and this was more of the adventure I had hoped for. They harrassed the flight staff for free drinks and were rowdy nearly the entire flight. We hit major turbulence and that only fueled the fire.
After the plane touched down I headed into immigrations where more surprises awaited. If you haven't been to Canada lately the process of entering is a little more thorough than it was back in the 80s. Still, no bomb sniffing device and the customs officers had a wonderful demeanor about them. I got held up because I run a commercial fishing website and they quizzed me about the purpose of my trip in a special room. I said I was just going to fish, when the officer asked me what type of fishing and I replied "fly-fishing" he grinned and said "good!" Somehow I knew I was getting in to Canada. Because I own a fishing web site and I was coming to check out some facilities he said he needed to issue a temporary Visa. He pulled out a polaroid and asked me to say "speckled trout" and snapped a nice shot for my paperwork which will make a great souvenir. I was off the the Valhalla hotel and tying flies in no time! Everyone along the way was freakishly polite and nice. I guess I forgot what civility looked like.
Day 2 - Arrive at the Lodge and Land Some Pike
Time to fly to the lodge. I met the other folks headed to the lodge in the hotel lobby in the morning. They were an extremely nice family that were planning on fishing for walleye and pike while I pursued my brook trout dreams. A van service took us to the Thunder Bay sea plane base where we awaited our plane. When it arrived a group of weary and happy anglers got off the plane and wished us luck and we were on our way. As we flew we slowly watch the roads dwindle to dirt trails and then nothing but vast wilderness. I even saw a moose wallowing in the water below. The kids on the trip took turns sitting in the copilot seat while the rest of us talked about fishing adventures past and present.
When we arrived I got my gear to my room and was told that my native guide hadn't arrived yet. They sent me out with a guy named Rob who worked at the Lodge. At first I was a little concerned but then I quickly realized that EVERYONE at the lodge fishes a ridiculous amount. He was great and put me on my first pike on the fly within 10 minutes and we continued to catch and lose fish all evening until dinner. Rob took me out again after dinner and I soon began to realize that the sun doesn't set this far north until around 10:45 in the evening and you can actually fish until just before midnight. Overall I caught about 20 pike the first day. Not bad considering we arrived after lunchtime! My face hurts now from smiling.
Day 3 - First Brook Trout Adventure
By Wednesday morning my native guide Izhak had arrived via boat and agreed to put me on some brook trout. What followed was the most challenging day of fly fishing I have ever experienced. I was standing on a boat casting as Izhak adeptly maneuvered the boat around some very hairy rapids. The brook trout in this area need to stay in very fast moving water to protect themselves from pike. This makes for some challenging fishing but with some persistence we managed to hook six nice trout and break off a very nice trout because I was too excited to play it properly in the rapids. As soon as it breached I just lost it. It was a whale! I did get a chance to break out the dries on the upper side of some treacherous falls. Did a little wet wading and managed to hook a few on a black stimulator and give Izhak a quick fly casting lesson. It took him about 15 minutes to be a proficient caster. Didn't surprise me at all. We didn't return to the lodge until late at night and I ate dinner and tied as many flies as I could to get ready for filming the next day.
Day 4 - Rod Busting Pike
Day 4 was slated as a Pike day and we motored about the flats and inlets chasing these beasts. It was an overcast day day with some periods of rain. The weather wasn't great for filming but it was fantastic for fishing and the pike and walleye cooperated. Savage strikes and fun fishing water. This session ended when my 8 weight shattered from all the wear and tear (I think the blank may have been defective). I could see the relief in the eyes of the film crew. I can't imagine how boring it must have been to follow me around for the entire day. At least Dave the camera guy managed to land a really nice pike of his own on one of the back creeks.
The highlight of the day was an evening trip with Rob. He took me out around 10pm. It sounded crazy at first but once we got out there and started nailing the walleye under the stars it made a lot of sense. Being a city dweller I never get to see the stars so this was a real treat. The sky was just lit up and we were entertained by non-stop walleye strikes only a couple hundred yards from the lodge. I slept well and got ready for my trip to the Keezhik River in the morning.
Day 5 - Keezhik River
Day 5 was really the highlight of the whole trip. I have dreamed of catching a trophy brook trout since I saw enormous mounts of monster brook trout at the outdoors shows in my home state of Pennsylvania. After chasing little native brookies with my Eagle Claw 5'6" 5wt on a dry fly I had a hard time imagining these beasts were real. Now I was headed to water that held fish at least this big.
With canoes strapped to the pontoons, the plane took us to a lake along the Keezhik and dropped us off with the film crew and our native guide, Thomas. We paddled to the river and hit the first set of rapids where we did some filming. The water looked fishy but the trout were not cooperating just yet. As we ventured downstream a bit though, the trout turned on in the small pockets around the rapids. I snapped one off and lost one. Both fish left my knees shaking. These were clearly MUCH larger than your typical Appalachian brook trout. I quickly realized that the fish were hanging in deeper, faster water and switched over to a heavily weighted fly. The first really fishy hole didn't produce but when we saw a 50" pike hanging close by we got our first clue why. The brook trout in this area live by different rules. Instead of fearing just overhead predators, they need to stay clear of these savage pike too.
We hit a large rapid that formed where the river dumped into a flat area. Very accessible, deep and fast. It was just perfect. I dropped the weighted fly in the rapids and did the "back-and-forth" tug for a few rounds and the rod bent in half. It pumped furiously, just like the brook trout back home, only huge! I didn't think my heart could beat that fast and after a few minutes of playing this beast we tailed my dream trout. Since the trip I have been waking up in a cold sweat every night as I set the hook on this monster. I needed to take a break after this to get myself together. Once I had recovered we pressed on. The fishing that day wasn't fantastic but it didn't matter at this point. I felt great. The film crew left early to avoid an approaching rain shower. This put the fish down for a bit but after a couple of hours we started hitting them again. And boy did we hit them! With a borrowed rod (a garage special that Gord Ellis had sent to the lodge), a 15' length of RIO T-14 sinking tip on a shooting line and a conehead rabbit strip muddler we hooked and landed trout after trout! At the end of the day we piled back into the canoe and shot the rapids back to Lake Miminiska. What an adventure! Back at the lodge Rob broke out his old Martin guitar and a mandolin and we jammed in the living room of the lodge until I couldn't keep my eyes open.
Day 6 - Coming Home
There was only one bad day on this trip. I have never been so sad about ending a fishing trip. Although I was homesick and missed my family (especially my little fly fisherman back home) It was tough getting back on the plane and heading to civilization. This was an amazing experience and I can't wait to get back. Truly a no-brainer. Beg, borrow or steal to get here. If like me you have been dodging crowded streams and working like a dog to catch a few trout here and there, you must experience this type of untouched wilderness. Many of these trout have never seen a fly...or a human! And when you no longer have the energy to chase the tricky brookies you can hit the pike and walleye from the comfort of the flat water near the lodge.
Thanks to all the folks at Wilderness North for such a great experience. I look forward to seeing you all again very soon. This was the dream adventure I had hoped for and more.