They say at first a fisherman wants to catch all the fish, and never can catch enough. Later on, as he becomes more mature in the sport, he wants to catch the biggest fish instead of the most. And finally, when he’s a seasoned angler, he wants to catch the TOUGH fish. Those individual fish that are hardest to catch, and the most challenging.
Guys my age didn’t watch Curt Gowdy and Lee Wulff cast their flies to Labrador Brook Trout on Saturday morning. In earnest, I can’t even tell you if ‘Saturday morning’ is accurate. But perhaps you’ve found the clip on youTUBE, cringed at how they once handled trout, and come away – some 50 years later – with goosebumps as I did. Though it doesn’t have the polish of Jako’s latest, that piece speaks to the timeless hallmarks of what we all seek and seek to be. Explore. Catch. Release.
Like my fellow from the Cowboy State notes, the seasoned seek the tough. Why? Because it’s hard, and hard yields fulfillment. These are the salt of stories that are worthy of Geirach’s pen, but stand only to be etched humbly into the silence around our campfires. This is so, because we have been taught to appreciate every flavor in the box without waste. I’ve stood on the platform for hours without a shot, been pushed off by torrents, and felt tension go slack on fish that will always haunt me. But I was there, I was a witness, and I’m the better for it.
Though I have so many places that I hope to experience while I am able, there are some already met where recurring dreams and fond memories magnetically hold on and won’t let go. Parks Highway, Alaska. Backcountry waters back home in Wyoming. Now, Labrador.
The heat of the New England summer had come early, and shallow waters, dismal flows, and no rains set the stage for another perpetual August. Instead of the usual fare – casting tiny soft hackles to hatchery trout – I seized an opportunity to take a trip into the wild North, where the last leg of my journey could be measured only in flight time from Labrador City.
The shadow of the float plane marked our progress across miles of untouched lands and waters until we reached the remote dock at 3 Rivers Lodge. Planks of weathered wood supported my first and last steps… leading me to and from a series of beautiful disasters that tested my spirit like a rod bent to its cork. This was no video game, but each arctic dawn was like a reset button. No matter what happened yesterday, today was clean slate.
I could write about huge pike slamming streamers, landing a 35″ Lake Trout on the fly, or of any number of the immaculate Brook Trout I had the privilege of catching, but as I reflect on the experience, the most challenging fish remains the most memorable.
Soaked to the bone and drying myself by the cabin’s wood fire, I was transfixed by my guide Anthony as he carved a figure from a block of wood. Boxes of Royal Wulff’s, mouse patterns, and Copper Johns dried on the window sill as flakes of wood he carved away fell to the tabletop. The block of scrap he had saved from the fire was evolving. Cut by cut, the beard and face emerged until the unique character of the Newfie Fisherman previously hidden in his mind stood forever displayed in the wood.
That day we had fished one of 3 Rivers’ finest gems – a rapid known for holding trophy Brook Trout. Slow fishing for most of the day turned hot as a storm developed on the horizon. In the course of the next hour, I hooked and lost seven of the largest trout I’d ever connected with in some of the toughest flows and conditions I’ve ever fished. The fish were big, strong, and smart, pulling me into a series of unwinnable situations as wind and rain whipped around us. I had one take me to my backing, only to run back upstream faster than I could recover line and keep tension. Another convinced me to overcorrect to keep him out of the heavy currents, letting him reach the safety of the Alders, where he pinned my flies in the branches and shook free. Several others schooled me between hard runs and quick changes between slack and current. Cast after cast, hookup after hookup, I was humbled by my opponents, and driven to a point when giving up seemed a worthy option. But Anthony kept me casting. Seeing a large, rising trout in the calm heart of the rapid, I tied on a mouse and casted it above the head of the run. Hard mend. Hard Mend. And the line came taught as the first I would land that day took my fly. Shivering from cold and adrenaline, I cast again, and quickly found myself connecting with a second, bigger fish.
Had I not had the opportunity to learn from the battles lost earlier that day, this 8 pound Brookie would have never found his way to my net.
In Labrador, it’s not about numbers. It’s not about size. Though BOTH are within daily reach. Labrador is a collection of unforgettable moments. I rode shotgun in a float plane that carried me away from payroll and politics. I walked a path carved by reindeer through a carpet of snowy lichens that grow only an inch every forty years. I commuted over silent waters to violent cascades where I couldn’t hear the sound of my own voice. And I caught fish of a lifetime before walking back across those weathered dock planks to journey home.
I launched my company when I couldn’t afford to – chasing the dream when it was most difficult. God bless those who listened to me vent through the tough spots, punched holes in flawed ideas, or gave me words I needed to hear to push on through the dark. “It’s tough in the streets.” Indeed my friend… indeed.
The more steps I’ve taken, the more clear that it’s ALWAYS tough, no matter the streets you live on. There is always risk, and there are always rewards for those with the stock to take them. But we are living stories marked by adventure and bookended by time and money. Cash has capped our beginnings, and time our ends.
Though efforts are no doubt easier if made at the ideal moment, waiting comes with inherent risk. More of one precious resource consistently means less of the other, and every day, bright and brilliant die with stories never told – stories that never were.
The high water mark exists when it’s still uncomfortable to write the check, but when your body and soul have the strength to stare risk in the face and give it the finger.
Ours is a generation taught to save and invest. And though I would never discourage or devalue the good that can come from being responsible with cash, I do believe in living along the way before you can’t any longer. Though Labrador may not be your personal cup of tea or within your range, I can say with absolute certainty that it’s an experience that will be best enjoyed by those who are ready to wade deep, hike into rarely touched waters, and boulder hop to reach hidden pockets.
The Seychelles, New Zealand, Christmas Island, Central America, Iceland, Patagonia… all amazing places, and each for different reasons. And as the films in the F3T continue to draw a brighter spotlight to these destinations, Labrador remains one of the best unkept secrets, and it’s closer than you’d think. Make sure it’s on your list – because it will always have a place on mine.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FLY FISHING FOR TROPHY BROOK TROUT, LAKE TROUT, NORTHERN PIKE, WHITEFISH, AND ARCTIC CHAR IN LABRADOR, I SUGGEST REACHING OUT TO ROBIN REEVE FROM THREE RIVERS LODGE.
Postscript – I’m a pack builder, an entrepreneur, and an outdoorsman. I’m not a professional writer – but though I don’t write for a living; I write about living. Scott