TRL staff and guests have been fortunate to have made friends with Kathy Scott and her husband, David Van Burgel, during two summer seasons. Many of you know Kathy from her books and perhaps you know David’s reputation as an artist of cane rod creation. I feel inadequately qualified to comment on any writer’s work, especially Kathy’s, but I will say that reading any of her four books is addictive because each spawns that bright, suddenly realized anticipation, usually during or just after supper – typically on a cold, nasty winter’s evening, that in just a few moments when the chores are finished and the dog has been let out, you will brush your teeth, scoot into your flannels and under the comforter, slip on your glasses and find your place in a magical book – a sudden salve for the day’s stress wounds, a journey to a place that just fits your soul.
Those of you who have travelled to Labrador (or any boreal wilderness for that matter) will recall the memory of those first impressions through Kathy’s description of her first glimpses of the wild:
The pilot met us at the end of the dock, plane side.
“I need to load you according to size,” he said. We all laughed as David, Fred, and I stepped aside, and everyone made Doug board first. He was directed into the co-pilot’s seat, best seat in the house. Then we filed in one after another, left and right, everyone with a window seat, luggage secured fore and aft. We taxied farther out onto the lake, revved the engine up and down, and up and down, then brought it up to full roaring speed again. We taxied again until David leaned across from his seat, his mouth near my ear, to tell me that we were in the air. I couldn’t have guessed by the ride or the height over the water. We slowly climbed above the lake, above the black spruce, out of sight of the Wabush mine, and turned Northeast.
At that moment, there was no place on Earth I’d rather be.
The roar of the Otter’s engine prevented much conversation, but the important things were obvious. Fred, behind me, pointed out a black bear not that far below. David pointed to caribou trails worn though the moss on an esker. The ceiling held at 600 feet, cloudy as promised, but we flew gracefully below it. The land rose up nearer the plane as we shouldered the only real mountain between us and the Woods River system. The white, blue and green flag of Labrador was inspired by all of this, a sprig of black spruce, the wealth of lakes and rivers, the simplicity of the wild landscape.
Endless dark spruce gave way to a sparser look, nudging the tree line. Caribou moss, really a lichen, carpeted openings in a light yellowish green, alders and willow shrubs a medium, brushy green. Granite from the roots of time emerged here and there, still fresh, and the patterns of muskeg and water decorated broad expanses. Lakes, lakes, everywhere, and beautiful rivers, some like mirrors, some roaring and exciting. Bogs with pools, then arching rock whalebacks. Braided caribou trails etched onto the landscape. I leaned on the daypack on my lap and rested my forehead against the window, my chin on my hand. For 150 miles, it was impossible to look away.
Then her run-in with a big ‘Labrador Red’:
From my good solid rock, a flat granite boulder on the brink of very deep and very fast water, I started to piece things together. The depth of the water a foot away made for a smooth run about twenty feet long and ten feet wide. Above and below it, jutting boulders turned the water into white standing waves. What lay in the depths below them, a deep secret. Anything that moved into the run, fish or fly, would in in plain view. Reasoning that the fish wouldn’t want to be seen and that the weather was uncommonly warm, I guessed that the clear water would only hold fish very deep, and, even so, I should be able to see them. I couldn’t. That meant the fish, if there were fish, and Anthony said there were, must be under the shield of the turbulence.
That same rough water would mask a sloppy cast. For a choice of flies, I decided to start with a dry, something I do fairly well, and drop a Royal Wulff in the last moment of whitewater upstream, let it drift across the glassy water, and retrieve it as it disappeared below in the froth. I double checked my knot, finally hooking the fly on a ring on my vest and giving it a tug. The 2X tippet held tight. I lofted my line into the air, judged the distance, and sent it into the backcast, only to snarl the leader in a willow behind me. Even without Anthony, I could make it back to shore balanced with my wading staff to unhook it. I tested the knot again once I reclaimed my big rock, and carefully false cast twice, then set the dry down roughly where I’d hoped. I didn’t breathe as it floated quickly past me. At least I had a better idea of the real time it took to travel past, I thought, and cast it again. I knew nothing was rising and that the brook trout seemed deep, so I wasn’t worried. Plan B was to fish an olive conehead woolly bugger, Anthony’s idea. I managed not to hook it behind me but did have to duck once as it sped by. Finally, I mastered the micro-climate of wind and water that is fishing in rapids and plunked it into the head of the run, then stripped it back from the base. On the third try, I noticed something following it as it reappeared under the glass. The brook trout was just so big, I hadn’t really recognized it before.
Anthony had moved out to retrieve David about the time I decided the fly had turned cold, and switched to the same pattern in black. I also decided to get a bit bolder with my casting, tested the close water again just in case, then put all of my arm into both the back and forward casts, hurling the 8-weight line with the bugger across the pool into the whitewater, letting the fly sink and race down with the current towards the rocks below, and stripping it back fast.
Twice, a magnificent trout followed it back to my feet, where I ran out of room to strip. I was excited.
David and Anthony arrived, and Anthony was very patient with my story.
“Did you see it? Was it really a trout?” he asked. David had hooked two northern pike accidentally when he was wading upstream. They were around.
Fortunately, both David and Anthony were still close enough to witness the bend in my rod and the beautiful, probably three pound trout I pulled into view. No one ever explains how to land these things, and I was suddenly at a loss. Should I let this one run back into the fast water, the strong current? That didn’t seem wise. But it was deep and almost directly below me, and not giving way.
“Feel free to tell me what to do,” I called out.
Anthony was at my elbow, net ready, when a brook trout that made mine look like a minnow showed up, and we watched down through the glass window of the pool as it bullied its way over, grabbed the protruding end of my black woolly bugger, and jerked the barbless fly out of my trout’s mouth.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” This was from Anthony, not me, though he took the words out of my mouth. “I’d heard about this before, but that was something!”
So thank you, Kathy, for sharing your heart.