Swimming with “Michael Phelps”

Libby came to TRL all the way from California to fish Labrador with her pops and a camp full of his friends. They were a rowdy bunch, fun-loving, story-telling, and  determined to fill each day with camaraderie. When it came to thoroughly enjoying their tenth trip to TRL, they left nothing on the table (except maybe a few bottles of fine potables). Most of the fellows were talented fly anglers, but Libby had only been on the river a time or two before she arrived in camp, eager to improve and determined to keep up with the more experienced anglers.

The weather that week was pretty good by Labrador standards, mixed skies with alternating sunny periods and big, white cumulous clouds.  Occasionally, a cloud with a gray bottom would bring a short-lived shower. This time in mid-July, the water was a touch warm, heated by June’s unusual hot spell.  But cooler days came and, together with intermittent rain, the water temps dropped back down into the high 50s, perfect for stirring the appetite of our brookies.

Labrador Skies

Libby went at the fishing all day, every day. Out on the various rapids, she had lots of hook-ups, but couldn’t get the hang of keeping the larger fish on the line. That’s fairly typical of Labrador rookies. Like most endeavors in life, experience tends to bring greater rewards.  Libby was a quick study and she learned her lessons well, practicing on the smaller fish. Slowly through the week, she landed more and more brook trout.

After one such day, Libby and her friend Missy returned in the float plane from Upper Rick’s, a little run of rapids up in the headwaters of the Woods River. Its a great place for newer anglers – easy to wade and filled with brookies from 10″ to 4 pounds.

Docking the Plane

The ladies’ stories confirmed a delightful day with lots of fish, but they had been scheming another plan to pull on the camp upon their return. “We had a wonderful day,” Libby and Missy declared climbing out of the float plane, faces smiling. “Lots of fish and big fish, too. And you’ll never guess what we caught the big ones on!” She pulled a folded napkin from her waders, opened it and pulled out a three-inch red and white daredevil. “This,” she grinned. “Screw your flies!”

Their friends and guides there meeting the plane were appalled. “What the #$%!” Pat screamed. “How’d you fish it? You don’t have a spin rod.”

“We just tied it onto our fly leader and pulled in every big trout in the run,” Libby declared, still smiling ear to ear.

“That’s right,” said Missy. “Thing works like a charm!”

The boys on the dock were shocked. “No way,” someone shouted. “You can’t do that! This is fly fishing water!”

The girls had pulled off their prank perfectly. Turns out they had found the daredevil hanging on an alder overlooking the run. Guide Byron had left it there the week before after guide Michel had stored it in his fly box to embarrass him in front of his sports. When Libby and Missy found the lure, their scheme was hatched.

On Thursday, her last day of fishing, Libby went down to the “Unknown Rapids” with friends Jordan, an accomplished fly angler and rod maker, and David, another fine fisherman. I was lucky enough to be one of their two guides.  Michel was the other guide and he fished the morning with Libby and Jordan while I ferried David around the deeper pools on the far side of the rapids, often clinging cross-armed to the bow of the canoe as we drifted through the deeper pools, toe-searching for the shallower riffles. Across the rapids, Libby hooked up with two big brook trout and we were summoned to look by the whoops from Michel and Jordan.  She lost both fish at the net.

After a shore lunch by a welcomed twig fire, it was my turn with Libby and Jordan. Jordan had been shooting pictures and video most of the morning and working as hard as the guides to get his buddies onto fish. We started the afternoon’s fishing in the honey hole beside the lunch bar. David hooked and landed several more nice brookies on a Royal Wulff, but Libby wasn’t faring as well.

One of a David’s Dozen

Jordan and I got Libby out to a large flat rock fifty or so feet from the shoreline. Jordan suggested that she swim a mouse and pulled out a neat little pattern made from concentric layers of sheet foam, with the obligatory tail, whiskers and eyes of course. It was a high floater. Libby, improving her casting with each day on the water, put the mouse out about thirty feet in front of her in a perfect spot where current to the left and a pool on the right formed an enticing, fishy-looking seam. As soon as the mouse plopped onto the water, big red rolled on it, but missed.

“Swim it! swim, swim, swim!” Jordan shouted.  And again the big brookie rolled, but no dice.

“Swim it, Libby, swim, swim!” Libby rattled her rod tip and the mouse skittered over the water. “Faster, faster. Swim it, Libby!”

“Who the hell do you think he is,” Libby laughed, “Michael Phelps?”

With that, the big brook trout came out of the water and inhaled “Michael” going down. Libby lifted and he was on. Glee rang out. Never was there a happier flock of anglers and guides. David and Michel spun around from their position downstream to watch the fight. Jordan fired up the Nikon, shooting video. I slid my butt down the front of the rock with big net in hand, determined that Libby would land this big brookie.

The trout ran, tugged and banged around the bottom rocks, but Libby kept the line tight, took her time, and got the fish on the reel. The drag whined. Then Libby took slack as she could. The reel sung again. Shortly, she had him sufficiently worn down to guide him close to the awaiting net. I only had a side shot, but took it and scooped. Missed! The trout ran again. Anxiety set in! “Not again,” I mumbled. But hey, the fight was still on, the fish still connected. A couple of more minutes of tussle and I had another chance. Holding the net just above the water, Libby got the trout’s nose toward me this time and I speared the hoop beneath him and lifted a big five pounder.  Libby’s grin, still etched in my mind’s eye, held immense joy, deepest satisfaction. I seem to remember she even did a little dance on the rock. Victory, sweet victory. Libby had her first five pounder!

“Michael” ended this fishing day a bit chewed up, but wearing gold around his leather ears. Three medals, one for each five pounder Libby fought and landed. She was a proud lady, but not near so much as her dad when she returned to camp to tell the tale. Libby’s success and the great days the other anglers enjoyed swept into the evening. “Michael” was passed from hand to hand for close inspection of his bite-mark wounds. Dinner, laughter and horseshoes on the lawn were all just good venues to share tales and back slaps.

Libby on the Lawn

On the Stob

The jubilation continued well into the night. It ended in the tilt with a shooting contest with Nerf pistols, their darts aimed at mounted trout, pictures and plastic cups (both stationary and flying through the room). Even old Mister Caribou took a few off the nose. Though the room was filled with well-heeled sportsmen, Libby took the honors as the crack marksman. Who else? It was her day. (With a small nod to “Michael”.)

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