Trip to the North turns south



Readers may recall last week’s article about 5 of us fishermen heading north to Quebec to fish in Lake Ternay:  Attorney Mike Shepard (Mike S) and me from the Berkshires, Mike Miller and Carl Racie from Athol, MA and Gary Hebert from Richmond, NH (guys from the east).


When our plane landed on Lake Ternay and we got to the island, there were other people leaving who had spent the prior week fishing.  They said they caught some fish but the fishing was slow at times.   The weather had been very hot, the water warm and the fish were not moving into the rivers.


After unpacking our gear and grabbing a quick lunch, we got into a couple of 16 foot boats and crossed the lake a mile or so to fish the South Rapids (inlet to the lake) where we caught a few small brookies.  It was then that we noticed that we had only one guide for the five of us and he was a last minute fill in.  The scheduled guide hurt his hand and could not be there.


The guide was a Frenchman from New Brunswick who we shall call Steve, and he was accompanied by another Frenchman also from New Brunswick named Claud.  Claud was a likable person whose job was to keep the equipment running and do other camp maintenance.


That night, the outfitter Joe Stefanski asked us not to give any alcohol to Steve because he had a drinking problem.    He also mentioned that Steve had spent two years in prison in Kuujjuaq village in Nunavik, Quebec.   We noticed he always carried a sheathed knife on his belt.  He was an excellent fly tyer though and was familiar with the waters.


The next day, we returned to the South Rapids, hiked over a peninsula where a boat was stashed, crossed that lake to another inlet and hiked overland to the river.  Mike S. caught a nice brookie of nearly 4 lbs where the river entered the lake.   I moved upriver and had just stepped into the water with the intent of fishing downstream toward Mike when Steve entered just below me and started catching fish after fish.  Being the guide, I fully expected him to invite me down there to fish it, but he didn’t.  It was like he was competing with me.


When he finally moved upstream, I went there and began catching nice trout myself.  We never saw Steve or Claud the rest of the day.  In the meantime, Stefanski brought the guys from the east to the other side of the river and they caught a few nice fish.


At the end of the day, the Frenchmen returned to the boat and on the way back we heard all about the big fish that they caught up above.  This did not set well with us who were supposed to be guided that day.


A day or so later, we noticed Steve helping himself to the guy’s beer and before long, an 8 pack of beer was missing.  His problem with alcohol was becoming evident.  Mike S and I took our stuff to our cabin.  After all, we weren’t in a place where we could go to the corner package store and buy more.


The next day, we fished the North Rapids (lake outlet) some 12 miles away (2 hour boat ride in very choppy waters). Care had to be taken at certain spots lest the motor propeller struck large submerged rocks.  Depending on what side of the river you fished or if you wanted to brave the strong current and slippery rocks in the middle, some large brookies could be caught.  We never saw a landlocked salmon that day nor had the shore lunch that we were promised.


On our next trips to the North Rapids fishing got a little better.  Steve typically took the guys from the east in his boat and Mike S. drove ours.  One day Steve spent an hour or so helping me and Mike S.  get out into the middle of the river and catch some beautiful fish.  He took the guys from the east to the opposite side of the river and they caught some nice fish, too. On the way back, we did some trolling in a shallow inlet and caught 7 nice pike of 36” or more for our dinner that night.


But for the next several days, Steve only drove the boat and dropped us off to fish while he disappeared on shoreline or sat in the boat drinking.  There was virtually no guiding being done, or shore lunches, and it appeared as though he was drinking more and more.


When the beer ran out, he started hitting the hard stuff that other customers from previous trips had left when they went home.  He used so much of our orange juice for mixer that we had none left for breakfast the last day.


A trip like this is not just about catching fish.  Part of the enjoyment is when the dinner is over and the fishermen sit around the fireplace, have a drink and discuss the big fish that they didn’t catch.  We couldn’t do this because of Steve and we were uncomfortable and had to watch every word we said to him.  Usually, we retired to our cold cabins earlier that we wanted.  We were disappointed.


Don’t get me wrong.  We caught some big brook trout.  Mike S. and I caught a couple in the 4 lb range and the guys from the east landed some even bigger in the 5-6 lb range.  However, we should have caught more.  If we had a sober guide who took his work seriously, the outcome of our trip may have been different.  To be continued next week.


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