Following up on my recent articles about our fishing trip north to Quebec to fish in Lake Ternay, Attorney Mike Shepard and I flew out on Tuesday, September 2 and the other guys: Mike and son Darren Miller, Carl Racie and Gary Hebert stayed to fish through Sunday, September 7.
Gary and Mike tell what happened next:
Gary said the remainder of the trip continued to be the “trip from Hell”. “Bad weather made for some nasty white knuckle boat rides. Not afraid to say this old Navy vet was a bit nervous in some of those three foot swells wearing a half ton of fishing clothes. My life jackets (plural) never left my hand. We did manage some decent sized brookies up at the North Rapids one day.
We had a fly-out on Friday to a remote lake but it came with a huge price. The day started off beautiful and we flew two at a time to remote lake where we took two canoes to some rapids. In the afternoon we ventured to the other end of the lake and fished those rapids. Mike landed an 8+ pound brookie, but that’s where the fun ended.
Weather was starting to look iffy, and we headed back to the boat. That’s when Mike fell down and got soaked. We make it back to the plane and the weather started to really turn bad. Carl and I were first on the return trip but we had to abort it because of a wind change and an overweight alarm. We took the boat motor off the plane to get the weight down.
After a tree-top second take-off and subsequent landing on very rough water on Lake Ternay, we made it back to the lodge. That’s when Joe (outfitter) said we would have to leave Mike and Darren in the Bush. The weather turned absolutely nasty. Heavy rain and forty mph wind kept the plane grounded. Did I mention Mike and Darren had zero emergency gear? And Mike was soaked with the potential for hypothermia.
None of us slept a wink that night and we never fished again. To add insult to injury when I asked Joe about any contingency plan if something happened in the Bush, he had none. Nobody would have had a clue where to even start looking for us. Very interesting trip and we even paid for it.”
Mike Miller said: “When we realize that the plane wasn’t coming back we started to make shelter. We had fly rods, flies, wading sticks and Darren’s pocket knife. We found a “porta-boat”, assembled it and stuck it upside down between 2 trees. We broke off spruce branches and piled them between us and the wind to give us a little relief. The night was extremely long but we got through it okay. Our biggest concern was for bears coming into the shelter. I changed into 2 lightweight shirts I carry in a dry bag for situations like this and we ran around the beach every hour to keep warm. The waders and rain jackets really helped to keep us warm.
A bear showed up around 6 AM working the shore eating blueberries. When he was about 75 yards away we yelled to get his attention and he just laid down on a rock for about 5 minutes then got up and started coming in our direction. He did this 2 or 3 times until he was around 20 yards from us at the edge of the beach. We puffed ourselves up to look big and charged him but he didn’t move. Again he started in our direction and we charged and threw rocks at him. He finally stopped, turned around and walked off. He had no idea what we were.
The weather was pretty good when light broke (4:30AM) so we were confident that the plane would be coming shortly. Around 9AM the plane hadn’t shown up even though our weather was still clear and we became concerned that something had happened. At 11AM we decided there was a good chance the plane went down or was damaged so we put together a 5-day survival plan (we knew there was a 3 day front coming through with cold weather and snow from the forecast received the day before). We fortified our shelter with logs and branches and caught some trout for lunch which we ate raw. We positioned a canoe half way in the water to allow us escape if a bear showed up. The smell of fish would probably draw one into our area.
We made the best shelter we could and decided we needed to get some sleep. Our outlook at this point was bleak. There were no other options except for being picked up by the float plane. We left messages on our cell phones for our wives and kids in case we didn’t make it.
About 2PM we heard a plane and then it went away. It later came back and flew over us and we saw that it was Joe’s plane.
Interestingly, the weather at Ternay was blowing and raining all morning but the weather 15 miles away was clear. We even had the sun out at one point. Prime example of what can happen with the fickle weather up there.
Joe did the right thing by leaving us. There wasn’t any way he could have made another flight that day because he would have crashed the plane trying. Afterwards he told us this is the first time in 38 years he had ever left anybody in the bush.”
What a story Mike and Darren Miller have to tell their children and grandchildren. I’ll bet it will be part of their family lore for generations to come.