Stanley used two frying pans. He rolled the walleyes fillets in some flour and fried them in one pan and onions and potatoes in the other. Watching a Cree cook a shore lunch over an open fire is a lesson in culinary simplicity. The only seasonings were flour, salt and pepper, and a lemon. Stanley fried everything in oil and cleaned the skillets with a handful of moss. Oddly enough, the lunch tasted great.
The weather looked like it would be a problem, and we wanted to get in more fishing before the rain started. Stanley had a few more bays that he knew held some big pike. Before we left home, I had Joey practice casting close to shorelines with big plugs. I tied on a seven-inch blue-backed jointed plug, and he started to work the weed beds. We started to pick up a lot of small eight to 10-pound pike. But not that 20-pounder.
The skies darkened, and Stanley said a squall was coming. Just when we heard a clap of thunder, the big pike hit Joey’s plug as if by signal. The pike shot out into open water, but when he felt the sting of the hooks, he did a hairpin flip and rushed to get back into the safety of the grass.
Joey hung on and did an excellent job pressuring the big fish out of the weeds and into open water. After several good runs, Joey wanted to tighten his drag, but I promised to break his fingers if he touched the drag! He finally eased the pike close to our boat, and Stanley netted Joey’s personal record-breaker. Our scale put it at 22 ½ pounds. We had an ecstatic 12-year-old in the boat that day.
Only 34 years old, Stanley has been guiding on Mistassini for 19 years. David, Stanley’s father, who would guide the next few days, has been guiding for more than 35 years. Spending seven days in a boat with a couple of Cree guides is a rewarding experience. When a Cree reaches 55, he is called an Elder, and that’s a very special label for Crees. Elders get a great deal of respect for their intimate knowledge of hunting and fishing, which is an essential requirement in the north country. Just listening to Stanley talk to his father, it became apparent that Creeps may well treat their Elders better than most cultures.
The wind eased up the following day, and I got a chance to fly fish for pike. I’ve caught pike on a fly before, but this was completely different.
We fished bays with shorelines full of submerged blowdowns.
Next to half of these logs were 10 to 15-pound pike waiting to ambush their next meal. This was sight casting at its best. I tied on a Stu Apte tarpon fly and put it right in front of their noses. A couple of strips and pike would shoot out like torpedoes and attack the fly. It was the kind of wild fishing not many fly fishermen ever experience. We worked bay after bay and caught all the pike we wanted with no other boats in sight. I would advise using either a small strand of notable wire leaders or very cheap streamers. These pike were not very sophisticated. I’ll save my fancy tarpon flies for the Florida Keys.
When the wind finally stopped blowing, and we could see no whitecaps on the lake, David said we would make the run to the northern end of
Mistassini and the mouth of the Rupert River, where we would hopefully find a pike even bigger than the 22 ½ -pounder Joey had already boated. It would also give me a chance to fly fish the Ruppert for those trophy brook trout. The run took one and half hours, and I was thoroughly lost a half-hour from camp. The maze of islands started to all look the same, and I started to become concerned about Dave’s health… or his lack of it.
The Rupert River is at the 51st parallel, and anything above it is exclusive Cree Territory, and a Cree guide is mandatory. The mouth of this legendary river is a maze of huge boulders, some visible above the surface and some not. Dave worked the boat slowly among the boulders, and I worked the area with my fly rod. My black Woolly Bugger produced more brook trout up to four pounds than any other fly in my box. Dave’s explanation was simple. “The black Woolly Bugger works best because it is black, and everything trout eat here is black.”
I caught many brookies by blind casting to the boulders, but I also caught several by trolling in and around these huge rocks, occasionally twitching the Woolly Bugger. I tried some dry flies, but this big water wasn’t really conducive to dry fly fishing. We saved a couple of brookies for lunch. The bright red flesh of these native brookies is something I don’t see too often in New Jersey, where I live. We found a small beach with a broken-down lean-to, and Dave broke out the traditional skillets and started to cut up onions and potatoes. The red flesh of these native brookies was a rare lunch treat.
The sun disappeared, and it was starting to drizzle. I started to wonder about that long run back to camp. We cleaned up our campsite and headed for some bays east of the mouth of the river. We continued to catch pike and walleyes in nearly every bay, but I kept watching the cloud and the winds. I knew it wouldn’t be a comfortable ride back to camp.
Not only did we have to try to beat the storm back to camp, we still had to cross the big lake. With one stopover at a trapper’s cabin to sit our a heavy downpour, we started across the width of the lake. I wasn’t concerned until our visibility dropped to a half-mile or so in the rain, and the wind started to kick up five-foot seas. At one point, when we were out of sight of any island or land, I noticed that David did not have a compass on the boat. As one accustomed to compasses and GPS units on boats, I really started to worry, especially when Joey said, “Grandpa, I can’t see land.”
Dave must have noticed the worry on my face and said, “You OK?”
I replied, “Yes, I’m OK.
Dave answered, “You OK, I’m OK.”
Then I asked him how he could navigate out of sight of land with no compass in a heavy overcast sunless sky. His reply was classic Cree. “I watch the wind and the waves,” he explained, “and how fast the clouds move.”
It was a two-hour backbreaking run back to camp. It was a great adventure-filled day for my grandson and me. We will never forget the memory of his big pike and the wild ride with one of the most knowledgeable guides I have ever met. I built a fire in our cabin that night, and Joey drank a couple of cups of hot chocolate to warm up.
I sipped a few fingers of something a lot stronger.
There’s a reason the fishing is exceptional Mistassini Lake. The lake is 110 miles long and 26 miles wide, and we only saw two or three boats each day. They were also guests at Osprey Camp. But there’s more to Mistassini than great fishing for big pike and fly fishing for trophy brook trout. Living, fishing, eating, and cooking with the Crees gave me an insight into a culture that must truly be admired. The experience will go a long way for my grandson, Joey, to mold him into a man with a unique sensitivity and awareness of our wilderness woods and waters.