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Brook Trout And Polar Bears ~ The Sutton River Journal


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#1 Mike Borger

 
Mike Borger

    AKA "solopaddler"

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 01:52 AM

As an avid brook trout angler there are certain destinations that provoke the imagination. Minipi in Labrador, the brawling God's River in northern Manitoba, Nipigon without a doubt, and the Sutton River in far northern Ontario. To be sure there are places where you can catch larger brook trout, but for sheer numbers of honest to goodness 3-5lb fish the Sutton can't be topped.

The river begins in Hawley Lake its spring fed headwaters, and flows north 120km through Polar Bear Provincial Park terminating at Hudsons Bay. Dissecting the summer range of the great white bears, the river flows through a geologic fault of old seabed limestone providing incredibly fertile waters for the insect life and the trout that feed on them. The terrain is quite flat, consisting of muskeg and broken areas of black spruce with many interspersed pothole lakes and marsh. As you paddle north the trees which cling tenaciously to the riverbank begin to recede and you're left with vast panoramas of muskeg tundra.

What sets the Sutton apart from all others is its nature itself. The river meanders its entire length with no real rapids but with hundreds of wadeable riffles, runs and pools that are chuck full of brook trout in the 18-24 inch range. The entire trip from headwaters to Bay there is not one single portage. It's essentially an overgrown limestone stream, and that my friends is worth the price of admission in itself.

Recently Bill and I spent 11 days paddling the entire length of this fool's paradise.

This is our story...




Day One

After spending the night before at a motel in Hearst we arrived refreshed at the Hearst Air base on Carrey Lake just west of town at 6:30am.

Greeted with a picture perfect sunrise, it was an ideal day to fly.

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The flight was uneventful but interesting as a landscape of lakes and rivers soon gave way to vast stretches of swampy muskeg as we winged our way further north.

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Our destination was Albert's Fish Camp on Hawley Lake. Albert Chookomoolin is a native Cree who was born on Hawley and has lived there every summer for his entire life. Most anglers who fish the Sutton do so out of Alberts camp travelling down the river a piece then back up in oversized freighter canoes and outboard motors. A civilized proposition which perhaps one day I'll do when constrained by age.

After a 21/2 hour flight we arrived at Albert's, a somewhat tired and forlorn location, and were soon engaged in unloading our gear from the plane. Hearst Air provided us with a 17' Old Town Royalex canoe for our trip and we very quickly had it loaded. Our pilot Mike Veilleux watched with mild amazement as we carefully fit every ounce of our 400lb load into the craft. With no portaging we definitely hadn't packed light and he waited 'till we were finished before winging his way south. As he said "Whatever you can't fit safely in the boat I'll fly back to the base for you". Fortunately we were okay, although our center of gravity was about a foot above the gunnels. Still with no really dangerous water ahead of us we weren't concerned. Comfort was paramount.

As we were ready to depart Albert approached us with an offer. He'd been eyeing our food barrels with keen interest and offered to tow us to the first rapids 12km's downstream if he could keep them at the end of our trip.

That as far as we were concerned was a huge bonus as the initial part of the river was quite featureless. We had to drop the canoe off at Alberts on the way back anyway so we shook hands and the deal was done.

With glee we hopped into Alberts freighter. He tied our laden canoe in tow and we were off, our journey had finally begun!

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Heading downstream we were amazed at two things: the clarity of water and the amount of lush weed growth. According to Albert there were no weeds in the river as a young child. Slowly over the years as the climate has warmed the weeds have grown in. A truly scary and first hand testament to the effects of global warming.

As we skimmed quickly across the vast weed flats every so often a large stretch of clear pea gravel would appear. In every case occupied by enormous schools of brook trout, many of which appeared to be over 4lb's. They scattered like leaves in a gale as we passed overhead and Bill and I were dumbfounded.

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Our excitement level grew as we approached the first rapids and our drop off point. Stopping at a marshy flat about 1/2km upstream from the first riffle Albert filled two water jugs for the camp then in a low musical voice said "The best water is downstream, lots more fish down there. Good luck and try to avoid the bears." The part about the bears went right over our heads, although in retrospect perhaps we should have listened. We were focused squarely on brook trout and we had finally arrived.

Quickly donning our waders we gave Albert a wave and we were off paddling our way down through a series of mild riffles and quickly getting a feel for our overloaded canoe in the process. It was far more agile than I had anticipated and thankfully not nearly as tippy.

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It was still early in the day with plenty of time to fish so we wasted no time pulling over to shore along an enticing run.

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My first fish on the Sutton was a memorable one. Casting a heavy spinner far out into the powerful current it hit almost immediately then took me on a run several hundred yards downstream before finally being subdued. It was a thick bodied brightly colored male that had me awestruck.

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The fish came almost ridiculously easy and after sating our angling appetite we headed downstream slowly fishing likely looking spots and keeping an eye out for campsites.

Approaching a bend in the river our home for the first night was instantly obvious. Perched on a high bank on the outside of the bend it was a well used site that overlooked the river. A perfect flat spot for the tent, a fire ring with a good supply of dry wood nearby and an eye popping hole that just screamed trout right in front of us.

We quickly set up camp then set about to fish the pool. Not unexpectedly the water was rife with fish.

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Crossing over to the other side we caught even more as we were able to wade far out into the shallow gravel.

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While over on the opposite bank something bizarre happened.

A freighter carrying two natives from Hawley Lake slipped down through the pool right in front of me. The younger lad in front was casting the seam I'd been working with what appeared to be a large white popper.

I stopped to watch as they drifted by and the kid fired his offering 3' in front of me.

Well if it wasn't a marshmallow with a large treble hook lashed to it.

"What the hell is that?" I laughed.

The older guy on the tiller says "Looks just like a mouse, trout hit them!"

At that point Bill uttered a sentence that I never thought I'd hear on this trip.

"Holy crap dude, I can't believe you were just greased out by some rube flossing fish with a marshmallow on the Sutton!!



Later in the evening after dinner I grabbed my spinning rod and followed a dim trail to another pool downstream around the bend. Casting from shore I bested another thick bodied male just as Billy appeared out of the bush to snap this picture.

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As the sun set we lit a warming fire, cracked a couple of cold beverages and watched as the stars slowly filled the northern sky.

A perfect end to our first day.


Day Two

The night was chilly, as it turned out one of the coolest of the entire trip, yet we were still up early enjoying the sunrise, coffee in hand.
Eager to begin our day we quickly packed, loaded our gear and began a routine which would be repeated often throughout the trip. We began to leisurely work our way downstream hopping out to fish in likely places.

At this point we still hadn't committed fully to the fly rod and many fish were caught on hardware.

In this first stretch we stopped to fish down around the corner from camp we probably hit 30 fish or so between the two of us before moving on. We were thrilled with the fishing, but little did we know it would only get better...

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The day was quite warm, likely low 20's and mostly sunny. Still, every so often low banks of dark grey clouds would scud across the sky, the winds would pick up and the temperatures would drop. It was really quite amazing how changeable the weather was up there. If you weren't happy with it you'd only have to wait 15 minutes, possibly less and the sun would be shining again.

We were by and large oblivious to these minor nuances as we gloried in the landscape and the sheer joy of paddling with no portages.

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Around 2pm we navigated down through a turbulent stretch of rapids dissected by an island. Reaching the downstream tip the full force of the river compressed into a narrow, deep chute probably 5' deep in the middle.
Thinking in unison we pulled over to the side, hopped out in our waders and enjoyed our best session yet. The sun broke from behind the clouds, and swinging large streamers in the heavy water we enjoyed constant hook ups for a good two hours with many double headers.

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Strangely I have no pictures of Billy fishing that run, although I'm pretty sure he outfished me. He played the photographer in this round.

Round about 4pm we we finally noticed the time and regretfully left this astounding spot. With no real idea where our next campsite would be we pushed on down the river anxious to make up some miles.

Not long afterwards the nature of the river changed completely, slowing down and becoming wider and deeper.
Of course we fished our way through, but the results weren't as awe inspiring. The trout were definitely holding in faster water.

Always on the look out for the truly perfect campsite we bypassed numerous second rate prospects and probably pushed downstream a bit further than we'd planned. At roughly 7pm I was becoming mildly worried when just as suddenly as before the pace of the river changed yet again, picking up dramatically. This was in my opinion the nicest water we'd seen yet, with kilometer after kilometer of classic riffle,runs and pools.

At 7:30 with the sun sinking lower into the trees we spied an opening high on the right bank at the tailout of a long pool and just above a gaudy little rapids. We pulled over to the grassy bank and hiked 20' up to a small clearing and we were home. A large tent frame made with spruce poles stood to the left. To the right was a huge cleared area, a giant fire pit and even a table. We instantly made the decision to layover 2 nights here as we were ahead of schedule, the site was perfect, and we appeared to be in a prime area for fishing.

With our long neglected stomachs grumbling we had the canoe unloaded quickly and set about erecting a truly comfortable camp.

I elected to set the tent up right inside the log structure, it fit perfectly. This allowed us to stretch our tarp across the roof supports creating an instant and super sturdy rain shelter.

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When the camp was more or less complete Billy ran down to the tailout in front of camp with his spinning rod and almost instantly ran back up the hill to show off a gorgeous little buck. Yep, not that we doubted, but there were plenty of fish once again on our doorstep.

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That evening after a huge meal we once again stoked up a fire and whiled away a couple of hours nursing our drinks next to the blaze.

A satisfying end to a very long day indeed.



Day Three


It was a clear night and round about 3am we both emerged from the tent to relieve ourselves. Being shrouded in a bit of a haze I noticed nothing until Bill spoke. "Look up, is that ever cool!" Directly overhead luminous beams of light pulsated across the sky, shifting, growing brighter, then dimming again. It was ethereal. Seeing the northern lights had been one of Bill's hopes for this trip and it had happened.

When we arose 4 hours later at 7am an utterly perfect day greeted us. Bluebird skies, a light breeze, warm temperatures and no humidity. We luxuriated a bit around camp that morning enjoying a long drawn out breakfast and several cups of java before we finally hit the river.

Being a layover day I was in no rush to pull on my waders, but finally succumbed to Bill's excited yells from the riverbank. He had slipped down ahead of me and was catching fish after fish on the fly rod, some on dries.

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I quickly followed suit was soon into fish myself. The placid tailout in front of camp was literally teeming with fish.

Around 10am we switched gears and decided to head upstream in the empty canoe. Much of the river above us looked great and the evening before we'd quickly skimmed over it.

We paddled a good 2-3km's upstream, a difficult but not impossible task in the strong current. When the current grew stronger and the paddling more difficult we pulled the canoe up on shore and worked our way up the grassy bank on foot for another couple of kilometers fishing as we went. It was paradise.

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Upon arrival back at the canoe I hit upon a plan that would allow us to work the river thoroughly from the comfort of the canoe back towards camp.

I had brought a mesh bag and rope with me which I quickly filled with some heavy round stones creating an anchor. Tying it off at the stern we slipped slowly down the middle of the river anchoring then casting to seams on either side of the boat. Every 5-10 minutes I'd pull anchor and allow us to drift downstream another 100' or so before dropping the bag again.

It was a fun and relaxing way to fish and the big bonus was all the fish were on topwater mouse patterns. Some of the takes were heart stopping as huge brook trout would explode on our flies within 20' of the boat.

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Back at camp we had an early dinner, relaxed a bit and savoured our great day.

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That morning before fishing I'd filled a solar shower with water and hung it in a suitable tree. Being a sunny day it was the perfect opportunity, and man let me tell you did it ever feel good washing up after eating!

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Initially we had no further plans to fish that day but around 7:30 I couldn't take it anymore. "C'mon man, let's put the waders on and go for a walk downstream!" We hadn't fished any of that water yet and it was beckoning us. Bill didn't put up much resistance.

The idea was we'd fish a particularly nice riffle and pool a couple hundred yards downstream from camp. You know what they say about the best laid plans though? We just kept walking and walking and walking. Every piece of water looked better than the last and we couldn't stop. You know how it is.

Without having to speak we were both making a beeline for a sharp bend in the river about 2km's downstream. It swung sharply to the right and we fully expected some incredible water down there.

Upon arrival it was surprisingly dissapointing being much shallower than we'd anticipated. After turning the corner the river broadened and flowed placidly over shallow knee deep gravel to a tailout several hundred yards downstream.

Still, this was the Sutton right? Armed only with fly rods we waded into the mild current and cast our flies to the darker seam on the far side. It was magic. If we didn't have constant double headers the entire time it was pretty darned close. In a fever pitch we'd wrench thick muscular brookies out of the current wanting only to unhook them as fast as possible. The take you see, is the thing. They were exhilerating. Arm jolting pulses of pure electricity as trout after trout smashed our feathered offerings.

It was at that point in the trip that I tweaked a muscle in my casting hand making things extremely painful for a day or two. Still I couldn't stop and it was kind of funny. Cast-"ouch that kills!"-got one! That process was repeated many times.

We were still catching fish non stop when the sun suddenly sank below the horizon and darkness fell. Kind of startled us actually as we were so engrossed in the sport that we were blind to everything else.

It was a somewhat sketchy walk back to camp along the grassy, alder lined riverbank. The moon was almost full though and in the clear northern sky it shone brightly illuminating the way.

We stumbled back into camp around 10pm tired but happy and quickly hit the sack.



Day Four

We arose to a carbon copy of the day before. We had won the weather lottery it seemed, and we wasted no time this morning packing up camp and loading the canoe. Both of us anxious to paddle downstream to the incredible gravel flat from the night before.

I have to admit we were a bit sad to be leaving our beautiful campsite, but that feeling quickly passed.

Upon arrival at the flat were curious as to whether the fish would be quite as cooperative as the evening before. I mean after all it was right at dusk yesterday. Now with the sun shining brightly on the gravel we had our doubts. Still it was the Sutton...

It took about 30 seconds to determine the presence of large numbers of trout as we immediately started smashing fish again, one right after the other.

We'd decided beforehand that today we'd take the time to shoot some video. It's raw and unedited, but I believe it gets the point across.






I'm not precisely sure how long we fished that flat or how many fish we caught, but at a certain point, happily tired and beat up from catching fish we knew we'd had enough. We hopped into the canoe and continued our trek downstream.

It's pretty hard to complain about any aspect of that morning on the flat. However if I had to reach it'd be the fact that all of our fish came swinging streamers. We did try surface flies on occasion, but the fish would have none of it.

Ubeknownst to us that issue would very soon be rectified.

Paddling downstream a few more kilometers the river made another severe bend to the left and an absolutely perfect textbook hole appeared. On the inside bank we spied Albert Chookomoolins outpost camp, a prospector style tent erected back in the trees overlooking the water.

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He had mentioned to us that he sometimes brought guests downstream to stay overnight to fish the really prime waters.

It appears as though he picked a good spot.

We ferried over to the opposite shoreline and hopped out of the boat. Skating a mouse across the tailout Billy almost immediately hooked up.



I on the other hand continued to swing my Zoo Cougar streamer with great success.

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After working the hole over we paddled several more kilometers downstream where we stopped again to fish another mind blowing bend pool. Standing in the rushing water at the head of the pool I caught fish after fish on the streamer.

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Bill, sly dog that he is, sneaked downstream with mice on the brain. He soon began to whoop it up as one giant trout after another slurped in his rodent offering in the glass smooth waters of the tailout.

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I finally joined the melee and captured a bunch myself on the mouse. There is absolutely no doubt that nothing I have ever experienced before tops catching giant brookies on the surface with mice. On the Sutton the trout are never shy, but when they smash a mouse they attack it with a reckless abandon, almost in anger. It's pure unfiltered lightning in a bottle and the takes, even though expected, make your hair stand on end.

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Once again in late afternoon we'd lost track of time before realizing with a jolt that we had to move on. We still had some distance to cover and a campsite to find.

Pushing on downstream for several hours we enjoyed a leisurely paddle through some of the most awe inspiring country on God's green earth. The great thing about this river is the lack of hazzards. Paddling in the stern I'd often only have to use the odd correction stroke as rocks would be obvious hundreds of yards in advance. The current and Bill's brute strength mostly propelled us along at a dizzying clip. It was a pure joy.

What I've neglected to mention until now is the amount of eagles on the river, both Bald and Golden. They were everywhere and provided us with unlimited photo opportunities.

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Of course we stopped anytime we came across a really enticing spot, and fish were caught everywhere...

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With the sun sinking lower in the sky we once again raced to find a suitable campsite. Many possibles were nixed until finally at 8pm at the tail end of a large island we found a perfect grassy bank on the right side at the confluence.

In short order we pulled over, unloaded, and had a tidy camp set up just steps from the riverbank. We truly were becoming proficient at this. Nothing had to be said, we each knew our duties and we did it fast. We were finally a team.

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Relaxing that evening around the campfire exhausted by the days events, never before has a pint of Guinness gone down so well.



Continued...

Edited by Mike Borger, 12 September 2012 - 11:52 AM.


#2 Mike Borger

 
Mike Borger

    AKA "solopaddler"

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 01:53 AM

Day Five


The previous evening a line of low dark clouds appeared on the southern horizon, boiling and building in height as the wind picked up and they raced towards us. We briefly mulled over the idea of erecting the tarp, but we'd planned on packing up early and travelling so didn't bother.

Around 2am I awoke with a start as an ominous grumble erupted. At first I thought it was Bill with a louder than usual nocturnal emmision. Thankfully for me it wasn't as we were hit with a short but particularly violent thunder storm.

Sheets of rain began to fall as the sky opened up and lightning flashed all about. At some point I fell back asleep and when we awoke the storm had passed. The first real test for the new tent was a smashing success with not a drop of water leaking in. I was quite pleased.

We awoke to a haunting scene as a light mist was falling, there wasn't a breath of wind, and we were shrouded in fog. It seemed the entire landscape was catching it's breath after the previous nights fury.

I set about to make coffee while Bill grabbed a fly rod and quickly determined the presence of trout.



I soon joined him and in no time we were both into fish. Packing up camp could wait.
The water was quite shallow and we were able to wade clear across to the opposite bank then up one of the channels flowing around the island.

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We fished 'till about 8:30 then wanderlust took hold...it was time to move on. Working quickly we packed up the tent, loaded our gear and were off.

We had no real plan for the day beyond the fact we were specifically looking for shallow gravel flats. While the fish were everywhere our best action had come in this type of water, especially the topwater mouse action.

We worked our way downstream under a leaden sky, hopping out in various spots and catching fish everywhere.

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Around 11:30 the sky broke and the sun shone brightly. It was perhaps an omen as we shook off our lethargy, our spirits rose and we entered a section of river that would play backdrop to our best day on the river yet.

It didn't really stand out that much from many other spots, in fact it was quite featureless.
We turned a bend and entered a 2km long straightaway that did nothing to pique the interest.

Casting from the bow Billy caught nice male as we drifted down through...

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I followed that up with an even larger specimen then suddenly we noticed the river bottom. Drifting down the middle of the river a shallow gravel bar had appeared, anywhere from ankle to knee deep. I jammed my paddle into the sand to hold us in place as Billy, then I both hopped out. I quickly dropped the anchor bag to hold our craft in place, and thus began our incredible afternoon.

Fishing topwater mice patterns exclusively we fished seams on both sides of the boat. Every so often I'd wade back up, lift anchor and float the canoe downstream another few hundreds yards to untouched water.
We followed that pattern for a good 11/2km's and the trout fishing was beyond belief. For much of the time it was a fish a cast. If you didn't hook one you'd have several swipe and miss.

This was without a doubt the single best day of angling I've ever had in my life and I'm pretty sure Bill feels the same way.

With such perfect conditions we once again broke out the video cameras...








It truly was remarkable.

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Still, all good things must end, and at 4:30 we tore ourselves away from this glorious spot and pushed on downstream, as per usual stopping along the way.





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We paddled until 7pm then spied another perfect grassy bank and decided to pitch an early camp. At this point we were ahead of schedule again and weren't in any need to rush.

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Admitedly we didn't fish much that evening, choosing instead to lounge around camp and enjoy a couple of our quickly disappearing and most precious adult beverages.
After an afternoon like we'd just experienced any more fish seemed gluttonous.

Still...later that evening armed with spinning rods we both ambled upstream along the bank eyeing a decidely fishy looking tailout.

First cast and an oversized male crushed my spoon and took me downstream through a riffle before finally being subdued quite close to the tent.

Words cannot describe...It was the perfect ending to a perfect day, the kind I've dreamed about my entire life.

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Day Six


We arose to another picture perfect day of sunny skies and light wind. After a quick breakfast we pushed on anxious to be on the river. By this point we were both enjoying the paddle almost as much as the fishing. The landscape although stark had a mystical quality and a wildness about it that got under your skin.

We paddled leisurely putting some miles behind us until 1:00 when we happened upon another glorious gravel run.

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Although not quite as abundant as the day before the trout were still cooperating. In actual fact catching fish on almost every cast grows tiresome at times, where's the challenge?

Still we bested 30 odd fish between the two of us, most on the mouse, some on hardware when a break was required. Some were quite large.

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At 4pm the wind picked up noticably and within minutes the sky had clouded over and darkened. The great weather machine known as Hudsons Bay was once again at play and it was time to move.

A light rain began to fall as we donned our goretex jackets in search of shelter.

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Around 7pm the wind became fierce. It was at our backs though and helped push us along downriver at a dizzying clip.
By this point we were both anxious to find a campsite and bunker down for the night as things seemed to be getting worse.

We paddled down a long exposed straightaway only to find a sketchy site on the southern tip of a large island. Since beggars can't be choosers we hopped out to suss it out.

In fair weather it would have been a no brainer, but we were totally exposed to the wind in that spot and after much hemming and hawing we passed it over.

Up until now we'd been lucky with both the weather and finding really primo campsites, and this particular evening we didn't want to settle for second rate. Rolling the dice in the ever increasing gale we pushed on downstream searching in earnest for shelter.

About an hour later at 8pm the river made a slight bend to the north east and flowed around a huge island. Taking the much smaller left channel we turned the corner and found our spot along the bank of the island. Tucked up along a dry grassy bank and mostly sheltered from the wind it was perfect.

With the sky seemingly about to loosen its load upon us at any moment we cut a couple of spruce poles and erected a canopy in front of the tent to serve as a cooking shelter.

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It was an oasis or so we thought. Not long after setting up camp we were swarmed by billions of biting sand flies. The rain and humidity had brought them out in full force and apparantly we were camped on a favoured breeding ground.


This short video really made me laugh, watch for yourself and see. (And yes, I did bring a satellite radio along).




After a quick dinner the flies drove us into the confines of the tent and we called it a night.



Day Seven


Overnight it poured rain and the winds shifted slightly to the south east. This was an issue because our once sheltered spot was now being buffeted.

Upon waking it was still raining lightly and we more or less decided to make this a layover day. We did reposition the tent though, moving it parallel to the riverbank so the wind would flow over its back rather than hitting it broadside.

With that chore done we made a huge pot of coffee and enough pancakes to feed a family of six. It was our best breakfast thus far and considering the weather a much needed indulgence. The simple act of filling your belly with hot food will warm the heart and raise the spirits.

With no plans to travel that day and frankly no real desire to fish in the nasty weather we lounged under our shelter for most of the morning. I read my book while Billy had the tunes playing on the satellite radio.

After several days of constantly being on the go it was a nice break. Still, it was the Sutton and around noon, bad weather or not, we pulled on our waders and went for a walk.

We chose to walk around the tip of the island and work our way down the larger channel on the west side. One of the joys of the Sutton is the ease with which you can traverse its banks. Much of the river is lined with grassy banks interspersed with large patches of caribou moss. Sure there's the odd alder thicket, but by and large it's easy going.

The island we were on was quite large, probably a kilometer or more and the entire way down we caught nothing more than a handful of small fish. Yes it was a shock.

At the confluence however things picked up immeasurably. The river broadened and flowed into a bend just below the downstream tip creating an obvious hole.

I waded over to the opposite bank while Bill worked his way into the middle of the flow at the head of the pool.

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Once again some quality fish were caught.

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Around 3pm the wind was still blowing but patches of blue were starting to peek through the clouds. We worked our way back to camp with only the slight worry that our tent might not still be erect.

Halfway back a huge gust ripped the hat off my head and I barely caught it before being swept into the river.

"Bill" I said, "If the tent is still upright we'll layover, but if it's down let's move on bud".

Billy agreed, there was still plenty of daylight left and lots of time to escape the wind tunnel we now found ourselves in.

As we pushed through the last bunch of alders approaching camp we had our answer. The wind had indeed wreaked some damage. The tarp was collapsed and one of the tent poles was slightly bent.

The only saving grace was the absence of sand flies as the heavy winds kept the satanic beasts at bay.

We quickly packed up camp and by 4:30 we were in the river, loaded and heading down the narrow side of the island.

Several kilometers downstream the river broadened even more, becoming a quite substantial river.
Once again the wind was firmly at our backs and in one long wind driven straightaway Bill clocked our speed on the gps at 12.2 km/hr, and that was barely with any paddling.

The sun began to gain more and more ground and it soon morphed into a gorgeous afternoon even despite the wind.

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Bill took advantage of the free ride by tossing a few spoons as we skimmed downstream at a feverish clip.

In one wide open stretch when we were just ripping along he hooked a truly enormous trout. It actually ran upstream as we headed down. He couldn't stop the goliath and there was literally nothing I could do to slow the boat down. Not surprisingly it got unbuttoned and I think Billy will agree, that fish will haunt him more than any other on this trip.

Of course we were constantly on the lookout for a decent campsite and in long broad stretch of river lined by high gravel banks, something odd caught my eye.

There was really nothing to indicate a campsite was there, but at the rivers edge I spied a cut spruce log. Only someone camping would cut a log...

I ferried our boat over to the bank and Bill hopped out and pulled us up on shore.

Along the bank there was a small opening in the trees and we made a beeline for it.

Once again we were home. Within the trees was a perfect little clearing. A flat spot for the tent, a large central firepit, and even a very old stack of cut and emminently dry firewood.

Best of all we were sheltered completely from the wind, there wasn't a single sand fly, and the sun was shining. Life was good!

Here's what it looked like from the riverbank:

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And our site with camp set up:

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With a bit of time left in the day we set out to fish from shore a bit, my only goal being to catch a couple of fish for dinner. Bill, as many of you guys know is allergic to fish and had to bring his entire food stock with him on this trip. I think it bothered me more than him as the trout in the Sutton were unbelievably tasty! It was criminal that the lad was resigned to freeze dried fare while I feasted on fresh trout. Such is life though.

It was a breathtaking spot we'd stumbled upon. The late afternoon sun cast a golden glow upon the landscape as we worked our way along the pebbly bank.

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It didn't take long for me to catch dinner, and by this time I'd become picky. All of the larger specimens were in full spawning mode and typically these aren't the best eating fish. The flesh is very often white, and not nearly as firm as it should be.

It's the smaller immature fish I was after. Happily the river was teeming with fish of all sizes and it took maybe 15 minutes to capture my meal. Both fish were about 14" long, bright chrome and red of meat. They were so yummy in fact you could slice a piece razor thin and eat it raw.

In retrospect a small bottle of lime juice and some suitable spices would have been great for a marinade.

Still I wasn't complaining, they were pure ambrosia dusted in flour and sauteed in butter. My exclamations finally got the better of Bill at dinner time though as he finally snapped.

"Gimmee that plate, I'm gonna try some!!"

"Umm...aren't you allergic?"

"Yeah, so what? It's worth a chance, maybe these fish won't affect me!"

With mild trepidation I shoveled a fillet onto his plate. He was tentative at first...as he said he'd know instantly if there was a problem.

3-4 bites later and Bill was ready to eat every trout in the river. No effects and oh so good.

I had to snap a pic of the momentous occasion.

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Sadly it was a delayed response. About 5 minutes in his lips swelled and his tongue grew thick. He's always prepared for these situations and quickly took some medication which rapidly eased the symptoms. Poor Billy!

As he said though, at least he got a good taste of fish. Ultimately it was totally worth it.

Later that evening the sunset was spectacular although the wind was still howling.

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The treetops were swaying overhead yet we were completely sheltered within the confines of the trees. Lighting a cheery blaze we ruminated over the days events before finally turning in.

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Day Eight


We awoke to another postcard card day although there was a low bank of clouds to the south. Thankfully the winds had died down overnight and we were back to a much more benevolent breeze.

With favorable weather we were once again intent to get underway and were soon packed and slipping downstream.

A short paddle found us confronted with a huge gravel flood plane on the west bank and a severe bend in the river to the right. It was a picture perfect spot to hop out and fish.

Pulling our craft up onto the shallow gravelly inside bank we commenced to catch numerous fish...

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Even shot a short video clip of the action:



One of the major landmarks of this trip was the addition of the Aquatuck River as it combined with the Sutton creating an even stronger, broader flow. At this point we were roughly 11/2km's upstream from the junction of the two rivers and were looking forward to seeing it.

Still we fished on and after tiring of the bend pool we continued on downstream.

At a point maybe 1/2 a kilometer upstream from the junction we came upon another enticing run that begged to be fished.

A jaunty little riffle fed into the head of a long classic gravel bottomed pool with a most enticing slick at the tailout. The whole thing was probably 400 yards long.

We pulled over to the west bank and wading knee deep into the crystal clear water began to catch fish after fish on mice once again.

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I kept staring at the east bank though with its gravel lined shoreline thinking how good it looked.
"Bill", I said, "before we move on let's paddle over to the other side, there's all kinds of seams over there we havn't touched yet!".

Being the agreeable sort that he his Billy had no objections.

Looking back now one can only speculate as to what might have happened if we hadn't tried the east bank. Little did we know there was danger lurking in the alders behind us.

We pulled over to the other side, and standing on shore were immediately into fish. Simply dapping our mice 15' in front of us in the glass smoth water multiple thick backed brookies slurped in our flies.

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I was oblivious to everything as I happily played a large trout until Bill suddenly yelled,

"Mike!! There's a polar bear, holy crap!!"

Startled I looked up to see a bear swimming in the river making a beeline for the bank we were standing on.

When we spotted him he was maybe 10' from shore, 20' upstream from me and 40' upstream from Bill, looking straight at us.

I was instantly galvanized into action and sprinted towards Bill and the canoe 20' downstream from me, feverishly trying to break off my fish as I skipped it across the surface.

The polar bear seemed especially intrigued at this point.

I immediately grabbed the canoe and pulled it into the river, one foot on shore the other in the boat.

"Get your ass in the boat now man, c'mon!!" I yelled.

At the same moment I'd turned on the camera around my neck and had my finger on the button ready to take a picture when Bill fired a slug above the bears head with the shotgun. I'd had no clue that it was even in his hands as the gun had been burried in its case under all our gear in the boat.

How he pulled it out so fast still mystifies me.

With Bill standing 3' behind me the first shot was so deafening and startling it paralyzed me into immobility. The bear on the other hand seemed entirely unconcerned and while it made no further move towards us it stopped and stared.

Bill quickly fired another shot with no effect and then a third a bit closer to it's head. The bear finally flinched, it had definitely felt something that time. It then turned and dissapeared slowly into the bush.

Bill quickly repacked the gun and we pushed off to the safety of the river, adrenaline still coursing through us.

What we both couldn't believe was we hadn't seen it enter the river and swim across until it was almost on top of us! Adding to our consternation, the bear had to have been prowling in the bushes directly behind us 10 minutes earlier when we were fishing on the west side.

Scary stuff indeed.


This of course added an entirely new element to our trip. Where before we were happily unconcerned, we now found ourselves constantly scanning the bush in all directions, judiciously alert.

In no time we reached the Aquatuck junction, in this high water a substantial river in its own right and stopped for a look.

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The added volume pouring into the Sutton instantly created a mammoth river. While there was still no dangerous water it now flowed with a deceptive force as we continued our trek downstream.

Not long after passing the junction we began to hook up regularly with fish on spinning tackle and I shot this short video clip.



About 7 kilometers below the Aquatuck junction we pulled over to another grassy bank in front of a glass smooth tailout and once again crushed fish after fish on topwater mice.

All in all we hit about 30 before departing at 6:30 in search of a campsite. We did try to shoot some video of the action, but every time Bill turned on the camera the fish suddenly stopped hitting. No huge loss, but it was slightly frustrating.

We slipped through the tailout and rode a mild riffle about 500m downstream and right away spied an ideal site on the bank to our right.

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After setting things up we whipped up a tasty meal of freeze dried food and beer. It was akin to dining in the ritziest 5 star restaurant...even better in fact. Nothing could match the view from our table.

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With such a busy and eventful day we were content to simply relax around camp that evening, gun of course always at the ready.


Continued...

Edited by Mike Borger, 12 September 2012 - 06:33 AM.


#3 Mike Borger

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 01:53 AM

Day Nine


Utter silence, that's the only way I can describe it.

I awoke in the tent at 6:30 and strained to listen. There was no wind in the trees, no sound of birds or animal life, even the soothing murmur of the river was subdued, almost muffled.

I pulled on my shoes and unzipped the tent to face a wall of white. An unmoving incredibly dense bank of fog had descended on us, thus explaining the deadened nature of the acoustics.

I quickly zipped on some goretex and started the coffee, this was a morning that demanded a strong one.

Bill naturally grabbed a rod and walked 20' over to the river...



After coffee and breakfast I donned my waders and went to work. Even in the dim conditions and riffly water these fish still had a strong dislike for mice. They attacked them savagely.

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We fished that run all morning catching absurd numbers of fish before the wind picked up around 1pm and blew the fog away. On its tail was a massive storm front quickly heading our way.

Way off in the distance we could here thunder rolling and reverberating as billowing towering cumulus rose in the sky around us.

Suddenly quarter sized hail fell in a flurry as we dashed for cover. It quickly passed and as fast as we could we erected our tarp as more was on the way.

We actually just made it. No sooner did we get the tarp up and brew a quick coffee, the rains hit.

It was biblical ark building type rain, but we were dry as a bone.



It lasted for about an hour then suddenly stopped and in moments the sun broke through.

Our spirits immediately rose as we cranked the tunes and shot this short kind of funny video.



Blessed again with perfect weather we packed up camp at 4:15pm and continued our journey downstream. Hudsons Bay and the end of the treeline was fast approaching and were anticipating the change in scenery.

Not far downstream from camp I hit a 4lb female on hardware and Billy followed up seconds later with a stocky male in full blown dress colors. Just a beautiful fish!



We briefly considered stopping to fish, but we'd only paddled 10 minutes from our campsite so continued on.

Once again the weather turned with the sun disappearing behind menacing clouds and the wind picking up. We immediately upped the pace, neither of us wanting to get caught in another torrent.

At this point we were faced with a bit of a quandary. My sole priority was a sheltered site in the trees. Billy on the other hand was more concerned with open vistas from which potential marauding bears could be spotted.

Nevertheless I scanned the high banks closely and spotted a dim opening in the spruce high to our left. Pulling over to check it out we happened upon an ancient campsite. An overgrown fire ring covered in moss surrounded by dozens of old rusted steel cans tossed in a pile. People had obviously camped here before, but not for a very long time. I immediately saw the potential as it was totally protected although slightly overgrown.

Still, Bill held firm suggesting that a particularly large fallen tree next to the potential tent site was a perfect ambush spot.

Somewhat bemused I relented and we continued downstream. By 7:30 I was getting worried as the river was much more broad and featureless with far less protected bends and high banks.

With our anxiety level growing we lucked out again at 8pm. The wind had shifted this time coming from the north, and as we approached the southern tip of a large island we found our home. Set back from a broad gravel flood plain on the tip of the island in the lee of the wind was a perfect spot. It was sheltered from the wind and we could see what was coming from all directions. Well, except for directly behind us on the island which I pointed out to the lad. Fortunately he was willing to let this one small deficiency slide.

We slid the loaded canoe up onto a sand bar and without even unloading grabbed the bow and dragged it across a grassy plane 100' to our chosen spot.

We worked fast to set things up expecting rain at any moment. In short order we had the tent and tarp erected as well as our kitchen and were soon cooking dinner.

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It did start to rain lightly but very intermitently, and were still able to relax around the fire, this time creating a monstrous blaze. We had been hoarding some Baileys for our morning coffee, but splurged this time and poured a big mug each as we sat next to the warmth.

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A satisfying end to another long day.



Day Ten

This particular day there really isn't much to say. I emerged from the tent at 6:30. It had stopped raining around 2am and was still holding off so I boiled some water to shave, brushed my teeth, then made some coffee.

By 7am it started raining and didn't stop all day long. We could afford one more layover and neither of us needed to fish that badly anymore. Dare I say it we were finally getting fished out.

Bill finally emerged from the tent at 11am to have coffee and eat a most disgusting concoction of his own creation. He scrambled a bunch of eggs then mixed a noodle based Liptons Sidekick in with them creating a vile glutinous morass which he claimed was delicious. I thought he was pregnant. He then immediately crawled into the tent and I didn't see him for several hours.

With the cold rain pelting down I spent most of the afternoon reading my book and drinking coffee, then finally at 4:30 it began to ease up a bit.

It was still raining, but only very lightly and the wind had subsided considerably. Bill emerged again and we both donned our waders and goretex jackets eager to go for a walk.

Spinning rods in hand we walked to the tip of our island and I snapped this pic looking back.

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The channel to our right had much more volume so that was our choice. We picked our way along the rocky bank firing heavy spoons far out into the current and catching scads of fish. Nothing large though, but they were all bright chrome and fresh from the salt with the most beautiful iridescent purple hue to them. We tried to capture this on film but it was impossible.

Near the end of the island with the confluence of the left channel I bested our only larger specimen, a chunky female just full of fight.

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By 6pm we were done. The rain once again was coming down in sheets so we beat a hasty retreat back to camp and spent some time coaxing a fire into life.

Normally I take great pride in my ability to start fires in even the wettest weather. Searching out dry tinder, foraging through the forest for just the right dead tree, chopping a pile of dry kindling with my axe ...it' a process that takes patience and skill.

This time we just used a liter of naptha.

We enjoyed a hearty dinner, then with the rain still falling but our fire still burning we sacrificed the last of our precious booze.

Toasting the fish gods, toasting the Sutton, toasting each other. In no time at all we were pretty toasted.

We both slept well that night.



Day Eleven

We woke early antsy to reach our designated pick up point. We still had a few miles to cover and Hearst Air was scheduled to pick us up the following morning.

After a quick coffee we were packed and on our way, both of us gratified that the driving rain had tapered off and finally stopped overnight.

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We stopped to fish now and again and not surprisingly caught fish almost at will.

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The river grew in size as we approached Hudsons Bay and the landscape broadened and opened up as we left the the treeline behind.

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We hopped out in a couple of spots walking across the tundra to see what lay behind the low rolling ridges.

The vistas were majestic and the feeling that this land inspires is difficult to put into words.

Suffice it to say we felt very small.

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As we drew closer and closer to the salt the river split into multiple braided channels and navigation became slightly more difficult.

On one of the low islands we spotted an old native goose camp still standing, but burried deep in the heavy alder growth
Stopping for a quick look we bulled our way through the foilage, Billy in front ever alert with the shotgun.

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Hearst Air had provided us with GPS coordinates for the pick up point and with Bill navigating we quickly approached it.

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A blob of red appeared on the right shoreline, and as we paddled near it proved to be our spot.

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It was early afternoon around 3pm when we pulled our canoe from the water for the last time. A bittersweet feeling for sure.

On site there was an Environment Canada water monitoring gauge which was surprisingly free of bear damage.

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On the other hand there were two older canoes pulled off to the side, both of which were pretty smashed up.

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We set up our last camp spreading our wet belongings out on the ground and over the canoe to dry.

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While we weren't right at Hudsons Bay we were only a couple of kilometers inland. It's too dangerous for the planes to land on the shallow tidal flats and this was the first safe spot possible upstream.

All around us were thousands upon thousands of geese. They flew overhead in massive never ending flocks and walked about the tundra completely unconcerned just meters away.

It was a truly awe inspiring sight.

The wind was brisk this close to the bay, bone chilling actually. After an early dinner we both agreed we needed the sleep and hit the tent early, hoping the weather wouldn't close in again before the plane could pick us up tomorrow.

It had been the trip of a lifetime, but we were each anxious to see our families again.

We finally fell asleep lulled by the raucous cries of geese.



Day Twelve


Pick up day is always an anxious one, especially so this far north. We were gladdened to see the ceiling had risen to probably 6000 feet with even a few patches of blue poking through. At least on our end of the flight it was perfect flying weather.

Right on time at 11am we heard the drone of the otter approaching, it was here!!

It flew overhead, completed a wide sweeping turn, banked hard then dropped quickly into the river landing just downstream.

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We helped the pilot swing the nose of the plane around with ropes as he backed it in tight against the shoreline and we tied it off.

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I threw my waders on one last time to help him lift our boat up onto the pontoon while he affixed the straps.

We quickly loaded the plane and within 10 minutes were airborne. Before heading back southwards he asked if we'd like to swing over for a look at Hudsons Bay and maybe some polar bears.

From the safety of the airplane it sounded like a fantastic idea and within seconds of being airborne the Suttons estuary and the bay came into view.

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Polar Bears were everywhere, I saw three in about 20 seconds from my window. The pilot spied one then swooped down lower for a closer look. Absolutely amazing!

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We were soon winging our way south following the course of the river, taking 45 minutes to complete what had just taken us 11 days. It was a bit surreal.

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In the blink of an eye it seemed we were back at Alberts camp on Hawley lake where our trip had started all those days ago.

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Taxiing over to the dock we were greeted by Albert, interested in hearing how our trip went.

While the pilot busied himself refueling we chatted. Of course we told him about our encounter with the bear which didn't faze him at all.

He proceeded to tell us that last fall him and his little clan decided to walk back to their home in Peawanuck along the coast once fishing season was over. That's a trip of well over 120 miles.

As Albert said it was almost 300 for him as they had so much gear he constantly had to double back to carry all their stuff.

He also said the bears were abundant and curious. In his words "I had to shoot 3 of them along the way, they were just too aggressive".

He seemed completely unfazed, almost stoic about it. What for us was an earth shattering occurence was for him just another day at the office.

Albert and his clan are true people of the land and a far cry from the natives in my neck of the woods who live on the res and sell cheap smokes.

It was a pleasure to meet him.

We were soon ready to be on our way, and after bidding Albert thanks and leaving him with our much desired food barrels we boarded the plane and were off. Finally we truly were on the way home.

Enroute we flew over Hawley Lake and the famous Sutton Ridges. An amazing rocky gorge that connects Hawley and Sutton Lake to the south.

One day I'd love to go back and visit that spot.

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We were soon speeding our way southwards towards Hearst, flying low just under a heavy bank of clouds.

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The mild turbulence and lack of a view soon lulled me to sleep and although it was a slightly longer flight, it seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.

I can say unequivocally that this was the single best angling experience of my entire life. I'm a huge brook trout nut, I've travelled far and wide pursuing them and nothing tops the Sutton.

A big thanks to Mike and Melanie Veilleux of Hearst Air as well. It was my first time ever flying with them and came away incredibly impressed. Everyone we dealt with was super friendly, helpful, and completely professional.

I'm definitely looking forward to trying some of their other camps.

A big shout out to my partner in this escapade, Bill. You're a great friend, a good man to trip with, and you let me paddle stern the entire trip. Thanks bud, can't wait to do it again!


Truly hope you enjoyed the story,


'Till next time, Mike

Edited by Mike Borger, 12 September 2012 - 01:46 PM.


#4 Karl

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 03:12 AM

Wonderful trip!Thank you for sharing! :clapping:

#5 lew

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 03:44 AM

Absolutely outstanding Mike !!

Reading these kinda tales early in the morning is always a great way to start my day, thanks.

#6 Okuma-Sheffield

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 04:14 AM

EPIC!

#7 spincast

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 04:55 AM

wow. Trip of a lifetime for sure. Thanks for taking us along.

#8 ketchenany

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:10 AM

Mike, truly amazing.

#9 trevy727

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:19 AM

Words can't describe how I feel right now.
That is something I hope to expierence one day.
You are a very lucky man.

#10 Mike Rousseau

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:23 AM

Wow

#11 fish_fishburn

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 06:52 AM

Truly amazing read guys. What a great way to start the day. Will have to check the video clips later on today. I think I just added another trip to my bucket list. Thanks.
Mike.

#12 lakerguy

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:12 AM

very cool :worthy:

#13 backbay

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:12 AM

Amazing trip, and an amazing recount as well, Mike!

#14 danjang

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:13 AM

This must be an ad for northern Ontario tourism. I'm sold. Where do I throw my money at?!

#15 Harrison

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:25 AM

Trip of a lifetime. Thanks for taking the time to share that guys, awesome read.

Bill, nice shooting too. Just curious, who is faster - Mike or Bill? :)

#16 Rod Caster

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:29 AM

"I thought he was pregnant"-----> my favorite line haha

Great report Mike, I can't sing enough praise for this report, but I'm sure you'll get it all in the next 8 pages!!

#17 Joey

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:33 AM

Sweet, well worth the wait :thumbsup_anim:

#18 laszlo

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:52 AM

This is what I love to see on this site! Hats off gentlemen.

Edited by laszlo, 12 September 2012 - 07:53 AM.


#19 Topwater Strikes

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 08:15 AM

Pictures Say It All WOW :thumbsup_anim: Congratulations...

#20 Live2fish85

 
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Posted 12 September 2012 - 08:20 AM

All I can say is holy crap. That was an amazing report.

Mike you truely know how to write a report and make it feel as if we were right there with you. By far the best report I have ever read. You should have it published some where in some magazine or something.

Thanks for sharing Mike and Bill.

I hope to make that trip some day and as there is no portaging it is something I will hopefully experience.

Thanks again for sharing.






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