Every other year during our annual spring fishing trip to Northern Ontario, I make a point of booking a fly out to some remote lake with one of the local air services.
I don’t do it just to enjoy a change of scenery, or to fish some new water; one of the main attractions is that I get out of cooking dinner that day, and the guys who come along, don’t have to worry about the dishes. While it sounds good in theory, in reality things don’t always turn out as you plan. I can recall on at least two occasions, when arriving back at camp, well after our normal dinner time, finding the rest of our crew, sitting around the kitchen table waiting patiently for someone to cook their supper.
Wandering around the Toronto Sportsman’s Show, I got to chatting with the owner/pilot of Lakeland Airways. Lakeland, which operates out of the town of Temagami, was a good option, because they were only a forty-five minute drive from our base camp. After looking at what they had to offer, and coming up with what I thought was a fair price, I booked a day trip for our group into Sirdevon Lake, Lakeland’s premier pike fishery.
Our group consisted of yours truly, my buddy Gary, my dad, otherwise known as “Baldy,” and last, but certainly not least, Uncle Harry. The weather was perfect when we arrived at the float base, and following a very smooth twenty- minute flight, we touched down just off a small mid-lake island where the boats and motors were stored. We arranged a six pm pick up with our pilot, and then proceeded to sort out our gear and launch the boats. The plan was for me to fish with Uncle Harry until lunch, and then switch partners with Gary, following which I would have the pleasure of chauffeuring Baldy around for the rest of the day.
The fishing all morning was great, and between our two boats, we caught somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty pike. Nothing of any size, the biggest might have gone six or seven pounds, but the action was steady, and Uncle Harry, who loved nothing more than to fish for pike, was as happy as a clam. We all met back at the island around 12:30, had a sandwich, and each drank one of the eight beers that had mysteriously found their way into our small cooler. After lunch we affected the transfer of both bodies and gear, and set off for what we hoped would be an equally productive afternoon. Gary and Uncle Harry were going to work the north shore of the lake, so Baldy and I decided to try the south shore.
During our lunch break the wind started to pick up, and when we got back out onto the water, Baldy and I began a drift along the south shore, casting this way and that, while the wind hurried us along. We managed to catch a few fish, but by the time we were about halfway down the lake, it really started to get rough. We were fishing in a small, flat-bottomed “Jon” boat powered by a three horsepower motor, and while it was fine when the water was flat, it was more of a liability than an asset, when there was any kind of chop to contend with.
I could see by the look on his face that Baldy was no longer enjoying himself, when he muttered ominously, “I have to go.” It was clear that he didn’t mean “go,” as in, go for a cold beer or something along those lines, so I started to look around for a place where we could pull into shore. Just up ahead, I saw what looked very much like a dock jutting out from the shore. Because I was under the impression that other than our two boats, there was nothing else on the lake, I assumed it must be a tree that had fallen in the water, but as I got closer, to my surprise it was in fact a small wooden dock. Not only was there a dock, it happened to have a good size cabin, set back in the trees to go along with it.
I tied up to the dock, and as we walked towards the cabin, we saw a small sign over the door welcoming us to the Sirdevon Lake Hunt Camp. Shortly after our arrival Baldy, who had disappeared behind the cabin, shouted in a voice clearly filled with relief, that he had located an outhouse. As I rounded the corner of the cabin, I could see him making a beeline up the small hill to where the facilities were located. After he got settled, he informed me that there was no paper to be found - only some shingles and a box of nails. I suggested that because we were roughing it he should stop complaining, and make do with what was available.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a very polite reply, so I offered to look around for something more suitable. I was just about to tell him that he would have to use the shingles, when looking through one of the cabin windows, I spotted several rolls of just the right kind of paper. Unfortunately the window was locked, so I walked around to the front of the cabin and gave the doorknob a twist, and to my complete surprise, the door swung open.
After liberating a roll of paper, and delivering it to Baldy, we decided that it would be more comfortable weathering out the wind storm inside of the cabin, and if worse came to worse; we had a place to stay if our pilot did not make it back before dark.
We sat around for the rest of the afternoon chewing on some old Halloween toffees that someone had left behind, hoping that our ride home would turn up. At seven o’clock the wind was still howling, and because it would be getting dark in a couple of hours, the prospect of spending the night at the hunt camp was becoming more of a reality.
The wind finally began to die down around eight o’clock, and I said to Baldy, “I wonder how Gary and Uncle Harry are making out?” Showing great concern for the welfare of our friends, Baldy replied, “Who cares, they have the rest of the sandwiches and beer, and I’m getting hungry and could murder a cold one.”
Agreeing that one of those sandwiches and a cold beer would taste damn good about now, I said, “Well it’s calmed down quite a bit, so I’m going to see if I can find them.” Shortly after I pushed off, I could hear the sound of a plane engine, and looking up, I saw the red and white Lakeland Cessna 185 coming in just over the trees behind me. I thought to myself, “This is not so good, we flew in on the Beaver, and all of us are not going to fit into that Cessna.”
The plane passed overhead, and then made a slow turn at the far end of the lake. By this time I was within shouting distance of the island where we had been dropped off that morning. Standing on shore, and waving their arms and yelling something I could not quite make out, were Gary and Uncle Harry. “For Christ sakes where have you been, and where the hell is Baldy?” asked Uncle Harry as I pulled into shore. I just finished explaining where we had spent the afternoon, when the plane landed and taxied over. The pilot jumped out and said, “We really have to get a move on guys, it will be dark soon, and because I’m going to have to make two trips to get all of you out of here, it will be touch and go for the second trip.”
I told the pilot where Baldy was, and we all agreed that it made sense to take Gary and Uncle Harry out first, while I headed back over to the cabin to explain the situation to Baldy. After leaving a note thanking the hunt camp owners for their hospitality, and the stale toffees, we moved our gear down to the dock, and waited. By now it was almost nine o’clock, and as each minute ticked by, our chances of getting out became less likely. At about a quarter past nine we heard the plane, and our pilot, not wanting to waste any time, dropped the Cessna down right in front of the dock. We literally threw our gear, and ourselves into the plane, and by the time we landed back at the float base, you could barely make out the surface of the water.
Gary and Uncle Harry were waiting for us, and once we unloaded the plane and thanked the pilot, we walked over to where they were standing. The first thing Uncle Harry did was hand Baldy and me a beer. “I’m touched,” said Baldy. “I never thought you would have saved one for me.”
Uncle Harry, looking Baldy straight in the eye said, “I thought you two had drowned, and I was saving it to drink at your wake. If I had known that you were relaxing at the goddamn Waldorf Astoria all afternoon, while I was freezing my ass off on that bloody island, it would have been long gone by now.”