Labrador is rather unknown for most Europeans. I even met several people who really didn't know were exactly it is located. This is probably why Labrador belongs to one of the world's last great frontiers. Labrador is the mainland portion of the eastern Canadian province Newfoundland and Labrador. For me it will be the easiest to describe it as an individual country. By plane Labrador is not so far away from Europe but with only two main roads available most of the land is almost unreachable, especially during the summer time. In the winter it is totally different. The frozen ground and snow makes access much easier. The snowmobiles seemed to be an excellent way of transport. This country is so wild and rugged that it is often described as the land that was given by God to Cain. The Torngat Mountains in the North with its spectacular coastline and fjords surely belongs to one of the most magnificent landscapes in North America. Labrador has always fascinates me and I really don't know why. When I was a student I worked 3 months on a script about the Hubbard expedition for my final examination. A long time I was completely obsessed by this dramatic expedition that took place in the middle of Labrador in the year 1903. No other people had been there before. Leonidas Hubbard jr. desperate search for the North West River (that not exist) and Lake Michikamau, all the mistakes he made and the caught of hundreds of fish in the Beaver River has always fascinates me. So I know a little bit about the rivers like the Susan, Naskaupi and Beaver and I am sure that I am one of the few Dutch people who know the complete history behind the lake's Hope, Disappointment and Lost Trail.
Labrador is a land of mystery and adventure but it is also a country were innumerable black flies and mosquito's found there perfect home. The stories about them could not daunt my wife Ina and me. We simply couldn't believe that it was worse than northern Scandinavia.
It is a peaceful and quiet country, were less then 35,000 people settled only small parts of almost 300,000 square kilometres of unspoiled landscape. Many people think that there is nothing else than only bare rock or snow and ice and most of them don't even realise how wrong they are. Labrador lives with an unmistakable power and invincible energy. The George River Caribou herd with some 450,000 animals is the largest herd of caribou in the world. Nearly 40 species of animals like, moose, polar bear, black bear, wolf, arctic fox, lynx and martin gives you just a small impression of the unbelievable wildlife. During the summer large groups of whales, seals and millions of migration birds will be found along the entire coastline. There are thousands of square kilometres of spruce forest dotted with sparkling rivers and lakes that not had been fully explored and which are teeming with fish. This makes Labrador world-renowned for its sport fishing possibilities and after my personal experience it is definitely a perfect country for the adventurous fly fisher.
After nearly 25 years one of my greatest wishes got finely reality. We just enjoyed two weeks of spectacular salmon fishing in Newfoundland and our next step was a visit to the famous Labradorian River Pinware. We were sure that this trip would be another highlight in our sensational fishing holiday. With great expectations we stood in lane waiting to cross by ferry from St. Barbe (Newfoundland) to Blanc Sablon in Quebec. The weather was perfect and during our journey we saw two large groups of Wales. We counted about 20 blows and we could follow them for almost 15 minutes. Then they change direction and we lost sight on them.
Ninety minutes later we landed in Quebec and it took us only five minutes to reach the Labrador Straits region. We followed route 510 to Red Bay while the weather started to change. A little rain came down and when we passed the characteristic rolling Barren Grounds and peaceful villages we smelled the air of tuckamore. (A typical Newfoundland term for the stunted balsam fir and spruce trees that grow in alpine areas and along the coast. On wind-exposed sites, tuckamore forms impenetrable elfin forests.) It was the cleanest air we ever smelled and we called it the perfume of the wild. They weather changed very quickly. A white coloured owl crossed the road only a few yards in front of our car. A groundhog took all our attention.
We didn't know where to look but we were most impressed by the great number of Wales that played and feed between the icebergs in the bay's we passed. For the first time in our lives we saw a breaching whale very close to the shore. At least 3/4 of his body came out of the water and almost turns us into stone. This was my slowest drive ever.
Then the Pinware came within sight. Between the dark sky a strong sunbeam lighted up the mouth of the river. Was it a signed, omen or just coincidence? We followed the river upstream and became aware of the wonderful and picturesque scenery of the Pinware valley. We searched for the Chute Pool lodge, our destiny for the next four days. A young guy managed the lodge by absence of the owner and he did extremely well. This is my story.
THE FIRST EXPERIENCE
After a great dinner Ina stays in the lodge and I prepared myself for the first trip. It still rained a little and the wind kept the black flies away. The River was high and the large salmon just started to come in. Neil, my guide, was a little sceptical because there were not many fish caught during the last couple of days. Two weeks before a great run came through in much lower water and catches were plentiful but now with the high water it was only possible to fish the tidal part of the river. The best pools were too far out for wading and the only thing that we could do was to fish in some of the deeper parts that were very close the riverbank.
I fished together with the brother of Al Beaty and Neil put us at some good high water spots. On my place I saw the shade of two huge boulders just under the surface. It was a narrow passage and if there were any salmon on the move this could be the only place for them to follow their way upstream. I was right and only five casts later I hooked into a good fish. I was very surprised because I really didn't work for him. I was still trying to get out more line for a long and good well placed cast. I had not a good feeling about this quick success but sometimes it just happened. The fight was a real spectacle and in less than a minute I realised that this wasn't a grilse. Finally I landed a nine-pound fish. My first Labradorian Salmon ever was a fact. Two hours passed and the fishing became harder and tougher. Now I run into a real challenge. I change my fly for a Norwegian killer named "The Norwegian Power" and tried several techniques but nothing happened. But then, just before darkness and almost 300 metres from the place where I started, I hooked an enormous fish. He stayed down and I only could guess for its size.
I tried to move him but it didn't work. I pull harder and harder and finely he started to move. He got a fair play and a few minutes later he won his fight for freedom. Now I had an extremely good evening. We had a nice chat on a big rock at the riverbank and the weather started to change again. The prospects for the following day looked good.
THE UNEXPECTED GUEST
The next morning the valley was covered in bright sunshine. The wind slowed down and we became aware about a subject that not many fly fishermen will mention in their articles. I have to do it because if you are searching for the most spectacular fishing places you must accept all the living creatures around you. Even the smallest of all and I can tell you now that all those stories about the insects are very true. We met the terror of the Labradorian wild, better known as the Blackfly but this also was an enormous experience. At least if you see it from the good side. They like you so much that they visit you with thousands of their friends. Sprays and repellents are almost useless and without the help from the local guides it would be impossible to fish. We got some very good tips and together with high quality bug jackets it was not so bad after all.
The wind became our best friend and we were lucky that we weren't that far away from the sea. The valley also has good windy conditions and if you know how to use the blowing of the wind the fishing get even very funny. This happened to us when we fish the bottleneck. A very nice pool created by a large gravel bank far away from the riverbank
We fished about 80 metres away from the bank and got into a real fit of laughter when we saw how two Japanese guys were dancing the wildest dances on the shore to keep the blackfies away. It didn't work because they fished in the shelter of the trees and were out of the wind. They amused us for more than an hour. We stood directly in the wind and had an excellent day without any insects. Our catch was poor but the fishing great.
Ina lost a huge fish and when sun sets I got the fight of my life. In a deep pool on the other side of the river the Norwegian Power did the damage. To be honest I couldn't handle the fish. My 7-weight single-handed rod was simply to light for him. This in spite of my experience of landing several 16-18 pound fish with it before in Newfoundland. Again it was the fish that won the fight but now it was my own mistake. I never expected to hook such a big fish.
My best fishing I had on the third day. Thanks to the tips from Neil, regarding to some hot spots, I landed 2 very nice fish. Both I caught in the bottleneck which became our favourite pool by far. Ina lost her third fish and I felt really sorry for her. She worked so hard to catch one but every time she run into fish it was a real monster. She missed the experience of playing large salmon and was too careful during the fight. At the fourth day I hooked my last fish, which was again, a very nice size and he give me an extremely good fight and a perfect backing test. Today I looked back on a wonderful and very exiting trip to a country I always wanted to visit. A dream came through.
All text and pictures by Hans van Klinken