It seems like it was only a few short years ago that my brother Edward organized one of his many fishing trips to Quebec’s Rapid Lake on the shores of Cabonga Reservoir. The lake and reservoir lie within the La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve. Our hearts were beating rapidly as we loaded our vehicles with fishing tackle, provisions, maps and boat and trailer all on our check list prior to departure from Chicopee, Mass. for a journey to the great Canadian outdoors. Our home base for the next few days would be Deer Horn Lodge. We all experienced an adrenalin surge, knowing that we were heading for some of the greatest freshwater fishing in Canada. The Cabonga Reservoir (French Reservoir Cabonga) is a man-made lake in Central Quebec, Canada, located on the boundary between the unorganized territories of Lac-Pythonga and Reservoir-Dozois, and fully within the La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve where the First Nations reserve of Rapid Lake are located on its western shores. Before its impoundment, Cabonga Reservoir was considered the largest body of water between the Gatineau and Ottawa Rivers. Between 1928 and 1929, a dam at the outlet of the lake, the Gens de Terre River, was constructed to create a water reserve for logging companies to float their logs downstream. Thus some 37 natural lakes were combined and formed a single reservoir with an area of 404 square kilometers, dotted with innumerable islands and deep bays.
Deer Horn Lodge – Our Home away from Home
French Canadian outfitters know how to make you feel welcomed. No crowds, no noise, no jet skis, just world class fishing at its best. Cabonga Reservoir is rated in America’s Top 20 freshwater fishing and home of the Canadian Walleye Record, with 270 miles square of unspoiled water waiting for you to discover, and just maybe a new fishing record in sight with your name on it. Staying at Deer Horn Lodge was an experience in itself. At a certain hour each night the generator would shut down until the next morning. Lights out — no kidding!
An early morning breakfast in the small dining hall usually consisted of fried eggs, cooked in lard, floating on top, thick slabs of bacon, toast and strong coffee. I vividly recall one morning when we were having breakfast, Frank St. Lawrence, one of our fishing buddies, was observing the fried eggs in his plate and commented in his gruff voice, “Will you look at those eggs, their floating”! His voice echoed throughout the dining area for all to hear. Needless to say, they checked out their platters of food. Frank had a sense of humor second to none. He could make you laugh until the tears were streaming down your eyes uncontrollably. Just to set the record straight, the food at Deer Horn Lodge was very satisfactory.
By that time we were chomping at the bit, ready to do some serious fishing on Rapid Lake. Boarding our boats, gassing up, checking our fishing gear, and making sure we had safety cushions, rain gear, food, water, and bug spray , we revved up our outboard motors and were on our way into the unknown, for what we hoped would be setting a new fishing record. The weather on Rapid Lake could turn on a dime. It could be calm one minute and white caps the next minute. Swells five feet or more were common when the winds howled in.
More Memories of Frank St. Lawrence
He loved the outdoors, especially fishing up in Canada. Frank could be gentle and giving in his own way. One particular day while fishing on Rapid Lake, we came upon a moose crossing the bay heading for the shoreline. Frank had never seen a live moose and decided that he would like to get up close to this one and touch his ear while the moose was swimming towards shore. We caught up to the moose in our boat and Frank reached out and did his thing. He did so with reverence and gentleness and allowed the moose to swim on. Years later at a retirement banquet held in his honor after his retirement from the South Hadley Electric Light Department, my brother Ed presented Frank with a framed picture of him and the moose. He cried, laughed, and thought back of that once in a lifetime experience. There are other stories such as the Ice house Incident that I cannot retale in this article, as it would come under the title PG 13. Suffice to say it is a classic!
Glassing the Squaws
Early one evening while we were getting ready to do some night fishing for walleyes, we came upon Frank outside our cabin propped up against a v shaped tree with his high powered binoculars in hand. He was studying what we thought was the beauty of the sun setting. It turned out that he was ‘glassing the squaws’ who were swimming in the lake in their birthday suits. Thus the term ‘glassing the squaws’ became famous in our memories.
The Thrill of a Lifetime
If you have ever experienced a shore fry, enjoying a freshly caught walleye , then you know where I’m going with this. We would gather dead wood on the shore and make a crude fire, putting our fry pan filled with fresh walleye filets dipped in a batter of flour and eggs, and fry these beauties for two-to-three minutes on each side until golden brown, ready to eat. What a feast! Without a doubt, the walleye is one of the best fresh water fish in the world.
But let’s not forget the thrill of landing the mighty and ferocious great northern pike on light tackle. They are the warriors of fresh water species. Picture a huge northern on your line, breaking water and dancing on the surface, doing its utmost to break your line, or get your lure caught up in the shallows, where there are many dead stumps from fallen trees, with the intent to fight another day. That’s what we fishermen call live action, and “them versus us." Northern Pike have been known to surpass 50 lbs in weight throughout the various lakes of Canada. However, hook on to an 18-20 pound pike and get ready for some fast action and the challenge to land the king of the lake in your fishing net. You have to be especially alert when landing a northern in your net. They have sharp teeth and given the chance will slash your hand in the process of unhooking the fishing lure from their mouth as they thrash around wildly in the boat. It’s best to use pliers to get the lure out.
Memories are made of this
We yearn to return to Rapid Lake, reliving the delight, thrill and challenge that awaits every angler who ventures into the wilderness for a heart pounding experience that surpasses all understanding. Summer Olympics come and go, and I have often wondered why the great sport of freshwater fishing isn’t part of their venue. For in our own way we are warriors seeking that championship of claiming a world record in the wilds of ‘Oh Canada’!!! Fishermen are a different breed of folks who love exploring a newly discovered lake or river, that at one time was only accessible by float plane by a seasoned bush pilot. Casting your favorite lure and putting it right on spot where you want it land is a true mark of excellence. In our own way we look at ourselves as “Olympians of the Waterways“.
I, along with his immediate family, relatives, and close buddies, thank the ‘master in the world of fresh water fishing‘, my brother Ed, for introducing all of us to the joy of the sport. I can still hear the sound of his voice, saying: “I've got a big one on the line. Stop the outboard motor and get the net ready. Make sure he doesn't go under the boat and get the line snagged in the prop." Hey Bro, thanks for the memories!