A REEL LABRADOR TALE

An osprey vacated
Park Lake, the distinct angle of flight confirming its’ signature.  A pair of bald eagles returned to take
possession of their domain. A party of loons, moved a safe distance but proceeded
to dive for prey displaying, as they always do, their characteristic grace and
determination.  

The sky was
slightly overcast; the Lake flowed inexorably where it joined the Eagle River
before spilling into the Atlantic, touching Cartwright, at the finish. A series
of rapids whose names marked their relationship to the Lake: Muskrat, The Honey
Hole and Eagle, each confirmed a legacy of challenge understood and enlarged by
successive, but not always successful, salmon fishermen; latterly fisherwomen,
too.    

Slowly, the
fishing guide headed the nearly flat bottomed Gander River Boat cautiously in a
north easterly direction, ever mindful that the slowly flowing landscape also comprised
an array of boulder reefs and shoals.  They presented a continuing challenge, if not a threat to the output
of the engine’s 8 HP. The guide’s name was Ron. 

The guide’s name was Ron

He was a
weathered sage, whose greying beard was unable to hide a devilish
demeanor.  He possessed an unfathomable capacity
for humour and, today, feigned ignorance that one of his desk-bound charges might
be a freshman, in the art of the cast. 

Ron kept a
wary and essential eye on the course the boat had chosen; Airlanes came into
view, an area around which an almost oval rock key jutted out from the shore, confirming
that the first channel had been entered.

He seemed
more relaxed now, displaying the confidence of one whose knowledge of the Lake
was encyclopedic.  He ranked among that
special group for whom the natural world, at least as far as fish go, possessed
little mystery.  His insights about fish
behaviour, unpredictability and habitat, and why one fly is superior to another
and when, are almost mythical.  They
represent all the stuff owned by this gentle, soft-spoken legend of Park Lake. 

If you place
a question his way, you had better be careful with the answer; he tends to wrap
each reply inside a caveat, one coated with humour or finished with an
anecdote.  Yet, his wisdom is
unfathomable and any tribute offered him, and there were many, was never rewarded
with cockiness or disrespect, never to the fish, anyway.

Ron’s self-assuredness
was complete; that he knew where each boulder lay hidden, was absolute.

Uncle
Gnarley, and Nav, sat quietly in the boat swallowing up the huge Labrador
landscape.  The boreal forest hugged much
of the Lake’s edge though, occasionally, a run of perfectly placed rocks
invited any fisherman an unfettered cast combined with a cloud burst of flies. 

The two noticed
a new pair of loons flying in, and expressed uninhibited awe when one of that
marvellous species chose a spot, less than fifty feet away, to perform a belly
landing; webbed feet acting as balance as much as brakes.  Occasionally, a few boreal chickadees, gray jays
and, periodically, flocks of pine grosbeak and white-winged crossbill fluttered
among the tree tops or stretched their wings in flight, as if to show off to an
infrequent visitor.


The majesty of the place was all encompassing.  Ten miles long and six miles wide, the Lake’s array of inlets, bays and islands seemingly conspired to bewilder.   That it was renowned as the most prolific spot, in the whole Province, for speckled trout weighing six pounds or more, fifteen to twenty pound salmon and Northern Pike  in the same class, was perfectly fitting for a place this wild.

Having
passed through the second rock barrier, the Lake began to spread out again,
though its shallow aspect did not significantly improve, as the three motored
on.  Uncle Gnarley pointed in the
direction of the “Hilton”, so named more for the comforts it offered, as a grub
shack and a place to dry off, than for its ‘high end’ slab-board construction.  Ron and Shont, the latter guiding the second
boat, would already have schemed to ‘book’ the Hilton, for lunch, where an iron
frying pan and a small ‘brookie’, or two, guaranteed world class cuisine.

Ron raised
his arm to signal the presence of a bald eagle perched majestically atop a tall
bearded tree. “He nests there”, said Ron, matter-of-factly, the comment barely
heard above the steady noise of the outboard motor. 

After a
short time, a third boulder-strewn reef presented itself and, again, the Guide
carefully commenced a meandering, almost circuitous, path as the speed boat
avoided damaging the propeller.  Ron
exhibited no change of demeanor, neither an ounce of concern nor a single
warning of worried preoccupation.  

A relaxed
and steady countenance was all he ever displayed; he had navigated the route
hundreds of times.  Though the Lake
changed, from Spring to Fall, as the melted snow and rain raced toward the
Eagle, his mental map was as firmly fixed and unalterable as the Mealy Mountains
that lay in the distance.

Slowing
again, now, for the last pass-through, the little craft crawled inch by inch,
for a minute or two, as the fibreglass bottom complained and competed with the
Guide’s weather beaten skin, for whose palate could boast more etchings.   ‘Kevin’s Rock’ came into view, on the right,
the well-worn hang-out of a frequent angler. Suddenly, the boat’s release found
confirmation, less perhaps in the sound of the motor’s abrupt power surge, than
in the modest grin evident on the face of the careful master.

We had
arrived at the famed ‘Honey Hole’.

Cutting the
motor, Ron quickly dropped anchor positioning the boat just above the wide, low
rapid.  “We’ll fish from the boat”, the
Guide stated flatly, choosing not to offer democratic choice.

Uncle
Gnarley lost no time choosing a fly; a ‘Pass Lake’ will make a good start, he said,
to no one in particular.  It was one of
Adam’s favourites.  Adam was a Park Lake
Guide who had passed, too young.  Gnarley
had used it to win more than a few grudging victories in the face-off with an
Atlantic salmon.  The fly comprised a
complicated construction of black, white and green fibres; its imposing look
matched Uncle Gnarley’s own redoubtable confidence.  Nav chose a brown muddler.

Within
minutes Uncle Gnarley started to cast, his leader extending its reach with
every movement. Did you see that, he asked rhetorically, as a salmon chose the
moment to breach, showing its full girth and eagerness to play.  Gnarley shifted his position, in the boat,
just slightly and ripped off another forty or fifty feet of line. 

The look of
determination on the old man’s face confirmed that the heavy scaled warrior had
been foolish to expose itself to one so capable in the pugilistic arts.  Though respectful of his quarry, Uncle
Gnarley seemed unmindful that the salmon had already swum 120 miles inland and still possessed the energy to run many more, though ‘home’ was only a short
distance away.   

The fly sped
through the air on the back cast; within a split second the soft swish of
recoil could be heard.  The action was
repeated until at least 150 ft. of line had been stripped, which now seemed to
hang in the morning air, confirming the perfect narrow loop of an expert.  Though the artistic form of the extended leader
belied a more sinister intent, the entire package had just been given a certain
trajectory and was now accelerating towards its target. 

As if for a
single moment before descending, the fly, suspended on an 8 pound test, hovered
in mid-air before it landed within inches of Uncle Gnarley’s quarry. The salmon
jumped in pursuit of the tethered snack. 
Uncle Gnarley raised the tip of his rod; the hook had set perfectly.   

Nav
struggled with the Muddler; Ron watched him omit finishing the tie repeatedly, as
he failed each time to extend the end of the leader up through the second loop,
at which point he needed to pull hard and secure the knot.     

Ron spoke,
“let me show you how it’s done”, as an instructor might who had already warmed
to his student. He accepted the fishing rod from Nav’s hand, with a slight nod
and a look that suggested certain things were not imparted intuitively.  “Playing it safe are you, Nav”, commented Ron,
in a way that seemed less a question than an affirmation of the obvious. “The
Muddler; it’s a good fly; no one has ever been disappointed with a ‘Muddler’ b’y,
he added, handing him back the rod, the fly now tied securely.  

Nav grinned
in a way that, at once, said thanks and acknowledged that he was not as expert
as his old friend.

Mere feet
away, the battle raging between the enraged salmon and Uncle Gnarley continued;
the intensity of the moment was evident as the old man seemed to wear a little,
his quarry unwilling to countenance capitulation.  Gnarley stood in the bow of the boat and,
each time the salmon leapt in an effort to escape, he stiffened as the line could
be heard ripping from the reel.

Winding
again and again, Uncle Gnarley stayed focussed on the challenger as it continued
to bring to bear all its determination to escape.  Slowly now, the vast effort, that had brought
it so close to its spawning ground, showed signs of waning. Following each
effort to find an exit, Gnarley continued to bring the salmon closer to Ron’s
extended arm, as he readied the dip net. 

The Guide
reached over the boat, tentatively, as the aquatic wrestler raced in the wrong
direction; a slight arm movement and suddenly the salmon was at the mercy of
one of the craftiest old anglers that had ever graced Park Lake. 

Ron ran his
thumb and forefinger slowly down the line until he was able to grasp the
barbless hook, its removal more gentle than a pin prick. 

Uncle Gnarly
had his first win of the day. The salmon had already won its freedom.

The old
economist wasted no time preparing to do battle again; not even a celebratory
sip from the mickey, carefully filled before departure, could interrupt the old
man’s renewed mission.

Nav did not
fail to note that an old bull moose had joined them; his large antlers giving
confirmation to his noble status in a herd, likely not far away.  A light breeze could be felt and with that,
the animal moved to the security of the trees.

Nav cast
again, the muddler entangling with something unseen.

Uncle
Gnarley continued to exhibit a casting skill that seemed to impress even Ron,
his tell-tale smirk enlarged as another of the scaly wonders leaped high into
the air in surprise; the old man girded, again, for fight.

Before long
he had landed another and was wasting no time as he changed flies, thinking it
time to offer the lake “something new”.

Ron nudged
Nav to warn him a salmon was showing his fly some interest….”you have to always
keep an eye to your line, Nav; you need to be ready to set the hook, otherwise
he’ll just spit it out.”

Nav nodded
gratefully and cast again, though his attention seemed diverted.  He kept watching the uncertain flight of one
of the Bald Eagles as it trolled for dinner along the shoreline.  He experienced astonishment as trout breached
from the deep pools, buzzing flies having earned their attention.

Today,
worries over Muskrat Falls and of a Government trying its best to be unwise
held no room in his or Uncle Gnarley’s preoccupations; saving the Province from
pedestrian minds would have to wait while they drank in, as Ray Guy might say, Park
Lake’s “beneficial vapors”.

Nav’s
attention was again distracted, as Uncle Gnarley expelled audibly, the
exhaustion of the morning, coupled with the demands of a sixth and possibly the
heaviest salmon of all, wearing on the always likable but often cantankerous
old master.    

Suddenly,
Nav’s luck took an abrupt turn.

Uncle
Gnarley’s salmon had just been landed when Ron could be heard ordering Nav to
raise the tip of his rod.  His line went
taut and in an instant, tension in the boat, shifted.

Uncle
Gnarley placed his rod securely out of the way of Nav’s field of action and sat
back to watch his younger friend handle his first encounter with a resident of
the Lake. Like Ron, Gnarley knew immediately that Nav’s quarry was not a
salmon, though they both prayed to the Lake Gods, for something large.  Anyway, early action suggested the ‘brookie’
might just surprise.

Ron was
careful not to become too engaged in Nav’s personal battle; he liked it when
his charges were able to take all the credit, though he knew when the occasional
subtle suggestion might alter an otherwise disappointing outcome.

“Excellent
Nav, let the fish run with the line if he wants to, let the reel do the work
for you; just keep the line tight, just not too tight”, counselled Ron.  

Suddenly,
the reel could be heard ripping off more nylon as the trout made an attempt at
getaway. When that didn’t work, its displeasure was expressed more visibly,
forcefully breaching the water’s surface, its mid-air hijinks evidence of a
determination to be freed.

Uncle
Gnarley spoke in the direction of the Guide: 
“Jeepers, Ron that fish must be at least two full pounds. “Certainly, Sir”,
Ron replied, adding: “I don’t think I would add more than an ounce to your
well-considered estimation.”

Nav ignored
the two and rose to a standing position, in the boat.  His face expressed determination that he
would commit no error now, certain was he that he would join the august group
of anglers whose stories got retold and embellished, with each retelling, by
Ron and the other Guides.

The trout’s
energy began depleting fast, lacking as it does the muscular form as well as
the fiery disposition of its salmonid kin. 

The fish
broke the surface of the water, this time within inches of the boat, giving sanction
to any suggestion that this was no ordinary ‘brookie’.  Over eight, Ron declared solemnly, as Uncle
Gnarley, too, glanced at the fish, seemingly surprised, though he nodded
confirmation of Ron’s reappraisal. 

Nav’s reel
could be heard ripping line as the trout found new energy.  Again, the fish became airborne, its deep brown
speckled skin and pink underbelly now in full view, its lungs exploding as it gasped
and struggled to get free.

“You are
wrong, my friend; fifteen pounds, at least”, offered Uncle Gnarley. “And that’s,
again, from your conservative side, isn’t it?” Ron suggested.

Nav reeled
in the slack as the ‘brookie’ darted to and fro.  The fish, showing exhaustion now, fought less
hard as Nav drew it closer to the boat.  Ron
readied the dip net, knowing that Nav would most certainly need help soon. 

“Uncle
Gnarley”, suggested Ron, we have both underestimated the skill of this new
angler; if ever I have told the truth, I assure you any scale of justice would
bring this bugger in at eighteen or nineteen pounds.”

Ron slipped
the dip net into the water as the fish attempted to swim under the boat; not a
place any angler desired, if he is to stay in control. Ron had already decided
Nav would not lose his only fish of the day and, just possibly the largest one ever
caught on Park Lake.  “Swing the tip of
your rod to starboard, slightly, Nav“, suggested Ron, as the fish changed
direction, mere inches from the surface. 

“Holy Lord
liftin’”, Ron was soon heard again, yet again voicing a necessity to recast his
earlier surprise upon seeing the ‘brookie’ up close. “At least twenty”, Uncle
Gnarley, Ron announced, his astonishment suggesting no hint of hyperbole,
certainly none that might cast any shadow on Nav’s trophy.   “I
hope you have a camera.  I wouldn’t want
the others to think we would ever lie, as he exhibited his trademark grin.

Uncle
Gnarley informed the boat, flatly, that he had never made it a practice to take
a camera to a fishing Lake. “It would be ‘neither right nor proper’, Ron”, the
old angler added, the phrase and his intonation reminiscent of a frequent
incantation of a former Chief Justice, who also had been Premier.   

Ron handed
the live Trout to Nav, who expressed no surprise at the fish’s improbable dimension. 

A moment
later he asked Nav if it was a keeper.  “No”,
replied Nav, with a certainty reserved for anglers who always catch giants.  “We’ve both had our fun” and watched,
admiringly, as Ron let the eager fish return to the rapid.

Uncle
Gnarley gave Nav a congratulatory handshake and, as he did so, reminded Ron,
that Nav would most certainly be remembered in this summer’s tall tales.

Ron chuckled
at the deference the old man was paying the successful younger angler.  He was having none of that; it might have
been the largest fish Nav had ever caught, but it was still only one. 

“Well, Uncle
Gnarley”, said Ron, with the devilish demeanor that had helped make him a Labrador
legend:  “even a blind chicken can catch
the odd kernel in a corn field.” 

The three
erupted in laughter.  It was a rich
guttural sound that spoke, not just to a wonderful camaraderie, but to a
singularity of spirit best understood by those for whom the outdoors is not
merely a love, but a passion.

Slipping his
hand inside his fishing vest, Uncle Gnarley produced the mickey that held the
essential topper to a great morning; only two clinked cups. The Guide always celebrates
later. 

It was time
to head up to the “Hilton”; Shont might already have arrived, with his charges.
Over a pan of trout and the obligatory can of Vienna sausage, the other two anglers
will also have stories to tell.  Nav’s will surely
top theirs.  

Uncle
Gnarley and Ron will be there to make sure none of them become too economical
with the truth.            
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

NALCOR (Masquerading as ‘Hydro’)LIVES IN AN UPSIDE DOWN WORLD

If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!

REMEMBERING BILL MARSHALL

Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.