I love to fish. My grandfather was a fisherman. My father was a fisherman. So am I. Over the course of my life, I’ve been able to do a solid range of fishing. From bonefish, tarpon, and snook off the coast of Florida to rainbows, browns, brookies, and cutts in the streams of the American West. I’ve slowly made my way out and back. I also spent twenty-five years in Texas where the bass was the primary game. While not my favorite species, the time period was productive as well as entertaining and was also the last place I could fish with my father and mother before they reached the age where the casting was no longer an option. (fly or lure)
But the best fishing I’ve ever had was in the far northern reaches of Canada. Starting in middle school, my father and I would make an annual pilgrimage to the Northwest Territories where we would hop small float planes before disappearing into the wild where catching a hundred fish in two days was not uncommon. But numbers were not what we were after. We were after the experience. The travel up was always eventful. Barricading ourselves in a hotel room while a bar fight spilled into the hallway outside. Planes icing up, crashes on muddy, hand-cut runways, and overloaded de Haviland Otters and Beavers long past their prime flying at treetop level to avoid heavy weather. Snow in July and big water including running eighteen-foot Lunds upriver against rapids and better judgment. Fresh walleye over an open fire and duking it out with tanker-size northern pike. It was glorious.
But my adventures pale in comparison to Lee Wulff. Lee Wulff is a legend who knew how to land the prized Atlantic salmon, among other species, but he was also a pioneer when it came to fish conservation and bush plane exploration of both Newfoundland and Labrador. And this was during a time when planes were primitive, roads were few, and rescues of any kind were but a dream. “Bush Pilot Angler,” is a memoir painting simple but wonderful pictures of these remote regions from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Wulff was drawn to the region by the salmon themselves, a powerful and legendary species that at the time was around in record numbers. Like the timber industry, the idea at the time was the fish, the trees, and the water were boundless, but Wulff knew this wasn’t the case. Even in the 1940s, he knew conservation was mandatory, but the Canadian authorities didn’t agree. In fact, it wasn’t until decades later, after the severe decline in fish stocks, that the government took action. Does this sound familiar?
Wulff learned to fly a bush plane in three weeks. Think about that. A lightweight, fabric-covered plane that was at the mercy of the elements. Three weeks in he is flying to remote regions and landing on water with fishing customers, his kids, and anyone else wanting a ride to the hinterlands. This book makes me want to leave now. To go, north, East, whatever. My flyrods will be cleaned and checked, my license renewed and my calendar cleared. What else can I say?
A trip to the Boundary Waters with my son was, sadly, a trip I was never able to make.
Man, we are attempting to plan something now…