The Tangier River

Boppin' in the country, fishin' in a stream ... from Honky Cat by Elton John

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There was a time when Roy, Vern, Kelly and myself rented a one room cabin on the Tangier River system. It's about a two and a half hour trip from here, half of which is spent meandering along the beautiful coastline of the Eastern Shore.

The cabin is located at the northern tip of an unnamed island on River Lake, just outside the village of Mooseland (est. pop. two hundred). To get to the island we have to cross a gated causeway, which makes it sound kind of isolated. In fact there are about twenty cabins dotted along the shoreline. They're mostly summer camps which doesn't bother us because we'll only be there in the spring and fall when the fishing's good.

What a funny little cabin. The walls are built of two foot lengths of two by sixes, scrap from the mill, laid flat, like brickwork. A very labor intensive way of putting up a building but the feller that owns it is retired and has plenty of time on his hands. The rafters are peeled logs and the roof is regular board. There's lots of windows so we have a fabulous view looking straight up the river where it enters the lake.

I won't go into the details of what we had to go through on this first overnight stay to get the place set up to Vern's satisfaction, he's so fussy, and I'll get on to the good bits.

Friday evening I put my rod together, tied on a green bug fly, crawled into the canoe and set off upriver. The afternoons low black rain clouds were rolling aside to reveal a pale blue sky. It was so calm that the foam generated by the upriver riffles was barely moving as it drifted into the lake. I paddled slowly and quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace. I made my way round a right hand turn, pushing aside foam bubbles, past reed beds and lily pads on either side, until I came to the riffles.

There's a forty foot diameter pool just above the riffles. Looking upstream the river enters the pool offcenter, to the right, and has carved a deep hole amongst the gravel. Here the side current turns back on itself, forming a slow whirlpool, dragging the foam into a long oval along the right bank. A fifty foot pine tree bows to the river at the head of the pool. The river has eroded the earth around its roots and it is split down the middle of its three foot trunk. I could see through the split. Its life will soon end. When it does fall it will span the river. A kingfisher flew from one of its branches as I stepped out of the canoe. I stood beneath this tree and was forced to side cast into the whirlpool. Every time I tried to retrieve a fly caught in it's lower branches I was wondering if this would be the straw that brought it down. Whenever we fly fishermen try to cross a river we consider it a challenge, so standing under that tree, in my mind, was part of the game. What else would you expect from a senile old fool like myself.

I caught six or seven lovely little fighting brookies, all on the green bug, and then headed upriver. The river tapers from twenty feet to ten feet over a couple of hundred feet, in a prolonged left hand curve, and then makes a sharp right turn into another beautiful pool. The water is quite fast in this section so I walked along the bank, a small spider hanging from the peak of my cap. Flickering dragonflies, some as big as the trout I had caught, took flight from the reeds. At the end of this stretch I carefully lowered myself into the water, waded over close to the opposite bank and threw my line downriver. And then I got lost. This happens when all is so peaceful that nothing else exists, just the bubbling of water. Even the fishing is forgotten.

I was standing in the river, separated from the upper pool by a short point of land containing a thin stand of alders, when something large and grey flew in on my left and landed on the other side of the alders. I slowly turned my head, and there, not more than ten feet away, was a blue heron. Normally I can't get within fifty feet of these birds without them taking off, but there he was. I watched him for a while and then quietly said, "What are you doing here, this is my spot". He stretched and twisted his neck to find me. He looked so surprised! Then he flapped his wings, and trailing those long legs, slowly took off across the upper pool.

I fished the two hundred feet back to my starting point catching just one more fish that hit my fly like a shark. Wading along the slippery bottom of this river is quite a task, it has to be taken inches at a time. The force of the water was gliding me over the rocks. By mistake I found a deep hole and the water slid over the top of my waders. It is a spot I will keep in mind for later on, it seemed the perfect place for a big trout. When I got back to the canoe the sun was curtsying to the horizon. The slow current below the riffles was sufficient to drift me homewards and I only needed an occasional dip of the paddle to keep the canoe on course.

Opposite the camp, in a long sweeping cove, is a beaver lodge. Earlier on, when I'd been looking out of the camp window, I'd seen a couple of fish rise in this area. I steered the canoe out of the current into the still water of the cove and cast a fly. Then I went into another trance. I think seeing things is about being still. I know that when I'm in this state I don't move. And then I saw this thin line crossing the lake, not more than thirty feet away. There was Mr. Beaver, his eyes just above water and his nose attached to a large foam bubble which he pushed ahead of him. I can't leave things like this alone, it's like me talking to that heron. I just love to see a beavers tail come out of the water. The slap they make when they dive is one of the sounds of the wild, just like the haunting call of the loon in early spring. I clapped my hands. Out came his tail and the splash echoed across the lake. I laughed. I sat still and waited for him to reappear. Up he came and I watched him swim towards his lodge, safe for the night.

Then I paddled home, lit the stove, made a cup of tea, and sat at the table with a big grin on my face.

The next day Vern and I cruised the canoe down two miles of river and watched flocks of ducks rise from the reed beds, once again the fishing was forgotten.

Tales Casting contest I Tangier River I Boyhood memories I Newfie salmon I Muddler's memories I Does a bear? I First ever salmon I The Tickmobile
U-Fish I 4 a.m. I Lyin seasun I Anecdotes I Fishgirl salmon I A natural fly I Main Event I Honeymoon I Vernon I Leslie I Coyote? I Newfie trout I Fantasy

Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997