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Napken lake trip 4

July 2017. 

Time to go again! I wait all year for these trips and then it seems like they are over so fast. One week isn’t enough, maybe someday I’ll be able to afford a 2 or even 3 week trip but for now this will have to do.

For this year, we went up a little earlier than the previous trips. We were scheduled to fly in on July 21 so once the truck was loaded we began the drive to Hearst Ontario early in the morning of July 19.

I wasn’t too sure about the timing for this trip. The fishing in July can be slow, the days can be warm and the bugs can be bad. I prefer the cooler weather of late August and early September. As it turned out, the fishing was a little slower, the weather was partially overcast for most of the trip so it didn’t get too hot and even the bugs were survivable although definitely noticeable.

As you can imagine the anticipation of what was ahead of us meant that we were all up, dressed and ready for breakfast around 6 am. So we headed off to Tim Hortons for a bite and even though it was still way early we then headed out to the air base.

We figured we could entertain ourselves with a few games of pool and swapping stories for a couple of hours while we waited to fly. To our happy surprise the schedule had been shifted a bit and we were now going in on the first flight in that direction so we loaded our gear on the plane and shortly after that we were airborne.

The crew this year consisted of myself, Uncle Larry, Bruce, and three new faces – Jim, Dave and Mark. Jim has lots of experience with hunting and fishing in northern Ontario, Dave is an old timer who has done his share of outdoors activities and Mark is an avid outdoors-man, both with  plenty of experience holding a fishing pole. Since I hadn’t met Dave or Mark prior to this trip, the drive up provided the perfect opportunity to get to know them and we soon became buddies.

After crossing the border late afternoon Wednesday we stayed over in Sault Ste. Marie and on Thursday we continued up to Hearst arriving around supper time and checking in at the air base. We were set for a slightly later take off time on Friday – there was another group ahead of us and we were scheduled for a 10 am takeoff. When we left the air base we met up with our local friend Conrad and went to supper. After that, it was back to the motel and lights off.

If you’ve read my other Napken Lake posts you may remember that I mentioned several times that it would have been nice to have a Go Pro or something similar to capture the crazy events as they happen. Well, this year I finally managed to acquire an action camera. It’s a cheaper knock-off of the Go Pro but it works pretty good. Now I just need to work on my filming and editing skills. Regardless, I was now prepared to capture all of the exciting moments that may happen – and based on the previous trips I felt sure there would be at least one!

Exciting Moment #1

Dave gives Rod a heart attack

On the first full day of fishing my partner in the boat was Dave. Dave is a fun guy with lots of stories to share and he was excited to catch some fish. We started out at daybreak and it was actually quite cool so Dave had several layers of clothes and his red jacket. As the morning wore on I had attached the camera to the side of the boat and had it pointed at Dave, hoping to get some video of him catching a big Northern Pike or Walleye. As we trolled along it became warmer and warmer and Dave probably should have removed his jacket and maybe even a shirt or two. In order to save my camera battery and memory space I decided to turn the camera off for a while until we got to some livelier water. Because of this there is no video record of “Exciting Moment #1” which kind of defeated the purpose of having the action cam with me in the first place but to be honest, I’m kind of glad that I switched it off when I did because of what happened next.

Here are the last 2 frames of the video just prior to me switching it off. If you have a good eye you can see Dave’s head has suddenly dropped and within just a couple of seconds he is going to slowly fall to the right (Dave’s left).

As he fell, I immediately thought he had fallen asleep. I shouted at him but he just kept falling. Within a split second I could see that there was a real chance that he was going to topple into the water so I jumped across the seat to try and catch him. Just as his shoulder hit the side of the boat I got a hand on him and managed to keep him inside. He was twitching but as hard as I tried I couldn’t get a response from him. His breathing was shallow and I thought for sure he was having a stroke or a heart attack. After a minute or two he started to come around – although he was still confused and he asked me what I was doing.

 I told him I was trying to keep him from falling in the water! He asked me to set him upright so I pulled him up and as I let go of him he started to topple over again. So. What. Now? It was about that time that I realized I had reacted so fast that I had completely neglected to kick the motor into neutral and we were still motoring along although only at a very slow trolling speed. The shore was approaching slowly so I needed to decide what to do with Dave while I tended to the boat and I needed to do it fairly quickly.

Luckily, Dave’s rain gear was on the bottom of the boat and within reach so I grabbed that and made a pillow and somewhat of a guardrail on the side of the boat, put Dave’s head on it and shouted at him to not make a move until I told him he could. I then jumped to the back of the boat, pointed us back out towards the middle of the lake and kicked it into neutral. My next thought was that I needed to get him back to the cabin as fast as possible where there was a satellite phone and (hopefully) some of the other guys to help.

I raced back to the front of the boat to check on him one last time and while doing that I reeled in and secured the fishing poles. He didn’t make a peep so I wasn’t entirely sure he was conscious but I could tell he was still breathing. Finally, after what was probably 4 or 5 minutes but seemed like a lifetime, I got in front of the motor, and we sped of towards the cabin. This was the worst part. We were about 20 minutes away and I had that little motor pegged. For the whole 20 minutes I couldn’t tell what his condition was and I kept praying that there would be a couple of the guys at the cabin. I needed a break. I spent that ride back with a close eye on Dave and trying to calm myself.

Pulling up to the dock I jumped out and found Dave conscious and in good spirits. He was obviously very weak and I helped as he rolled himself out of the boat and on to the dock. I helped him get upright and we walked into the cabin where I sat him down at the table. Uncle Larry had been back at the cabin for a short while and I was extremely happy to see him. At least now I could share any important decisions with him. We got Dave a bottle of cool water and once he had drank most of it he said he was feeling much better. We debated calling Hearst Air on the sat phone and finally decided that since Dave seemed to be recovering with no ill effects we could hold off on that. Dave spent the rest of the day resting in his bunk and later that evening he declared himself fit and even went back out fishing with one of the guys for a couple of hours. No disrespect to Dave, he’s a great person and I truly enjoyed having him in the boat up to the point where he scared the pants off of me, but for the rest of the week I just couldn’t bring myself to take him back out. I think the whole episode affected me more than him and it sure makes one think about the possibility of illness/injury and the extreme remoteness of the situation. Lots of different scenario’s have since passed through my mind – “what if” kind of things. In my haste to prevent Dave from tumbling into the water I left the motor still in gear and chugging away at trolling speed. What If we had been pointed in the wrong direction? Things could have gotten really exciting. Thank God it turned out OK.

Compared to the above, the rest of the trip was more or less excitement free. I’m ok with that. The fishing was good, but in my opinion the number of large Northern’s we caught was a lower than previous trips. I’m putting that down to the time of year. We did manage to catch a few nice ones – Bruce set an all time record for our group on this lake with a 45″ northern pike. He managed that feat on the last full day of fishing. Way to go Bruce!

The largest northern I caught on this trip was 36″. A nice fish. She was also one of the heaviest sub 40″ pike that I have ever had the pleasure to catch. I didn’t have a scale with me but she was very thick and for the first 2 or 3 minutes I honestly thought I had gotten snagged on a rock or something. At the top of this page is a video I put together from the footage I took with my new action cam. It’s a fairly long piece and probably could use some more cutting but you can skip through the boring parts if you like. There is a section in there titled “Big Fish” which contains footage of the 36″ pike I just mentioned. It’s pretty interesting (at least to me). Again, even though it was a nice fish, it wasn’t a whopper. However, I can honestly say that it fought harder than darn near any pike I have ever caught. You’ll be able to see and hear me totally convinced that I was snagged on something until I got the boat nearly on top of her and felt the first pull. And she didn’t want anything to do with coming into the boat!


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