The Telegram (St. John's)
Hunting salmon under canvas
I just returned home from two weeks adrift from typical, or better to say modern, human reality. Not many folks live in a tent anymore, although I do have one friend from British Columbia who does indeed dwell all year around in a Mongolian style yurt. It is a beautiful work of canvas. I need to visit him in January, while the cold winds howl. Anyway, it’s summer now and tenting time for us lesser mortals who just want to get away from the house for a while. Go do it. There are some wonderful places in this fair land to peg down canvas.
My select fishing buddies and I have been tent fishing in Labrador for going on two decades. We could easily rent a cabin, but a big part of what we look forward to on our yearly salmon quest is daily life, socializing, and fine dining under cloth. I won’t be silly and use the common it’s not all about the fishing cliché. Our annual trek to Labrador is seriously about catching salmon, but not fully 100 per cent. I would not give up my two weeks tenting the Big Land for the finest and most luxurious angling destinations on Planet Earth.
There has been evolution. The very first time we went tent fishing in Labrador we were totally unprepared for the Big Land’s raw elements. Let’s see, there is the extreme temperature range for early July. I have seen early morning frost, as well as days as hot as the Sahara Desert. The wind off the frigid North Atlantic can howl and drive cold rain sideways. And there are those hated little bloody blackflies. They can eat you alive. You need a place to cook and rest out of that pestilence. You might survive the bug onslaught on the river, but you need a tent in which you can dine inside.
Many years ago we arrived at a high elevation grassy field by the Pinware River with full intentions to camp for a few days. There were four of us and we had two backpacking tents that we had been using on Castors River and Main Brook. Cooking would have to be done outside. There was no heat source and nowhere to dry our wet waders and damp clothes after a day on the river. All good in warm blue skies and sunshine, but it was drifting rain and not much above O Celsius. And the weather forecast predicted more of the same for days. We wisely ended up renting a cabin in Forteau.
That winter we had a 10 by 12-ft Labrador Tent sewn for us at United Sail in St. John’s. The next year we were ready for the Big Land and we returned, and haven’t looked back. Now we had a wood stove for heat and drying of wet clothes. There was plenty of room to cook and eat inside the tent, and refuge from biting insects. At bedtime we could fill up our stove and bar off the drafters. We’d be warm all night and the heat would dry our gear that hung from a clothesline strung through the middle of the tent. Our sleeping bags weren’t the greatest in those days so the heat was very welcome. We’d stretch out on the ground and sleep like babies, with visions of salmon biting brown bombers dancing in our heads.
Let me tell about this year and our current camping compound. There are five of us now, and this year we set three tents in total, a cookhouse, and two unheated sleeping tents. Our original Labrador tent with a wonderfully cozy woodstove is our main cookhouse, socializing, and gear-drying centre. We have another 10 by 12- ft. Labrador tent that we can set four army cots in. We brought another car camping sort of tent for overflow, guests, and storing gear. We have come a long ways from arriving in Labrador with two measly pup tents.
Our main tent is quite the spot. I’m back home now and can’t wait for next year. I mentioned the woodstove. It’s a dandy, made from scratch by one of my fishing buddys’ father, Matt Brazil senior from Spaniard’s Bay. Matt died this past spring and the world lost a true aficionado of tenting. Mr. Brazil spent many days, months, weeks on end, in a tent. He loved it, and took great pride in his stoves, which he always welded himself. Our stove is from a lineage of development to the perfect camp stove. I consider it a work of art.
This year we left Spaniard’s Bay at five in the morning. Our ferry crossing from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon was scheduled for six in the evening. We made it to the ferry terminal in plenty of time, only to find out the Apollo had not sailed for the whole day due to high winds. But luckily the gusts abated with the setting sun and we departed for Labrador at 7:30 p.m., late but better than missing a day or days of fishing. We arrived at our campsite just past midnight.
We jumped out of our trucks and switched on headlamps, all five of us, each knowing exactly how a camp goes up. Like a well-oiled machine we moved about, the whole greater than any part, driving wooden pegs, stretching canvas, tying clove-hitch knots in nylon rope. We are fussy about having our tents taut and true to line. Adjustments were made and all stood erect and ready for our moving in.
We each opened our Labrador boxes and pulled out our chairs, cots, and sleeping bags. The bunking arrangements were made ready. Matt and I set the stove in place and Chris lowered the smoke pipe down though the hole in the roof. Cameron staked firewood behind the stove. Rod was busy readying the kitchen, setting up the Cabela’s propane stove stand. Hoses were run to a 20-lb tank to supply the gas stove and lantern. Chris made some splits and Cameron lit them ablaze. We sat in our chairs around our wooden box that serves as both kitchen table and food storage. We cracked open a beer each and listened to the cracking fire amidst the vast silence of the Big Land. Life is good.
Cameron looked at his watch. It had taken us exactly one hour to set camp. Indeed I think we have evolved, and we felt mighty pleased with ourselves, 10 days of fishing and a cozy comfortable camp.
There has been evolution. The very first time we went tent fishing in Labrador we were totally unprepared for the Big Land’s raw elements.