Travel for mind, body and spirit: Jaws Fly fishing in Canada
Harriet O’Brien is a travel writer and award-winning author. Her first book Forgotten Land, a rediscovery of Burma was published just before she joined The Independent, her second Queen Emma and Vikings, a few years after she left. She was on staff at The Independent during the 1990s and subsequently worked in Canada and then as managing editor at Conde Nast Traveller before going freelance in order to travel more. She mainly covers the UK, Europe and Asia, where she grew up.
Saturday 09 January 1999
Then, in the quiet of the water and trees, a fierce tussle began - an age-old battle between the hunter and the hunted. The angler strikes, lifting the rod sharply so the trout is well hooked. The fish gives flight and fight, darting swiftly away in an attempt to rid itself of the treacherous fly and the line attached. The fisherman must give the trout leeway, allowing it to run while keeping the line tight, and then, in a real test of skill, judge the right moment in which to pull in the exhausted prey.
Barbarous? In part, yes - but that's not the point of dry-fly fishing. You're out in the open, the odds stacked against you as, armed only with a small hook disguised by feather and fur, you look and listen for sudden ripples and the plop of a fish rising to devour a fly from the surface of the water.
Flicking your tiny bait to the precise place where the jaws of the fish have surfaced is no mean challenge, and even if you succeed, it's entirely possible that the fish won't be fooled: it may simply, and literally, turn tail, unimpressed by such attempted trickery.
Certainly for the inexperienced angler, catching anything other than overhanging branches is a major achievement. Yet you don't care much about that: this is like some calming yogic exercise - with teeth - of relaxation through concentration. And, most of all, as you stand scouring the water and sharply flicking your fly, you get a glorious sense of becoming part of the landscape. And in Canada, what a landscape that is. Rivers inhabited with beavers and bordered by forests in which the odd bear lurks; lakes of tranquil stillness visited by an abundance of bird life and surrounded by deer trails ...
I found all this (and plenty of trout) in a neat package at the Montebello reserve, an hour-and-a-half's drive from Montreal. It is a stunning wilderness place, managed but not too much so, where you can buy total peace and privacy. You want to go fishing? Why, they simply present you with your very own lake for a few days, along with a log cabin and a canoe.
Of course this region of North America has plenty of other reserves on offer, but in places such as the more famous Algonquin Park, north of Toronto, hordes of happy hikers and campers, as well as great teams of hunters and anglers, tend to descend.
The beauty of Montebello is that numbers are strictly limited (roughly speaking, two people per square mile) and the commitment to preserving the landscape,the flora and the fauna is absolute. Here the ambition is to ensure that the 100 square miles, containing at least 70 lakes, remain exactly the same for the next hundred years and more.
Indeed the park itself is more than three centuries old, and its story encapsulates the colourful past of this region of Canada, which in the 17th century was part of New France.
In 1674 this raw patch of wild was given by royal grant of Louis XIV to the colony's first bishop, Francois de Laval- Montmorency. What interest would a bishop have in bears and trees? Other than setting up a seminary here, the place remained pretty much untamed and, in 1801, was made over as payment for services to a lawyer from Quebec city, one Joseph Papineau.
His son, Louis Joseph, built the first manor house here - and became one of Canada's early radical politicians, orchestrating armed revolt against the government of Lower Canada in 1837. Louis Joseph was unsuccessful and fled the country, but the land remained in the Papineau family until 1929 when it became the setting for the Seigniory Club, a private organisation for sporting men.
It is now owned by Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts, which continues to nurture the sporting spirit of Montebello. But instead of private membership, it has opened the reserve to the public - on a strictly managed basis.
To that end motor boats are banned from much of the reserve; there are few roads - you have to hike or paddle along rivers to many of the more distant lakes; and fish stocks are carefully monitored.
At the hatchery they breed rainbow, brown and speckled trout, stocking the lakes three times a year. They've even devised a method of transporting tanks of live trout by helicopter to the more remote reaches of the park. It's an intriguing image: all those flying fish - and thousands of airborne jaws. Harriet O'Brien
Fishing packages range from C$58 per person per day. Accommodation is available in log cabins or at Le Chateau Montebello (001 819 423 6341). More information from Kenauk, PO Box 9, 1000 chemin Kenauk, Montebello, Quebec JOV 1LO, Canada (001 800 567 6845, fax 001 819 423 5277).
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