Last year at this time the Russian and Tackle Shop had traveled 50 miles east to the town of Port Hope where the Ganaraska River flows into Lake Ontario. The "Ganny" is one of those tributaries where it's not uncommon for a mid August cloudburst to bring a heavy run of chrome salmon into the river and this is what I was counting on when I suggested a return trip.
The Labor Day long weekend started out as a fitting end to summer vacation with temperatures hovering around the 90 degree mark and bright sunshine interspersed with the occasional thunderstorm. Monday morning was it's polar opposite, a harbinger of the coming autumn season and most fitting for river salmon fishing, overcast, windy and a high of only 60 degrees.
Everything was going exactly according to plan as we approached the dam on the river at first light and saw several hundred fish milling about the pool. Nothing chases away an early morning chill better than a school of large fish in knee deep water. This was our starting point, just to make sure there were fish in the river. We had to travel several hundred yards down stream to be able to fish legally. My one concern was that in the low light conditions the fish looked rather dark, as if they'd been in the river for some time and my suspicions were reinforced when we saw a fresh chinook carcass attracting flies on a gravel bed.
We continued down stream, checking out all the runs and pools for any signs of movement without any luck. A half mile south of the dam the river changed from a sand and gravel bottom to slice through layers of limestone bedrock, forming whole series of deep pools in quick succession. I'd never fished a river like this before and could only imagine hooking into a salmon and having to follow it right out to the mouth of the river, a mile and a half away!
Our salmon hunt was proving to be fruitless as we continued down stream. Several of the runs were now occupied by fly fishers who weren't terribly forthcoming as to their quarry, but it was obvious that there were no large fish inhabiting the "legal" stretches of the river. I'm guessing that trout had followed the salmon upstream to gorge on the free floating roe from the early spawn, but we'd come for a big jerk on one end of the line, felt by a big jerk on the other end. We were left with three options: the first and most obvious was to stay put and try for whatever the river offered. 2, go to the mouth and join the circus of bait fisherman lounging in lawn furniture, or 3,pack up and try some nearby lake fishing.
At this point I'm sure all of you reading this are scratching your heads and saying "what the hell!" In retrospect, the only sane thing to do would have been staying put, but often we make rash decisions and this was one we'd both regret later in the day. We climbed into the car, drove 10 miles north to Rice Lake and drove another 7 miles of beach road before deciding to stop at the town dock in Harwood. The dock and a series of tiny, narrow, connected islands is all that remains of the original rail line that crossed the shallow lake a century ago on it's way north to Peterborough.
The first thing that struck us was the crowd of people already there. You know the types: one was using his spinning reel upside down rather than switch the handle over, another was drop shotting a 4" silver spoon tied onto the line sideways, and the rest were concentrating on their red and white plastic bobbers. Fair weather fishermen for sure only it wasn't fair weather. The second thing that struck us was the 30mph wind blowing across the lake, directly into our face, and made us both wish we hadn't dressed for summer.
In an attempt to escape the crowd we walked and waded farther out onto the string of islands, casting both sides to cover the water. We were fighting a losing battle against the wind, unable to get our lures out any distance, and after half an hour returned to the dock in time to witness someone land a 17lb carp. The lone, successful angler was an ex Brit named Mark who now called these waters home. Earlier in the morning he'd caught a slightly smaller mirror carp.
While Mark and I traded "war" stories the Russian continued to work the water, loath to return home empty handed again. After another 10 minutes a triumphant cry rang out loud and clear for all to hear.
And wouldn't you know it was caught on a GPW by the guy who gave that productive little piece of plastic it's derogatory name! The fish immediately went on a stringer with the hopes of repeating the process and culling some more members of the school, but alas, the high winds made it near impossible controlling an un weighted worm and it turned out to be the only fish of the day, hence he went back to school as is fitting on the last day of summer vacation.