By Dave O’Connor
Cousin Raymond and Uncle Harry arrived on the 6:30 flight. They were routed via New York’s JFK, Boston’s Logan and our home air field. The local facility didn’t impress them much, but they were polite about it.
Both men, relatives of the Ole Man, were here to do some fishing in the north woods. They had heard the tales about the giant brook trout, the high jumping salmon and the hefty lakers. All things considered, they were looking forward to their first coldwater fish after a steady diet of bass, catfish and crappie.
I said “all things considered” because they were somewhat uneasy about the wooly tales the Ole Man wove around our best trips afield. He told about the size of the native black flies(“they weigh about 7 pounds apiece”), or people getting mauled by black bear(“bears like to chew you up a bit before droppin’ you”), or being confronted by moose(“they are big as a house and will stomp you into the ground if you’re not careful”). Then there was the thing about getting lost…weeks at a time.
On the way home from the airport He laid it on even thicker, making sure they understood the Ole Man was often the hero in these tales of woe. Jake entered the conversation often as the person who didn’t know whether he was afoot or on horseback. I was in the stories as the little lost lamb who found the good shepherd.
It was all in good fun.
The next morning we were all up early. The old Jeep was all packed and ready to go. The canvas canoe was tied to the top. In the back was crammed an assortment of necessary items like a reflector oven and the food storage box we used as a base. It was the “rear seat” for the two of them to sit on for the trip north. Anyone who knows about the World War II vintage Jeeps knows there isn’t much extra space for people or baggage. The Ole Man was ingenious about finding spaces to store the gear. The canoe racks were modified to keep several 10 foot tubes, under the cross rail, to store all the necessary fishing rods.
Most of the extra things we loaded were in the “trip trailer” we hauled behind the Jeep. We mounted my canoe on the long wooden trailer. It just cleared the rear of the Jeep. He thought of every thing. The trailer had high sides, two doors on each side, and extra storage racks built in to hold the tent poles and bulky things galore. When ready to go the trailer looked bigger than the Jeep.
In short, the whole troop had the look of seasoned veterans. Felt hats, canvas stream boots, dungarees, heavy cotton flannel shirts that had at least thirty machine washings to make them soft. Raymond and Harry were given some of the Ole Man’s “best” duds to wear. He said, “I don’t want my relatives looking like some fool dude from the city.” They looked good.
We were bound for a very remote section of the north woods. Neither the Ole Man or I had been there in years. The area we choose was loosely defined by Big Black Brook. At least this was to be our final destination, after a day or two of a shakedown on a good salmon lake. We chose Big Square Lake for the salmon workout. We knew there were big landlocks there.
We didn’t catch any huge fish on Square but Raymond and Harry were extremely happy with a pair of three pounders and the species great fighting abilities. The weather was good and the lakeshore vista was truly beautiful.
The Ole Man was pleased with Himself. The fishing was good, the food was campfire perfect, the weather was cooperating and the black flies were out in force.
With the salmon under our belt we headed out for the togue of Second Musquacook Lake. At the very end of this road were the native brook trout of Big Black Brook. We were to spend four days, at least, at Musquacook. It is located in the heart of the forest tracts noted for pulp, lumber and dense forest growth. Some called it the, “Spruce and fir capitol of northern New England.” Only northern Quebec or New Brunswick might have more softwood trees in the inventory. It is a wild commercial forest with great acreage, the size of which is beyond the imagination of many. This area has about 4 million acres.
I think we crossed every acre.
Once we left the main tarred roads at Ashland the logging interests became apparent. Every vehicle we saw was a log truck of huge size carrying bulging tree length loads. Occasionally we saw pickup trucks with chain saws, barrels of oil and fuel and tool boxes for the crews working feller bunchers, grapple skidders or the mobile chippers. The more we traveled the narrower the roads became and the fewer people we saw. Civilization was left far behind. That’s a feeling most outdoorsmen love to feel as you are left on your own with the modern world left behind, except for what you carry with you. Forget anything? It’s too late now. You’ll have to make do.
By noon we were somewhere near our destination. I say “somewhere” because I really have no idea where we are. Logging roads were recently cut, or were cut, used and abandoned, creating a literal maze of intersecting roads. Neither the Ole Man or I were sure of the location where we stopped for lunch. Nothing jogged our memory. Roads grow full of small saplings, quickly. The new roads were confusing our memories. The brook where we ate lunch was incredibly clear and probably trout filled. Harry and Raymond quickly caught our lunch, proving the area has plenty of fishable waters.
As we were getting ready to board the Jeep for the rest of the journey Harry turned to the Ole Man and asked a question I would have loved to have asked, “How far to Second Musquacook?” The Ole Man was quick with a, “Not too far.” I noticed He offered no other details.
With the passage of time and a few more logging roads I noticed the Ole Man was getting quieter and more sullen all the time. With each approaching crossroad He approached as if looking for a road sign. There were none. No familiar road markings, no people to ask, no sign we had ever been here before.
At 3:00 pm He stopped “for a little stretch.” The rest of us did the stretch thing, but He finally got out maps. The Ole Man was never going to admit He was lost…but getting out the maps was a rare event in my days afield with Him. There were clues as to where “we probably were right now.” I was not convinced and even the Kansas City relatives were doubtful. Even so, The Ole Man assured us the country still looked familiar. He knew the sand bar at Second Musquacook would soon be appearing on our right.
After an hour another crossroad came in sight. It looked as if it had not been used in a decade or so. But, the alternatives looked even worse. We took the crossroad and sloshed along in four wheel drive high range until we came to a brook. There was a bridge there at one time, but only the rotting timbers were left and the Jeep needed to ford the stream all on its own. The water looked deep. The Ole Man shifted to low range…I thought sure He would admit defeat and say He was lost, but, no, ahead we went. We barely scraped through to face an uphill climb needing all the Jeep possessed.
After the washed out bridge the road got worse and narrowed to a small mountain path with washouts every fifty yards. Slow going. At the top of the “mountain” my worst fears were realized. The road suddenly stopped. There was no where to go but back the way we came. The end was a big circle where the logging trucks loaded the trees the skidders hauled out to lay in piles. It was a long time since it was active. Now, we needed to reverse directions. We were lost “somewhere near Second Musquacook.”
All the Ole Man said was, “Guess I took the wrong turn at the last crossroad.” If He meant the last “real” crossroad, it was 15 miles back. If He meant the last grownover, leftover, never-used crossroad it was the one on the other side of the washed out bridge. Back we went.
I was going to remind Him the last time we went to Second Musquacook we used a station wagon with two wheel drive and never needed to even slow down to get there to the lakeside. After a few thoughts, I decided to forgo the reminder.Our return trip to the unused crossroad was at double speed with the old Jeep squatting on spring frames from time to time. Our only holdup was when the trip trailer got hungup on a rock in the middle of the brook with no bridge. That halting lurch also caused another problem when the bottle of Old Stumpblower under the seat somehow got loose and broke as it slammed forward. There were blue words about that. The trailer we pried with a long pole and set it over the rock. We did, of course, get wet.
After a run up the other possibility of the crossroad we were again deadended and finally forced to return to where we ate lunch. The visitors bailed out of the Jeep and were soon fishing brook trout. Just about a hundred yards below in the brook they came to a spot where the waters widened into a deadwater at the edge of a wide heath. The water was deep and the cedars mixed with alders overhanging the deadwater made for some mighty interesting native brook trout waters. Lunker country.
The Ole Man and I put up the tent, built a nice campfire, got a meal together and slouched down over a map to try and figure where we went wrong. When they came back they each held up a brookie of two pounds, or better. Even a disgusted Ole Man had to agree that these trout were something special. The visiting relatives were ecstatic. They dug out cameras and took some pictures of them with their fish. The native trout were beautifully colored.
After a pleasant meal spiced with fresh fish, some great campfire tales, the conversation got around to, “Where the hell are we?” The relatives went to bed with that question not answered. The Ole Man said to me,” I’m totally lost and if you EVER say anything about this to that Jake Goodwin I swear I’ll break every flyrod you own.”
Now, we got out the maps and seriously looked at all the possibilities. Every clue was added. The maze of roads we knew, the ones on our maps…outdated maps…were superceded by new roads. We were lost because the roads and maps were not as shown. A lot had happened since our maps were made. All we knew for sure was the sun sets in the west and how many miles we traveled that day from the time we left Ashland. By checking that mileage we should be approaching Quebec City if we traveled in a straight line. But, our line of travel was more circular than straight. We were still in the United States. I think.
There were millions of acres and we were reduced to saying ,”Remember the little odd shaped pond with the wide brook we passed….oh, yeah.” No help there. There were dozens and dozens of little ponds and little brooks. We each postulated a few “possible locations”, but at the end of the night we still did not have a clue. We needed to do some major retracing. We could skip the legendary Big Black Brook and do our brook trout fishing right here. There were obvious advantages to that prospect.
When dawn came the visitors took out their rods to “explore this brook’s deadwater a little more.” They were still excited with the trout fishery they discovered the day before. Their first go at nice brook trout was a very pleasant memory. As it turned out, that day and the next three days were some of the best brook trout fishing I ever saw…bar none. I’d even compare it favorably to our summer trip to Labrador. We decided to let them have their beloved deadwater and the Ole Man and I took to exploring the upstream part of the brook.
We stopped at a waterfall for a pipe of tobacco. The Ole Man called this brook, the No-Name Heaven Brook and commented on its great ability to produce terrific fishing. He said,” I wish I knew where in blazes we were and then we could slip over to Second Musquacook for togue for a few days. It would successfully complete their trip. I guess we need to bungle back toward Ashland until we bump in to a logger to get directions on these new fangled roads.”
We were late getting back to camp. Our visitors were already there with supper cooking over the campfire. They were excited about something and came walking up to meet us. Raymond started right in, “We found the way! We got a guy to give us the directions. He even wrote them down. We can drive right to Second Mus…whatever you call that lake. The guy came in by another road. Oh, by the way, he said he knew you right well.”
With that Raymond handed over the written directions. Even I recognized the handwriting and especially the huge JAKE scrawled at the bottom of the page. As if he didn’t know enough to keep his mouth shut at a time like this he added, “By the by, this here brook IS BIG BLACK BROOK. We been getting fantastic fishing because we were right on the legendary brook all the time!” What cousin Raymond lacked, Uncle Harry doubled with a choice, “That Jake is a real nice guy. He even offered to guide all four of us for FREE. Of course, we told him we were being kindly guided by our good relative the Ole Man. Jake sure got a chuckle out of that…yeah, he surely did. He said he’d take a Leonard fly rod if you wanted this kept quiet. I don’t rightly know what he meant by that, but he said you would.”
After the earthquake the rest of the trip to Second Musquacook for lake trout went pretty well.