By Martha Kilcup
Saturday morning was an exciting one for me as my friend and boss Cathy and her family were coming to visit for a few days at the lake. Our family’s cabins are on Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan. One gets to these cabins by boat, no road access. Beautiful spot.
On this July weekend, I was looking forward to entertaining guests. The previous day, I had been texting my friend Cathy for a pick-up time of 3pm, and that I would have supper ready for them when they arrived. Pick-up location is at Four Portages, off the highway going into Stanley Mission. It’s a short curvy creek, a mosquito infested place.
My husband and I were up a bit earlier than usual. We had a big breakfast of sausage and eggs. And, by 9am, we were ready to go fishing for trout. Fresh smoked trout was on the supper menu. My husband grabbed a few beverages and a half bag of ketchup potato chips. Fishing gear was already in the boat. On the way down to the boat, I inquired about rain gear, Mike (my husband) confirmed they were in the boat. Lake was calm with some clouds in the sky.
Hunter’s Bay was our destination, this was our trout fishing spot. Hunter’s Bay is across the lake from our cabins, approximately a 30-40-minute boat ride for us. Prior to entering Hunter’s Bay, I asked for my rain gear, best to have it on before it started raining. We were both suited up and continued on our way.
Water was choppy by the time we got to the fishing spot. With our hooks on our rods, we started fishing. Three passes later (we just drift through the spot) and the water becomes very rough. We attempted to round the island to return home, nope, swells were too high and long. I suggested to get to shore and wait out the winds. We were fishing in the deep open waters, so our shore was a small rock island called Half-burnt.
After a few hours without the wind letting up. Mike began building a lean-to, made of dead burnt spruce trees with some fresh spruce boughs. He had taken our boat seats out of the boat and snuggled them into the lean-to. At least we were out of the wind and rain.
We sat and chatted about small stuff. More time passed, and the wind was not resting but rather it was increasing. Mike suggested, we build a larger and sturdier lean-to. With nothing else to do, we started collecting more sticks and spruce boughs. We even used one of our paddles as a pole. This island was small with mostly rock and very few trees. It’s called Half-burnt because literally it was half-burned (I don’t know if that’s true). We mostly used dead stuff.
Mike also suggested, we start thinking about fire. I had previously stated that I wasn’t spending the night so building a fire never entered my mind. I knew we had no matches or lighters, but I asked anyway. In the boat, we had a fish finder and a motor battery.
My clever husband, cut his fish finder cables, connected a positive and negative wires to the battery and the other ends together and we had spark. Now, what to use to start a fire. Luckily, someone had left behind their can-of-beans empty can. Someone who had used a knife to cut open the can, leaving ¼ of the lid attached. The lid became our handle. We stuffed the can with what dry twigs and a little gas. We were both in the boat creating fire, as all hands were needed. One spark later, we had fire in a can. We quickly got out of the boat and to our little fire pit. We feed the little fire into a comfortable warming one. We then continued to sit there chatting about small stuff (thinking no sense talking about could haves).
I picked up the bag of chips, and jokingly said, “should we start to ration these?” “no,” he said. We ate up probably half of what we had for our lunch and we also had a drink each. We sat there a bit longer. While we were dining on our potato chips, I thought of my friend Cathy and 3 O’clock. I said to my husband, “I hope she’s not too mad at me. Best case scenario, my sister came out at the same time and brought her out. Worst case, she went home, or maybe, they went back to La Ronge for the night because of the horrible weather.” My husband said, “this is not your fault” – meaning the weather and being stuck on a rock island.
I started fishing off the rocky shore but no bites. I finally got my hook stuck and that ended my ill-fated catching a fish for supper attempt. My husband had also got his hook stuck. Two rods down, one to go.
We sat some more – a few more chips were had for supper and our last drinks. Evening was approaching so we collected more dead trees for fire wood. Collecting wood was a way to occupy dead time and kept us warm. We had a little stack of wood before we stopped. We also secured the boat down. We tied it down to a rock from the front end. The back was also tied down but to a tree. We had a burned-up tree on the bottom of the boat, to keep it off the rock. Lean-to built better, wood stacked for the night, and the boat secured. We continued to sit waiting for better weather.
Waves continued to grow. I watched wave splashes that reached halfway up the shoreline to our right. My husband watched the other side, he seen wave splashes that went right over other rock islands. On the other side of our rock island, the huge nasty waves would crash so violently that when a wave hit the rock surface perfectly, it literally sounded like thunder. We had asked each other, “did you hear that, thunder?” A nod and a yup was the response. It wasn’t until later that we realized it wasn’t thunder but the crashing of water against our rock.
Darkness came and all we could see was our little fire in our little area. The wind never ceased, all night – wind and waves! Mike fed the fire all night. Neither of us slept. In the distance to our right was a dim light, fishing camp but probably no people there. There was another fishing camp that had their lights on, Cornhuskers. I knew there were people in that one because we had seen fishing boats on our way through there (much earlier). Both were too far and unreachable. This was however comforting, knowing we were not completely alone out there.
Sometime during the night, we seen stars. We took turns laying on the rock by the fire looking at those stars. Unfortunately, they were not amazing, as they too looked very distant.
We finally started noticing that it was getting brighter, day was coming. Wind never slowed down. We sat some more. Cloudy and misty from waves crashing on the other side of our rock island, plus it was starting to rain again. The wind picked-up even harder. Looking at those waves because really what else are you going to look at. When a wave was cresting, you can see the crest of the that wave take off as if sprinting to the next wave. The crashes on the shoreline and rock islands were not impressive anymore but rather very scary. This weather had kept up.
I had taken out the third fishing rod. I put on spoon for a hook. I would eat a jackfish if I could hook one. I got too cold, so I stopped fishing and warmed my hands. We collected more wood throughout the day. We quickly realized that tree stumps and bendy old wood lasted the longest.
We had no concept of time – morning, afternoon, evening. Neither of us had a watch on, let alone cell phones. At one point during the day, I asked “do you think the sun is here,” pointing to about 11am. “I don’t know,” was my answer. At about noon, I offered ketchup chips for lunch. Mike got us fresh lake water in our cans. We saved a handful of chips for supper because that wind was just not going away. We collected more wood, kept checking the wind and clouds. Same thing every time.
Sometime that afternoon, we thought the wind had slowed – whitecaps were smaller. “Let’s give it a try,” he said, “Okay!” I replied. Loaded the boat of our seats and paddle. “Leave the fire going in case we have to return,” I said. We got our rods unstuck and off we attempted. Rounded the island again, nope! Turned around and back to our rock. Added another tree stump to our fire. I said, “I don’t want to spend another night here!” All I have been hearing was wind and more wind, I had had enough of wind.
Anyway, we began to set up our camp again – paddle was back to being a pole. Husband asked, ” you want your seat?” “no,” I replied. I got on top of the rock island, looked around and thought of ways to get off the rock. There are other islands out there – we could go from island to island – opposite side of the wind direction. We would have to go through two wide open spaces. The first opening was not too bad in terms of distance but the second was longer. I pitched this plan to my husband, it might work, he said. I also suggested waiting another hour, so the wind could lessen a bit more.
Third attempt. Loaded the boat, left a small fire burning, just as before. Our first two attempts were to the left and circle around the open end of the lake. This time, it was to the right of the island and going from one island to the next. Our first leg was the open-passage way. Large swells mixed with high choppy waves. Ride the swells and but those choppy ones were a bit hairy to navigate as I was told later. Made it to the first island. Other smaller islands were closer together, so the waves were only choppy. To the other big island, more swells. Now, the final stretch of open water. Swells mixed with choppy. My mantra coming through this last stretch was, “I pray we make it, I pray we make it” – we made it. Made it across. I had water splashed onto my face but I dared not release the grip I had on the boat and my seat. I wanted home, but Cornhuskers would do just fine.
We pulled into Cornhuskers Fishing Camp, close to 6 O’clock, and I was very happy we did. Three men were there, the owners. They offered us a fresh pot of coffee, the best burgers and beans, and a hot wood stove to dry our clothes. They also kindly offered us a cabin if we wanted to stay. The older brother informed us that he had good cell service if there was anyone we needed to call. We had no cell phones, nor did we know phone numbers without cell phones. He also informed us that the wind was to die down by 8pm. Excellent news.
Coming out of the Hunter’s Bay Channel was our last obstacle. First two attempts, waves were too rough. We waited about an hour. We also had to ask for some gas from a cabin owner that was nearby as our tank was close to empty. Third attempt, I suggested we head to the right of the channel and out. Halfway to home, the waves became more manageable. Yes, we were going to make it back.
Thirty-six hours later, I walked into our cabin a happy and relieved trout fisher woman. The first text was to my dear friend Cathy, apologizing for not picking her up and offered her another invite.