– Canoeing the Suzanne River
Whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……………SNAP! The first cast of the trip was taken by a big brookie that snapped my line. I knew I should have changed that old line and brought the net down to the rapids. I knew I should have been more prepared, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for this Wilderness experience.
My good friend Bill and I spent our 4th canoe trip together running the Suzanne, Shabuskwia, and Albany rivers over 4 days/3 nights. Our Wilderness North pilot, Matt, dropped us off at Suzanne Lake, helping us load our canoe from the pontoons of the plane, right in the middle of the lake. He tipped the wing of the Otter to us as he flew off, and once we heard the last drone of the engine fade off in the distance, we knew we were truly alone in the North Wilderness.
We spent the rest of the first day working our way down through the rapids and pools of the Suzanne River. With a long, gentle drop in elevation, the river runs cool and clear….perfect habitat for brook trout. The river allows plenty of opportunity to fish, with pools easily accessible from shore, and eddies to ferry the canoe in so the rapids can be fished. On this trip, in early August of a cool, wet summer, we found the trout mainly just on the edges of the tailouts of the rapids. This was very much in contrast to the trip we did on the Keezhik River 2 years ago with Wilderness North. That summer was very hot and dry, with the faint smell of smoke from nearby forest fires in the air. We found the brookies on that trip like pigs wallowing in the cooler mud along the edges of the river.
After an amazing day of paddling and fishing, we pulled in to our first campsite about 7pm. We chose to bring hammocks with rain flies so we could set up anywhere we chose, no tent pad required. Our home for the night was a nice bend in the river with a sandy landing and the sounds of a soft rapid. We baked Cajun trout over the fire with Bill’s famous deer smokies…delicious. The maps were brought out; we planned the next day over a drink of whiskey around the fire, and then crawled into our hammocks for the night. When we woke in the morning, I saw very large wolf tracks, 10 feet from our hammocks, in the river sand as I went down to the river’s edge for coffee water. Those tracks were not there when we went to bed. You could see our footprints in the sand right beside the wolf’s, where we had come to the river the night before to clean dishes, brush teeth, and fish…
It was another reminder of how special, wild, and spiritual this place is.
Day 2 saw us running the rest of the Suzanne to where it joins the Shabuskwia. This was much the same as day 1: beautiful rapids and pools with a couple of sweepers to pull the canoe over. We caught less brookies today (which was still lots!), but we didn’t focus as much on the fishing as we did on the paddling. I lost track of how many times I exclaimed “God’s Country eh Bill?”
When the Shabuskia River met the Suzanne, it was time to camp. We paddled our Prospector across a pool between 2 rapids and pulled it up a grassy bank to a seldom used but well established campsite. We had views up and down both rivers as we fried trout and walleye over the campfire. We ate dinner under the tarp as the rain poured down, but that didn’t matter, the fishing, scenery, and camaraderie made it all worthwhile. Bill is a campfire specialist, and had no problem keeping the embers glowing while we enjoyed warm rum under the tarp. The rain stopped just as the sun was going down and we watched trout jumping for flies in front of our camp. We were tempted to fish but felt we had caught our share today, and opted for another warming rum while we discussed the next day’s plan.
Day 3 broke with clear skies and the promise of more adventure.
We were heading for the mighty Albany River today, both of us a bit nervous of what lay ahead as we anticipated bigger, faster moving water. And we were right. The Albany is a gorgeous river, sought after by many white-water wilderness canoe trippers. We would be spending the day on what most trip notes describe as the best part; 3 sets of major falls including picturesque snake Falls. The river here is truly wild, running shallow and fast enough in spots that if you hit a big rock in the middle……Bonk! Sploosh!…and in you’d go. It pays to know the river, and this is definitely a trip worth hiring a Guide for.
There were well established portages at all 3 falls, and all with good reason. The Falls were all beautiful and portage-worthy, running any of these would at the least end your trip short, if not kill you. Use the portages (River Right, Left, Left). All Falls had great campsites with good fishing for specs and walleye, and of course, Northern Pike. We opted to stay at the second Falls, which offered a great vista above the river: huge, smooth, bedrock to fish off of, and it even had a beach for swimming…what more could you ask for? How about some trout baked over the fire with mushroom rice, chocolate almonds with coffee, Baileys for dessert, and some Canadian rye whiskey and cheezies for a midnight snack -All this while sitting around a glowing campfire under the starlit sky… “God’s Country, eh Bill?”
All good things must come to an end, and we realized that shortly into the next day as our “ride” arrived to meet us at the bottom of Snake Falls. We had arranged for one of the Guides at Miminiska Lodge to shuttle us with a motor boat across the large expanse of Miminiska Lake, (a 1-2 day paddle otherwise, depending on the wind) and arrived back at the Lodge by 2pm. We were eager to share our story and pictures with the even more eager guests seeking World-class brook trout fishing and a taste of adventure like we had just experienced. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as the Lodge was hosting it’s annual “Healing Waters” experience for Canadian and American War Veterans. We were honoured to share a beverage and our stories with these heroes, and we even shared some of our tips and tricks with them…..like go prepared!