Fishing on Maligne Lake is wonderous for many reasons, one of which is the fact that Home Bay—that is, the bay closest to home—is one of the most productive pieces of water on the whole lake. Especially during the early season, many fisherman stick within the first 2 km and catch rainbow and brook trout every 20 minutes. There are stories of 40-fish days, of guys going home early because their arms are too sore from hauling in trout. My record on the lake is just nine in two days. Then again, I have a real job.
All this is to say there's loads of anticipation in those opening two clicks. As I was heading to the far end of the lake, I had a long way to travel, but I wasn't against circling back if the bite came on. I ripped my fly with confidence that I'd have a hit off the the ledge that drops off the west side of the bay and continues until the lake's first pinch point.
Nothing. All the battery hauling I did to get the boat kitted out meant I had a late start to the day, so it wasn't surprising that fishing was a little slow, however, I'd expected at least some minor action when I trolled through Rainbow Alley. No matter, I told myself. I had at least 10 more fishy zones to troll through before I'd set up camp that evening, and so my light mood returned.
Besides, how could I complain? Tour boats, crammed full of visitors who'd just paid $55 to get a passing glimpse of (admittedly awe-inspiring) glaciers before they'd be disgorged onto a platform to photograph Spirit Island, cruised by. As they ogled me and I regarded them, none of us cared that we were staring, for we were too far away to communicate verbally. Besides, we'd never see each other again. As they shrank into the distance, I noticed that each boat had two or three people who looked at me more longingly than the others. They knew how special fishing on Maligne is. I could tell thought I was the luckiest person on earth. At that moment in time, I was inclinded to agree.
Mind you, that feeling soon faded. After I sulked out of Trapper's Bay, a supposedly trout-filled inlet, with still no fish to the boat, I couldn't help but wonder if I had learned anything at all in the last three years of obsessing over trying to trick trout. I'd had a bite or two but four hours into the trip my confidence was rapidly falling. I swapped out lures, going from never-fails to old-faithfuls to worked-onces to what-the-hells. I started to think I should have taken a kayak, for I'd never seen the water this flat for this long and at least my hands would be occupied.
As the sun began its slow descent and I boated to a place where I'd landed a silver and green brook trout the year previous, my skunk-soured mood lifted a bit. The reflection of Mount Phillip on the lake was too brilliant to focus on the negative. The reedy call of a loon pierced the silence, reminding me that catching fish is just one small part of fishing.
It was with this mindset that I decided that I'd give the fish one last chance to tell me I wasn't a fool for thinking I knew what they liked to put in their mouths. As I passed Spirit Island and gazed into the spot where my boat would soon disturb the placid waters, a strike—so sudden and forceful and unmistakably caused by a fish—made me shout, my first utterance in hours. I looked heavenward, thanking the universe for this natural high which I can only compare to seeing a meteor burning through the sky after waiting all night staring at the stars.
The fight was tremendous at first, the fish rocketing out the water, letting me know that rainbow danced on the end of my line. I reeled in breathlessly, letting the fish dive when it needed to, savouring the feeling of its pull. I would be flashing back to this moment as I lay in my tent that night. Three times it ran away with the line this before I could bring it to the net. I scooped it quickly, admiring its colours, its smooth scales, its heaving and healthy girth. As it turned out, this rainbow would be the only fish of the trip. But one is infinitely better than zero.