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Memories and Pictures from our Garden River 2008 Trip

What a trip..!!  We had a blast..!!  The Garden River never lets us down.  We spent 11 days in the Canadian bush as guests of Ojibaway fishing guide Ben Belleau.  We set up a remote camp feet from the river and our group never encountered any other anglers during our trip.  Yep that right we had miles and miles of the best Salmon fishing in the Great Lakes all to ourselves.   In my opinion the Garden River gets the most prolific run of salmon in the Great Lakes region.  It gets comparable numbers of Chinooks to the salmon River or Pere Marquette.

PLUS it gets a HUGE run of Pink Salmon. I have reserved the same time period each year to assure my guests are there during the peak of the run.  I kept a journal of this years adventure.  So scroll below while I take you though our trip of a lifetime.

The Garden River Hilton our home in the Canadian bush.  Our five tents offer 1,100 sq feet of bone dry cover.  Bring a Wal-Mart tent to the Canadian bush and your sure to have a miserable time.

Sept 18th Thursday.    Myself and fellow Guide Jeff Novak arrive at Ben's Bait and Tackle at 5:00 am.  Our two trucks and trailer are loaded to the brim with camping gear.  We are greeted by Little Ben and Gilbert who escort us out to our camp location.  On the drive out  the sunrise was awesome.  I start to worry when I see green trees everywhere.  Is it a late fall?  Will the fish be there?  You see some years the fish don't show up very long before we arrive.  Last year there weren't any Kings in the River the week before we arrived and the first pinks were just showing up.  Some years the Pinks start to show up in the first of September.  It has a lot to do with water levels and temperatures.  We schedule our trip for the same time each year. Experience has taught me the third week of September each year gives us  lots of Pinks and fresh Kings together.


 As we pull down to the river Little Ben spots a pack of timber wolves crossing the river.  They quickly disappear into the bush.   What a sight.  My attention turns to the river.  My fears are quickly laid to rest as we look to the river to see hundreds of fish.  They are everywhere on the Gravel in the Pools and every couple of minutes a pod of running Kings would blow by.  It was tempting to grab our rods BUT we all knew the work that was in store for us unpacking and setting up close to 5,000 pounds of tents and gear.

Day 1......  Fish everywhere..!!

We just got finished setting up tents as it got dark.  What a back breaking day for this old man.  Everybody turned in early.  I sat up and had a Blue next to the fire by myself.  I'm finally here.  After hours and hours of planning and organizing the "Garden River Dream" is once again a reality.  It's a quiet night by the fire.   I'm looking forward to the stories that will be told here the next 11 days.

Our group of anglers for the first five day leg of the trip

Sept. 19th Friday    We sleep in a little but waste no time at getting back to work putting the finishing touches on our camp.  We have two enclosed hot water showers.  Two roofed latrines.  Three heated sleep tents with oversized cots for everybody.  There is a Generator station to power the Chest Freezer and battery chargers but it only runs mid-day while everybody is out fishing.  Camp is now ready for guests.

There isn't anything like a hot shower t finish your day of fishing on the Garden River..!!

Now that camp has met my approval we head back to Bens Bait Sop to greet our arriving guests.  After introductions its time for the one hour bumpy ride back to the bush to the waiting fish.  When we arrive at camp lunch is ready for the guys but I knew no one would eat once they saw all of the fish. I was right,  it was sort of comical watching everybody hurry into their waders and race to the river.  It didn't take long to see smiling faces and bent rods. I sat by the fire and counted fish.  I got to 67 before Gilbert comes riding up with a load of fire wood.

The guys fished hard.  It was hard getting them to come in for dinner.  But the smell of fresh Italian Sausages cooking in peppers and onions finally lured them in. Then of course it was finished off with a Amish baked strawberry rhubarb pie imported from Ohio of course.  Everybody's voices were full of excitement around the fire.  Tales of huge fish filled the air.  Toasts were being made and a few cigars were burning.  The guys wore out quickly and before long I was by myself in front of the fire once again. 

Here I am in my apron, your camp chef, "The King of Cast Iron"

September 20th Saturday   I awoke just after daylight and rushed to the kitchen to get a pot of coffee on.  I was surprised to find out the guys had woke up early and were already on their second pot.  My big coffee pot holds 28 cups, so we definatly have some coffee drinkers in camp.  Strange thing is no one was around.  Everybody was already on the water.   I start cooking the daily five lbs of bacon.  Knowing the smell will lure them in.  It works as planned and before long we are feasting on eggs, bacon, home fries, toast, cinnamon Danishes, coffee, and orange juice.  No one leaves hungry but it doesn't take them long to disappear once again.

It takes myself and Jeff about an hour to do dishes and other camp chores.  We have been in a camp surrounded by thousands of fish but we have yet to wet a line. So we boot up and head for the water.  The Garden River is a gentleman's stream (it's easy to wade)  The banks are open and not brushy.  There are a few places where you have to walk around deep pools. 

Below our camp is one such place.  Jeff brings an axe and I'm armed with pruners and bio degradable flagging tape.  We spend a little time blazing a trial thru the brush that leads us around the deep pool to the treasures downstream.

We have gone about 3/4 of a mile and its a deep pool most of the way.  Finally we come to the spot we were looking for.  Shangri Li is loaded with fish.  Within minutes we are both hooked up to freight train kings that have never seen a fly.  Mine quickly gets into some wood and breaks me off.   Oh well, there is lots more to choose from. 

I quickly re-rig and I'm hooked up again on my second cast of the trip.  The fish makes an impressive leap and I can tell by the colors this is no ordinary King.  I have a Pinook on the line.  When Pink and Chinook salmon accidently breed their offspring are known as Pinook's. The bastard Pinook fish aren't capable of spawning but they run the river with their buddies.  They tend to be more aggressive han the pure strain salmon since they aren't spawning.   The fish streaks downstream to the unmistakable sound of a rod breaking.  This was my second cast with my brand new Rod.  I pounce on the line like a bear and carefully hand line the fish in.  It's an impressive 35" Male Pinook.

 A fish of a lifetime and thanks to my New Rod my only fish of the day.    We get a good laugh and I spend the next hour watching Jeff land fish.  He politely offers me to use his rod but I'm more than content to just sit n the bank and take in the scenery.

We get back to camp and still al the guys are out fishing.  So we get busy with dinner.  Tonight we Grill 1 lb New York Strips and Baked Potatoes.  The smell and the looming darkness draw the guys in.  Tonight the air s filled with many fish stories.  A nice steelhead as caught, A king that went 40 inches, A glimpse of a Black Bear along the river.  Everybody had something to share over a Amish baked Cherry Pie.  Tonight I'm the one to turn in early.

September 21st Sunday  When I get up all the guys are already fishing.  What a group of diehards.  The guys are all back in at 9:00 for Breakfast. 

After we eat its field trip time.  So we pack a cooler with lunch and cold beverages.  Our Native guides bring down the 4 wd trucks and quad runners and we load up for a adventure. Today we head upriver about 4 miles to a nice section of stream.

As we ride the bumpy road there are eagles everywhere.  We see at least a dozen and the guys in the front truck get a glimpse of a bear on the road.  The bears are very skittish and they usually run at the first sign of a human.   When we reach our destination there are literally thousands of fish.  Within minutes everybody is hooked up.  Jeff and Myself head upstream to a favorite flat from years past.  You could almost walk across the fish in some places.

I choose a nice little run that is shaded by tree .  I spot a huge Pinook in the pool but it vanishes back into a deep deadfall of trees.  Jeff decides to continue upstream.  So I take a seat in the shade and wait to see if the Pinook will come back into the run.  After what seemed like hours I spot the unmistakable pink hue of a very large Pinook in the run.  My first thought is my tippet is old.  Not taking any chances  I tie on a new section of 8 lb seaguar tippet and black bugger and position myself above the fish.  After a few false casts I let the fly land and swing in front of the monster.  The fish pounds the fly and it's on.  One of the most intense battles of my fishing career.  At one point the Salmon is about to run me under a log.  I put all the tension on the line I can  Knowing the fish will surely break off if it gets me under the log.  Just as the tippet stretches to its breaking point the fish goes crazy.  It makes a huge leap and clears the log mid air.  After 20 more minutes I find myself staring down at the biggest Pinook I have ever saw.

Instantly I know this warrior fish will adorn my basement wall .  So I head back to the trucks.  Our native guides tell me this is the biggest Pinook they have ever saw.  It ends up taping out at 40 inches long and weighs a hefty 26 lbs.  My fish of a lifetime was now a reality.  Much celebration was called for..!!  Everybody seemed to be celebrating a great day of fishing around the fire.  We ate like kings with Chicken Breast Monterey, French fries and pie on the menu.

September 22nd Monday   I awake to the sounds of rain drops.  This fills me with excitement because rain = Fresh Fish.  Hard to imagine any more fish than the huge numbers already present.   The Garden River flows thru very sandy and rocky terrain.  The rain soaks into the ground and river flooding in the fall is extremely rare.  Last year we received one inch of rain in less than twenty four hours but were still able to fish the river successfully.

 After a big breakfast of French Toast, Sausage, Home fries,  Danishes, Coffee and Orange Juice.  We head to the stream.  Jeff and Myself decide to hike back downstream to Shangri Li.  As we round the big hole below camp I peer over the edge into the deep water.  I amazed to see hundreds of bright kings that were not there two days ago.  Last nights rain had the fish on the move, and move they did.  All day long wave after wave of fish shot up the river. 

We slayed the Kings and the Pinks at Shangri Li.  You would think I was lying If I told you how many we landed.  We end up catching two more Pinook's in the 30 inch class and a nice little wild steelhead.  When we get back to camp we find a couple of guys napping, A couple of guys playing the game Corn hole and a couple more sitting around the fire drinking beer.  Finally they are starting to get their fill of Salmon.

We get to work on dinner.  It is a feast from the sea tonight.  Deep Fried Lake Erie Perch,  Butter flied Gulf Shrimp, and Jeff's blackened Salmon.   Mounds of Fries and chicken breast strips are on the menu for those who don't like seafood.  We topped it off with homemade dump cake prepared over the coals in the Dutch oven.

As we sit around the fire a wolf howls in the distance as if just to remind us where we are. I notice the numbers caught seem to be growing each night.  Our group of anglers have honed their skills and now they are fishing machines.

September 23rd  Tuesday   We start off with a Pancake and Sausage breakfast.  As we sit along the stream eating.  Pod after Pod of Kings charge thru the rapids at camp. It has gotten noticeably cooler and everybody ran the heaters in the tents last night.  I also rained very hard for a hour or so.   I can really see a difference in the leaves this morning.  The maples have really started to turn red making he landscape come alive. 


 About half of the guys take off upstream on a field trip.  After the chores are done I head out of the bush.  I have supplies to buy and guests to meet back at Ben's bait shop in the morning.   I'll spend the night at Ben's and Jeff is in charge of the GO Hilton tonight. 

I spend the afternoon shopping, exploring the Soo and BS ing with the guys at Joes Trading Post.  I end up finding a great bakery in the Soo and was surprised to find the groceries were less expensive than back home.  I have a problem though.  I brought along 30 gallons of Kerosene for the heaters.  I knew I would need to buy more.  Problem is I was unaware that they don't sell kerosene in Canada.  I go to several gas stations and they look at me like I'm speaking Chinese when I ask about Kerosene.  I end up finding lamp fuel (kerosene) at the Wal-Mart at $9 a liter.  That's only about $24 a gallon.  OUCH..!!  Oh well, I get my all of my shopping done and have enough time to play a little in the St.Marys rapids before dark.  I find lots of fish out in the rapids and light crowds.  Back at Ben's several of the guys are already there.  Ben has several nice campers along the river he rents out.  The guys really pumped up.  I know were in for more good times.

Wednesday Sept 24th  I awake in the dark and prepare for the remaining guests to arrive.   Everybody arrives at Ben's on time and after a brief introduction were on our way to camp.  We have a sharp schedule to keep.  Jeff will have French Toast and Biscuits with sausage gravy waiting.  I end up eating so many butter tarts from the bakery on the ride that I'm not hungry when we pull into camp.   The guys in the front trucks see a wolf on the road on the way to camp.  More good Karma I hope..   We arrive at camp and find out they had  a lot of excitement last night.  Two quad runners with young couples were out joy riding.  They got on Reservation property (Trespassing).  A culvert in the road had washed out last spring leaving a 20 foot deep ravine.  In the darkness they hit the ravine at a high speed and had a terrible accident.  Luckily Little Ben came to the rescue and transported them back to the hospital.  They were seriously injured with broken bones and severe internal injuries.  I never end up hearing how they are but there chances of survival were low if it weren't for Little Ben.

After a quick goodbye to the departing guests.  I help get everybody settled into the camp.  Most of the guys take one look at all of the fish and hit the river running.  Suddenly the bustling camp was quiet and empty. Jeff tells me I missed quite a day yesterday.  Something about a hot dog fork, swimming in the hole in front of camp, Salmon, and a $100 bet.  HMMM,  now I know what happened to that bottle of Crown Royal..

 Jeff and I decide to go fishing and make the hike downstream to Hallowed waters.  We find close to double the number of Kings as when we arrived last week and they are running everywhere.  Wave after wave of fish.  I know the new guests are having a blast too.!!  We are starting to see a few dead Pink Salmon hens now.  Today is probably the highest density of Pinks for the season but it will be over soon.  The Pink Salmon hens die within hours of completing the sawn.

We both end up double digits on the fresh Kings.  It seems like when their running they are most willing to bite.  NY Salmon River Guide Larry  Rummels Variegated Olive Buggers are just what they wanted today.    We make it back to camp and fire up the Grills for some two finger thick NY strips.  The smell lures the guys off the water.  No one goes hungry we also have fruit Cocktail and Potatoes that were baked in the Dutch oven. For desert it was strawberry rhubarb pie and Ice cream.  The Crown Royal flows freely around the fire as new friendships are made.

Thursday  Sept 25th   As I'm cooking breakfast this morning the beauty of the fall foliage catches my attention.  What a change the Maples have made since we first arrived just a week ago.  The leaves are brilliant this morning and I decide it would be a great day to take some pictures.  After breakfast the whole group loads up in 4 by 4's for a field trip up stream.

 As we pull up to the stream we see six eagles soaring above.  What a sight.  The we round the bend and there are nine more eagles sitting in the same tree. Fifteen eagles fishing the same section of stream.  That has to be a once in a lifetime sight. About half of our group unload and fish this section with Ben.

 The rest of us go with Little Ben about two more miles upstream.  Our plan is to fish thru this two mile section of stream. It's sunny and bright and there are fish everywhere and the kings are on the move big time. Pods of 6-10 kings are blowing upriver.  You could stand in one place and fish different fish all day long. 

With the sunny clear day you could target the bigger fish.  I was using big marabou tube flies on my two handed seven weight.  We would sneak up on the upside of the run and swing the flies back thru the uneducated fish.

 On the Garden River I would estimate that 99% of the fish complete their spawning cycle without ever seeing a angler.  It was lunch time and we had packed some goodies and energy drinks in our packs.  We picked out a good log and were just kicking back relaxing.  Suddenly Jeff is taping my shoulder pointing downstream.  A bear had came out into the river and was fishing.  We sat there quietly and observed for almost 10 minutes.  The quartering at us from downstream and he didn't know we were there.  A nice bear at least 250 lbs.  Probably a male.  He slowly worked his way down until he was directly across the stream from us. It was funny as he winded us.  His nose went straight up in the air.  Probably a unfamiliar smell but one his instincts told him to fear. He turned very sneakily towards the bush.  Then he ran locomotive till he was out of sight.  We got almost 20 great pictures of him.

 We continue to fish and we catch a couple of nice Pinook's in the 30 inch class.  I loose a King that had to be 30 lbs and the 30 minute fight leaves me wore out.  The leaves are beautiful so I decide to just take pictures for a bit.

I'm busy taking pictures when something catches my eye.  Jeff is a 1/4 mile downstream from me and there is a moving black object across the river from him. As I get closer I can tell its a bear.  Jeff doesn't even realize its there.  I start to yell at Jeff to warn him.  He can't hear me over the noise of the rapids .

 Just then he hooks up a fish and starts to chase it downstream.  This startles the bear and it jumps up on the bank.  This is when I realize that there are three bears, a momma and two cubs.  Jeff in his joyful bliss of fighting the fish is still unaware of his audience.

Finally the bears hear my yelling and disappear into the bush.  As I get up to Jeff he is un hooking his fish. He doesn't believe me when I tell him about the bears that were less than 50 feet from him.

 We are sitting there looking at the pictures I just snapped when suddenly out pop the bears again.  I have eight bear rugs on my walls, from my days as a bear hunting guide in Quebec.  I have seen a lot of bears and this is one big Momma.  Probably pushing 400 lbs with her winter fat.  Bears have poor sight and I don't think they could see us even though we were sitting on the wide open gravel flat.

 We snap a few pictures then decide that Mama bears and cubs are best left alone.  Even though there is a deep section of river between us.  Bears are excellent swimmers and can run at amazing speeds. We retreat and start singing as we walk backwards. The cubs see us and take off.  Big Momma turns and just watches us walk away.  As we round the bend where the rest of our group are we are still singing. 

Everyone had a great day on the water today. Everyone is telling stories about the adventure.   It's my famous Chicken Monterey on the grill for dinner.  We also do fries in the big fryer and of course Pie and Ice Cream for desert.  It was a long day for me and I turn in early.

Friday September 26th    Had a hungry crowd at breakfast this morning.  Went thru three dozen eggs and six lbs of bacon plus toast, and blueberry muffins, and Orange juice.  They even finished off the pies from last night.  Its the third day so a few of the guys sleep in. Hey its vacation..   It's nice to see everybody relaxing and enjoying them selves. We hurry with our camp chores so we can get out fishing.

  Another beautiful fall day.  It really hasn't rained on us at all since I arrived . A light sprinkle a few times but the rains all came at night while we were bone dry in our tents.   We decide to hike downstream to Hallowed waters again.  Ben offers to take us upstream in the trucks but the guys want to stay around camp. 

It's King city today.   Someone was literally fighting a fish all day long.  Countless doubles and triples.  Wooly buggers and green caddis patterns were hot.  The Kings were still on the move and every day more and more were still showing up.  The peak of the King Run is just days away.  They tend to run later than the Pinks.  In 2007 there wasn't any Kings at all until the middle of September.  The Pinks will start to show up in late August or Early September most years.

It's Italian night at camp.  Spaghetti, meatballs, deep fried chicken breast strips, Garlic Bread,  with home made pineapple cherry dump cake in the Dutch oven.  It's Friday night and a festive night around the campfire. It was a big crowd along the river some of Ben's family are out to camp for the weekend and the guys were up late.  I felt sorry for Gilbert because they burned a whole truck load of wood that he had split so nicely.  Tall tales were told and good times were had by all.

Saturday  September 27th    Most of the guys amazingly made it up early to fish this morning.  It was a foggy morning and the fog held tight to the river as the sun lit up the blazing red foliage.  I wish I had my camera out as the guys came off the water.  Would have been a fly fisherman magazine shot.

  The smell of Blueberry Pancakes, Sausage, and home fries cooking filled the air.  I warned them not to eat to much.  Ben's son in law Jeremy had promised us a Traditional Native Dinner streamside at 2:00.  I hang out around camp until lunch.  Jeremy shows up right on schedule with lunch.  Native Fry bread is a treat.  Ben's wife had made it before for us. Last time the guys put penult butter and jelly on it and it disappeared quick.  Today we made a sort of Taco on it with seasoned ground beef and veggies.  It was a hit.   It went very well with an ice cold Labatt's blue.  After lunch I head out with Jeremy and a small group for  Causeway flats.  We go on the trailer behind the quad runner because there is a bad washout on the way.


There are fish everywhere one of the highest densities of fish I have ever witnessed.  So many it was hard to fish.  I did my best actually looking for runs that weren't choked full of fish.  Jeff gets a nice 33" Pinook.  Every time I glance down the river everybody's rod is bent over.  From the hooting and hollering it was obvious everybody was having as much fun as I was. Later on Ben and his wife join us.  They were out on a ride and Ben went about seven more miles upstream.  He said there wasn't nearly as many fish upriver.  Apparently one of the small flats in that section was stopping the migration. Ben also saw a huge Buck on the road.  There are abundant deer and moose in the area.  On last years trip Little Ben harvested a 1100 lb moose while he was guiding us.  The natives manage their own lands and game.  They always have a rifle in the truck.

2007 Photo of Little Bens moose

We headed back to camp for Dinner.  Tonight it was Beef Stew on the fire,  deep fried chicken strips and French fries, canned fruit, and home made apple crisp in the Dutch oven.  It was Saturday Night and the Garden River Hilton was hopping.  Guys from all walks of life and regions of the country coming together to share a common bond in fishing.  I feel privileged to have experienced the Garden River with the friends I made in the last 11 days.  

Sunday September 28th  Our last day in Paradise.  After breakfast the guys head out fishing.  Now the real work starts.  Tearing down five tents and loading up the trucks and trailers takes all day.  The Lunch cooler remains out and one hot shower stays up until we pull out at 3:30.  All the trucks are lined up on the road.  Jeff and myself do a walk thru of the camp.  No cigarette butts, no beer cans, no toilet paper, no trace that anybody had been there other than the tire tracks in the sand.  Perfect, just the way such a place should be left.

The ride back to Bens Bait Shop was un eventful.  Back at Ben's it was hectic as everybody transferred the gear to their cars but we did manage to snap one group photo.  I'm sorry I didn't get a shot of the whole group before some of them left yesterday. 

 I want to thank Ben, Glenda, Little Ben, Gilbert, Jeremy, and the rest of Ben's family for sharing their Garden River Paradise with us.  They went above and beyond what was expected and everything was perfect.   I'm looking forward to seeing everybody Next fall.  Good Fishin..!!  Don


Lets Go Fishin..!!

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In addition to our guided Ohio and Pennsylvania trips we offer a select number of trips each Fall to Western, NY and the Cattaraugus Creek. Steel headers often refer to the Catt as the "Crown Jewel" of our Great Lakes tributaries. We fish the Catt during the month of October. It is a beautiful stream and the early fall fishing is great. Give me a call and we will discuss a trip to the Catt. Don Mathews NY License #4348


We also have a presentation "Finding Fish on Steelhead Alley" available to put on at your seminar, event, or club meeting. We have assembled a awesome slide show and have all of our own equipment. We offer this presentation at a very minimal cost, and your audience will learn from it. So Please contact us....

Many lodging options exist along "Steelhead Alley" and Interstate I-90.  Here are a few lodging options located near to the streams that we fish.

Comfort Inn Elyria Ohio;  440-324-7676
EconoLodge Elyria Ohio; 440-324-3911
Howard Johnson's Geneva Ohio Exit#218; 440-466-1168
State Park Lodge Geneva Ohio Exit #218; 866-806-8066
Hampton Inn Ashtabula Ohio Exit #223; Call   440-275-2000
Comfort Inn Ashtabula Ohio Exit #223; Call   440-275-2711
Days Inn Conneaut Ohio Exit #241440-593-1226
Best Western Erie Pa exit#18 814-838-7646

Clarion Inn Erie Pa Exit#18 814-833-1116

Comfort Inn Dunkirk NY Exit#59 716-672-4450

White Inn Fredonia NY Exit#59 716-672-2103

Best Western Dunkirk NY Exit#59 716-366-7100

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