The Pepeshquasati river, called the Papas by Cree residents, is a dream of a lifetime for most people into fishing.
The Papas flows into Lake Mistissini, where larger-than-life speckled trout never fail to awake anticipation in the most jaded of anyone who has ever fished.
It is a series of rapids not accessible to any but those who are privileged to be chosen or allowed to fish there. If it seems that I am going on, let it be said that no words can truly give credit to the Papas experience. Most people would be happy with a two pound speckle but they are smaller than the average of four to six pounds that the Papas regularly provides to the lucky b*st*rds who can cast a line there.
I was one of those lucky enough to try my luck.
It all started when I heard about the new Cree economic movement to seriously open up the tourism potentials of the Cree territory. I talked to Jason Coonishish, one of the younger Mistissini Crees, to venture into this field. Coonishish had started about four years ago. His business, Adventure Tours, has taken off without a doubt, winning numerous awards.
His clients are Cree, Swedish, French from France and Quebec, Korean, Japanese, etc. Coming from all over the world, the tourists come for a variety of reasons, all of which Coonishish and other Mistissini people supply. Everything from culture-oriented trips to hunting and fishing. With other communitities starting to seriously look at tourism as an economic choice, it was time to start checking it out.
When I arrived in Mistissini, it was a short visit before Waasheskun Airways was ready to fly Lyle Stewart of Hour Magazine, some of the Ouje-Bougoumou Eeyou business people and myself to the Papas. Seeing us off were some of the Mistissini residents. One of them jokingly remarked to me, “Don’t get into trouble now.” I replied, “Hey, I’ve only got one condom, how much trouble can I get into?” Just joking, boys.
It seems that the O.J. band uses Mistissini Lake Outfitting Camps and Coonishish a lot. Every year for the past four or five years they’ve averaged one or two trips a year to go fishing.
They were sharing the bush plane with us. Some people get a little nervous flying in these small planes but I had the same confidence in our pilot Paul Petawabano that other Mistissini residents have. It wasn’t always that way.
Petawabano was one of the first, if not the first, James Bay Cree pilot. When he arrived back in Mistissini, local Crees were unsure about flying with him. They couldn’t believe a Cree could fly. Today that has changed. Petawabano once took up a group of kids during Christmas for a ride. During it one of his landing skis came unattached. It was truly a X-mas miracle that Petawabano’s flying skills brought everyone safely down to terra firma. He never received a medal for this but I always thought he deserved one if anyone did. Suffice to say no one questions his skills as a pilot these days.
It was a short enjoyable plane ride to the Papas. We were greeted by Pierre Coon Come and his bevy of guides. One was being flown out by the same plane that brought us in. He had come down with some bug.
His replacement would be King Stone, soon to become our guide. Stone had been hired to deliver gas and was pressed into service as a guide. Knowing the King, it promised to be quite an interesting trip up the river. He didn’t fail us in those expectations. His motor was too big to try the shallower waters, and at one point, three of us were off-loaded on to a sand bar while Glen Wapachee and King Stone braved the waters. After making it we walked the bar and found that we were expected to walk out of the boat again. A small problem as Stewart and myself weren’t wearing rubber boots. Fortunately Wapachee was getting low on smokes and piggy-backed all comers for four cigarettes each. We paid the toll and were rewarded with some of the best speckle fishing I’ve had in years.
Since King Stone’s boat was too big to make it up to the higher rapids, Lyle and myself on the final day went up with another guide. Kevin Gunner showed us some of the spots where others had pulled out large fish. I lost the only big one to grab my hook at that section of the Papas. I also lost the second of two EGB hooks loaned to me by my cousin Chris Quinn. Sorry, bud. I was even sorrier after it had been rescued once by Kevin after I had cast too close to a tree and caught it up in some branches. I can hear some relatives already saying, “Yep, that’s Will,” even as they read this but the 32.6 kilograms (over 60 pounds counting cooler) of fish making it’s way back to Montreal with me makes up for any future teasing I might have to endure.
It had been a number of years since I had visited the Papas. A little over 20 years ago to be exact.
I had never forgotten the beauty of the place but it was nice to have it refreshed once again. Pure, untouched land. The only signs of man are three cabins and the skeletons of old camps fading into the land from which they sprang. Blueberry season was coming to a end but there were still plenty on hand. Rather in the hand and going for my mouth in my case. All in all, it was a peaceful, restful, stress-free interlude in my life. Meals were cooked for us, firewood cut and stacked for cold nights, even the fish were cleaned and package for us when it was time to leave.
When we all got on the plane to fly out to Vieux Poste, it was an envious longing that was in my eyes looking back at the Papas. The Coon Come family is lucky to have such a beautiful spot as part of their family territory and their reputation as hosts is undiminished.
At Vieux Poste, it was into a heavy work session for the O.J. Council. Since I was up for a fishing story, I didn’t follow my journalistic conventions and listen under the window. They did stay up until the wee hours of the morning hard at work.
It must be all that fresh air and relaxation because Lyle and myself came away with renewed purpose and ready to work again. More than that we were positively looking forward to it. O.J. did get a head start on it though. It goes to show that meetings such as those are suited to the new Cree tourism movement. No distraction and a little fishing goes a long way to a new outlook in the boardroom. Somehow the office seems less stuffy these days.
Tourism in all the communities seems to be taking off. Ouje-Bougoumou has seen over a thousand visitors to its culture camp. They’ve brought a ferry barge to take both locals and tourists in the summer. Mistissini has also made a winter trail for snowmobilers leading to the culture camp and beyond. It is one of the stops along the way for the Raid des Braves skidoo race. Mistissini is upgrading and renovating two fishing camps.
If you’re looking for a little R&R as well as pepping yourself, friends and/or the employees up, give Jason a call at 418-923-3552 or call Unique Tours in Montreal at 514-843-8873 and ask for Sandro.
To stay at the Mistissini Cultural Camp, costs run $25/day per person not including meals or sleeping bag. To book early for Loius Joilliett call Michael Prince of Mistissini’s Tourism Office at 418-923-3461. For the technically inclined see the web page at: http:nation.mistissini.qc.ca or email: firstname.lastname@example.org