t was a trip that ended with a huge Arctic char being caught that appears to be a new world's record for fly fishing.
But the excursion taken this summer by Jim Sollecito and Dennis Ouellette to the edge of the Labrador Sea in a desolate area of northeastern Canada was much more than that.
"It was an expedition, an adventure. I've never done anything like that," Sollecito said, adding it resulted in several scary, white-knuckle moments.
"I made my peace with the Lord - twice," the Baldwinsville resident said.
It all began with Ouellette, who owns Ontario Orchards in Oswego County, fishing last summer for salmon at Big River in Labrador. At that fish camp, he met French Canadians Keith Richardson and his son, Patrick. After finding out the two had a float plane and a small helicopter, Ouellette made plans with the pair to head up further north into Labrador the following year, with an agreement that the gas costs would be split among all those going.
"Dennis figured this was a place he wanted to explore. He was told he could bring one more guy but he had to be of an adventuresome spirit," Sollecito said. "They also decided to bring a dog to keep the bears away."
Ouellette, 67, who lives in Sterling, had been on outdoors outings before with Sollecito, who owns Sollecito Landscaping Nursery in Onondaga Hill. The two have fished together in Alaska to the Baja in Mexico.
This most recent trip stretched from July 28 to Aug. 10. Because of pending bad weather, the two local anglers left two days early with six hours notice. After driving to Montreal, they took off in Keith Richardson's float plane, arriving at their destination on Tasiujak Lake 10 hours later.
"There was no cook. We made our beds - literally, using hammers and nails and available wood," Sollecito, 59, said.
The weather didn't cooperate. The first four days the group was fogged in. Sollecito and Ouellette took their fly rods and fished around the camp.
"It was tremendous fishing," Sollecito said. "We were casting egg sucking leaches and muddler minnows. We were landing countless lake trout up to 12 pounds - and there were some we couldn't land that were probably pushing 30 pounds. We were also a ton of brook trout up to five pounds and Arctic char up to 8 pounds."
There was one major inconvenience, Sollecito said.
'Both of our waders sprung leaks. We had wet legs the entire time we were there," he said, adding that fortunately the weather during the day stayed in the 40- to low 50- degree range, dropping down to the low 30s at night.
The fog lifted on the fifth day, and the two were helicoptered and dropped off alongside the first of severeal unnamed rivers, some 50 miles away.
"We were left to fend for ourselves and told the helicopter would return between 5 and 7:30 p.m. to pick us up," Sollecito said. "We had bear spray and shared one rifle (in the case of a bear attack)."
That day, the anglers caught numerous brook trout in the 1- to 3-pound range, keeping some to cook over a fire for lunch. Both anglers said the water was "Windex water," meaning it was unbelievably clear, blue -- and drinkable. "You'd look at it and think it was only three feet deep and it'd be 30. It was unbelievable," Ouellette said.
The two saw a number of black bears, some more 600 pounds, near their base camp and while fishing, but there were no incidents. They also got close (within 100 feet) while riding in a helicopter to several much larger polar bears and their cubs. They were fishing at one point in the same area where a camper had been dragged out of this tent and recently mauled by a polar bear.
"Everyone was there because of the fish," Sollecito said. "Beforehand, I assured my wife we wouldn't be within 150 miles (of the area where the camper was mauled). We ended up finding his camp site."
On the final day, Sollecito, hooked a huge Arctic char on a No. 4 muddler minnow, fishing in an area where they had seen the polar bears just several miles away from the helicopter.
"It was a giant fish and fortunately it stayed in the pool where I was fishing," he said, adding he took care not to get into the water in fear of spooking the fish and having it take off.
"I beached it and conked it on the head with a rock," he said, adding he cut some nearby brush, putting some of it through the fish's mouth, put it the water and piled rocks on it as to not attract any nearby bears with the smell.
Three and half hour later, the helicopter finally returned. Back at the camp, the fish was weighed at 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Sollecito is a member of the International Game Fishing Association, which keeps track of salt and freshwater fishing records. He knew he had a record fish.
"We took pictures and then filleted it," Sollecito said.
This past week, Jack Vitek, a spokesman for the IGFA, confirmed that Sollecito's fish most likely will be a new world record in the fly fishing category for a 12-point tippet (leader). The current record in that category is 17 pounds caught by an Australian angler.
"Everything looks good and is lining up nicely," he said. "He completed the application, had witnesses, had a photograph, sent us the tippet and we tested it. He also had the scale certified by the Syracuse Scale Co. and gave us proof of that. He should get approval in the next month or so."
The trip's scariest moments, though, didn't involve a bear attack, getting lost or being left overnight in the wilderness. It was the float plane trip back home to Montreal.
During the trip, the plane was low on gas and made several loops around a desolate mountain pass looking for a place to land while cruising at 100 feet above the tree tops. And once they hit the St. Lawrence River, the plane was zipping along at only 46 feet above the water to avoid the fog and bad weather. In both instances, Sollecito admits to being unnerved.
The shaken Sollecito said he'll never forget Oullette's comment once they finally landed:
"Well, that was a lot of fun."
http://blog.syracuse.com/outdoors/201 ... venture_in_northeast.html