Big Kinosoo: Dangerous Waters Run Deep, Chapter 6/6

Written by Harold McNeill on February 6th, 2010. Posted in Adventure

kinosoo beach and campground

Photo (Family Files):  As the sun was setting, we all took a walk along Kinosoo Beach. Those waters may look peaceful on the surface, but in depths lurks a monster that with one look could make that infamous white shark Jaws retreat.   I was desperately worried about the safety of Sampi and his family, but he was a man on a mission and was not about to be deterred.  All I could do was pray they safely returned.

This is the last post in the Kinosoo Series. Perhaps more will be added later
See the van Rensburg update in the footer
Link to Last Post:  Sampi gets hooked
Link Back to Adventures Index

Chapter 6: Dangerous Waters Run Deep

The September long week-end traditionally marks the end of summer in Canada. While September can be one of the most glorious month, the final week-end before school starts brings out thousands of city dwellers and country folk alike as they hit the road for that final week-end at the beach or on the water.

In Cold Lake the campground was booked to capacity and the Marina overflowing with fishing and sailing boats of every make, model and size.  Line ups at the boat launch could stretch for blocks. The bars and night spots opened early and stayed open late. Fishing, sailing, hunting, hiking, biking, water skiing or simply lazing on the beach – the great outdoors around Cold Lake had something for everyone.

At just past 2:00 pm on Friday Sampie pulled into the campground with his rig. He must have left Fort MacMurray well before 6:00 am for the eight hour drive and although I did not know Sampie, I guessed he had probably driven for eight straight hours with, perhaps, one stop for gas and a coffee in Lac La Biche.

The first thing I noticed as he drove by was the two shinny new downriggers fixed to his boat and they were no ordinary downriggers. They were commercial size and probably each capable of holding 15 or 20 kg weights. The steel downrigger line could Downriggeralmost the size of that used on the winch of a Jeep. I was sure Sampie must have had some deep sea fishing in mind for the future.  Regardless of the reason, Sampie was clearly taking no chances on something going wrong. He was a man with a goal and was not about to be deterred by equipment failure.

As he stopped his rig I had momentarily flushed with concern noting Sampie’s wife and both daughters where wife him. I had hoped that until he had more experience on the lake he would have left the family at home, but that was not Sampie’s style. He introduced his wife Constance and older daughter, Emily – we had met Nicole the previous week-end.

On that first meeting we could tell that Constance and Emily brought to the campground the same energy and excitement as had Sampie, Nicole and Darren had the previous week-end.  Nicole, the chitty-chatty little soul she is, was still running on a high about her great success the previous week and her excitement clearly infected her mother and sister. There was no doubt in my mind that Emily, the big sister, was not about to be outdone by her young sister. Emily clearly wanted some bragging rights of her own and there would be nothing like an eight or ten kg Cold Lake trout to fill that need. I remembered our own kids the first time they came home having limited out on the lake.

Sampie, of course, was his usual ebullient self.  Talkative and excited about continuing his adventure, he clearly savoured the opportunity of being able to share the experience with his wife and daughters. I asked about Darren and Sampie told me he had to work the long week-end, but wanted to return later in the fall before freeze-up.

I was most relieved to hear Darren was willing to jump back in the saddle after the narrow escape of the previous week-end. Sampie confided that Darren was still convinced they had had a close encounter with something big but Sampie was not willing to concede it had been the Big Kinosoo. Apparently Darren was not the least bit shy about telling family and friends of his encounter with that a gigantic fish. Of course, that is how word of the Big Kinosoo has spread over the past 100 years.

A Test Run with the Boat

After they pitched camp, Sampi left to launch his boat and asked if I would like to come along. After launching at the Marina, we took a short run and everything seemed in order. As we left the dock, I was surprised to see a rifle scabbard attached to the hull just inside the bow beside the Captains seat. I ask Sampie and he told me he did not think it would hurt to carry it in the boat “just in case” so he had brought one of his hunting guns (all properly licenced of course). I just smiled and thought to myself that perhaps Darren’s observations of last week had impacted Sampie more than he let on.

Meanwhile, Sampie went about testing the rest of the equipment. The new downriggers and rod holders could easily handle four lines. He had new eight pound, plastic coated downrigger weights. I thought that was overkill but Sampie intended to run the boat faster and wanted to keep the lines deep. The new, downriggers, rods, lines and hooks must have cost a small fortune. Perhaps Sampie had visions of taking this up full time!

I suspected at least a part of the reason for bringing the girls was to insure he had licences to run all four lines. As neither Constance nor the girls were experienced in rigging the lines and setting the downriggers I doubt that Sampie understood just how much work it would be to prepare and set four lines and to keep them tangle free.  Oh well, as my dad used to say “experience is one of the best teacher”.

That evening, as I had planned on the previous meeting with Sampie, I had asked my brother-in-law, Frank Yochim, a fisherman of some note, to come to the campground to help encourage Sampie to take care when searching for his “big fish”. With over 30 years of experience as the owner/operator of Frank’s Marina and his extensive experience on the lake, I felt his words Sunk of the Point at French Bayof warning might carry more weight than mine. Frank also knew the September long week-end, was one of the most dangerous times of the year.  It seemed that all the extra boats on the water irritated the bigger fish and they were know to attack smaller boats.  The Big Kinosoo with his size, weight and ferocity, could easily hole a boat the size of Sampie’s.

Photo (Franks Files):  It is suspected this boat was holed by the Big Kinosoo just as the boat was rounding the point. On being pulled from the water, the hull was cut from side to side about mid-ship.

Frank, like his dad, is a quiet, introspective men but make no mistake, he knows his business. Over the years he has had his share of close calls with that big fish. Although he seldom talked about the close calls, on this evening he brought a few pictures of boats that had been taken down by the big Kinosoo. One senses that over the years he had developed a deep and abiding respect for both the lake and that big fish.  I also knew that my sister and their seven children have long since resigned themselves to the fact that, even in retirement, Frank would continue his life-long search for the elusive fish as had our dads, Dave McNeill and Mike Yochim, in the last century.

While neither Frank nor I openly named the Big Kinosoo in front of the girls, Frank, in his quiet, unassuming way encouraged Sampie to take extreme care when on the lake with his family. With his lifetime of experience, Frank knew all too well just how quickly things could turn dangerous.

Hitting the Fishing Grounds

Constance fish.At 4:00 am the next morning, Lynn and I heard stirrings in the van Rensburg campsite. We could hear a murmur protests from the girls – the early hour, it was pitch black, raining and cold. Then, a man’s voice, gently telling the girls they had to get moving if they wanted to be on the lake by first light. The three women clearly did not share the same excitement at this hour of the morning.

It was yet another example of how absolutely nothing can compare with the single mindedness of a man intent on catching his “big fish”. In that same vein it has been suggested that men’s brains are comprised of a number of little boxes each of which holds a different skill – Sampie, early that fall morning, had opened his brain’s ‘fishing box’ and in order to maintain a strict focus, he kept all the other boxes firmly closed.

As the truck doors quietly closed and the windshield wipers beat back the cold drizzle, truck pulled away from the campsite. In the warmth of our bed Lynn and I slowly drifted into fitful sleep hoping the van Rensburgs would safely return.

Up early and a pot of coffee on the campfire, I spent the rest of the morning nervously watching the lake. About noon was rewarded when the excited van Rensburg family returned to the camp. They displayed two trout even larger than the ones caught on their previous trip. Lynn and Emily with fishI soon learned the fish had been caught by “the girls”. Sampie showed us one fish that had giant teeth or claw marks across the back and down one side. He was not sure how that had happened, but he thought a larger fish may have tried to snatch it off the line while it was being reeled in. He made no mention of the Big Kinosoo.

Personally I had wondered what other ‘fish’ in Cold Lake would be capable of taking a 15-20 pound lake trout off the line. I kept my suspicions to myself as the girls were so proud of their catches. Sampie was also excited, perhaps a bit agitated, telling me, again, how he had hooked a really big one but it had gotten away with most of his gear.

That partially answered the question of why they had returned so early noting they had not caught their limit.  At that point I walked over and looked that the boat perched on the trailer. The downriggers that had been solidly bolted were missing. Instead the fiberglass was ripped and shredded.

Sampie claimed that something big had hooked one and then the other, downrigger line. He knew they had not snagged as they were running well above the 350 foot bottom. Whatever had taken the downriggers was no mean feat as Sampie was running 5 kg (12 pound) weights on each. Sampie was at the controls of the boat when Emily began to scream that the downrigger lines were unspooling.

With both steel lines screaming, there was nothing Sampie could do. At the end of the spool, there was one massive jerk that ripped both downriggers from the boat taking with them the four rods. For a few seconds both downriggers had skipped along the surface of the water before disappearing from sight.  In the distance the girls thought they had briefly seen a large, dark object surface. They could not be certain.

As Sampie related his story, I began to realize that he and his family had just had a close encounter with the Big Kinosoo. No other fish would have had the strength and speed (perhaps 30 – 40 km/h) to take that much heavy gear and rip it from a boat.  The only other way that might have happened would have been rapidly powering up the boat without first bringing in the downrigger lines and weights. Sampie was solid in his assurance that that definitely was not the case!

Sampie asked if I would accompany him back to the spot on the lake where he had lost his gear. I told him we should call Frank and have him accompany us. I knew Sampie’s request had nothing to do with fear but was simply that of a friend wanting some moral support as he tried to come to terms with something he did not fully understand.

I quickly agreed and early that evening the three set out to cross the lake. When Sampie stopped the boat in the calm waters at the mouth of French Bay and pointed out where he had lost his gear, a shiver of cold washed over me – it was almost exactly the same spot where the RCAF Otter had crashed in late August just over 50 years earlier. It was also very near the same spot where other boats had been holed and also where legendary young Indian Warrior disappeared just over 100 years earlier.

Frank was also quiet and contemplative – he knew the answer before we even arrived. I was now certain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that on that long week-end in September 2009, Sampie, his young wife and two young daughters had indeed been very lucky to have lost only their downriggers and fishing gear. We all sat quietly on the waters of the bay for several minutes as we let the full extent of that close encounter sink in. I noted Sampie had unsheathed his rifle and had it wedged beside his leg.

As we powered up, it was with a sense of certainty that Sampie, regardless of the dangers, would be driven to continue his search for that big fish either in Cold Lake. The draw of the Big Kinosoo, as for so many hundreds who came before, would remain irresistible.

Harold McNeill
Victoria, B.C
January 2010

This is the last post in the Kinosoo Series. Perhaps more will be added later
See the van Rensburg update in the footer
Link to Last Post:  Sampi gets hooked
Link Back to Adventures Index

Photographs attached to the six chapters of this story provide a record of some of the events described therein. If any reader has old photographs or other anecdotal information about close encounters with the Big Kinosoo please forward to the author at or by a message on my FB page. There are many chapters of this story still to be written.

The vanRensburg Family (2009)

Citizenship Ceremonies

A proud moment for the vanRensburg family, Nicole, Sampie, Constance and Emily, as they celebrate at the Canadian Citizenship Ceremonies in Edmonton. Every year tens of thousands of individuals and families much like the vanRensburg’s, immigrate to Canada. Each adds immensely to the diversity that has helped to make and keep Canada a vibrant and thriving society that represents virtually every country, nationality, language and religion in the world. We are one.

Update (October, 2014)

Over the five years since meeting the vanRensburg’s in Cold Lake, I have watched them bite into every aspect of Canadian life in a manner that puts those of us who have lived here all our lives, to shame. Summer, spring, winter and fall, it seems each season holds exiting new things for the family to see and do.

As friends of Facebook, I have watched as they explored much of Western Canada by car,motorcycle skidoo, ATV, horseback, skiing, trekking and swimming. They are the spirit that has driven this country for the past two hundred and fifty years and they represent the best. Our future indeed looks bright when families such as the van Rensburg’s decides to make Canada home.

The photo collages below provides just a snippet of their travels over the past few years (double click to fully open).

The van Rengsburg's

In the following photos you can see why Sampie was so smitten by the legend of The Big Kinosoo

The van Rensburg's 2


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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

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    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]

  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    January 5, 2020 |

    […] 28. The past as a guide to the future (Part III): Over the past 60 years, many activities the police once performed as a natural part of their daily duty, eventually became incompatible with achieving their basic goals. What happened? (August 2019) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories Why I stand with science? - McNeill Life Stories

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    […] During the Ice Age, the Earth’s average temperature was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today. That was enough to keep snow from melting during the summers in northern regions. As snow fell on the snow, glaciers formed. (NASA Earth Observatory) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]