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 lowerislandsoccer@shaw.ca. 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

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.