Kinosoo Search: Sampi Gets Hooked, Chapter 5 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on February 5th, 2011. Posted in Adventure

Kinosoo Attack

Photo (by Sampie’s Brother in Law, Darren Riley): Later at the campsite he explained: “About two hundred meters toward the shore I noticed a a swirl in the water, then spray that was at least five meters in length. Suddenly, a large dark object briefly surfaced. I had the camera in hand so snapped one quick photo as I hollered at Sampi.”  By the time Sampi turned the water had calmed and the shadow was long gone.

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Chapter 5: Sampie Gets Hooked – The van Rensburg Story Begins

Darren hollered: “Sampie, get moving, it’s coming straight toward us!” Sampie: “I can’t Darren, the downriggers are still out, give me a second…”  Sampi was still hunched over replacing the line on his rod. Nicole was still busy admiring her catch, so both she and her dad were blissfully unaware of the approaching danger. These words were spoken less than 24 hours after admonitions to the Sampie and Darren to take great care while venturing forth on their first fishing trip on Cold Lake.

The van Rensburg story began in August 2009 while Lynn and I were camping at Cold Lake while visiting my sister Louise Yochim and her family. We chanced to meet a delightful young man from South Africa, Sampie van Rensburg, who set up camp in the site next to ours. Sampie, a gregarious man in his late thirties, was accompanied by his youngest daughter, Nicole, and his brother-in-law, Darren Riley. It was their first time visiting Cold Lake having heard many stories about the giant fish the filled these waters. 

Cold Lake Kinosoo BeachThe campground was, coincidently, located right on the water at “Kinosoo Beach” a beautiful stretch of sand within the city limits of Cold Lake. For the entire summer the beach teams with tourists and locals as the lake boasts dozens of similar stretches of sand at various locations in the Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Photo (Web Source):  Kinosoo Beach looking Northwest around the Bay.  The campground is located in the trees to the left. During the summer, the beach is filled with people from dawn until sunset.

Although the water can be cool, it is crystal clear and inviting with not a trace of weeds or pollution as is so common in many of the more accessible Alberta lakes. Every week-end during the summer and most week days for that matter, the campground is filled to capacity. A fortunate few get to pitch camp right on the waters edges. We snagged on of those sites for our two-week visit.

On this evening in late August the weather has turned a bit cool, but, with a campfire blazing and a tot of the demon rum to cut the chill, it was a perfect evening to sit around and chat. We learned that Sampie, Darren and their families had moved to Canada from their native South Africa just five years earlier. They first moved to Calgary then later to Fort Mac Murray. In Fort Mac Murray Sampie holds a position as a Quantity Surveyor with CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Ltd), the newest entry in high stakes tar sands oil production.

When Sampie received an offer of employment with CNLR here in Canada he was given two days to make a decision otherwise the job would go to someone else. The demand for experienced people is so high and the need so great, the job had to be filled immediately. Neither Sampie nor his wife Constance, knew anything about Canada other than various news reports about the bitterly cold prairie winters and the friendly people. It was by no means an easy decision to make on the spur of the moment. Both had family and many friends in South Africa, but the couple was looking for new adventures and Canada presented a perfect place to begin. It also a place they felt their daughters could begin to experience the world in a new light.  The job offer was accepted and a short time later the couple, along with daughters Emily and Nicole, relocated to Calgary.

Once settled, Sampie and Constance told their brother-in-law (husband of Constance’s sister), about the many incredible opportunities Canada had to offer and suggested they may wish to follow. Darren, his wife and family soon arrived and after working at an interim job in Calgary for a few months, Darren and family headed to Fort Mac Murray. After working his way up the ladder, Darren now drives one of “big foot” 400 ton Caterpillar trucks used to haul raw tar sands out of an open pit to the processing plant.

Photo: September 2009: Picture of Darren and his 400-ton tar sands truck. In this picture, our son Jay and I were visiting the tar sands and Jay, who loves big trucks, got to ride around for several trips. He is pictured here climbing down from the truck.

The decision by these two young men and their families to move half way around the world to a country about which they knew very little, makes for fascinating listening. Their excitement, energy and positive outlook toward this vast country and all the opportunities it provides, is a story that begs to be written. It should be read by every Canadian who might complain about the country or their lot in life.  Even during the bitter cold winters and a summer that can be filled with black fly’s and mosquitoes (these fly’s and mosquitoes live on steroids) that could carry away a Wood Buffalo calf, has done did nothing to diminish their spirits. Their attitude harkens back to the early pioneers who could only see opportunity – everything else was just a small challenge to be overcome.

During the evening we also learned that Sampie, Darren and Nicole, who were on their first fishing trip to the lake, had heard many stories about the giant trout that is the king of these northern waters. They heard the records reached over 50 pounds. While Sampie’s focus was on “catching the big one” it soon became apparent that neither he nor Darren had any awareness of the dangers posed by the Big Kinosoo. In fact, neither had ever heard of that giant, dangerous fish. That was surprising as most who come here to fish, have been brought here by word of the giant that lives in the lake.  Perhaps South Africa was just tad to far for the story to have spread.

After Nicole had fallen asleep, I proceeded to fill in the background. It was strange to again be talking about the Big Kinosoo, for after left Cold Lake forty-five years earlier, even amongst my family and friends, I had never much discussed that dangerous fish. On those regular trips made van Rensburg Campsiteback to Cold Lake to visit family, I always took great care when taking the kids out fishing and usually avoided the mouth of French Bay. This was also Lynn’s first time hearing about that big fish and she was not the least bit impressed that I had taken the kids out on the water. As we left their campsite that evening, I encouraged Sampie and Darren to exercise great care and, if possible, to avoid cutting across the mouth of French Bay until they had more experience on the lake.

Sampie was clearly skeptical about my warnings, but Darren, the quiet, thoughtful type, listened intently and, I suspect, intended to keep a sharp eye peeled for anything unusual. On the other hand, perhaps Darren might have thought that if he could successfully manoeuvre a 400 ton truck filled with 80 tons of wet, sticky tar sand along a narrow, winding, gravel road leading from of the depths of an open pit mine, he should be able to deal with any fish the waters of Cold Lake might throw his way. This was not unexpected as many, upon first hearing stories of the Big Kinosoo, often respond with either an attitude of skepticism or an air of invincibility.

In a final effort to convince them, I encouraged both men to take a little time in the morning to speak with my brother-in-law Frank Yochim. Frank was much more knowledgeable about the Big Kinosoo than I, having managed the Cold Lake Marina for over 30 years. Knowing Frank was the local authority on the subject, I knew he would be able to give Sampie and Darren sound advice. Darren seemed inclined to wait for a couple of hours in the morning to have a chat, but Sampie was clearly ready to ‘hot dog’ it at first light.

That night I slept fitfully as my mind wandered back to my youth and the times the lake had nearly claimed the lives of members of my own family. As daybreak approached I heard rumblings next door, roused myself and went out to wish the trio good luck. Further warnings seemed fruitless.

As Sampie had moored his boat at the Marina they would be on the water at first light. Sampie was in his usual buoyant mood, but Darren was clearly more subdued. Perhaps he also had a fitful sleep thinking about my warnings. Nicole, of course, was just happy to be with her dad and had not a care in the world.

After they left the campground I headed to the 7-11 to pick up the morning paper and then off to Tim Horton’s for an early coffee – anything to take my mind off the dangers that would be faced by my three new friends. The paper did not help as there was a short article about three fishermen whose boat had been “holed” and had nearly drowned before being rescued.

By mid-afternoon when Sampie, Darren and Nicole had not returned, I dropped by to chat with Frank. He told me not to worry as Sampie had a good sized boat, the weather was good and he felt they would be okay. If they had not returned by 4:00 pm, Frank offered launch his boat and we would run across to Long Bay, the area where I believed the trio had headed. I then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the docks at the Marina while scanning the waters with Frank’s binoculars. Frank dropped by just before 4:00 pm and as we were about to launch, we caught sight of Sampie’s boat heading toward the Marina.

After we helped them to tie up, Nicole proudly displayed a beautiful 12 lb trout she had landed with the help of Darren. Darren held up a similar sized fish that he had caught.

Sampie quickly added that he handed off the first fish to Nicole and that when his turn came, he a huge fish on the line, but that it managed to “spit the hook” before he could get it set. We could see that Darren was clearly upset and was slowly shaking his head as Sampie spoke. The two clearly had different thoughts about what had taken place that afternoon. Darren then recounted the following events just an hour earlier.

After he and Nicole had landed the first two trout, they reset both lines to the downriggers and continued to troll. As they trolled along about 500 meters from shore along French Bay (the exact area Frank told them not to go) there was a sudden, hard “strike” on Sampie’s line. Darren emphasized it was no ordinary strike. When the ‘fish’ hit, the rod bent nearly to the water, the line released from downrigger and almost simultaneously the line snapped. The rod then whipped back – all this happened within a split second. Sampie, who was steering the boat, immediately throttled back and jumped to grab his rod, but there was nothing left but slack line. He disgustedly began to reel in order to replace the flasher and hook. At that point Frank and I noticed their was heavy damage to the down riggers.

Darren then recounted what happened: “About two hundred meters toward the shore I noticed a spray of water that was at least five meters in length then, suddenly, a large dark object briefly surfaced. I had the camera ready so snapped a quick photo as I hollered at Sampi.”  Of by the time Sampie turned to look, it was long gone.  Sampie, of course, dismissed the whole thing as a small whitecap coming off the top of the choppy water.

Kinosoo ShadowDarren was certain of what he saw and continued to scan the water. Among the waves, he noted an occasional swirl of water as if a large object was moving just below the surface. Darren guessed the object he had seen to be at least the size of the boat. Suddenly the swirl was making way directly toward the boat and Darren was certain it was going to ram them. He snapped another photo as he hollered at Sampie to get the boat moving, but Sampi, who had seen nothing, hollered back that he couldn’t take off as both downriggers were still down.

Photo: For some reason Sampi never downloaded the photos from his camera card for several weeks. When he did, he found this slightly blurred image – another taken by Darren. There is clearly an object near the surface and Darren thought it was dragging fishing gear. Darren swears it was a fish as large as their boat.

When the object was about 10 meters to starboard, the swirl suddenly stopped as if the object made a dive. All Darren was able to see was a large, dark shadow going under the boat. As it passed it first snagged Darren’s downrigger line pulling it tight against the boat and at the same instant cable snapped but not before the downrigger was pulled from it mooring. A second or two later the steel downrigger line dropped back to its normal position as if it had suddenly been freed from whatever was pulling it under the boat.

A split second after that Sampie’s downrigger was snagged and began spooling out at 45 degrees behind the boat. This time the line did not snap and the downrigger was pulled clean off the transom. Frank, who had been listening intently to Darren, asked just one question: “What was your location?”  Darren responded that he thought they were just approaching the point leading into French Bay!

Frank and I exchanged glances, but Sampie remained unconcerned. He was likely more concerned about having been skunked and having lost some very expensive fishing gear. Nicole, of course, was ecstatic as she had a fish to take home to show her mom and older sister.

On the way home from the Marina, Frank and I chatted about the events and agreed that as neither Sampie nor Nicole observed the whirlpool, the wave or the dark shadow, Sampi probably thought Darren was being paranoid. We were both certain that Darren’s account of the events was accurate and that his observations strongly suggested a close encounter with the Big Kinosoo.

After the fishing trio had returned to the campground we spent another pleasant evening around the campfire where we shared more stories about our lives. Sampie was an excellent storyteller and told us about life in South Africa and about a recent trip back home where he had gone big game hunting for the first time in his life. Although he was quick to explain that he was by no means an experienced big game hunter, it gave me a degree of comfort knowing that he had at least some experience in dealing with potentially dangerous situations (see hunting photos below).

Before we retired for the evening Sampie told us he intended to return the following week-end. That he was again willing to make that 18-hour return trip over two consecutive weekends did not surprise me in the least. While to some this might seem a long distance to travel for a few hours of fishing, I had known many who had travelled much greater distances. Ah, Canada, it is indeed a big country full of hunting and fishing opportunities for those with an adventuresome spirit. As with so many before Sampi, the draw of the Big Kinosoo was indeed irresistible.

The following morning as we watched Sampie, Darren and Nicole departed for Fort Mac Murray. I quietly resolved that if Sampie did return, as I fully expected he would, I would make one last attempt to speak to him of the dangers. I also felt it would help to have Frank try and talk some sense into this impetuous young man.

Victoria BC
August 2009

Link to Next Post: Dangerous Waters Run Deep
Link to Last Post:  Fish Attack.
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Kinosoo Sighting in French Bay

c1960s: This photo, although somewhat blurred, was snapped in French Bay by a local fisherman.

Undated:  Two fishermen take a look at a boat that had been holed near the bow and flipped while on fishing trip to Cold Lake. The owner, from Edmonton, claimed to have struck an object while travelling close to Pelican Rocks in French Bay (see photo below), There was no evidence of the Big Kinosoo having been involved but many suspected this was the cause. No one was injured.

French Bay

Pelican Rocks: The outcropping of rocks just inside French Bay.  These rocks are not far from many sitings of the Big Kinosoo and a short distance from the area in which the RCAF Otter had been downed in another incident.

Dinner on Kinosoo Beach

August, 2009: Lynn and I having dinner on Kinosoo Beach with my sister Louise Yochim and her husband Frank along with their daughter Charlene and her grandson, Paxton. Frank operated the Cold Lake Marina for over thirty years and continues to periodically search the lake for that “big fish”.

Waiting Sampi Return

Fishing Day: Harold maintains a lonely vigil in the campsite while awaiting the return of
Sampi and his family members.

 Photo Gallery

The photogallery attached to this post shows Sampie on safari in South Africa his native country. During his many years of growing up and working in South Africa, Sampi had never been on on a safari. It was not until he arrived in Canada and began to sample the great outdoors that he was inspired to go on a hunting trip with some of his friends while on a holiday in his homeland.


 Below are other animals that crossed Sampie’s path.





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  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email:

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • 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.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.