An Innu guide from Nutashkuan shares a life lived in the wilderness with others. Hunting and fishing stories are not the same from one territory or one guide to another. Here is David Ishpatao’s story.
Some of us are experts in our field, yet few are experts in the field. David Ishpatao has spent a lifetime hunting, trapping, and fishing the majestic outdoors of Québec’s North Shore. With a sixth-sense-like ability to fully tune into his surroundings, David absorbs subtle cues from the wilderness and reads the rhythms of the seasons as if they were a book. This land is embedded in his DNA.
David began immersing himself deep into the wild at an early age. Barely a teenager, he, along with his grandfather, would head north from Nutashkuan for months at a time, tracking and trapping animals for food and fur. Through years of pursuing marten, beaver, wolf, lynx, fox, and bear, he gained vast knowledge of each species’ traits, from their preferred habitats to their eating and travelling patterns. “The lynx is hardest to catch,” says David about the elusive cat. “It is rare to see it the lake or come out of the forest, since it rarely shows itself.” David feels a special connection to this animal. His Innu name, given to him by his grandfather, is Pisiss, which translates to little lynx.
As a guide for Excursions Nutashkuan Shipu, David shares his expertise with tourists across Québec and Canada, and all over the world, eager to find tracks and hopefully sight the animals they came from. But the only thing he catches with clients are fish—majestic Atlantic salmon. In the spring, his days are spent taking anglers up the Natashquan River by canoe for a bucket list fishing experience. On route to prized fishing holes, the river offers stunning scenery and untamed nature at every bend as it makes it way down to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
David takes delight in seeing guests hook on to a salmon, and he swears the ones pulled from Nutashkuan River have the best flavour of any in Québec. Any client who has bit into a freshly smoked salmon filet paired with bannock, cooked by David in the sand on the river’s edge, would agree. “These fish are very combative,” explains David, “and combined with the high iron content in the water and oxygen levels in currents, it gives them their distinctive texture and delicious taste.”
In the Innu language, Nutashkuan means “where one hunts for bear.” Traces of David’s ancestors hunting and gathering are etched into the landscape here—if you know where to look. David reveals to his guests paths, portages, and hunting grounds used over thousands of years. Remnants of ancient tools like arrowheads are exposed with the shifting of riverside sands.
David delights in telling the stories of this river, and his people who made it home, to guests gathered around a crackling fire at camp. They listen with rapture, before settling into a traditional shaputuan, built by David, for the night, and finishing off a day filled with memories that will last a lifetime.
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