Labrador Bound

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Louis Cahill Photography

Louis Cahill Photography

By Jason Tucker

It’s no secret that I love brook trout, and thus the name of my blog, Fontinalis Rising.

Size doesn’t matter. From 4-inch little gems to behemoth monsters the size of respectable brown trout, I find them all fascinating and exciting. When I was a boy, my grandfather took me down to the river and showed me two fish in the 24-inch range that had staked out the area as home.

Most of our fish were in the 6- to 8-inch range, and 12 inches was considered a good fish. To see two fish that had doubled that mark was incredible. Ever since then, I’ve wondered what made those two fish get so big.

I spent as much time as possible fishing for brook trout in Northern Michigan and its Upper Peninsula, and after many years I finally caught a 16-inch fish, which was my personal best for some time.

Since then I’ve gone to Nipigon, where a 12-inch fish is considered small. I caught one fish that was 22 inches, and lost several fish that were much bigger. (Brook trout tend to pack on the pounds once they reach about 22 inches. A 20-inch fish may weigh 3 pounds while a 23-incher may weigh 7 pounds.)

A few years later I was invited to go fish with the Sault Gang. We caught 38 fish that averaged 18-20 inches and 1.5 to 3 pounds, and got one big male that was over 4 pounds. I also took a trip to Isle Royale with a distinguished group of gentlemen. The fish there average 3-5 pounds. With research I’ve discovered that in their prime range this is normal for brook trout. What you learn is that brook trout aren’t really the small fish we know them to be here in the US.

The picture that emerges is that the prime range, where brook trout achieve their true potential, is eastern and northern Canada, with just a few US states touching that range.

Lake Superior is part of that range (and thus Michigan), northern Maine, and perhaps part of Vermont also touches that range, and it goes up through Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, and into Manitoba. In these areas brook trout normally reach 18-24 inches and 2-8 pounds.

South of there, brookies are eking out a living in marginal habitat. It’s a testament to their toughness and tenacity that they live at all in these places. From Maine to Minnesota, and south through the Appalachian Mountains into north Georgia are the fish that most of us in the United States are familiar with. Small colorful gems eager to take a bait or fly. We catch loads of small fish and dream of catching a 12-incher. A 16-incher can be a lifetime fish. And there’s nothing wrong with that—that is the magic of brook trout.

Lake Superior used to swarm with Coaster brook trout, fish that averaged 3-8 pounds. People took trains from Chicago and Milwaukee to fish for “rock trout”. It was said you could catch 100 fish or more a day. A lot of that catch was shipped back and served in restaurants in those cities, or smoked and sold. The Coaster’s willingness to take a fly or lure was their undoing, and indeed, it was reported that some anglers simply put a piece of red rag on a hook to catch them. It has also been found that Coasters stay within 150 feet of the shoreline and rarely leave it, making them all too accessible to a world that knew neither the word conservation nor the concept. Today the Coasters are making a limited recovery.

The world record brook trout came from the Nipigon River, a Lake Superior tributary.

It weighed 14.5 pounds but was badly decomposed when it was weighed, having spent a couple weeks in the bush without refrigeration. It was 31 inches long. A 29-inch fish with an estimated weight over 15 pounds is reported to have been released in Manitoba. Nipigon remains one of the best places to go to catch big brook trout.

So I’ve caught them on Isle Royale, caught them in Nipigon, caught them in the Algoma District of Canada (also a great place with thousands of unexplored lakes). Now I’m preparing for the next adventure: Labrador.

Outdoor writer Dave Karczynski has invited me along to go to the Riverkeep Lodge in Labrador for a week of brook trout, landlocked salmon, lake trout and pike. It should be a great adventure, and will be my first time at a fly-out lodge. I’m excited about it for several reasons.

First is the opportunity to fish for big brook trout again, this time in a remote setting. I’m curious to see how it will stack up against the other locations I’ve been to.

Second is the chance to be guided on the trip. The other trips were do-it-yourself trips, or fishing with locals in the case of Algoma. I’m curious as to what we will learn from the guides, but also what we will bring to the table from our own experience chasing fish in other places.

Third, I’m interested in the lodge experience as a whole. I’ve always camped, roughed it and been self-guided. As an overall experience I’m curious to see what it’s like being in a remote place, but having a comfortable bed, hot meals served daily, shore lunch, and a guide. I’ve never experienced this. I’m wondering if it will add to or take away from the experience, or if it is simply just another way to enjoy fishing.

So I’m frantically prepping my gear and tying flies. Cameron Mortenson of The Fiberglass Manifesto has sent me an Epic 686 rod to test (I plan to build one this winter), I’ve ordered some lines and leaders from Scientific Anglers, and there’s smoke coming off my tying vise. July is said to be dry fly time up there, with near blanket hatches of caddis, and ten pound land-locked Atlantics feeding in the foam lines. I’m super stoked for this trip, and can’t wait to report back what I find.

Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker

Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Labrador Bound

  1. Jason,

    I was just up in Labrador at McKenzie River Lodge. I bumped into the owners of Riverkeep Lodge at the Lab City float plane base on my way into camp, they were headed in to their camp for the season, we got to chat for a bit about the ride to get to Lab City and such. I can assure you that you’ll love it up there, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  2. Fished at McKenzie River Lodge several years ago. Would love to hear how details of your July trip in G&G’s emails next August.

  3. I have been there, 14 years ago, yes fishing is great. Bring mouse pattern, anything, while wading or on a boat, just hit the rock on the shore and let your mouse pattern fall in the water and watch out. One nite, very small BWO like flies, so, bring 5-6 x tippet with small black soft hackled fly size 18, 20. Muddler and Mickey Finn will catch all the fish you want there, you wont have to be sexy with your fly and presentation.

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