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Paul Smith: Big trout in the Big Land


Sometimes I sit to write and I have difficulty deciding what topic to tackle. It may be because there’s a lull in the outdoor stuff going on around me. Although an idea eventually pops in my mind, no matter what time of year it is. Tonight I can’t decide because there is so much on the go, a grand problem to have I suppose. It’s late summer, or some might say early autumn, and there are so many ideas coursing through my brain. This is a very vibrantly alive and dynamic time of year.

Let’s see. Goldie and I just got home from a lovely evening of blueberry picking. There are plenty of berries this year. A few days ago Goldie caught her first trout ever on a fly rod. Yes indeed, married to me all these years and only now snagging a trout on fur and feather. She has caught plenty on bobber and worm. I’ll get around to this story and I promise you will laugh. My butcher wants me to write a piece on proper handling of big game in the field. That’s important and I’ll get to it. But right now I’m going to tell a fishing tale from Labrador.

You know I missed my late June early July salmon fishing trip to Labrador. It was because of winter hanging on so late, snow on the riverbanks in late June. Anyway, I couldn’t let a year pass without an adventure in the Big Land. I spent the last week of August at Igloo Lake Brook Trout Lodge. It was amazing as always. It’s my third time flying in there with Jim Burton, and each time I think I love it more. I truly believe it’s the best brook trout fishing on Planet Earth. 

Travis with a nice trout
Travis with a nice trout

I know that’s a bold statement to make, the best in the world. It is indeed a very big world we live in, and there’s lots of fishing. But when it comes to brook trout, there is no better place to catch the big one than in the headwaters of Labrador’s mighty Eagle River. This includes Igloo Lake, Park Lake, Minipi, Crooks Lake. Burtons Pond and others.  It’s a mystery why the trout grow so big. There are theories but nobody knows for certain. What’s most interesting is that the trout are getting bigger. Yes, I’m serious, growing bigger over the years. Why? Sound conservation and hook-and-release angling works.

When it comes to brook trout, there is no better place to catch the big one than in the headwaters of Labrador’s mighty Eagle River.

I’ll leave the hook and release controversy alone for now, except to say that Jim Burton believes in live release as a conservation tool and business model for a fishing lodge. His father Vince does also. Decades ago, Vince allowed only two fish to be killed for an entire week of angling at Igloo Lake. He was way ahead of his time. Nowadays it’s 100 per cent live release fishing at Igloo Lake. That’s why the fish are big and plentiful and it’s a world-class destination. There are now trout swimming in Igloo Lake over 10 lbs. That is absolutely amazing. Catching one of these massive brookies is a thrill of a lifetime.

I can go on and on about my week in Labrador, but for now I’ll tell you about just one spectacular afternoon of fishing. It was the best. Although, I didn’t catch my biggest trout ever, or the most. But, for some intangible reason I can’t fully rationalize, let alone explain to you in mere words, I had the most fun fishing in many years. Maybe I’ll figure it out while telling you.

It was blowing a gale and not safe for boats to go out on the lake. All hands had to fish on the river that flows out of Igloo Lake next to the lodge. My guide Travis and I were assigned to the middle section of the river. We figured it wasn’t the best draw, but hey, we were going to make the best of it. I told Travis about a trout I had caught below Benjamin’s Pool a few days earlier. He said that wasn’t a place typically fished. Actually, I was only able to wade out there because the water was a bit low, and I suppose my being not overly cautious about wading. I really wanted to get out there. It looked very fishy.

Travis Pinsent is a young man of only 22 years from Buchans in Central Newfoundland. But he has been guiding since he was just 13 and is worldly about the woods and waters way beyond his years. He is a great angler, solid woodsman and fantastic company on a river or pond. We decided to take turns fishing Benjamin’s, and concentrate on where I had caught that big trout a few days before, low in the gulley. I had some fiddling with my leader to take care of so Travis went out first.

He navigated to the spot without falling in. The wading is treacherous.  Perry Munro, a seasoned veteran guide and angler from Nova Scotia had taken a tumble into the drink in Benjamin’s when he came out to photograph the trout I caught. That was quite a laugh. I’ll tell you more about that another time, see, another story. The water is deep and black with rocks strewn all over the place. You can’t see the rocks, so guess what? You trip over the bloody things.  Perry had a lovely cold swim.

Travis wasn’t casting long before he was into a lovely plump four-lb trout. He tricked it with a fly I had never used before this trip to Igloo, a Zoo Cougar. It’s a big fuzzy floating sort of streamer pattern. It makes quite a commotion on the surface when stripped fast, like a bass popper. The trout just hammer it ferociously with a huge voracious splash. It’s exciting and visceral, triggering adrenalin on each and every strike. Now it was my turn.

That’s the magic and mystery of fishing. The sunshine, sparkling water, tall green spruce swaying in the breeze, trout destroying a crazy fly, new water, great company, tight loops flying through the air, all are key ingredients to amazing fishing.

I tripped just once but caught myself and stayed vertical. Travis grinned. Two casts and I was into a big trout. We worked on a few underwater photos. Travis released the trout and took his turn. We kept this up, back and forth catching trout all afternoon, lots of action, joking around, and generally amazed at this new spot we had discovered. We ended up working our way down the gulley until we were fishing with water nearly to the tops of our chest waders. The Labrador blackflies even left us alone. The gods were smiling.

Finally the action died down, but what odds, it was time to head back to camp for a delicious supper. No need to be greedy, we had experienced fly fishing at its finest. But I’m still not sure quite why. That’s the magic and mystery of fishing. The sunshine, sparkling water, tall green spruce swaying in the breeze, trout destroying a crazy fly, new water, great company, tight loops flying through the air, all are key ingredients to amazing fishing. The whole is so much more than the sum of the parts. And we were expecting a dull day. It goes to show, you never know, the sun may shine on the dullest of days.

Tell me about your experiences with big brook trout. And stay tuned for a story about a lady in her 70s who out-fished her brother, her biggest trout ever, and first time fly fishing in 30 years. I think she’s hardcore.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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