It probably was when I was about 20 years old when the dreams of fast cars and beautiful women were replaced by images of big brook trout. Since that period the frequency of brook dreams has far exceeded that of the former. I have searched for brook trout all over the Adirondack Park in NY State, and have enjoyed every moment. Recently I had the opportunity to do something remarkable, go camping in the Adirondacks for a weekend and upon my return leave for the brook trout paradise, Labrador, Canada. What amazes me is the people and places that go along with this one type of fish. From working in the fly shop I have noticed only two kinds of people. The kinds that think brook trout are pretty, and the kind that would do anything in the world to catch them. I would have to say that I fall into the second category. The other amazing thing about these fish is the environment they are found in. Never have I found areas more secluded, more beautiful, or more inspiring than the water to which these lovely trout rise. So the quest for these fish can never end, it is an on going journey never duplicated, never disappointing and always exciting. The fish seem to enhance this activity by the beauty they encompass. No matter what the size they are all beautiful.
My initial experience takes me to a place in the Central Adirondacks, I can not say exactly where it is as many of my now close friends would probably have me exterminated if I did say, however where is the romance in such a journey if I did not at least give a hint. Speculator is the name of the Town to which I began my journey. So Montana, my black lab, and I loaded up the Jeep at about 4:30 am to drive the route to begin our trek. The initial voyage included a multi mile drive down a dirt road, and then another mile down an old logging road. At the trailhead we hiked just shy of 5 miles to meet my friend Bart, who is an authority on this area of the woods. His journeys in life have directly corresponded to a fellow named Adirondack French Louie, a lumberjack in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I have also read the stories of French Louie and also find relief in the thoughts of his tough yet honorable and admirable life. To say the least, Bart knows more about Louie, and where he has been in this area of the woods than anyone can imagine, right down to corresponding his epics with pages in the book to which describes them.
I met Bart at the outlet of the lake where we would be fishing. Rainy and cold, Montana looked up at me as if to say, "what the heck are we here for again?" Base camp was already constructed and coffee was soon in my speckled blue ceramic mug. My back was sore from the 50 lb pack, and I was a little eager to set up the tent for a power nap, but before I could even gain my composer, a friend of Bart's was yelling about the brookies that were biting. My back began to feel better as Bart got the canoe ready to fish out of. He is not a fly fisherman, as I would call myself. Let me re-phrase that; he can cast a spinning rod much better than I, and I can cast a fly better than he, label us as you wish, I preferred to try to catch fish on flies.
Soon after launching we all were catching fish, and just as I was instructed, the lucky fly was a weighted wooly bugger, in black or olive. There were many Hexagena mayflies coming off, many more than I had ever seen during the middle of the day. The fish did not to seem to be taking them off the surface, however they were located wherever we saw flies hatching. I told the Guys that these flies are like the b52's of mayflies and are a burrowing nymph so they take a long time to hatch, which might explain why we do not see fish rising, they could be picking them off underneath. As the weekend progressed I finally caught a few fish on a Hex nymph, but was surprised when the biggest brook trout I had caught, about 14 inches, was caught on a dry fly which was skating behind the canoe as I moved from one hole to another. I can assure you that absolutely no skill was involved in this one, which is usually the case for me and Brook Trout.
A day later I decided to pack out, since a bit of a stomach bug was ailing me and 5 miles was not getting any shorter or easier. All together we all caught probably 30 trout total, Bart had a few that were very big, and he later told me that the day I left they hooked one 20 inches long. Of course it was just moments after I left and probably was in the same spot I was fishing. Isn't that always the way it goes?
My second journey began in Utica NY. A few customers of mine, who have since become very good friends, scheduled an adventure to the 3 Rivers Lodge in Labrador. As many of you may already know, Labrador is the Capital of big brook trout. I had spoken to one of the owners of the lodge who told me that earlier in the week some people had caught brook trout over 10 lbs. You must understand that in the Adirondack Park, fishermen talk about brook trout in inches, not lbs.
The adventure began with a flight to Labrador City / Wabush. There we stayed overnight and prepared for our 1.5 hour floatplane trip the following day. I was told that we would be at least 150 miles from the nearest dirt road; I can assure you, that was no exaggeration. We left for the lodge the next day. We flew on a DeHaviland Otter, one of the old workhorse floatplanes of yesterday. The Flight itself helped make the adventure truly come true. Weaving in and out of the clouds and over hills and mountains, you cannot help to feel a little excited. The trees were tall but skinny, of a soft wood, tamarack style decent, and the ground was completely covered in moss and lichens, giving it a chartreuse color. Being a guide who would admit that I enjoy bushwhacking, Labrador was not looking anything like the thick canopy of the Adirondacks.
We touched down softly to the lodge, tucked away nicely on a peninsula on the Woods Lake. The camp consisted of 4 lodges, one for cooking and eating, three for sleeping and resting quarters. I was very surprised to find the accommodations so nice and even would say were kind of posh. All hard wood floors, tongue and groove walls and open ceilings. The neatest thing had to be the bug nets over the beds. We were instructed that the bugs were not all that bad, but I can confess that whom ever made that comment is a better man than I. I was not on the brink of going nuts, as I often have been during the black fly hatch in the Adirondacks, but at one time I was a bit un-nerved.
The fishing started slow in the first few hours but picked up rapidly as the day and week progressed. The largest brook trout to find my net was a mere 5.5 lbs, as compared to the 9.75 lb hog caught by another fisherman.
Most of us were using fly rods in 6 and 7 weights. 8 weights were also common, but a 6 worked fine on the smaller brook trout. The river and lake system was a series of conjunction pools and runs. In other words, we fished in between the fingers or appendages of the lake, which happened to be fast moving rapids, as the locals called them. There were at least 13 of these types of areas to fish, and according to the chief guide, Kevin, there is a lot more water to explore.
I was surprised at the selectiveness of the brook trout when they were feeding on dry flies, and also was surprised that big fish like this were actually interested in size 16 flies. One moment you would be casting to the alders stripping a mouse, and moments later casting to a rising fish who just refused a size 16 Adams. The guides told me that it is not uncommon to change flies 10 times before you hook a rising fish, and then begin again when you see the next one who in turn refuses the same fly. Sure there are times when the dishrag fly will work, but most of the time you were really fishing. Streamers were popular too, but large streamers. To also comment on the selectiveness of the fish, we were using tippet so big, that you could cast a size 4 streamer on the same leader you were casting a 16 dry fly. They were not line shy, just picky. I remember one of the first brook trout I caught was about 1 lb. He leaped right out of the water when I got him close to the net. When I looked closer, I could see something lurking behind him. There he is, I thought, the 10 lb brook trout cannibal ready to eat my little brookie. A cast again with my cone head muddler revealed him a little better, he flashed at the fly but did not strike. The flash seemed a little too big for a brook trout, so sure enough my 7.5 lb pike fell victim to a size 6 clouser minnow. This revealed to me the type of environment we were dealing with, harsh and rugged. Venture far from the fast water and you were catching pike, stay in the rapids and you were catching brook trout.
Late one evening when leaving a river named the Eagle. My two friends noticed rising fish in the shallows. They had been to Labrador before, and so had two others who had just released a near 20 lb pike trolling while leaving the Eagle as well. We told our guide to investigate the rising fish. There were Hex Flies hatching everywhere. We had just left the camp an hour ago after a huge down pour of rain. The sky cleared while we fished the stream, but now the lake had captured the beginnings of a fog, destined to blanket the surface before the sun would journey past the hills. We knew we did not have much time so we began casting to the magic circles near shore. As soon as my friend Ross cast his fly, I noticed a fin similar to batman's cape not far from the end of the boat where something had just picked off a Hex Fly. "They are White Fish," our guide explained. This was no whitefish like I had ever seen. Although not excited, we told our guide to get a little closer to the shore. Soon Ross had one on the end of the line, as it came in slow, but went nuts at the net. The fish was at least 2 lbs, and loved eating dry flies. We have got to do more of this, I thought, but the fog was still gaining ground and we did not have a GPS, so we decided to head back. Along the way, I was asked me what time it was, it was past 10:00 pm and still light out, what a trip.
The last day involved a trip to the 2nd rapids where the runs were deep and the flow was fast and steady. I do not call myself a good fisherman, but I new how to fish this kind of water. This was just like the Salmon River back home. No fish were rising, that was a good thing since I could not hook anything the day before on a dry fly except one. I told my guide to take a look at the bottom of this pool. "There has got to be 6 brookies down there, eh. Try a dry fly." I don't think these guys will come up 9 feet of water for a dry fly I told him. This is just like the salmon and steelhead back home. So I reached into my bag and pulled out some split shot. "That'll get it down there, eh" Jeff said. First swing through the pool with a black woolly bugger and let the fly line stop its drift. I lifted the rod up and there she was.
I repeated the step one more time and had a bigger fish follow, just as the Beaver float plane buzzed us, tree top flyin'. It was time to go, and I had just started to get the hang of this. I figured that pool would have been my hot spot just as one friend had his hot spot on the first day, and the other on the second, catching at least 5 fish from the same hole. I put my hat back on straight and headed down to the boat that would rendezvous with the plane on the opposite shore.
I kind of felt content that I knew how to catch every one of those fish in that pool, but I would never know for sure. I respected those fish too much to think they were easy to catch, and besides my journey for brook trout will never end. My quest had brought me to Labrador where I had caught brook trout bigger than some of the big bass and lake trout I catch in the place I call home. I have to thank Bill and Greg for making this opportunity possible, two men who share my passion and my craving for the never-ending quest for brook trout.
Jordan Ross is the owner of Rising Trout Outfitters and the JP Ross Fly Rod Company, in NY Mills, NY. Jordan can be contacted through his website: Rising Trout Outfitter
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