Southern Ontario Brook Trout

Brook trout hold a place of reverence among many anglers for their colour, fighting ability, and taste.  For some anglers like my dad they have attained a place of reverence among the freshwater species of our province.  As a lad, I can recall growing up listening to him tell stories about fishing for these colourful creatures in the local streams around the outskirts of Bancroft.  By his account they were plentiful, sensitive, yet easy to catch (if you knew how), and a  source of a great number of fond memories.  Personally, I can recall some of our camping trips to Algonquin park where my dad would pull our station wagon over and disappear down the side of the embankment, only to return with a few of these little creatures.  Pan-fried brook trout over a campstove was my first real taste of wild food, and very likely one of the sparks that ignited my passion for fishing for these delicious fish.

Times change, populations grow, and land gets developed.  In turn our, impact to the environment (at least locally in Ontario) sent the population of brook trout into somewhat of a nose dive in many areas.  In the back of my mind I knew that development and things like agricultural run off can effect the water quality of small streams.  But this effect really didn’t hit me hard until my dad reported back after a return visit to some of those streams a few years ago.  I’m told he only caught a single trout for the whole trip.  Sadly I felt like the days of bountiful brook trout were lost.

My best days fishing brook trout have been in the middle of Algonquin park, and in Gaspésie, Quebec.  Fish were plentiful on both trips, however, in each case I had to work extremely hard, and sometimes travel for days, to find the places of historic abundance.  Anytime I tried to catch them locally, I always ended up with an empty basket. After these local trips, my view of brook trout fishing was fairly pessimistic.  My conclusion: good easy local brook trout fishing just didn’t exist any more in southern Ontario.

My pessimistic view changed during a grouse hunting/fishing trip this past fall, after having some unexpected success with the square tails in a not to distant location.  Our goal was grouse, but we ended up pulling several brook trout out of the lakes on the way.  Still uncertain about the fishing, I planned to return one day to fully explore the area.   I reported my success to my uncle who was intrigued and suggested we do a winter trip.  I got to work right away scouring the MNR fish online tool to scout the area, and contacted cottages in the area to secure accommodations.  When the dust settled we had planned a three day trip planned for the area that was not too far for any of us to drive.  I could tell you where we went, but in my experience, half the fun is finding these locations out for yourself.  Fish Online

Day 1 arrived on January 18th, and we met at our rental cottage and prepared the snow mobiles and gear for a days run into the woods.  Although we got off to a late morning start we were still hopefull.  Afterall, there were five of us, two snowmobiles, an array of fishing rods and tackle.  We could cover a lot of ground with that set up.

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We started the trip on the lake where I had some success the previous fall and spread out along the shoreline.  There was at least 12″ of ice wherever we drilled with a max of 14″ in some places.  Simple live bait rigs with gads were the ticket and within the first 30 minutes, I had 3 fish on the ice.  Another two were iced among the remaining members of our group and the fish kept biting.  We ended the day with a respectable 10 fish iced, about the same lost at the hole, and countless more missed hits.  Tired yet happy, we returned to our cottage for a celebratory beverage.

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Fresh fish on ice!

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We beat the sun up on the second day and started our trek back into some of the more remote lakes.  The ride in was several kilometers and things got pretty hairy with three dudes on the back of a snowmobile.  Half way in the three man machine was working a bit hard so we moved one of the guys to a towed sled.  We resumed our trek and made it to the lakes.  Thankfully I was the navigator on this trip which secured me a permanent position on one of the cushioned seats.

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One of the gents with his first brook trout ever through the ice.

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Fishing was tough on the second day, and we worked real hard moving around the lake to try and locate fish.  Our efforts paid off and we racked up another 6 fish on the day, with the majority of them being bigger than the previous day.  Shallow wood seemed to work well for us as well as rock points.  Just like that, another satisfying, albeit hard, day was behind us.

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Having satisfied ourselves on brookies over the first two days, we decided to switch things up on the third day and target a different lake that was stocked with splake.  For those who don’t know, these fish are hybrids between a lake trout and a brook trout.  This presents some added complexity to fishing for them as they have been known to behave like both species whenever the mood strikes them.  With this knowledge in our minds, we varied our presentations with a mix of setlines and a couple jigging presentations in deeper water.  As luck would have it, the splake were feeling brookish on the third day and while exploring the area with a depth finder, I looked back to see that my Gad had disappeared.  Not sure what to expect, I began pulling up my line and eventually pulled my gad right out of the hole.  Seconds later I felt a familiar tug and I set the hook on a beautiful 5lb splake.  I eased the tank up from bottom and attempted to remove the line from the gad so I could use my rod.   Murphy’s law kicked in and the line snapped.  I was left with a gad was in one hand and business end of the line n the other.  With no more time to be gentle, I hauled the fish up and grabbed the fluorocarbon leader.  The fish crested the hole and I took a breath.

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Aside from the interesting fight, I also noted the deep gold colour of the belly of this fish.  Most of the splake I have caught in the past were distinctly silvery, however this one seemded to lean towards its brook trout genes.  I’m guessing the lake may have something to do with the colour.

This splake happened to be my largest of the species to date.

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We visited one more small lake and added a few more brookies to our tally.  All said and done, we caught about 22 brookies and one big splake between 5 of us over the course of 2 and a half days.

Its not the big numbers I used to hear my dad talk about, but its definitely respectable for the size of the lakes we were on and for where we were fishing.  Catching that splake also made the trip real special.

Stocked lakes.  They are out there and are stocked for a reason, so go fish them!  There are so many reasons to target these lakes like the more you target stocked lakes, the less your focussing on natural strains of fish, which preserves the genetic diversity of our province.  Also, part of your license fees go to stocking these lakes so why not reap some of the rewards from a program you help fund.

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

 

 

Thoughts of Springs Gone By

Seriously winter…. what happened to you?

You used to be cool.  You would come creeping around every November after deer season heralding Christmas, and bringing hardwater for ice-fishing or an excuse to dip south for some R&R.  Then like a flash, March would roll around and, poof! you would retreat back to the southern hemisphere….

But not this year, oh no…  That would be too normal.  Just to see how stir crazy you can drive us, you decide, what the hell, lets play a cruel joke by repetitive flash freezing and dropping sloppy dumps of snow at random times.

Let me just say, you can stop the joke now.  Its not funny any more…

Since winter is taking its sweet time to retreat this year, Ive decided to reminisce on springs gone by; specifically back to a trip to Algonquin two years ago that I have been meaning to write a post about.  We had a particularily good spring and the weather worked out perfect for us on this trip as did the fishing.  I know the trip pre-dates my blog, but a flashback is warranted due to the epic nature of the trip.

A group of six made up of myself, Dave (a regular on this blog) and four other friends decided to do an early season portaging trip to Algonquin Park to celebrate the esteemed ritual of the Bachelor Party for Dave before he took the plunge into matrimony.  As a survivor of many other urban bachelor parties, including my own, I was curious to experience what a backwoods party would be like. Even more curious as to how the brook trout fishing was some 50+ km into the heart of Algonquin.

After much preparation and figuring out how to transport a sufficient amount of “beverages” for such an arduous trip, the day finally arrived and we set out for the north side of Algonquin.

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Our launching point was from Brent on the north side of the park.

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After a relaxing night at cedar lake campground we roused our selves out of beer induced comas and embarked into the mists.

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Our trek took us across Cedar lake into the throat of the Petawawa.  As our trip coincided with the spring melt, river levels were high the waters were raging.  This made for stunning scenery and some spirited paddling.

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Little did I know that the worst was yet to come, because on the first day, “my inaugural day of portaging in Algonquin”, we were to face whats infamously called Unicorn Hill. Well, la di da, doesn’t it sound nice and cozy?  The name kind of lulls you into a sense of relaxation.. .. F that.  Unicorn hill consisted of a coronary giving, death defying, 3km hike uphill through a twisted path that served as a portage around a particularly long stretch of rapids.  This portage was definitely not for the faint of heart.  Maybe that’s why the crowds seemed to miraculously thin out after that.  After almost passing out a couple times and losing half my weight in sweat, we finally made it through.  Following that, we had a bit more paddling and a couple of minor portages and we finally made it to our campsite.  I was bushed but I was also there for a purpose, and nothing would stop me from testing the waters of the Petawawa with my rod.  I think it was at this point that things got serious and we actually started trying to figure out the brook trout fishing, because so far we were fishless and Dave still hadn’t caught the first brook trout of his life.

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We fished near the campsite with no luck and proceeded to hike further up he river.  Past schools of sucker and down some steep embankments we manged to locate a few decent holes.  Low and behold, Dave hooked up and we were staring at the first fish of the trip and of Dave’s lifetime.

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What a first it was!  It demonstrated some  amazing colour and patterns as well as being fairly girthy for a stream caught trout.  This was to be the first taste of trout we would have on the trip.

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Although the trout tasted good, it was not enough to feed 6 big guys after a hard day of portaging, and so the E and B were broke out with a chunk of cheese for good measure.

The rest of the trip went by like a blurr of good times and lots of brookies.  Id love to recount more details for you but I will let the pictures do the talking instead.

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Smaller trout, like the one pictured below, were common and plentiful.

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Our journey took us all the way to High Falls and onto the Nippissing River.  Possibly some of the most beautiful country I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.

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Below the author is pictured cooking some of the delicious trout for the group.

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Brook Trout

The endless meandering waters of the Nippissing are something to behold.  In some sections it felt as though we were stuck in a time loop, paddling the same stretches over and over again.

This provided ample opportunity to pull out the camera.

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As much as I love to catch and eat brook tout, I have to emphasize that conservation is key.  Although we did keep some fish on this trip, the majority were caught on barbless hooks and were released with no real harm done.  Do your part to preserve these fish if you decide to venture into this section of Algonquin.  Collectively we need to recognize how special the brook trout in Algonquin really are and do are best to protect them.

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T’was a fine trip with a fine bunch of gentlemen and will not soon be forgotten.

Cheers from the Wild

Albert

P.S for those planning a trip to the “Gonq”, here is a link to the best map available:

http://www.algonquinmap.com/