Could you imagine catching a 14 pound 8 ounce brook trout? Or even crazier, a double hook up of a 5 and a 6.8 pounder on a single line with two baits – THE VERY NEXT DAY!
That’s what the Nipigon River in northern Ontario was like 100 years ago. Visualize an afternoon catch of literally a barrel of five pounders. Brook trout heaven… beyond anything we can imagine today.
However, this 48 km stretch of water running from Lake Nipigon to Lake Superior over a descent of 95 meters was too powerful a torrent for the government to ignore. Power development began in the Nipigon Signature Site in 1918, and five dams and thirty years later, with the completion of the Pine Portage Dam in 1950, the shape of this magnificent waterway had completely changed.
End result… the damming had increased water levels over a hundred feet and flooded out almost 16 kilometers of whitewater, rapids, waterfalls and pools.
The government got its power all right, but it destroyed the Brook Trout ecosystem and rapidly depleted its population. OPG and the MNRF, along with many other regional Remedial Action Teams, have been working since the ‘seventies to restore the brook trout population back to what it was in the ‘thirties. That, along with the spectacular Brook Trout fishing is why we decided to shoot the mighty Nipigon. We’re celebrating the success of this disciplined management, as seen by the resurgence of these amazing fish.
And, what better way to celebrate this success than with a festival. The Nipigon River Brook Trout Festival, held in July on the anniversary of Dr. Cook’s boating of the largest brook trout ever caught, way back in 1915.
Brook Trout numbers and size are the draw here, but size, specifically. The Brookies grow really big here, and only here, because, aside from their particular needs of fresh, clean, cold, fast moving and well-aerated water, they must also have, as their Latin name suggests, spring water.
The most astonishing part of a trip to this area of the Nipigon River is access. With images of raging rapids from top to bottom, the unknowing angler thinks the Nipigon is only accessible by freighter canoe, portage points and a grizzly seasoned local guide. This, in fact, is the furthest from the truth. I drove up from southern Ontario with our big Princecraft, dropped it in the water, drove through one of the most scenic boat rides ever and was fishing in no time. We do however, recommend a guide for your first day on the water to familiarize yourself not only with the fishing but navigation as well.
‘Salvelinus Fontinalis’ means spring-dwelling char, which the Brook Trout is by the way. It’s more closely related to grayling and arctic char than to the more commonly found rainbow and brown trout. It is said the god Manitou, according to Iroquois legend, was so taken with the brook trout’s sleek beauty that he declined to eat it, throwing it back into the stream he’d plucked it from and leaving his fingerprints as jewel-like speckles on the fish’s back and sides.
The successful development of the fertilized Brook Trout eggs requires extensive groundwater discharge areas for spawning.
THE FEMALE BROOKIES
In the fall, at specific areas of the river, female trout dig nests and bury their eggs in gravel substrates. During the 4 month incubation period, the embryos are bathed in groundwater that flows through the gravel because of special geologic characteristics of the bank and adjacent lands.
Who’d have thought that the shoreline was as important to the spawn as the quality of the water!
Lake Nipigon, the source of the Nipigon River, is the Largest Lake entirely in Ontario, and in fact it’s the 38th largest lake in the world.
It has a Perimeter of 1,050 km, a North-south length of about a 110 km, it’s about 80 km wide with a Maximum depth of 165 meters or 540 feet for us old schoolers.
All of this water keeps the river ripping, year after year.
“When planning a fishing trip like this”, says Pete Bowman, “I try to prepare as best I can. I know my dad and his friends had amazingly successful days with big spoons. I’ve done well here in the past with bright colored jigs as well as spinners and small shiny spoons so I’m good there, however I had a hunch that a dropshot rig would work here as well. With soft plastics resembling minnows, insect larvae and sculpins as well as keeping a safety backup of live crawlers, I figured this rig could be a killer… and I was right.
This river is known for its big rapids and of course it’s big Brook Trout so Pete tucked the boat in a protected area just outside some of the craziest water he’s ever fished… it was in his opinion, a perfect spot… and he was right!
He caught fish after fish drifting his dropshot rig down current into waiting hungry Specks!
“I’ve never had this before on a trophy Brookie area”, says Pete, “but had this little area dialed in so well that I was literally expecting a fish on every cast”!
Well the reality was not every cast but it was pretty darned close.
Pete had a rather rare experience on this trip in that he caught a tagged Brook Trout. Since he was on a strict catch and release trip he put the fish in the livewell where he could take a picture of the tag for future reference.
As soon as I returned to the office from this trip”, says Pete, “I contacted the Nipigon MNR with the tag information of this fish. It was a 3 year old fish that was originally tagged on September 23, 2014 above the Pine Portage Dam in West Bay of Lake Nipigon. Somehow this resilient little Terminator, traveled to the dam, came crashing down water that no human could ever survive, came out pretty much unscathed and is still voraciously feeding to this day”.
To say the Brook Trout is a tough beast is definitely an understatement!
In Pete’s opinion, It’s a bucket-lister that every angler should try.
“You know something, the Nipigon River still continues to impress, even a hundred years after it’s then justly celebrated fame… and in my opinion, with proper fish and water management, world class Brook Trout fishing will be available for generations to come”. – Pete Bowman
GETTIN’ THERE with RAM TRUCKS
To get to today’s unbelievable Speckled Trout fishing I took highway 400 to highway 17. I stayed on 17 westbound past the town of Nipigon and then turned south on 628 towards the town of Red Rock. After a few stops on the way to rest and refresh, I finally reached my destination at the classic Quebec Lodge, which is the home base for Nipigon River Adventures.