Netting (Assuming You So Desire) Your Trophy Brook Trout

 

Yes, I am indeed a licensed Newfoundland and Labrador guide. And I have the papers to prove it. I do not guide our angling guests on the water very often, however. At Three Rivers Lodge, we have six highly qualified, experienced guides that handle that effort. But I do go out guiding a dozen or more times each summer, typically on special occasions – to be with long-time guests (friends, by now), to help a beginning fly angler, or to fill in when a “real” guide is under the weather. And I’ll have you know that I can still hop rocks, wield a landing net, and even spot a good fish now and again.

What Rock?

“What Rock?”

And I do fish myself from time to time. One of my more “tedious” duties is scouring our corner of the Canadian Shield for new streams that just might hold worthwhile brookies, a task I take on days when weather is lovely and the float plane has light duty. Point is, through personal angling experiences and my limited guiding over nineteen summers in the bush, I have seen hundreds of trophy brook trout hooked, prematurely celebrated, then lost (“F#&K!”) somewhere short of the landing net.

Hence, here’s my take – my three tips – for improving your odds for safely netting large trout.

#1 – Pause. Don’t rush. Wait for the right time to get your fish ‘on the reel’.

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Whether it’s your first time on a trophy river or you’ve fished ’round the world, the first move most fly anglers make once a large fish has struck their fly is to reel in slack line in order to engage the reel’s drag in the fight. When “getting on the reel”, should you hook the fly line with your rod hand index finger and the fish happens to run, snap! and he’s gone. If you don’t hook the line, you’ll leave loops of slack and should the fish come toward you, again, he’s likely to throw the hook.

Recommended tactic: Keep your fly line in your line hand. Gently pay out line through your thumb and forefinger as needed when the fish runs. Should he turn back toward you, swiftly haul in the slack line. At some point, the fish will run far enough to put himself on the reel. If not, he will settle down and give you the few moments needed to reel in the slack line.

#2 – With your guide, find a calm eddy or slick spot to net your fish.

 

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Our freestone streams in Labrador, like many I’m sure you fish, have strong currents. Attempting to land a large brookie in such currents is a frail and faulty plan for several reasons. The rush of the water will triple the effective weight of the trout on your line, often snapping your leader or pulling smaller flies out of their purchase. The stronger currents usually mean deeper water, a place your guide will fear to tread. Remember, fast water is to a big fish what the “briar patch” was for Br’er Rabbit – the place where he holds a sizable advantage and where he feels the safest. Lastly, fighting a 5# brookie in fast water for too long will weaken him to the point where he may well become pike food upon release.

Proper tactic: Let your hog run with the fast current, perhaps to a plunge pool with calmer seas. DON’T LOCK YOUR LINE. Once you have a solid command of your quarry, scout for an area of quieter water. As you fight the fish, carefully guide him there with side rod pressure. Wade towards that landing spot. Make sure you communicate with your guide if you have one with you. The spot you pick may pose difficulties for his duties and require a Plan B. He’ll let you know. As the fish tires, the calm water will significantly increase your odds of sliding him over the rim of the big net.

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#3 – Expect, no KNOW, that your fish will panic once he sees the net.

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Every, I mean EVERY, big fish I have ever encountered knows that a landing net is not a preferred place to be. Once he sees it, HE WILL FLEE! Maybe two or three times. And too often take your fly with him!

Proper tactic: As you guide your catch towards that safe landing zone, regardless of how spent he may seem, remember, he WILL make an abrupt about-face when he sees that net. DON’T lock up your line. DON’T try to pull him those last two or three feet. ANTICIPATE his sudden run and keep him safely on the drag of the reel. Don’t allow his last-ditch efforts to spoil your day.

Whew!!

Whew!!

So there. That’s my sage advice gathered through my Labrador seasons. Like any advice, it comes with a handy disclaimer, namely, every fish, like every angler, has its own idiosyncrasies. But I’m sticking to it.

(And, by the way, I do occasionally net a trophy fish without falling on my ass.)

I'm Still Standing!

I’m Still Standing!

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In the Beginning,. . . and Now

At some point in their visit, most of our guests are curious about the beginnings of Three Rivers Lodge. Did we “discover” this Woods River? Was there ever another camp here? How did we ever find such a remote fishery?

So here’s a quick history.

Through the several friends I had made during my visits to Labrador as a traveling angler, I heard about this fertile river that was “too far from town to become a viable angling destination”. On this site, a father/son team – the Woolfreys – built a small camp in the early 90’s. The son was a pilot and had his own float plane making the transfer of materials and guests “affordable”. When the son lost his life in a road accident in 1994, the father lost interest in the project and a few years later, offered for sale the lease and the camp that sits upon it. We made an offer in early 1998.

The Woolfrey Camp When We First Arrived

The Woolfrey Camp When We First Arrived

In the springs of 1998 and 1999, we flew in 72 Otter-loads of materials and equipment and built the camps as they remain today.  The two buildings on the right of the pic below are the two original Woolfrey buildings, expanded and renovated.

Our Summer Home

Our Summer Home

Nineteen years have slipped past now since ‘the big push’ and the strengths (longest English word with only one vowel, by the way) that this endeavor was built upon have proven their worth and grounded the founders’ faith:  stewardship of the rivers, safety and comfort of our guests and staff, and a sporting, family atmosphere that consistently smooths any wrinkles that nature may toss our way.

Week after summer week we are treated to smiling guests who yarn on with their stories and find new ones here to spin for the rest of their days. No better stories were ever collected than in the first week of July this season. We had, as per normal, eight fine anglers in camp including a group of four ladies whose passion for fly angling inspired the camps.

Carroll's Speck

Carroll’s Speck

Carroll, Janine, Susan and Mary brought a level of joy that brightened the rainiest of days and lifted spirits for us all. Expert anglers, they devoured the challenges of the brookies’ toughest puzzles.

An Armful for Janine

An Armful for Janine

These old Woods River brookies can be moody at times, especially the big ones. Patience, a willingness to change flies, quiet observation, and relentless pursuit are the skills fine anglers bring with them. And, as payback, the brookies will hone those skills for the attentive angler.

Emile with a "net-long" slab

Emile with a “net-long” slab

It was our good fortune to have spent a week with the girls and with the other equally accomplished sports folks this summer. These stories, old and new, are the “gold” that we TRL’ers mine each summer. The glow that keeps this old dream thriving.

Enough Said

Enough Said

 

 

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Season #19! (Beginning to feel like a good, long while)

FACEBOOK SCHMACEBOOK! We’re all lost in the ‘hand-held universe’! Yes, I’m lost guilty, too. Didn’t think it would happen. Ever! But as one of our past guests told me, “Social media is 95% of your exposure these days.” Seeing that this fellow’s created and sold three ‘start-up’ marketing firms, he got my attention. I caved. But as shame surely fades, I’m hopeful that some good will come of it.

Hence, fewer blog posts, more thumb-tapping at my I-phone.

Season Nineteen, and a different hat for each memorable year.

Season Nineteen, and a different hat for each memorable year.

Today it’s raining here in Labrador and I am moved to post a new entry. So moved not only by the dreary weather, but by the peaceful hour I spent yesterday reading through the TRL guest book, starting at the beginning. 1998 – no blogging, no social media, a scarce email here and there. Got me to thinking of the thousands of hand-written letters and notes I once scribbled, stamped and slipped through the mail slot. Couldn’t help noticing that our early guests used to write as well, and write beautifully of their observations and Labrador memories in the guest book. And in cursive, for god’s sake! (Now, they snap a pic and post on Facebook.) With each passing season, the entries became fewer and shorter. Last year, only five guests (out of 85) took on the bother.

Times, they are a-changin’, for sure. But I like to think of this fishing camp of ours as stuck in the “old days, olden ways”. Same sweet faces, same warm cabins, the same old generator humming in the back field. Even half our guests are returning friends. ‘Stuck in our old ways’ is a good feeling for me and our returning guests as well, I think – a source of contentment, perhaps even pride. This wilderness scoffs at modern invention and I think we’ve managed to find an suitable arrangement with both.

Scott, Kevin, JoAnne, Don, Rob, Charlie, and Dave, our 1st week’s guests, converged on the dock this past Friday. Our summer has begun with excited faces – hand-shakes with the newbies and dock hugs for our old friends. ‘Put your arms around me and just leave them there.’ (as Bill Morrissey sang) Weather was perfect for the first three days, but today the Labrador odds caught up with us. Supposed to rain the rest of the week, not near enough, however, to dampen TRL spirits.

“. . . geese in flight, and a dog’s bite. Signs that might be omens, say I’m going, going. . .”

I don’t put too much stock in omens, but this morning after the anglers were well on their way to the fishing holes, Frances, Judy and I were having a bite when we heard a rustling in the Tilt, the sitting room just off the dining lodge. We peeked around the doorway to see a goldeneye duck rattling around in the fireplace. The fire screen had her jailed to the front and the firebox to the rear. She frantically wing-whipped soot about the room as I swung open the side of the fire screen. She hopped out and into the wood box, then ran through the door that Judy held open, headed for the light. When the duck took flight for the water’s edge, Sam, my younger golden, leapt off the porch in full chase, hauling up just short of the lake’s edge as the frightened girl fluttered into the gray mist. (action to fast for pics, Facebook fans).

Minutes later, we heard a thunk on the window and swung open the door again. There on the deck sat a medium-sized bird that had sought entry into the Tilt through a closed window.

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

So Frances picked it up and wrapped it in a towel, and nested it then in an umbrella chair on the front porch. It spent a cozy hour there righting its double-vision, then flew away none the worse.

Nestled Birdie

Nestled Birdie

Not sure of it’s species, but it had a large beak not unlike a grosbeak of some sort. Perhaps some of you can identify the mystery guest.

Back to omens, we saved two of Labrador’s wild creatures in one ten minute span as camp begins. Can’t think of a better way to kick off the new season.

I hope to put a few entries here through the summer to keep those scattered few of you who still check in here a bit interested in our Labrador adventures. Might even file a fishing report or two.

But if we miss you here, check us out on Facebook!  :-)

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The Fly Fishing Show Season, 2016

In January, after the “calm” of the holiday season, the Fly Fishing Show circuit begins. The tour began with the Denver, CO show last weekend, and it went beautifully for patrons and exhibitors alike. (This weekend hosts no shows leaving us free to watch the “best” weekend in NFL competition).

Marlboro, MA is the next stop the weekend of January 22, 23 and 24. The next weekend, January 29, 20 and 31 finds the Show in Somerset, NJ.

For me, the best of the shows is meeting friends I have made through the nineteen years of hawking fly fishing trips to Labrador. In each show, we see dozens of former and prospective guests who have become far more than acquaintances over the years. In Denver, we signed up a dozen new prospects for the 2016 season, many of whom I had spoken with over at least a ten year period.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, for the fly angler, the shows offer an escape for the imagination into the warmer days when we will all be delighted by the seductive waters that we love. Shows offer new gear, old standards, good books, artists with their treasures, and folks like me who have, for one reason or another, taken fly fishing to the “professional” level. In all cases, you’ll find some interesting people and exciting conversations.

Look for this booth, and the talking face behind those glasses.

Look for this booth, and the talking face behind those glasses.

If you are interested in discovering Labrador, you’ll get no better opportunity to get all your questions discussed in detail, first hand. A jaunt to a wilderness destination can seem formidable and committing to such a trip comes with some trepidation. Let’s talk it through at the show!

Ol' Mr. Brookie says "COME TO THE SHOW"

Ol’ Mr. Brookie says “COME TO THE SHOW”

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A Fly Angler’s First View of Labrador

Bill Dzilenski stepped off the turbine float plane and hoisted a large gear bag onto our newly renovated dock. In that bag was a strong fly rod and a good camera. And he spent the following seven days wielding both tools with enthusiasm and grace. After our season ended, Bill sent me a letter with a thumb drive enclosed. He wrote “My visit to Three Rivers was stellar. A lot of age-old dreams came true, and the trip continues to grow on me. Enjoy the pictures.”

Holed up in a farmhouse on Vermont’s first snowy day of the winter, Bill’s images have improved  my humor considerably. So I’m moved to share them with you.

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First Evening in Camp

Calm Day on the Water

Bluebird Day on the Water

Pic of a Pic of a Pick

Pic of a Pic of a Pick

Bill and his guide flew up to a little “rattle”, a Newfy term for a lively creek. Pilot Gilles circled, checked out the landing zone, then dropped into a broad reach of the river.

Checking for Rocks

Throttling Back

A Sweet Creek, and

A Sweet Creek, and

A Crazy Fly, adds up to

A Crazy Fly, adds up to

Another Successful Release

Another Successful Release

Mid-week, Bill spent two days at the 5th Rapids Outpost Camp.

High on an Esker

High on an Esker

Where He Fished Until Dusk

Where He Fished Until Dusk

Fished Hard, Until His Guide Byron Was Red in the Face

Fished Hard, Until His Guide Byron Was Red in the Face

Almost as Red as His Quarry's Belly

Almost as Red as His Quarry’s Belly

Some Days Were Brisk

Some Days Were Brisk

Some Quiet

Some Quiet

But All Days Were Filled With Small Wonders

But Each Day Was Filled With Small Wonders

Ripe Moments,

Ripe Moments,

And New Friends

And New Friends

“I’ll end this letter here,” Bill wrote, “as I could go on endlessly. Suffice it to say that I can’t wait to return. It may be a year or two, but I’ll look forward to seeing it all anew.”

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Here Comes (or there goes) Another Year

Yes, one year come and gone from my personal allotment. Probably from yours, too. Years are moving faster, for sure. I suppose it’s up to each of us to make them sweeter. (As my mom used to say, ‘It’s your little red wagon and you’ll just have to pull it’.) Despite best efforts, that’s no guarantee, however. Challenges come along as they see fit. Some are just a nuisance, and we experienced folks have learned to bob and weave through that thicket.  Others come in hard and sudden. And ask what we’re made of.

For eighteen years, nurturing Three Rivers Lodge has been my aspiration. The Labrador journey has had its nuisance thickets, and land-mines, but it has brought me together with more fine folks than I could shake a stick at. And I hope all of you who have blessed my years – you river-loving, long rod waving, out-in-the-boonies kind of folks – enjoyed your 2014 thoroughly, and that each of you has great aspirations for 2015.

Winter Cones

Winter Cones

For 2015, I plan to spend the winter spreading the Labrador gospel, spend the spring knee deep in camp logistics (and in some favorite Maine rivers), and the summer with my fly fishing friends in our little corner of the great northern forest.

Boughs

Boughs

I will be at two Fly Fishing Shows in January. The Denver, CO Show on the 9th through 11th and the Marlborough, MA Show on the 16th through 18th. (Will miss the Somerset, NJ Show this year due to a mix-up with the Fly Fishing Show folks.)

Please come to one of these venues for a visit if you can.  It’s said that the shows are a lot the same from year to year, but they offer a fine escape from the winter blues and you’ll just never know what interesting experience/person you may bump into. (You can always bring a cup of hot, black decaf to my booth and shoot the bull for a spell!)

In between the chores and commitments, I’ll be scouting the woods of northern Vermont by day, sitting beside a wood fire by evening, planning in each moment just how to make the best of my little plot of Vermont acreage. And in all these sessions, be with my two companions, old Bear and spunky Sam, doing my darnedest to give them back even half the joy that they bring to my life.

"Squirrel!"

“Squirrel!”

So Happy New Year to you all. Let’s make this new one our best.

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WIFI, or Not

The previous blog entry (re: the new boardwalk) was first written the end of June when camp was in full session.  But our WIFI was so spotty that the effort (and three subsequent ones) was lost when the service failed.  Throughout the season, our connection to the big world was off and on – mostly off. Very frustrating, to say the least. (Oh! the words that were hurled at the big dish that is mounted on the west side of the dining lodge.)

Of course we called the service provider and from that first moment, their staff put us on the wrong track.  They ‘pinged’ our dish on three occasions and said that it was properly positioned – almost 100% reception.  So we looked for errors in all the other possible equipment components and connections. We ordered and bought two new transponders, a new modem, checked all the wiring, rigged and re-rigged the gear, and still, the service was mostly off. Yes, we had it occasionally, especially early mornings. But when it was needed, gone.

Towards the end of the season (and the end of our patience), we said ‘screw it, let’s move the dish.’  So we loosened the bolts and pushed upwards.  Perfect reception. For the last week of the season!

As mentioned earlier, I had lost so many blog posts to vapors that I gave up trying from camp. Home now, settled, and off to Idaho to visit my new granddaughter, Piper Graham. So let the posts resume.  I’ll get a good report out on the 2014 season very soon.

Appreciate your patience.

 

 

 

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