A couple of years ago, there was a really big male brookie in the deepest hole at the top of our Second Rapids. I capitalize Second Rapids because we have named most of the rapids on the big river according to their location from main camp. This is not too original or folksy, but it does give you some idea of where you are going when you start out in the morning. Anyway, this big brookie was supposedly 30″ long and had ripped line and busted leader for three of our visiting anglers earlier that summer. After each fight, he had returned to his favorite spot. Now, the first week of September, he was still there, entertaining three females, and looking each over carefully until the season’s imperative required him to pick his mate.
So Matt, Jordan (our youngest guide) and I set out early on a bluebird day to go do what others had failed to do – catch that big fellow and accurately take his measurements for all posterity. After all, a 30″ brookie would have to weigh well over 12 pounds. In the perfect weather, we made great time. The breeze was behind us so we shot down Vezina Lake, twisted through the channel and first rapids, and pulled ashore just above the first tongue of water that was the start of Second Rapids. Jordan and Matt slipped through the shallows and peered over the huge boulder that had formed the deep hole where Mr. Big lived. “He’s there!” Matt whispered and the energy in his voice was electric.
Jordan rigged up a Sage 7-weight and asked my advice for the right fly. Matt, much more into the adventure than the fishing, grabbed the net and began testing the depth of water in all the places downstream where he figured the big fish might run. The hatches were over except the blue-winged olive hatch that pretty much lasts the entire summer. “Go with a dry first,” I suggested, “a blue-winged olive. And tie on plenty of 6 lb tippet.” Six pound was too light – way under our normal recommendation of 10# flurocarbon, but at his age, this big native might be leader shy. Jordan greased up the bwo dun, set himself above the pool and dropped cast after perfect cast at the top. Though he mended his way through several flawless 20-foot floats, the big fish never budged.
“Try a Royal Wulff,” Matt urged waving at the last of the black flies. “They all love that little spot of red.” So Jordan switched over, cast beautifully, got several bouncy floats, but again, nothing doing. “While you’ve got on the long leader, just run a Henryville Special or a elk hair caddis by him.” Jordan picked the Henryville, again cast well, but the fish ignored this last enticement with surface treats.
“OK. So much for the little stuff. I’m pulling out the big guns – gonna give him a mouse. I don’t think he’s even noticed those little dries and he definitely isn’t spooked. I’m going with a mouse.” Jordan is the kind of enthusiastic guide all sports love to spend a day with. He’s a fly fishing machine, creative and energetic, and willing to try most anything. He’s learned at an early age that big trout are moody, too moody for an angler to overlook any possibility. The big fish moved to the mouse, but he lifted with just his pectoral fins, not with a power stroke of his big square tail. That meant he was curious, but not hungry. Or pissed, maybe, which is a good thing – we might get him to attack out of aggression.
Next idea. Jordan tied on a big, unweighted muddler minnow and greased it up well with floatant. He went upstream, crossed above the tongue, and waded down to where he was 180 degrees opposite his first position. This gave the fish a 5 minute rest. Jordan dropped the big muddler on a rock at the head of the pool. He jiggled his fly line and the muddler fell with a plop, just in front of the trout’s lie. Wiggling the tip of his rod, Jordan limped the muddler across the pool. “He’s coming!” Matt whispered peering over the rocks and cupping his hands to the side of his sunglasses. But the big male again only flipped his front set of fins and rose hesitantly to the fly. He paused, refused, then sank back into the deeper water.
With surface patterns exhausted, we decided to go to the staple of Labrador flies – streamers. But first we cracked open our lunches and Matt boiled up a pot of tea. September is cold in Labrador and the sun was dropping in the west. “Let’s have our lunches and then go at him with a Clouser’s Minnow – either the tan and white or the Mickey Finn.” Matt pulled out a rabbit-hair sculpin he had tied the evening before. It was olive, natural and HUGE – perhaps six inches long and way fat. “If he won’t go after the Clouser, swing this in front of him. No way he let’s this thing slide by!” (Some adjectives deleted)
Jordan and Matt took turns with the streamers and both fished well. They were quiet and sneaky and got their fly down before they teased the streamers through the pools from most every direction. Matt caught one of the females, a bright 6 pound fish, on the big sculpin and Jordan caught another female a bit larger on a big olive and black wooly bugger. But the big male just was not interested in any offerings. We were all cold and somewhat frustrated with the four hours of intense fly angling. We also knew that we were 20 miles downriver from main camp and daylight was running out.
“Time to go, boys. Gotta get back for dinner. Frances will be pissed.” The sub-Arctic daylight goes fast in August and September. Dragging boats up through rapids in the dark is really tough, but not as tough as the scolding we were in for from the camp mother should we be late for dinner. “I want to throw a nymph at him while we still have some light,” insisted Jordan. “I think he may take a little Copper John.” Jordan kneeled just behind the big rock and high-sticked the nymph through the pool. He finessed the tiny fly down to the big brookie and he sucked it in. But just as fast, he spit the little #20 nymph. “Damn!” Matt sat behind Jordan and flipped through his fly boxes. He pulled out a big, black stonefly nymph and tossed it to Jordan. “Last try,” I warned. “We gotta go.”
That magnificent, scarlet brook trout of a dozen lifetimes took that big, black nymph on the first pass. He stayed put for a couple of minutes, refusing to acknowledge that he was hooked. Matt tried to wade into the pool behind him and scoop him up before the fight, but the water was too deep. Jordan finally bore down on him and he moved, out of his hole, across the current and down stream. The reel whined as the brookie accelerated around several mid-river rocks that were just out of or just under the white water. I ran for the canoe to try to get out and rescue the tangled fly line, but a scream from Jordan told me it was over. The fish had won – again. Sadly, he’d probably never be back, his pounds and inches having been accumulated during Nature’s full allotment of seasons.