Cliff Randell knows how to catch brook trout. He’s always seemed to have the ‘knack’. And his ten summers of roaming the Woods River system has just made his successes more profound. (He actually has a cult amongst our guests.) And as you might expect, Cliff’s opinions and observations play a crucial part in our planning and decision making.
So when Cliff sat down at the end of the 2008 season and warned us that our brook trout fishery was weakening, we listened. The brook trout fishing that summer had indeed been off. Cliff and all of the guides had worked particularly hard, used all of their ‘magic’, to provide their sports with memorable angling days (translation: catching big brook trout). There seemed to be a paucity of large fish in the system, at least in those places where we were accustomed to catching them. So what was the deal? Had their numbers declined? Were they getting ‘educated’ to the fly? Or were they just hanging out in places where we seldom fish?
The Woods River system is huge, over 100 miles long, and though the brookies tend to stay in the feeder streams, feeder rivers, and rapids of the big river, there are innumerable places where they can decide to spend their time. So how were we to know the real skinny? The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s fish and game department had been contacting me for years seeking Three Rivers Lodge’s participation in their brook trout field study. Now we knew that our fishery is healthy, but tagging a few fish for a couple of seasons, we figured, might shed a lot of light on their habits, their growth rates and particularly, where the hell they have been hanging out as of late.
In the spring of 2009, I got a call from the Provincial Biologist, Amanda, and together we scheduled her visit for late June month. Because of his extensive on-the-water experience, Cliff accompanied Amanda as they gave tagging lessons to the other guides.
For the first two weeks of the 2009 season and then again, after another Spring visit from Amanda, the first two weeks of 2010, Cliff and the boys tagged a good portion of their guests’ brook trout catches. Each fish was weighed, measured and those statistics recorded with the date and place of each trout’s capture. After her visit last June, here are some of Amanda’s comments and observations:
- Right away, Amanda proclaimed our fishery ‘extremely healthy’, impressed particularly with the abundance of 1-1/2 to 2 pound trout (tomorrow’s trophies)
- Amanda was impressed with the ‘easy way’ her specimens, particularly the fish 5 pounds and up, came to the fly.
- The degree of mobility of our brookies is intense: some trout moved as much as thirty miles overnight.
- We often see big brookies in shallow water under the alders, and they appear to be asleep in that they will not move to any presentation of a fly and some do not flee even when anglers walk right up to them. Amanda explained this often-observed phenomenon to us. The big trout are simply resting after moving great distances the night before.
- Many of the 1-1/2 – 2 pound trout (2nd year fish) doubled or more than doubled their weight by the following spring. Most of this smaller class that were tagged in 2009 were over 4 pounds in 2010.
- Most of the larger fish, 4 pounds and up, gained about one pound each season.
Cliff and the boys truly enjoyed their “biology” experiences with Amanda. For the next two weeks after she had returned to her office, they enthusiastically continued the tagging process. Conversations in the guides’ camp each evening centered around looking up the new data, comparing notes and tag numbers, and calculating weight gain and distance travelled for the many brookies that were taken that day. Cliff was particularly impressed that only about one out of twenty trout caught by guests had been previously tagged. The most important feature of the whole tagging experience seemed to be the guide’s renewed belief in the quality of the Woods River fishery. That confidence and pride is very contagious and our guests’ days a-stream will continue to be all the better for it.
Cliff will do whatever it takes to get his anglers fish. Here, Chris R. has hooked a nice brookie on his beautiful Mike Clarke bamboo stick, but the high August water has all but eliminating his chances of landing the trophy. Cliff gets into the fray of the white water and saves the day (well, the fish anyway). What is even more appealing to this outfitter is that both Cliff and his charge are wearing their life jackets and Chris has good boots and a wading staff – two important lessons for those folks headed for the waters of Labrador.
At the end of last season, Cliff and I sat and reviewed the summer months past. He said unequivocally that there were more ‘big brookies’ in the river than he has ever seen in his ten years guiding the Woods. And they were in places that he had never seen them before. We also enjoyed terrific hatches in 2010 and Cliff remembered seeing rising fish in ‘overflow’ places where the hatches usually don’t occur. All of us at TRL enjoyed the wonderful ‘catching’ season we had in 2010 and look forward to 2011 as potentially even more amazing.
Cliff got some unexpected work over the winter and has yet to commit to guiding with us for the 2011 season. We wish him well, of course, with any new endeavor, but hold onto our hopes that the warm spring breezes with call him back to our corner of the Labrador wilderness.