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