Casting East of Montreal - Part 2
By Ari Vineber
The Rivers and Lakes of the Eastern Townships
Photos by Mark Krupa
The Massawippi River
In the heart of the picturesque little town of North Hatley, the Massawippi River
empties out of the lake of the same name. This is, perhaps, the most underrated
trout fishery in the Eastern Townships.
In the autumn, just when the brilliant scenery is at its peak, with the trees bursting in
reds and golds, big brown trout descend into the river from the lake on their spawning
run. They actually jump over the dam in their spawning frenzy and find themselves stranded
at the base, as there is no fish ladder. For many years, this situation provided a spectacular
winter fishery, with fish in the five to eight pound range not uncommon. But, eventually, the
Fish and Game people caught on, and the place was closed to fishing as a sanctuary from
the beginning of September to the end of April.
However, downstream from the sanctuary, the river remains open and provides excellent fishing.
The Massawippi is not a big river, but there are plenty of deep pools and pockets close to
the bank, where there are frequent undercuts and deadfalls. As trout, especially the larger
specimens, often hold tight to these structures close to the bank, a stealthy approach is essential.
Massawippi trout can be taken on dry flies, but the bigger fish tend to be taken by going
deep with sink-tip lines. Big nymphs, streamers, crayfish patterns, and Egg-sucking Leeches
are all popular and effective.
This is a charming area to rent a room, perhaps at the five-star-rated Hatley Inn or, if budgets
are tight, at one of the rustic bed and breakfast establishments ubiquitous to the area. In the
morning, a short walk will take you to the end of the lake, and another five minute hike is all
it takes to reach the fast water below the small dam on Vaughn Street, where you can cast
in solitude before the town has awakened.
After a morning on the river, you can lunch on a delectable sandwich and one of many
locally-brewed beers at the Pilsen Pub, which is set in a historic building overlooking the
river. On summer nights (if you fancy a break from fishing), you can catch an English
language play at the famous local theatre, The Piggery, or go for a stroll along the lake,
or just stargaze off the government dock. This sleepy little town is one of the most
delightful places in the civilized world.
Besides the multitude of streams and rivers, there are a few lakes which offer fly fishing
opportunities. Many of these hold big smallmouth, and the Quebec record (a whopping
9lb. 11oz) was taken in Stukely Lake in 1987 by a visiting U.S. angler. Other lakes hold
almost as impressive fish, but many of them are private and can only be fished by invitation
or by asking permission.
Besides the top corner of Lake Champlain (most of which lies in the USA and doesn't really
qualify as a major Eastern Townships fishery), there are just two major lakes in the region:
Massawippi and Memphramagog.
The biggest, Lake Memphramagog, is renowned for its bass fishery and hosts a number
B.A.S.S. tournaments. Lake Massawippi, although smaller, also boasts excellent
smallmouth fishing. These rise readily to hair bugs and provide plenty of fast action.
However, most Quebecers are much more interested in the superb fishing which both
lakes offer for trout and, particularly, landlocked salmon. Most fly fishers target these
by trolling streamers on sink-tip lines in the propwash behind a boat. The best fishing is
just after ice-out and late in the fall as the water temperature begins to drop again.
As I spent my formative years in the Eastern Townships, it's easy for me to attest to the
region's provincial charm. I return frequently to reminisce and re-explore the rivers and
lakes of my childhood. Visiting fly fishers will enjoy the genuine and warm hospitality of
the people, the beauty and serenity of the countryside, the harmonious mix of French
and English cultures, and time is given to allow things to unfold at their own sleepy pace.
Then there's all that excellent and little-publicized fly fishing! ~ Ari Vineberg
Did you miss the first part of this article? Click
here for Part One.