Our Man In Canada
February 18th, 2002

Nipigon's Giant Brook Trout, Part 2

By Scott E. Smith
From Ontario, Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide, Published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

Hatches and Flies

I would suggest that the bulk of the large brook trout on the Nipigon River are duped by larged streamers. By far the most successful streamers fished by Nipigon River guides and anglers are varying concoctions of the Strip Leech pattern developed by Gary Borger. These rabbit-strip patterns are tied up to 3 1/2 inches long, on 3X long streamer hooks in sizes 4, 2, and even 1/0. My favourite combination for the river is a natural-coloured beige or olive rabbit strip with a chartreuse tail and a gold tinsel body. I add gold Krystal Flash to the tail and a red throat, and tie the pattern with two layers of wrapped lead. It is a formidable looking creature for sure, but when you consider the number of large prey items in the river, such as sculpins and crayfish, it is logical to fish such big patterns. In addition, the needs of any fish dictate there is no sense expending great amounts of energy to consume what amounts to an hors d'oeuvre-sized offering, after swimming great distances through deep, fast water. I like the pattern I mentioned above because it works for me, but also because I feel it accurately - or at least accurately enough - represents sculpins and also fleeing crayfish. In addition to large sculpins, which are the favoured diet of the Nipigon brook trout, crayfish are very abundant along the rocky shores of the Nipigon, and when moving about on the bottom, scoot along backwards and often upside-down from one lie to another in the current. Brook trout target these substantial fellows and take them quickly before they disappear under a rock. This is also one of the reasons I like to fish these rabbit-strip flies near the bottom with a pulsating retrieve.

Sometime when you're shuffling about along a rocky river-bottom, kick up a few decent-sized stones and look for fleeing crayfish. You will note how they swim backwards and flip upside-down in the current as they scamper downstream to the next available cover. This little experiement will help you understand the merits of fishing these big flies in such a fasion near the bottom.

Although wool-head sculpin patterns, such as my Green-Butt Monkey . . . fish well on the Nipigon, I find that often their bulky heads hamper my attempts to get the fly deep as quickly as possible.

In addition to the rabbit-strip family of flies for the Nipigon, the ubiquitous Woolly Bugger works equally well in the river. Nipigon-Buggers should be tied very large, size 4 and 2, and heavily weighted. Black and brown are the best colours as there are both black and brown phases of large sculpins - or cockatouches as they are locally know - in the river.

Specifically, there are two large sculpin species prevalent in the Nipigon River: the mottled sculpin (Cottus beirdi), and the slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus). Both of these species, which are almost identical in appearance, average three inches in length, but can approach five inches in length. which speaks to the success of large streamer patterns for brook trout on this river.

Nipigon River

Just about any type of popular dry will work at one time or another on the Nipigon; but I would say the bulk of your selection should consist of caddis patterns, large mayfly patterns, and searching patterns, such as the Royal Trude and the Stimulator. I like fishing size 8 and 10 Yellow Stimulators on the river, because they are easy to see and follow especially on long casts and drifts, and also because they represent so many different potential food sources: stoneflies, large mayflies, and terrestrials such as hoppers and crickets, which are prevalent during late summer. Although I have never given it a try, I'll bet a mouse pattern will work like dynamite when fished off the edge of the many rock cliffs along the river. One nice thing about brook trout, if they're hungry they'll eat almost anything. One the other hand, if they're not hungry, they can be a real pain in the ass to catch.

One of the most significant hatches of insects on the upper Nipigon is the salmonfly (Pteronarcys dorsata), a large species of stonefly that thrives amongt the boulders along the banks and island of the river. They have creamy-yellow bodies with a band of yellow or orange on their heads. These giant stoneflies are generally two and one-half to almost three inches in length and can be often found drying their wings on rock islands after the nymph has crawled out of the water and fastened itself to a rock to metamorphose into a winged insect.

One sunny afternoon in late May I pulled my boat onto a tiny island in the river above Jessie Lake and found hundreds of Pteronarcys crawling from under the rocks as the sun warmed the island. In addition to the effects of the early afternoon sun, the warmth of my Coleman stove also attracted the stoneflies adding an "extra-special" ingredient to my chicken-stir-fry. Stoneflies gradually left the island as their wings completely dried, however few of them made significant progress as they were soon picked off in mid-air by cruising sea gulls.

Because of the fact that these insect hatch off rocks and not off the water, I believe their true value to the fly angler comes when they return to the river to lay their eggs. This is when they become significant to the trout population. Their large size attracts even the largest brook trout to the surface.

In addition to the Pteronarcys, other significant insects on the river include the Hexagenia limbata, which thrives in the silt-bottomed areas above the dams and in the lake-like portions of the river. They appear as large (approximately two inches long) greenish-bodied mayflies that hatch after dark in slow-moving sections of river. Most times both duns and spinners are present on the water, specifically just above and just below dams. Brown drakes (Ephemera simulans) may be the most beneficial hatch as they appear at dusk and make for some memorable dry-fly fishing. One of my favourite patterns for both brown and gray drakes is the Usual; a simple fly constructed solely from the hair of a snow shoe hare's rear foot. The fly has great buoyancy properties and it floats in the surface film as a hatching mayfly would. I have caught numberous brook trout in the twenty-inch range during this hatch on Usuals.

Grannon caddis hatches are also very important to the Nipigon fly anglers. Nipigon's fish seem to have a special lust for caddisflies. They are also present in varying numbers throughout the year.

Some less-significant hatches on the river include the Yellow Sally stonefly, and various other smaller species of stoneflies.

The best timing for prolific hatches of caddis, mayflies and stoneflies is generally the last two weeks of June and the first two week of July. August can prove tough fishing if the water temperature reach above the sixty-five degree mark. Towards the end of August however, nighttime temperatures drop significantly and the water begins to cool once again; brook trout begin to feed with regularity prior to their spawn in late September on the Nipigon.

As for presentations, I would say the majority of the takes I have had on dry flies on the Nipigon River have been on the downstream drift of the fly. I like to cast quartering upstream with a large reach mend, and then mend heavily - to flip the fly line upstream of the fly and the leader - as it passes perpendicular to my position. I then allow the fly to drift drag-free downstream ahead of the fly line and leader, at times paying out extra line to lengthen the drift. I have hooked fish with almost the entire fly line on the water on some of the flatter sections of river; hence my tendency to fish larger, more visible dries on the Nipigon. ~ Scott E. Smith

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