Our Man In Canada
January 26th, 2004

North of Superior

By Scott E. Smith

This is where I learned to fly fish; my roots and desires for this wonderful sport were born among the spirited wilderness streams of this region, known affectionately as North of Superior.

Over and above the many pristine nursery tributaries of Superior that line its entire shore from Thunderbay to Sault Ste. Mare, are many inland lakes and streams that are teaming with resident brook trout.

Happily, virtually every waterway that ultimately terminates in Superior is home to brook trout; the heritage "trout" species of this wilderness area of Ontario. Most creeks, streams and rivers are either presently inhabited by brookies or were at one time or another. Brook trout (actually a char Salvelinus fontinalis) are a species of cold, clean water. In many ways they are an environmental indicator of sorts: The aquatic version of the cole miner's canary, their absence in former ranges is indicative of a decline in water conditions. Conditions that may have degenerated due to toxic effluent or, more simply, careless logging practices that have increased sediment levels - making successful spawning impossible. Fortunately many streams are still relatively unspoiled by such atrocities and still abound with brook trout.

In contrast to the relatively infertile nursery streams of Superior's coast, there are many smaller creeks and streams within the headwater systems of large rivers, such as the Black Sturgeon, the Nipigon and the Goulais, that are prolific mesotrophic or eutrophic waters, capable of sustaining substantial populations of fish. In fact, there are a number of true spring creeks in this region.

Shillabeer Creek

Shillabeer Creek is one of those true spring creeks. Water-quality studies of this placid meandering creek are comparable to the mineral make-up of famous Western spring creeks, such as Nelson's and Armstrong's spring creeks. The Shillabeer is a tributary of the Black Sturgeon River, which ultimately empties into Black Bay on Superior, about 80 kilometers east of Thunder Day. The Shillabeer's origin is a series of groundwater springs near Shillabeer Lake and Fog Lake, which converge into a lowland creek that averages thirty feet in width and five or six feet in depth. The thick weed growth in the creek appears like giant moss outcroppings that often brush the bottom of your canoe as you paddle along and fish the deep, sandy bend pools and weedbed channels. The creek's only inhabitants are native brook trout. No migratory species reach the Shillabeer due to dams on the Black Sturgeon. The brookies of the Shillabeer are prolific in numbers with most of the catch - which typically is twenty or more fish per angler a day - around the ten-inch mark. However, there are several large fish to be had in the twelve- to sixteen-inch category. Some of my friends talk of three- and four-pound fish from this creek in past years, and although I cannot personally attest to such glory, I have seen fish take flies off the water in turbulent splashes that I thought only beavers made.

This is a prime example of a stream that has benefited [ibid] from slot limits, and would most definitely make the trophy-hunt list if special regulations were placed on it.

. . .The Shillabeer is most definitely a "Muddler River". Indeed the best way to fish this sweet little creek is with a Muddler Minnow. To be more precise, a small size 10 or 8 Muddler fished from a canoe on a four-weight with a short durable leader of about six feet lone. Short leaders are the ticket for rapidly punching out repetitive casts to small pockets and undercut banks with little back-cast room. My good friend (and local brook trout guru), Bruce Miller, and I fish the creek in turn. One paddles while the other sits in the bow and fires a Muddler to within inches of the bank and then begins a pulsating retrieve. The length of the cast is adjusted so this action can be done by twitching the rod up and back alone, without stripping - which ultimately leads to lost time and tangles. Obviously you must fish water before the canoe traverses, and a good navigator at the stern will keep the canoe on the shallow side of the numerous bends on the Shillabeer. Any stick, log or chunk of week on the bottom will most a brookie or two. Sometimes surprisingly big brookies will appear from the smallest of cover. Big brookies in such environs are wily. You must pull the trigger quick on the take, keep your line tight and tip high to hold the brookie out of the tangles. You will never get a second chance on the same day with the same fish if they are big. At least according to Bruce. ~ Scott E. Smith

Credits: From Ontario, Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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