Our Man In Canada
February 13th, 2006

Chance Encounters of the Pleasant Kind
By Chris Chin, Jonquiere, Quebec

A few years ago, I lived in this small town not far from here. A pretty unassuming place at first glance. There's a college, the pulp mill, a couple of sawmills, the usual stuff in hundreds, even thousands of towns throughout North America.

What makes this town special (in my eyes), is the river that runs right through downtown.

The Ashuapmuchuan River, (local Montagnais Indian name for "Where the moose come to drink"), drains out of the hills and ends up in Lac St-Jean. This lake, being about 25-30 miles across is a vestige of the Laurentian Sea, which existed a few thousand years ago, shortly after the last ice age.

Why is this so important and what's this all got to do with fly fishing? Well, when the Laurentian Sea drained away and was replaced by fresh water river systems, it left behind some wonderful beaches and a heritage of fertile lands for forests to grow on. Better still, it receded quickly enough that some of the Salmo salar in the area got trapped "upstream." These became Land Locked Atlantic Salmon!

Just like their ocean going cousins, Land Locks will hang out in a downstream lake for most of the year, then migrate up into the rivers over the summer and spawn in the fall. The five major rivers flowing into Lake St-Jean all have populations of Land Locks in them.

A fresh water lake isn't nearly as rich as a marine environment, so these critters aren't as big as a "true" Atlantic salmon. A nice one will run about five pounds and anything over eight is special. They do have the same fight and willingness to jump as their offshore cousins.

Better still, as they don't go through the physiological stress of moving from saline to fresh water, they seem to take a fly much more often than salmon which have migrated from the sea.

Featherwings, bucktails, woollies and all manner of dries were my selections of choice on many an evening a mere eight minutes from the house. Actually, I preferred dries over wets as they were less likely to be taken by a Pike, Perch or Walleye. All of which could be found in the same pools.

I suppose it was chasing these fine fish that kick started me back into the sport after a few years of neglect. Anyway, back then you didn't have to wonder where I'd be during a summer's evening.

I guess one of my absolutely favourite pools is right down from the fish ladder on the first set of falls. As these falls are designated as a barrier, one cannot fish within 75 meters downstream of it. What many folks don't know is that the point sitting out there is exactly 81 meters from the falls (I measured it with a laser range finder).

One late July evening I was casting off the point. With the roar of the falls behind me and the boiling and foaming brown stained water out in front, I was missing take after take as a school of fresh water salmon seemed to be in a feeding frenzy.

I sat down to re-think my tactics (and put on a fly which didn't have the point broken off) when I noticed a youngster over on the rocks waving a rod around. I was quite taken aback, because I was pretty well the only fly fisher in this community of over 11,000 souls.

This child was obviously having trouble casting and even from 30 yards away, I could tell from his body language, that he was more than a little frustrated. I spooled up and waded over to see if I could help.

As I approached, I met his Mom who was perched on a rock watching. I asked if I could show him a few basics and she seemed quite relieved for some help. Seems he'd been watching hours of fly fishing on TV every Sunday morning and his uncle finally gave him an old rod as a gift.

I introduced myself and looked over a fine old glass rod with a Pflueger Medallist reel and an old and cracked level line. This won't do. I jogged back to the truck and rummaged around for a spool of backing and a spare 333 DT floating line I had.

Back on the rocks I quickly spooled up the backing, line and a spare leader. I showed this newest adept at the sport how to tie on the leader with a nail knot and how to properly attach the fly. A few pointers and he was soon caressing a simple cast nicely out to about 30-35 feet.

As he was in sneakers and jeans, I couldn't show him out to the point, but I put him over some brookies in a back eddy and he proceeded to miss, then miss, then connect to his very first trout, (on a #12 Royal Wulff to boot!).

I left our young angler with his mom as it was getting dark and I wanted to try out a few more flies off the point. We promised to try to meet up again some time. As life would have it, the promise was a few years in coming.

Almost 10 years to the day, I was scouting out some runs on my home waters. I noticed a stranger (young man) casting to a draw. His friend was bundled up against the drizzle, lounging on some rocks. As I watched for a while, I found it disconcerting to see the way he was rolling his shoulder back on the back cast (just as I do).

I wandered over to give a "Welcome" to these newcomers to the river. Surprise of all surprises, it was this same angler that I had met on his first day with a fly rod. We chatted a bit, exchanged lies for a while then he got back to fishing.

We couldn't get our new found friend to connect to an Atlantic Salmon that afternoon, but he has since become a very proficient and productive Salmo salar enthusiast.

I asked him what he finally did with the old glass rod 'n reel. With a smile, he related that he had given it to his girlfriend's younger brother.

Looking back on the happenstance nature of life, it always brings a smile to my mind when I realise that the draining of a proglacial lake ultimately gave me the opportunity to meet another fly fisher.

Side bar

The Ashuapmuchuan River empties into Lake St-Jean near St-Felicien Quebec. This river, as well as the four other major rivers in the Lake St-Jean basin offer recreational fishing for land locked salmon, as well as resident pike, walleye, perch and brook trout. Within a few minutes drive, there are opportunities for lake and river fishing.

St-Félicien is located seven hours from Montreal or three hours from Quebec City. ~ Chris

About Chris:

Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has been fly fishing on and off ever since he was 10 years old. Chris became serious about the sport within the last 10 years.

"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in central Quebec. I've been fishing this river for about 10 years now and started guiding about 5 years ago when the local guide's association sort of stopped functioning."

Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon. "I often don't even charge service fees, as I'm more interested in promoting the river than making cash. I like to get new comers to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around here makes some of the old clan see Salmon fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack Daniel's."

Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He is of Chinese origin although his parents were born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend, Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent started fly fishing with me in October 2002."

To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River, visit Christopher's website http://pages.videotron.com/fcch/. ~ Christopher Chin

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