July 24th, 2006

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The Saguenay and Quebec
Why you would want to live up north
By Jed Proujansky

My visit to Quebec was not a fishing trip. Well, at least it was not primarily a fishing trip. I went with my wife Joan to travel through the Saguenay area and secondarily to meet Chris Chin and spend a day fishing with him. The Saguenay is the water body fed by the Ste. Marguerite river as well as others. The Saguenay feeds into the St. Lawrence and from the St. Lawrence come the Salmon and sea run Brookies which travel up into the Ste. Marguerite. I also thought of this as a pre-fish-in as I stayed at the 5 star farm (ferme cinq etoile), fished where those coming up in August will fish and was guided by our own Chris Chin. If there is a pre-fish-in acceptability test this passed.

Tidal flat St. Lawrence River

My trip was magnificent. Joan, a non-fisher who loves the outdoors, also had a great time. The Saguenay's north shore is a place that before the mid thirties was undeveloped. You travel about 60 miles from the mouth of the Saguenay and you'll see only two small towns. No Wall Marts or Malls. No big grocery stores or tourist shops. It's quiet up there.

The Saguenay itself is a Fjord. It was cut by the glaciers and the cliffs are hundreds of feet high and the water is over 900 feet deep. It is about 38 to 40 degrees cold. The top layer is fresh water coming from an immense watershed. The bottom two layers are salt water fed as a tidal estuary. Salt water comes in on the bottom with the tides and an upwelling puts it into the middle layer. In the Saguenay there are both fresh and salt water fish. At the point where the Ste. Marguerite empties into the Saguenay and again where the Saguenay enters into the St. Lawrence there are families of Beluga whales that can be seen from shore. On the St. Lawrence, which is the largest salt-water estuary in the world you can see Minkie, Blue and Finback whales. There is also a population of Beluga whales which almost exclusively live above the 50th parallel, but due to the cold water temperatures exists at the mouth of the Saguenay. Salmon cruise these waters and they are now re-introducing the Striped Bass whose populations were decimated by pollution and the destruction of the marshlands that provided the Striped Bass feeding zones. In all it is a truly unique and beautiful environment that is open.

Road to Saguenay from Quebec City

While the geology of this area is a little unclear to me it seems that the Laurentian mountains and the St. Lawrence River were created by tectonism, the splitting of the earths crust and the dropping of the land which created the St. Lawrence lowlands including the St. Lawrence river.

Saguenay Fjord

The Saguenay River is a gash in the Precambrian rock and the Fjord was created at the mouth of the river by the recent (in geological terms) spate of Pleistocene glaciation, consisting of repeated invasions of massive continental glaciers from the north. Finally the "isostatic adjustment" or the earth rebounding after the lifting of the weight of over a 1 mile thick sheet of ice changed the final makeup of the area to bring it to a form we now recognize.

Bay at right is the St. Marguerite

Because the Seaway runs North and is separated from the Atlantic Ocean which is to its east it does not get any warming effect from the Gulf Stream. All its waters comes from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the North Atlantic. This geological formation is what creates the unique environment we visited.

We kayaked here, Saguenay Fjord

There are two watersheds that feed the Saguenay River. The Saguenay watershed and the Lake Saint Jean watershed comprising 88,000 square kms. of area or an area 200 miles by 200 miles. One of the main rivers feeding this is the St. Marguerite River. Where the St. Marguerite empties into the Saguenay there is a permanent school of Beluga whales. By taking a 3 km. walk on a level path you can find yourself at the tip of a peninsula where you can sit on benches provided by the province and watch the Beluga. The St. Marguerite is not a food rich river so there is not a lot of holdover trout but it has wonderful spawning beds shared by the salmon and sea run trout. In late June we see the first arrivals of salmon followed by the coming of the trout. Salmon fishing starts on June 1st and closes on September 15th. It then closes for spawning. Sea trout can be fished until October 15th. Along the 60 plus miles of river there are about 100 marked pools or runs that may hold fish. The river is completely controlled and patrolled by the ZEC (zone of exploitation control). It is divided into zones which each contain a number of areas. Each zone is determined to be either limited or unlimited rods and is priced accordingly. To fish you need your provincial license and a permit to fish a particular zone.

A pool on the St. Marguerite

When I met Chris on the morning we planned to go fishing I was as excited as a schoolboy on his first day of school.

Me and Chris

I had planned for this day and had my rod and reel selected, flies leaders and all the miscellanea that one needs to enjoy fishing. I even remembered some bug dope and sun screen. Our first stop was to the ZEC office where we signed up for the day and paid. As we were early we paid through a slot in the wall. I did not have change, but Chris said not to worry. We could return and get the change later. We discussed the different pools and possibilities, and being smart I left any and all decision making in Chris' hands. He choose (Zone 3) and we fished. The river was up and the water was not clear. This made sight fishing impractical. I fished the currents based on Chris' instructions believing that the fish were there.

Downstream on the St. Marguerite

During the day we went to several pools and tried our luck. In the end we did not catch any fish but we did have a grand time together including a lunch cooked up by Chris. Joan joined up for lunch and we took the time to pepper Chris with all the questions we had stored up during the previous days of travel. Most questions he answered accurately and some a little less so. He told us that the forest on the other side of the river is virgin forest for as far as the eye can see. Where I live I have to drive an hour and hike for two to see virgin timber. His was able to identify all the birds we had asked about. "There are big birds that eat little birds, little brown birds and birds that eat fish". When we asked him to help with the ID of a yellow winged bird his reply was "that's a little brown bird...that's yellow". I cannot thank Chris enough for inspiring me to take this trip north. We parted ways at the end of a very successful fishing adventure. The day had everything except fish and that's not so bad.

The Saguenay at its mouth

Last night as I regaled my friends about our adventure up north I described the Saguenay as being a place that is near the edge of human dominance. It is that place where you can see into the distance and know that what is before you is wild and what is behind you is not. It is a place where you can find everything you need, but not everything you may want. It is a place where life is hard enough that those who live there depend on each other and calm enough that people are warm and friendly. We now have another couple that we are talking about taking a return trip there with. He also fishes and she loves hiking and the natural world. You can bet that we will book a few more days on the river this time. ~ Jed Proujansky

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