Tim Mead Fishing
|A Sutton River Brook Trout|
My huge, size 8, Turk’s Tarantula bobbed along the current, just beyond a dense weed bed. A few moments earlier Len Anderson, my canoe partner, suggested, “If you have something that will float and not get tangled in those weeds, this would be a good place to start.”
We had just begun a 10-day float trip from Haley Lake in northern Ontario, down the Sutton River (going north on the map, so it may not seem like “down” to some), 85-miles to Hudson Bay. Part of the trip would be through Polar Bear Provincial Park. There were eight of us in four canoes, all loaded with camping and fishing gear – no motels or lodges on this trip.
My fly floated a dozen feet or so when a 17-inch brook trout appeared below it and sucked it under. Maybe not the first cast of the trip, but one of the first. To the amusement of Len and Lloyd Hautajarvi and Randy Hicks in a canoe just behind us, I said, “That’s the biggest brook trout I ever hooked. That’s the biggest brook trout that ever looked at one of my flies.”
Len, who had made the trip before, assured me, “It won’t be the biggest by quite a bit.” He was more insightful than I could imagine. By the end of the half day fishing (part of the day was consumed by a float plane trip, buffeted by high head winds, from Hearst, Ontario to Hawley Lake), Len’s prediction had already been vindicated.
And I wasn’t the only one catching trophy brookies. As we set up camp and ate dinner, exultations abounded. Save Len and Stu Osthoff, our outfitter, who had made the trip before, all of us claimed to have caught “the biggest brook trout ever.” We could scarcely comprehend that each would catch more, larger ones in the days ahead.
Breaking camp each morning, including a hot breakfast, kept us from the water early. Most days we began fishing around 9:30 or 10:00. Fortunately for the early risers, Len made plenty of coffee and conversation ranged widely over places we fished in the past and hoped to fish in the future.
The first two and a half days fishing was devoted to locating trout near weed beds. Weeds waved in the current and trout were in them. On our first full day of fishing, a large, pale mayfly hatched sporadically. Water never boiled with feeding fish, but there were lots of rising trout and they loved the Turk’s Tarantula. Len maneuvered the canoe to maximize my opportunities. At times we simply drifted and each of us caught fish.
Among the brookies I caught was one that showed between weeds and a grassy bank. Len and I saw the fish rise ahead of the canoe and with Len’s encouragement I cast to the lane which would carry my fly over the location of the fish. As it neared the spot, I said, “If he’s going to take it should be just about now.” On cue, an 18-inch brookie took the floating fly under.
All day long, Len and I drifted slowly, casting to pockets in the swirling weeds. And all day long, brook trout I scarcely imagined as a youth in Michigan came to our flies. Len did not have a Turk’s Tarantula. And though I offered him one from my box, he fished with a Muddler Minnow that worked as well as my fly. Since Len periodically guided the canoe, he made fewer casts than I. On a per cast basis, however, I think he caught as many as I. Action was steady all day. Between us, we caught over 50 brook trout a little above or below 20-inches.
The next day was a mirror image of the day before.
About the fourth day of our trip, the Sutton River changed its character. Weed beds did not disappear, but they became much less common. Whereas the first few days the River changed directions gradually, now it became a typically meandering stream with sharp bends, often switching direction as much as 90-degrees at a time.
Pools at the bends now became prime holding spots for trout. And fishing seemed to become more productive and predictable. At one pool where I was wading, Dave Brewer and Tom Spence drifted through and Dave advised me, “The tail of this pool starts right here.” I took a few steps downstream, casting a large pink-and-white zonker streamer I tied to go pike fishing. In the 10-minutes I fished the tail of the pool, I caught two brook trout that in earlier days I would have marked as “all time greats,” but now I simply accepted as nice fish and released.
In addition to the pink-and-white zonker, I also fished a #8 Matuka streamer. Cast quartering downstream, stripped in six inch to one foot jerks, then allowed to swing directly below me, this technique also drew lots of brookies. If they hit on one of the jerks, the strikes were jolts.
Clearly, however, in the pools and runs between the pools, the most productive fly was any of a variety of deer hair bass bugs. When we got together for lunch or in the evening to set up camp, everyone had been catching fish on mice, Dahlberg divers, sliders, or some other deer hair pattern.
In my fly box I had eight deer hair bass bugs. All of them finished the trip destroyed – tails ripped off, clumps of hair missing, eyes gone. Eventually I was fishing what was left of the bugs as a partially buoyant streamer. Randy had a pink monstrosity deer hair popper and it was deadly.
One afternoon I stood at the edge of a pool and caught fish after fish after fish. The outfitter wanted us to keep a count of the trout we caught and I claimed 61 for the day. Len fished just upstream and around the corner from me, out of sight, and when I looked his way I could often see the bowed tip of his fly rod over the shoreline grass as he too battled trout. Two of the trout I caught in this pool were just short of 24-inches, the biggest brookies I ever caught (though others on the trip caught larger ones).
After we set up camp, just below the pool where Len and I caught so many, I was walking along the bank as Len fished. I saw a fish move across the river and I yelled to Len, “Len, a fish just moved between you and the rock where we started to catch fish this morning.”
“I can’t see the rock from here,” he answered. “There’s too much glare on the water.”
“OK, make another cast in the same direction but about 15-feet further.”
Len and I began to get razzing from others. “What happens if your 15-feet is different from his?” Ignoring the gallery, Len stripped more line and cast – perfect.
As his deer hair mouse drifted toward the rock, I said, “Ought to be right about there,” and a nice brookie rose to the offering. Shoreline hecklers cheered.
Runs between the pools also held brookies. Particularly as we moved further downstream, we began to see frequent boulders in the river. We never really had pocket water sluicing between multiple large rocks, though the boulders concentrated trout in comparable locations to rocks in pocket water. At one of the spots where we stopped for lunch, I was fishing one side of the river while others fished from the opposite bank. We caught fish, with different flies and somewhat different presentations, from the same spot below the same rocks.
On a cloudy day, as Len and I paddled downstream looking for an ideal spot to drag the canoe ashore and fish (we had long since given up on “good spots” –there were too many of them), Len asked quietly, “What’s that on the bank?”
“Where? I don’t see anything,” I answered.
“Ahead of us,” Len said. “Just a few feet below the tree line, looking right at us. In fact, coming toward us.”
With Len’s instruction, I saw it too. An arctic fox. I was pretty sure that was what it was, but I was able to confirm the identification when I got home and could check my field guides.
Gradually, the river widened and straightened. The brook trout, however, were still there and plentiful. With the same flies that worked before, we continued to catch fish. Late one afternoon, all four canoes were dragged unto the shore on a mid-river shoal. From where I stood in the river, I could see our entire group. Len was just a few yards upstream from me. As we were both battling a trout, Len said, “Look. Right now, six of us have a fish on.” He was right. Earlier I noted that Len and I were often tangled with a trout at the same time. Now, however, the group had more than merely a “double.” How many times had that happened when the others were out of sight?
Based on their earlier trips, Len and Stu determined fishing slacked off the last 20 miles of the float. So we agreed the last day would be devoted to paddling to the pick-up spot a few miles from Hudson Bay.
Stu and Kim Lulloff, in the lead, suddenly pulled their canoe to the bank. Stu yelled, “Everybody to the bank.”
Those of us in the trailing canoes asked one another, “What’s going on?”
Suddenly we saw a small polar bear splash across the River, scramble up on the bank and run into the sparse trees on the right. Stu was concerned that a frightened polar bear was not to be taken lightly and moved us aside.
A couple of miles later, a barren ground caribou thundered along the right bank and ran at least half a mile before heading into the shrubbery.
Mid-afternoon, Stu led the canoes to the bank where a small stream entered the River. “OK,” he said, “here’s a good place for everyone to catch one more fish.” We grabbed our rods and within moments each of us caught “one last fish,” some of us several times. These brook trout were as stout and eager to take our flies as any other on trip.
The closer we got to Hudson Bay, the cloudier the weather. From time-to-time, we paddled through a heavy mist. A few miles from the last camp site and the pick-up spot, on the left bank we saw a huge polar bear. Rather than paddle a few yards from the bear, Stu had us beach the canoes on an island a hundred yards from the squatting critter. We agreed. Even at that distance, the bear looked pretty big. Lots bigger than any I saw at the zoo. Given the distance and the poor light, my pictures of the bear are not sharp. Nonetheless.
We paddled around the island, avoiding a direct presentation to the bear. When we got where we might see him again, he was gone.
Last updated on August 18, 2013