Points North: On a whim and a cast

Shawn's fished the wild trout streams of the North Shore for years, but there are always new places to explore
Shawn's fished the wild trout streams of the North Shore for years, but there are always new places to explore

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You can only go so far on a couple of chocolate chip cookies. Tossing two cookies in your pocket, skipping breakfast and then hiking and fishing along a remote north country trout stream until 4 p.m. is too far. We contemplated this hungry truth as we wolfed down sandwiches upon returning to the truck after a long, hard fish.

Even if we had eaten breakfast before heading up river that morning, we'd still be as hungry, sweaty and dead-tired as we were now. But starting with breakfast beats nibbling on chocolate chip cookies hands down. Carrying a sandwich is better still.

The trout fishing was good enough to hold your interest. Several hours of daylight remained. Refueled, we were ready to get back on the water. So we climbed into the truck and went exploring.

We've fished the wild trout streams of Ontario's North Shore for years, but there are always new places to explore. The river we were fishing flowed through mountainous, heavily forested terrain that was dauntingly difficult to traverse. Several miles upstream, two power lines crossed the river, and we'd heard a rough, maintenance road provided access. On a whim, the power lines became our destination.

In Minnesota, backroading is a pretty tame experience. Most forest roads are graded at least once a year. Every tote road and goat trail is named and marked with street signs. Signs tell you where to turn to reach boat accesses, snowmobile trails, hiking trails and who knows what. This is not what you find in the Ontario bush. Rough, unmarked roads, most of which haven't seen a grader or a gravel truck in decades, lead off in all directions.

Lacking a map, we drove the highway until we found a side road headed north. As bush roads go, it appeared well used. A little more than a mile from the highway we come to several cottages on the shore of a small lake. The road ended there. So we went back to the highway and tried the next forest road. We followed it through the woods and around a small lake before reaching the power lines. The road followed the power lines and was newly rebuilt with a thick overlay of fresh gravel. When the road eventually turned away from the power lines, the new road continued down the line right-of-way. We followed it for a mile or so before reaching an impassable washout. We were a long way from the river, so we turned around and went back to the forest road.

It looped around, came back to the power lines, then turned and again reached a dead end at cottages on a lake. This time, a fellow stepped out from one of the cottages, curious to see who was turning around in his drive. I asked him how to reach the river.

"Go back to the power line," he said. "Park there and walk. Your truck won't make it on the road. It's a kilometer and a half--about a mile--to the river."

And where should we fish?

"Go downstream to the first rapids. You'll see it from the snowmobile bridge."

We followed his directions, parking at the power line and walking along a maintenance road that did winter duty as a snowmobile trail. As the man said, the road was not fit for pickup trucks. He was also correct about the distance. We reached the river after walking about a mile.

Standing on the snowmobile bridge, we could see the rapids just downstream. Along the bank we found a path. We followed it to the rapids, which tumbled into huge pool. This was the fishing hole.

Without saying much, we split up. I waded down the rapids to the head of the pool while my friend went around on the bank to fish the lower portion. I stood on some big boulders where the current entered the pool, dropping into deep, dark water. Looking for steelhead, I tried artificial salmon eggs, but had no bites.

Looking downstream, I saw my friend battling a fish, so I waded over to see how he was doing. He’d landed a steelhead and missed a couple of strikes. The pool was so large and deep I wondered what fish other than steelhead might be swimming there. Unfortunately, I had only my trout gear along, which didn't include any artificial lures, aside from a couple of French spinners. Using one, maybe I could fool a walleye or northern pike.

I tied on a spinner and cast throughout the pool, but again had no strikes. We decided to walk downstream and look other places to fish. The path along the bank petered out and we found ourselves climbing over endless blow downs. We didn't go very far before deciding to save further exploration for another day.

Satisfied that we’d caught a fish in the new place, we decided to head for the truck. But I couldn't resist making one last cast into the tail out of the big pool as we passed by. I had a hard strike in the deep water along the outside edge of the current and connected with a good-sized fish. Soon I saw it was a large brook trout.

How large? In Minnesota, any stream brookie weighing more than a pound is considered big. This fish was an honest three-pounder. I lifted it from the water with my hand, hoping to hold and admire the fish long enough to measure its length and perhaps take a picture. But it slippery and slid from my hand, disappearing in the river. All I could do was laugh. On a whim and a cast and two chocolate chip cookies, I’d had a pretty good day.

Airdate: June 3, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mampfred via Flickr.

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