It’s no idle boast that the Nipigon River is the planet’s greatest brook trout fishery. The world record brookie (also called speckled trout) was caught here, on a fly, in July of 1915. This enormous fish weighed 14 pounds, 8 ounces, and that record has stood the test of time. Today, nearly one hundred years later, people travel from all over the globe to fish for the Nipigon’s giant brookies.
Why do brookies grow so big in the Nipigon? It comes down to a perfect mix of genetics and environment. Nature has seen fit to make the Nipigon brook trout the fastest growing, and largest strain, of its species. These fish are also incredibly beautiful, with blood red fins, an orange belly and a flank dappled with scarlet dots and purple halos. It’s the royal bloodline of brookies. No wonder the Nipigon brook trout has been highly desirable for re-stocking lakes and rivers throughout Ontario.
Why is the 48-km-long Nipigon River uniquely suited to growing big trout? As Lake Superior’s largest tributary, it drains water from Lake Nipigon, an enormous ice cold lake nearly untouched by pollution and development which has driven brook trout away from so many other bodies of water. As a result, Nipigon is an ideal haven for wild trout.
Perhaps the most important factor is the amount of food available for these Nipigon brookies. They gorge year-round on baitfish such as sculpin, stickleback and smelt. In June, the first hatches of aquatic insects start to show: stoneflies, then mayfly and caddis. At times, the river is fully alive with insects and the dimples and boils created by football-shaped trout lapping them off the water’s surface. A fly angler’s dream!
Despite its legendary status, the Nipigon River has seen some change since the early 1900s. Back then, anglers had miles of rapids and pools to fish, most of them brimming with trout. But three massive hydroelectric dams have drowned most of the historic white water areas. The river still has a significant current and a few small rapids, but it is not the untamed river it once was. Still, brook trout have adapted readily and thrive today.
Hook the trout of a lifetime
Looking for a challenge? Due to its size and depth, the Nipigon River proves testy for fly anglers. However, with a few adjustments, just about any angler can potentially connect with the trout of a lifetime. It’s helpful that the river is large enough for a boat and many anglers prefer to fly fish from one. The boat driver will holdthe craft in the current while the angler casts from the bow. In some parts of the river, you can drop anchor and work flies along the edges of the river and behind rocks where trout will hold in the current. Due to its depth and speed, the Nipigon is not the friendliest river in which to wade, but in certain sections, it can be done. The lower portion, below Alexander’s dam has several areas perfect for this. And some of the very largest trout are caught by anglers who throw dry flies from shore. Brook trout can hold in remarkably shallow water, especially when they are feeding on terrestrial insects.
The fly gear needed for the Nipigon is a little heavier than what you would normally use for small stream brook trout. Many trout anglers who travel from others parts of Canada to fish the Nipigon are under gunned. The water is deep and swift, and the fish can grow to impressive size. However, for this big water, a 10-foot-long, 7- or 8-weight fly rod will usually do the job. A floating, weight-forward line is perfect for dry fly fishing and weighted streamer flies also help to land many big trout. To get to the fish that are deep in the river, use a sink tip or full sink line. This is not always easy, but deeply fished stonefly and streamer patterns catch a lot of fish each year. Bring a selection of flies, and don’t be afraid to go big. Nipigon brook trout are known to eat mice and squirrels that decide to go for a swim.
Speaking of wildlife, the Nipigon River watershed is also home to ducks, geese, cormorants, osprey, deer, moose and even bear. Other fish species in the lower portion include rainbow trout, lake trout, chinook salmon and northern pike. In the fall, when the salmon are running, it’s not unusual to see one hundred eagles in a day below Alexander’s dam. This dam is easily accessed by Pine Portage Road, 20 km north of Nipigon. (OPTIONAL TRIM FROM HERE You can sometimes see the spray of the dam before you see the actual structure.
Fly anglers looking for a guide, a place to stay, should check out the historic Quebec Lodge, located near the town of Red Rock. This rustic lodge, with a spectacular view of Lake Superior and Nipigon Bay offers fine food, nice rooms, knowledgeable guides and a spectacular view of Lake Superior and Nipigon Bay. TO HERE)
One last thing: the size and bag regulations on the Nipigon River, as well as Lake Nipigon and Lake Superior, are strict and conservative. No angler may kill a Nipigon brookie under 22 inches in length. The bag limit on the brook trout here is just one fish. This regulation protects the majority of the spawning-aged brook trout and has helped the brookies rebound after drastic over fishing 40 years ago. These days, most trout anglers carefully release their fish back to the river. The fact is, for many anglers, a trophy Nipigon brook trout is one of Ontario’s most precious natural resources.
One of the river’s more knowledgeable anglers and guides, is Randy Beamish of Thunder Bay. Beamish says there is no place he’d rather spend a day. “It is the history of the river and the fact it is where the world record fish came from,” says Beamish, a Thunder Bay resident. “There is a special aura knowing you are fishing the waters where the record came from trout was caught -- and possibly exists today.” And when you look at the last 100 years, the brookie is really a much too beautiful fish to land just once.