These stories are in my book, A Lifetime Of Hunting and Fishing, published by North Country Press. My three trips to the Leaf River were amazing fishing adventures, and I encourage you to put the Leaf on your life’s list for a visit.
As an old brook trout fisherman, I can only hope heaven is as good as this place. When death darkens my door, perhaps my eyes will suddenly open on the Leaf River, with only an eternity of fishing ahead. Hallelujah!
The fishing at this northern Quebec River is as good as it gets, with brook and lake trout plus the bonus of an occasional Atlantic salmon.
Because I’m an outdoor writer, associated with a TV production company and a travel agency, and executive director of Maine’s largest sportsmen’s organization, I’ve been blessed with many free trips to Alaska, Montana, Quebec and Labrador. In fact, I’d been to the Leaf in 2005 on a free trip to produce TV shows with Harry Vanderweide, host of Northeast Journal.
Normally I don’t return to a place, because there are always new places available, for free. In fact, I’ve never paid for a fishing trip out of state before. But this year, I returned to the Leaf – and I paid for the trip. That’s how much I love this river.
If trout fishing was an Olympic event, the Leaf River is where you’d hold it. This big river in the northern tundra is a world-class venue. Let me tell you about one morning when we fished “the funnel,” perhaps my favorite place on the river.
Our excellent and experienced guide, Serge, put us ashore about 200 yards below this spot where the river narrows sharply, a mountain of water rushing through and over huge boulders, quiet deep pools of fish along the shore. I hiked to the top of the funnel, passing a complete set of caribou antlers, weathered on the shore right where the animal had dropped them.
The Leaf gives you a lot more than fish. Migrating caribou trot across the tundra, then swim the river – often right where you are fishing. One morning we saw a beautiful silver wolf – swimming across a very wide place in the river. We boated up to him for photos. What a thrill! Musk ox and even black bears are sometimes seen beside the river.
But of course, it’s the fishing that brought me back and this particular morning at the top of the funnel will tell you why. A ripple of water flowed about five feet from shore and I casually cast a muddler in brook trout colors. Pow! A huge trout burst through the surface and grabbed the fly. The fight was on, and he took me well into the backing as my 5-weight rod had all the fish it could handle.
When the trout was finally at my feet, I lifted it with my boga grip to check the weight: a hefty 3 ½ pounds. It is no exaggeration to say the next seven casts caught seven trout between 1 ½ and 3 ½ pounds. They all rose to take the muddler on the surface.
Stepping up river about 20 yards to check out the quiet pool at the top of this run, I gasped. Huge trout lay all over the pool. Switching to a dry fly, a large Royal Wulf, I was astonished to see, as soon as it settled on the water, three gigantic trout rise to fight over it.
That pool produced 50 trout for me in about 2 hours of heavenly angling – none smaller than 1 ½ pounds. Many were 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds. One was more memorable than the others. He looked big when he splashed to the surface to gobble my fly, and he took me down river in the rapids very quickly, breaking my tippet and stealing my Royal Wulf – the only one in my fly box.
Forced to try other flies, I found a few that attracted these trout – but none as successful as the Royal Wulf. About a half hour later, another huge trout rose to take a large Stimulator, and he too headed quickly into the rapids. But this time I skipped along the shore and kept up with him. After a ten minute battle, he was at my feet – the biggest trout I’d seen in this river – and I carefully photographed him lying in the water, then used the boga grip to check his weight: 4 pounds!
While his weight and girth were surprising, the biggest surprise came when I grabbed the fly to remove it from his jaw. As my fingers reached for the fly, I stared at it in confusion. I was looking at my Royal Wulf – not the stimulator I’d cast! It was the Royal Wulf that I’d lost about a half hour earlier! On one side of his jaw was my Royal Wulf, and on the other side, the Stimulator. This was the same fish I’d broken off earlier.
I reattached the Wulf to my line and got back to catching trout on every cast.
One other fish in that pool was memorable. A large lake trout could be seen in the pool – and it chased the trout on my line quite often, sometimes grabbing my trout and fighting for them. Finally, I tied on a large green bass fly and tossed it into the current. On the first drift the laker grabbed it, and the fight was on. I landed him about ten minutes later. He weighed six pounds.
Although the Leaf is famous for its brookies – what they call “speckles” – the river also offer the challenge of lake trout – a tough, strong fish that will give you all the fight you can stand. One day I broke off four big lakers. If you catch a smallish trout – 2 pounds on this river – oftentimes a laker will grab it and fight you for it.
I won’t soon forget one of these lakers. He chased a small trout up to my feet, grabbed it before I could, and took off across the river, as I struggled to stop him. About 150 yards out, he actually broke my line. He wasn’t hooked. He just wouldn’t let go of that brookie. After landing six lakers from 6 to 7 pounds, and breaking off four larger lakers, I can tell you that some of your most remarkable fish will be lake trout.