Nipigon River – Salvelinus Summer Solstice
Nipigon. It’s the wet dream of brook trout fishing. So many trophy brook trout (salvelinus fontinalis) are caught here that it’s impossible to begin to describe the experience. Imagine yourself slowly cruising around a lake, tossing large bucktail jigs and crankbaits for 5 and 6 pound smallmouth bass. Now, step into an alternate universe and switch the bass out for Monster brook trout. To put things into persepective, in 1915, Dr. JW Cook from Fort William (Thunder Bay) caught the world record brook trout here. 14.5 pounds, and 31.5 inches in length. That same day, another angler landed a brook trout weighing 14 lbs. Let that sink in for a minute. Two 14 pound brook trout in one day. That’s what Nipigon is all about.
The Nipigon river lies about an hour east and north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It spills out of enormous Lake Nipigon through Forgan Lake and over the first of several dams on the river, Pine Portage Dam.
Traveling by boat north through Jessie Lake, through split rock rapids and finally ending up at Pine Portage Dam really makes one wonder what this river would have looked like over a hundred years ago, prior to the Hydro Electric dams that now hold back water. Your depth finder will show astonishing depths just a few meters from the rock faces that encompass the river. Well over 100 feet in many places.
Watch: Boating Through Split Rock Rapids/Canyon
Nipigon – Its Not Only About Brook Trout
While the main draw to the Nipigon area is the real possibility of catching a trophy brook trout, numerous other species of sport fish are readily available, and grow to trophy sizes. Whitefish, Lake Trout and Northern Pike are all present in the system. Walleye were once an abundant species, but their numbers have declined rapidly and there is currently no open season on walleye in the Nipigon River/Jessie Lake area.
We planned this trip around the summer solstice, to maximize our daylight hours so we could fish more than we sat around the fire sipping ice cubes drenched in whiskey in the evenings. On our first day of fishing, within earshot of our camp, Amanda managed to coax a chubby lake Whitefish up from the depths with a soft plastic bait on a 1/2 ounce jig. Not our target fish, but she had no complaints at all.
The main game in this area for trout using spinning and casting gear is tossing oversized Bucktail Jigs. Cast towards shore, rock faces, structure, etc., sink for a few seconds, then jerk the lure back towards the boat. Vary the speed of your retrieve until you figure out what the fish want to chase. This 25 inch lake trout hit the jig on the drop and ran like hell once it figured out it was hooked.
In the same spot we were anchored, minutes later, Amanda had the rod nearly yanked from her hands when a feisty Northern Pike nailed a red and yellow bucktail close to the boat. A short fight later and the fish was in the net and brought aboard for a quick grip and grin before being released.
At one point, we were slowly crawling along a rock face with a steep drop into 80 feet of water. I was steering the boat while Amanda was casting and retrieving along the way. I’d let my jig drop to about 30 feet down, where the fish finder was marking fish as we moved along. My rod tip dropped and the thumping of the rod in my hand began. Telltale sign of a decent lake trout. After playing the fish for a few minutes, Amanda slipped the net underneath and hauled it into the boat. A chunky 27 inch Laker.
Over the course of the days we spent at Jessie Lake, we had dozens of monster brook trout chase our flies, jigs and lures to the boat. Heart stopping moments for a brook trout junkie. Amanda would eventually boat the largest of the brook trout. A plump fish just over 20 inches. Not a record breaker, but a fish of a lifetime for many.