Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Unbelievable brook trout fishing in Labrador
On August 18, Attorney Michael Shepard, of Dalton, and I joined eight other fly fishermen and departed for Labrador, Canada to fish for brook trout. Our destination was Coopers Lodge, which sits on a peninsula on Anne Marie Lake in the Minipi River system that flows north to the Churchill River and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean. Anne Marie Lake is approximately five miles long. The Minipi has been written up frequently in national outdoor sports magazines, and is touted as having the largest brook trout in the world with catches averaging five pounds apiece.
The brook trout there are a unique strain and have been the subject of various genetic studies over the years. The late Lee Wulff first brought it to our attention when he brought Curt Gowdy and ABC's The American Sportsman show crew to film them fishing there in the 1960s. Wulff's 1939 admonition that "a sport fish is too valuable to be caught only once" was really evident there.
Wulff felt that the size of these fish was based on the food source. The water is organically and chemically suited to support rich quantities of insect life. The lakes are shallow enough to let sunlight reach their beds and warm things to great productivity, in spite of the short four-month growing season. Biologists believe the fish, which have evolved over thousands of years of natural selection, gain one pound per year feeding on the 26 varieties of mayflies and many caddisflies in the Minipi water system. Every now and then the guides tag some trout and one of them traveled 70 miles to the Kenamu River in Labrador/Newfoundland. Another trout that was tagged in the Minipi river system had traveled 15 miles in one week.
We wanted to catch some. The trip was arranged by fly fishing guide Marla Blair of Ludlow, and was coordinated by Michael Miller of Athol. Also joining us was Gary Hebert of Richmond, N.H. (The four of us had previously fished Lake Tierny together in Quebec two years ago). Accompanying Mike Miller was his son Darren, of Bedford, his grandson Brandon Jones, also of Athol, William Waight of Westminster and Ron Amidon of Templeton. Dr. Robert (Bob) Wilson of Naples, Fla. and Michael Lange of Newton, Penn., joined us a day later.
Lorraine and Jack Cooper have been operating camps on the Minipi river system for nearly 40 years following Wulff's philosophy of Catch & Release. They monitor anglers' catches in notebooks, listing the weight, location, fly and angler's name. The Coopers have two lodges, one on Minipi Lake and the other on Anne Marie Lake. We stayed at Anne Marie, the newest one, built in 2011. It was absolutely gorgeous.
We took off from Boston and spent the first evening in Goose Bay, Labrador. The following morning we flew by Twin Otter float plane to our destination camp on Anne Marie Lake, some 25 minutes south of Goose Bay. Upon arrival, we met our guides (one guide per two anglers, rotated daily). The camp boss was Ray Best and he had a team of excellent guides: Todd, Ralph, Herb, Junior, Hebert and Wadsworth. All resided in the Goose Bay area. We met the cook, Nancy from Quebec, and cleaning lady, Dru (Wadsworth's wife). We immediately unpacked, ate a light lunch, suited up and were out fishing that afternoon.
Fortunately, I can report that no bear attacks, calamities or other fearful events took place on this trip. The only injury sustained was by Bill Waight and that was a hand injury. He hurt it banging on the wall one night, trying to quell the loud snoring of a guy in the next room. The next morning he was seen checking out the lodge rafters to see which was strong enough to hang the snorer.
Incidentally, the largest brookie of the trip was caught by Bill, a newcomer to the sport that has only fly fished for a year-or-so. One afternoon while fishing the Little Minipi River, he sat down on a flat rock along the edge of the river to take a rest. He drifted a mouse patterned fly downstream and, don't you know, a big fish hit it and he caught an eight-pounder! That's ironic in itself, but the real interesting part is that his guide had forgotten to bring his big net. The only thing available was a five-gallon pail and, after some effort, they caught it using the pail.
That night the more experienced fly fishermen were checking out that same rafter to string Bill up.
I developed a case of the shakes early on. For a while I thought it was the DT's from perhaps drinking too much wine at dinner but it turned out to be caused by something else. Gary, Ron and I were the early morning risers and Gary usually made the coffee. That coffee was so strong it could get up and pour itself. The shakes disappeared when I eased up on Gary's coffee.
We saw some interesting sights. One morning a moose passed within 25 feet of our lodge, munched a while and then he swam away to another area. On another morning there was a spectacular rainbow. One evening, we all piled out onto the lodge deck to witness the aurora borealis (northern lights) while being entertained by the melodic call of a loon in the distance. In Labrador, you get up close and personal with the northern lights and loons. Daily we were entertained by shore scoters, eagles and ospreys.
It didn't take long for some of us to connect with the large brookies, and there were six or eight big ones in the five to seven pound category caught that first afternoon by Mike Miller, Ron and Gary. Fish under three pounds weren't even counted.
The weather couldn't have been better, with sunny skies and temperatures into the 70s. The only time that we got wet was when we were returning to the base camp crossing the lake. Often the waves were good-sized and would splash over the bows of our boats, drenching us.
I cannot speak more highly about the Cooper Camp on Anne Marie Lake. The 6,000 square foot lodge accommodations are truly outstanding, the food was great, the staff and guides were wonderful and the brookies really do average five pounds. If you are thinking about going, check out its website for prices, etc. (http://www.minipi.com). Allow yourself some time, for there is a waiting time of 12 to 18 months.
So did everyone catch lots of fish? I'll tell you about one who didn't next week.
Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: 413-637-1818.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.