Monster Brook Trout on Mouse Patterns: Labrador Adventure, Part I

The brook trout jumps clear out of the river for the size 12 Stimulator skating across the surface. My line goes taut, and soon I bring the trout to hand—a 17-inch beauty that’s thick enough to go two pounds. Although it’s small for this otherworld called Labrador, it’s also the first trout of a weeklong trip, and since I hail from the Land of the 10-Inch Trophy Squaretail (aka Vermont) I’m not yet acclimated to the absurdity of the place. I consider the trout a moment longer, and then slip it back into the water. You’d better bring a pretty big net when you head into the Labrador bush in search of native brook trout.

I take in my surroundings: the stunted black spruce, dwarf birch, and lichen-laden granite and gabbro rubble along the shoreline; a forest that stretches toward the tundra hundreds of miles north from where I stand in waters that run cool and clear with that tannic tint brook trout love. In the distance, a loon calls. No, really, it does.

Labrador Bushplane
The only way to Riverkeep Lodge is by float plan.
photo by Eric Rickstad

On the next drift with the Stimulator I miss a brookie even bigger than the first, perhaps three pounds. Another “small” one. I look upriver at Mike, one of my three fishing buddies (Jim and John round out the party), and shake my head as if I am guilty of a crime just for being here. We’d trekked to Riverkeep Lodge—some 125 miles into the bush, on the Atikonak River—in search of a biblical caddisfly hatch rumored to cause brook trout up to 10 pounds to slurp size 16 dry flies with gusto.

labrador brookie2
A gorgeous 6-lb. brook trout
photo by Jim Lepage

The shoreline is heaped with so many caddisfly shucks that it looks like soggy oatmeal, but on this first day, in the 80-degree heat and glaring sun, just a smattering of caddisflies perform their dance over the water. It takes two hands to handle a whopper like this one. For native Vermonters—accustomed to palm-size fish—the sight of a brookie this size boggles the mind.

Large Drake Mayfly
They make everything bigger in Labrador
photo by Eric Rickstad

Jim has made the trip five times, and he hit the fabled caddisfly hatch once. It was so good—he claims he landed a 10-pound brookie on a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis—that he says it would be worth venturing here 10 more times just to catch it again. I’ve been on the Atikonak once before, just for three days, but long enough to know that Jim’s seemingly tall tales are true. John and Mike are new to this country, though, and until they get a taste of what this river holds, they’ll wonder if the reality of Labrador can possibly match the dream. It won’t take them long to find out.

2 thoughts on “Monster Brook Trout on Mouse Patterns: Labrador Adventure, Part I”

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