Monster Brookies on Mouse Patterns: Labrador Adventure Part II

Mike and I spend the rest of the morning with Steve Murray, owner of Riverkeep Lodge, while Jim and John fish with Wilson, who has been the head guide for 15 years. His knowledge of the area is equally matched by his good humor and wit, and throughout the day, whenever Wilson is within earshot, we can hear laughing. Prospecting with drys, we catch an occasional trout, but no one lays into a really big fish. Still, with each colorful brookie, Steve shakes his head in wonder. Even for him, this place takes getting used to.

A welder and lobsterman from Maine, Steve always believed he’d own a place like this in retirement, but when he came to look at Riverkeep in 2006, he couldn’t resist. “I knew in minutes I’d buy the place,” Steve says. “I knew I might get divorced, too. But I’d buy it.” After lunch, Mike and I strip streamers in a boulder field where the river slides out of Atikonak Lake.

riverkeep sign

photo by Jim Lepage

This water will drive you mad, with its pockets and seams, foam lines, and eddies. You could easily fish one spot all afternoon. But this is Labrador, and big brookies—carnivorous opportunists that they are—usually eat your fly right away. So you tell yourself to keep moving. As my Black Leech sweeps behind a boulder, I feel the tug that sends a jolt of adrenaline to the heart. Steve sees it. “Big fish!” The brookie splashes at the surface, a gaudy red slab. “Five pounds, at least!” Steve shouts. Suddenly, the fish is off. I shake my head, this time at the thrill of having such a fish on, at the fact that they are even here.

Later, Mike and I ask John and Jim how they did. John smiles, shakes his head. It’s going around, this head-shaking syndrome. He caught a beautiful three-and-half-pound, pumpkin-bellied male on an Irresistible. A trout like that, in near-spawning colors, seriously affects men who consider the best of their boyhood days as those spent rock-hopping freestone brooks for the six-inch kin of these Labrador giants. “I landed that trout and was shaking,” John says. “I had to sit down. Take it in—the fish, where we are. I’ve wanted to catch a brook trout like that all my life. I told Wilson, ‘I’m good. I’m done.’”

john's first labrador brookie
John’s first Labrador Brookie
photo by Jim Lepage

For the next several days, we catch more big brook trout than perhaps we have the right to. Then again, there are stretches of days and of river where we fish hard without moving a squaretail. But, at these times, when the sun blazes and the brookies grow sullen, we worry not. Besides, the Atikonak offers more treasures than its squaretails. There are landlocked salmon, lake trout, and pike, all of which run to preposterous sizes. Even the whitefish break five pounds.

One day, John and I catch pike for our shore lunch. What a riot to know that in any slack water on the river you can catch pike, big pike, at will. Mike catches several lakers in the river, and one morning, casting a small CDC caddis in shin-deep shallows, he hooks a salmon that, before it breaks off, looks to be all of seven pounds. “I’d like to get that one back,” Mike says later, as he shakes his head. Then there are the 15-pound lakers in a cove on the lake. Having these behemoths bend your 5-weight’s tip to the butt is a kick, and a splendid way to while away a hot, glaring afternoon among friends.

Like many rivers in the region, the Atikonak is really a series of interconnected lakes, with rapids in between. Over the week we will shake our heads at caribou stags that amble the shoreline to browse; at osprey that scream from the sky to knife into the river for trout; at bald eagles that feed their young in their colossal nests; and at a staggering vein of pink quartz, three feet wide, that runs through granite clear across the river and into the forest for who knows how far.

Sunset on the Atikonak River
Photo by Jim Lepage

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  1. Pingback: Photos of the Day: Stephen's Big Labrador Landlocks | Orvis News

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