Well, here’s another lengthy post as I continue work through content from this past season. This year turned out to be quite a bit different than seasons past. While I still spent time fishing my usual haunts, especially for the major hatches, I spent considerably more time than usual fishing different rivers (and lakes), in different ways. Below is a recap of much of my 2022 trout season, roughly organized by time of year.
Early Season: Brookies & Backcountry
As is typical for me, opening week and most of May was spent pursuing Ontario’s jewel of the north: Brook Trout. This is the time of year when the water is the cold and high – a perfect combination for fishing brook trout. While there’s certainly a group of likeminded anglers out there with the same idea, the vast majority of them are either fishing the tail end of spring steelhead, or off to their favorite Brown Trout rivers.
I fished mostly smaller streams for brookies this year (not including Algonquin). In fact, I may not have made a single trip to the Credit for brookies all season, which I think is a first for me. Regardless what I’m chasing, I always go out of my way to escape the crowds – and I managed to do just that.
These first few small stream outings produced some unusually colorful little brookies for early season, which was a real treat. I especially enjoy the very different coloration from different streams and habitats – brookies, more than any other trout, seem to really adapt their colors to the water they’re living in. Fishing with a 2 or 3 weight, they’re always a joy to catch.
With resident trout season now wrapped up, this will be the first of a series of posts I’ll be writing as I work through a backlog of content from 2022. This particular trip happened in May of this year.
It’s been several years since my last backcountry trips. Although I had full intentions on returning to spend more time exploring and fishing in recent years, my plans were ultimately derailed by a major knee injury, a canoe partner moving away, COVID and… several other poor exuses.
With my knee repaired, rehabbed and stronger than ever – I decided to scrap the excuses and head out on my own solo backcountry adventure for the first time this May. This wouldn’t be your Average Joe’s first solo backcountry adventure though – but a 6 day, ~70 km loop (closer to 100 km with double carries and detours) with 12 portages, one being the longest in the park (5.5 km). The goal, aside from enjoying the scenery and peace and quiet, would be getting into some brookies.
You could definitely argue that I overdid it for my first solo trip – my family certainly thought so. But, what I lacked in experience, I made up for in (a lot of) planning and preparation. I poured over maps, created detailed day by day trip, time and meal plans – and attempted to perfect my gear/load as much as possible. However, try as I did, I simply could not find a way to cut it down enough to allow for single carries on the portages.
My route would be : Opeongo ➔ Proulx ➔ Big Crow ➔ Lavieille ➔ Dickson ➔ Opeongo (with a bunch of smaller lakes and rivers in between). With double carries, I would be covering a total of 30 km on the portages alone. I’d start off on a couple lakes that I visited in the past, continuing on to some of the more picturesque areas of the park, with some opportunities for casting a fly rod. Given I was doing this solo in May, when the water was still cold, I again opted to use Algonquin Outfitters’ water taxi service to bypass Lake Opeongo.
What follows is a fairly detailed recollection of my trip. It’s going to be a long one, so grab a cup of coffee before diving in.
Day 1: Opeongo to Big Crow
I left home early AM and arrived at the Algonquin Outfitters Opeongo access point plenty early to set off for the north arm of Lake Opeongo by 12:00 noon. I picked up a couple last minute items in the store while they strapped the canoe I rented (a 15′ Swift Solo Keewaydin) to the water taxi. As I had come to expect from previous backcountry trips, the weather was predictably cold and rainy on my first day. I think it’s a way for mother nature to prepare you for what’s to come… if you can survive and enjoy the first day, the rest of the trip will probably be a breeze!
Apparently it’s been nearly two years since my last post – yet, while so much has changed in that time, there really hasn’t been much to write about. Such is the life of being stuck at home during COVID. I do have some content from last year that I may eventually get to posting – but none of it is as important as the topic at hand.
Let me get right to the point:
The proposed Erin Wastewater Treatment Plant is threatening to drastically impact the health of the native Brook Trout populations on the West Credit River.
This is not a new subject, but it is one that is continuing to gain traction and importance. Before attempting to give my own opinion, I highly suggest you check out the Coalition for the West Credit River. This group of concerned organizations, including Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton Fly Fishing Club, Ontario Streams and more, have put together a wealth of factual information on the subject.
Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post! If I had a dollar for every blogger who’s written that, I’d be a very rich man. I have mounds of photos and some half-written posts that never got published from the last couple of months, but it would be tedious to give a full recap. So instead, I’ll just give a summary of what I’ve been up to and share a few pics and stories.
There’s no better place to start than the Credit. It is still, after all, where I spend most of my time on the water. In my experience, the river has fished quite well this year (aside from some warm spells that is). The last of the large broodstock Atlantics that were stocked in the upper river a couple years ago seems to have finally cleared out and I’ve been seeing a catching a good number of both brook trout and brown trout on the main branch. Lots of smaller browns and brookies as well, which is nice to see.
Of course, there are still the small Atlantics that continue to be stocked and there are also a curiously high number of rainbows being caught this year. I would say the rainbows are the biggest difference in the river. If the MNR and CVC are concerned about brook trout populations, this is the fish they need to worry about, not the brown trout. I’ve heard they are likely still escaping from ponds in Erin, although I’m pretty sure they’re also reproducing in larger numbers as well. In addition to the usual smaller catches, I have caught a few larger rainbows this year as well, which is quite unusual.
So, unsurprisingly, many of my outings this year have had me catching 3 to 4 different species, sometimes in the same pool.
It’s been far too long since my last post. Fall and Winter have come and gone and another new trout season is finally upon us. If it weren’t obvious from my lack of updates, I did nothing spectacular (from a fishing standpoint) during my annual resident trout layoff. October to May has become the busiest months of the year for us, mainly due to three children becoming ever increasingly active in sports. It happens to work out perfectly though… the sports wind up as trout season is finishing and they wind down as the next trout season arrives. It helps keep the mind off fishing, when there’s no fishing to be had.
Unlike the rivers, this season has started off pretty slow for me (due the the winding down part mentioned above). In the time I have found to get out, I’ve stuck close to home – repeating my tradition of avoiding the more overcrowded rivers in favor of small stream brookies.
Fishing small streamers for brookies on a frigid opening day.
It’s hard to believe there’s only a couple weeks left of spring. I’ve spent quite a bit of it on the river this year, albeit with a somewhat different focus than normal. Some of this can be attributed to the excess of high, dirty water we’ve seen this spring – although my knee, my (sometimes stubborn) sense of exploration and Atlantic Salmon can all take part of the credit (no pun intended).
Early spring was largely spent pursuing brook trout on small, quiet streams. The MNR dumped an undisclosed number of adult/broodstock Atlantic Salmon into the upper Credit this year, including some previously brook trout only sections of river. This drew an unprecedented number of new anglers to the river – some with good intentions and others, not so much. The fact that these fish were dumped into some of the smaller brookie-only waters (which were already sensitive to over-fishing and predation) had me pretty unhappy about the state of things on the Credit, so I stayed clear of that area for a while.
I spent the duration of the 2016 trout season fishing without an ACL in my right knee. It took nine months after injuring it last January to get an MRI, be referred to a specialist and have reconstructive surgery scheduled. If any good came of the long wait, it was that my surgery was scheduled for October 5th – just five days after the end of trout season.
For the last week, I’ve been confined to a couch in my living room where I’ve relocated my computer and enough conveniences to keep me entertained. The first couple weeks of post-op will be mainly resting and icing my knee in between physiotherapy, leaving a lot of time to waste watching Netflix and messing around on my computer. It’s a long healing process, but if all goes well, I hope to be back on the water for trout opener next May, not missing a beat.
With lots of time to waste, I’ve been going through and organizing some of my old photos. As I browsed through my mess of fishing pictures, I realized how much we favor celebrating larger fish, with the smaller ones rarely making it into the spotlight. It’s understandable how we’re all drawn pictures of large fish, but it’s the rest that keep us entertained on slow days. In fact, we spend the vast majority of our time on the water catching small fish, helping us learn and fine-tune our fly fishing skills so that perhaps one day we’ll come back to catch grown-up versions of the very same fish we release.
So this post is dedicated to this season’s smaller, often overlooked unsung heroes of fly fishing. Without these little guys, fly fishing would a whole lot more dull. As it happens, these fish by and large inhabit the most picturesque environments that can be found. In Southern Ontario, our Brook Trout are the real gems of our cold water rivers and it’s no surprise that most of the fish here are Brookies.
Colorful small stream brook trout caught on a new budget Echo Carbon 2wt rod.
There’s never a dull season fly fishing in Southern Ontario, for better or for worse. This year began with moderate temperatures, average water levels and lots of bug activity – just about perfect conditions for fly fishing. I was casting to big Brown Trout rising to large bugs on the surface and our local streams were teeming with native Brook Trout. Unfortunately, a severe lack of rain (the worst I can recall in recent history) and high temperatures led to low water levels and few insects for the second half of the season. My beloved Brookie streams were reduced to mere trickles, where the only signs of life were leftovers from the tens of thousands of hatchery raised Atlantic Salmon juveniles that had since taken over. Even Smallmouth Bass were struggling on many rivers.
Still, on the upper Credit River, solid numbers of both large and small trout were being caught throughout the season. Cool evenings and the many cold springs that feed the Credit kept temperatures safe for much of the season. Of course, in extremely low, clear water with little bug activity, fishing becomes difficult during daylight hours. More often than not, the fish are completely inactive – hiding in undercut banks, vegetation and under logs, waiting for the cover of dark. This is especially true for Brown Trout and it happens to be ideal conditions for night fishing.
Fishing past dark on a brighter than normal evening, thanks to a near-full harvest moon.
For the most part, my night fishing has become less intentional than in years past. Aside from a few planned late-night outings with friends, most of my night fishing has simply been the result of fishing a couple hours before dark, then refusing to leave after that magic half-hour window when the action just starts to pick up. Some years are better than others and I can recall a couple seasons ago spending a significant amount of time fishing past dark with little to no results. This has been no such year.
A large Brown Trout caught after dark on the closing day of trout season.
Actually, it’s Mother’s Day… but damn those Hendrickson hatches have been thick lately!
Trout season kicked off a couple weeks ago and I’ve been uncharacteristically slow to take advantage of it. I injured my knee over the winter (torn ACL) and thanks to our great free healthcare system, I’ve made little to no progress in getting it treated or even looked at yet. I’m sure those who know me are sick of hearing me complain about it. Anyway, it’s had me sidelined and will no doubt continue to affect the type of fishing I’m able to do this season. That said, I’m pretty stubborn and have already found myself scaling beaver dams and hiking terrain much more rugged than I should have been.
My few outings so far have once again been dedicated to brook trout on small streams, something I just never get tired of. For me, the allure of these fish lies in their diversity and in the environments they inhabit. Small, cold, clean headwaters streams that are often overgrown and difficult to present a fly to provide a constant challenge. Every fish is a treat as no two are alike and while the smaller fish are usually eager to take a fly, the largest southern Ontario brookies are truly elusive.
I fished the last couple evenings and at times the Hendrickson hatches were very thick. In fact, they seem to be the thickest I can recall in the last several years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on the water for a really good spinner fall yet, but the fish are keying in on them nonetheless.
Hendrickson from a fairly thick hatch on a small stream.
Each evening has produced a dozen or so trout, with many missed rises and brook trout juveniles attacking my fly with reckless abandon. At times the abundance of smaller fish can be detrimental to catching a larger fish that is holding in the same water, since the smaller fish will dart to your fly without a second thought. The result is the larger fish being put down after hooking the smaller one. This has certainly been the case a few times already this season for me.
An average, colorful small stream brookie from the weekend.
I also had a run-in with yet another Pike in a large slow hole on one of my favorite local streams. I was casting to brookies when I noticed something very large swaying back and forth at the bottom of the pool. From its long slender body, it was immediately obvious that it was a Pike: around 5-6 lbs. In an attempt to remove it from the stream, I cut the tippet off my leader and managed to sink a large streamer in front of the pike’s nose and hook it. It wasted no time in abusing my flimsy 3 weight and excess fly line slack and wrapped my line around a sunken tree. Needless to say, it’s still terrorizing the brookies in that hole.
I’m hoping to get some Hendrickson spinners tied in the next day or so and get back out while the hatches are still good. I may need to pack a heavier rod as well and pay that pike another visit.
Anyone who’s had the fortune to discover the beauty and allure of fly fishing the Upper Credit River for wild Brown and Brook Trout in years past surely has a heavy heart when they consider its current situation. The Upper Credit has always been a touchy subject. For decades, merely saying the name around those who fished it would result in a visible tightening of their lips. Today, you’re more likely to trigger a two hour rant about how the MNR and other groups have decimated the river with their misguided Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program and lack of focus on restoration and maintenance of the existing wild trout fishery.
A peaceful stretch on the Upper Credit River, now overrun with 4-6″ Atlantic Salmon juveniles.
In an effort to start things off on a more positive note, I want to share a couple great videos that my friend Steve Noakes compiled, sharing some of his fly fishing experiences on the Upper Credit River over the years. He’s a strong advocate for protecting what we have on the Credit River today and has been heavily involved in numerous conservation groups and restoration projects. If you ever doubted whether the Credit has a wild Brown Trout fishery worth protecting, Steve’s videos do a good job convincing you it does!
I’ve already written a bunch about the issues the river is currently facing, some of which you can read here. There’s also an interesting thesis on the subject, written a few years ago by a University of Waterloo student. April Vokey even made a stop at the Credit River during part of the first episode of Shorelines last year, where she interviewed and talked with several key people on the subject. Although you won’t find a lot of political debate or side-taking on the show, I’ve heard from at least a couple people who have exchanged words or email with her, that it was shocking how many strongly opposing voices were encountered during the process.
I find it interesting that after so many years of having such a high quality resident trout fishery, only now are people starting to talk about it publicly. In fact, The New Fly Fisher even aired a show on fly fishing for Brown Trout on the Credit recently, something that I believe would not have happened during the river’s tight-lipped past. I can only wonder whether part of the inspiration for airing this was to raise awareness of the river and the great wild trout fishery that exists, at a time when the river has little left to lose (i.e. Atlantic program and proposed Brown Trout culling by MNR). I could probably write a whole series of blog posts on the subject of naming rivers, but the long and short of it is: perhaps things would look differently today if there had been less secrecy, more awareness and more voices to speak up.
All is not lost (at least not yet), but if things don’t change, it will be. I mentioned the proposed Brown Trout culling above and also in previous posts. The unfortunate truth is, even though this is only still a draft proposal, there is already culling going on in secrecy. There is evidence of at least one occurrence of a number of large browns being lifted out of a section of the upper river. I’m not sure where they were taken, but my guess is they either died during the lifting/transfer process or they were dumped somewhere into the lower river where they will die shortly afterwards (and where there is no suitable spawning habitat).
It seems that every time I write a post on this subject, I have to cut out three quarters of what I want to say just to keep things on topic and interesting. Rather than having all this information eventually get buried in old blog posts, I plan to add a new top-level page to this site that’s dedicated to the topic and more easily accessible. If you have pictures, videos, information or simply ideas you’d like to share on this subject, feel free to let me know and I’ll consider adding it to that page or linking it.
Despite the gloom, I’m very much looking forward to getting back on the river when the season opens and making the most of what we still have. Only one month left until opener!