North American Fisherman - View Source Article
By: Kurt Beckstrom
Sweepstakes winner Life Member Matt Stevens takes the trip of a lifetime
Life member Matt Stevens’ transformation from dejected and defeated to high-octane adrenaline-induced ecstasy was instantaneous. It happened on the third crank into his retrieve across the inlet to Three-Mile Lake. The lure stopped, the rod loaded on the set, and Matt knew that he’d finally…finally… hooked the type of fish he'd dreamed about countless times during the previous two months.
The fish stayed deep at first, using the rocks and moderate current to help leverage an escape. But steady pressure and artful countermoves on Matt's part soon brought it closer to the surface. A flash of brilliant orange in the tea-colored water revealed that it was one of the Minipi watershed's landlocked Arctic char. Not a huge fish by Minipi standards, but a good one-6 pounds or so, More importantly, it was the first quality fish Matt had caught after four hard, 12-hour days on the water. When guide Seumas McGrath (pronounced Shamus McGraw) dipped the net and scooped the fish, it was like an evil spell had been broken.
I'd met Matt nearly a week before at Chicago's O'Hare airport. We flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, then on to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, the next morning. From there, we boarded a DeHavilland Beaver for the flight to Anne Marie Lake, headquarters of Coopers’ Minipi Lodges.
We were there because of luck - Matt’s luck. He'd won the "Angling on the Edge" sweepstakes, offered through the NAFC by Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism. Announcements had appeared in North American Fisherman, on FishingClub.com and in many "Fishin' Informer" enewsletters. When it was over, Matt's name had been randomly selected from among thousands of entries. The prize: a fishing trip to Labrador!
The 32-year-old UPS Quality Control Associate from Greenwood, Indiana, typically fishes bass, pike, trout and panfish on his hand-tied flies. He’d never had the chance to target truly big fish. So, when he learned about the sweepstakes, he entered that day.
“Weeks went by,” he says, “then one day I found a notice on the door that said I had to sign for a package. When I opened the envelope, I couldn’t believe it. I thought for a moment that somebody was setting me up for a joke. The next day it sunk in that it was really happening.”
By mid-July, Matt, I and lodge owners Jack and Lorraine Cooper had settled on early September for the trip. Matt and I would arrive after prime time (late June to early August) when big brook trout are mowing through massive hex hatches. Our trip, however was prespawn and the fish were sure to be active.
We didn’t know it, but our luck was about to run out.
On Aug. 25 a tropical depression off the coast of Africa started to moving west. It eventually swept up U.S. East Coast as a category 4 hurricane - Earl. On Sept. 4 a diminished Earl bisected Nova Scotia, then petered out the next day just south of Labrador in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
For three days before our arrival, our dream destination was tortured by wind, rain, sleet and falling temperatures. It's not something you want to happen at any time during the season.
During the summer, anglers stalk and spot trout as they rise to feed on hatching insects. Later in August, they start looking for fish in spawning areas, Lover Boy Narrows on Anne Marie Lake being one of the hottest spots. That's where Matt, Seumas and I began our adventure, casting large deer-hair mice, muddler minnows, clousers, and bombers on 8-weight gear.
We also fished Char and Lily Pad coves on Anne Marie, and several times left the lake to hike streamside trails to fish inlets or outlets of downstream ponds-Loon, Woody's, Partway and Halfway, to name a few.
At lunchtime each day, we beached the boat or shucked our packs and broke out sandwiches. Seumas would disappear into the trees, returning with a handful of Labrador tea leaves, fir and spruce tips, squashberries and mint leaves. He’s an agile 26-year-old, who's an expert with a fly rod and above-average naturalist. He can shoot 70 feet of line into a strong headwind, and the tea he brews with his pickings and boiling river water is delicious and more energizing than any gas station energy shot.
We needed it. Though we were at one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, a place teeming with trophy trout, the long, unproductive hours we’d fished were beginning to take a toll.
Late on the fourth day, Matt had his first encounter with a big brook trout. It rose to a hot-pink popper he'd tied for the trip, followed it on each strip and eyeballed it when Matt let it rest. No matter what he did, the fish wouldn't commit.
"It was so huge, I thought it was a pike," he says. "It didn't strike, but it made me think things were about to change."
He was right. That evening, Jack, head Minipi guide Todd Rumbolt and Seumas rethought the plan and decided that Minipi and Little Minipi lakes might be better options. So, we'd make a short floatplane hop on our final two mornings.
And to tip the odds even more, Jack would send along a couple of spinning rods and a box of spoons. Catch-and-release would still apply, and every barb would be carefully mashed.
The trip to Little Minipi yielded three fish. Matt scored first with his big char on the outlet stream to Three-Mile Lake, then followed with a brookie on a weighted leech farther downriver. On our return leg, I landed another char where Matt had caught his. Both had taken a Pixee spoon, and though our day was spectacular, we were on the board.
On Minipi Lake the next morning, we fished an outlet. Matt and I hooked 15-inch brookies in the first 30 minutes, and for the next two hours the action was steady. We caught numbers of squaretails, including a gorgeous 4 pounder that took Matt’s muddler.
Recharged by the healing powers of success, we were ready-to go when, after lunch, Seumas suggested we fire-up the camp's ATV and head to a smaller lake a mile or so behind the lodge. We enjoyed an encore performance there.
Seumas couldn't say whether the lake had a name, but what it did have was a massive sandbar, with deep water between it and the near shore and a spectacular view of an inflowing rapids on the opposite bank.
For the rest of the day we caught brookies from 13 inches to more than 3 pounds on bombers, muddlers, leeches - and spoons. As before, the action wasn’t fast, but it was consistent, and we felt like we’d been given a small taste of what this magnificent fishery has to offer.
Beyond All Expectations
Fly fishing for trophy trout in Canada is something most people only dream about, and I was going to do it. Unbelievable! my gear was packed and ready three weeks ahead of time.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure of what to expect, but everything about the trip definitely exceeded my expectations. I knew that it would be wilderness fishing, but once I got there, it was amazing. I’d never fished anywhere that was so beautiful and secluded. We had the lakes to ourselves – no cell towers, no people, no highways - and the fish were nothing like I’d ever seen before.
In fact, when the first monster followed my fly to the boat, I actually asked the guide how long he thought the “pike” was. “Uhhh, Matt. That’s a trout,” he replied, probably wondering what sort of greenhorn he had on his hands. I was so shocked that I think I must have stopped working the fly because it just turned and disappeared for good.
Storms on the back end of the hurricane made things tough the first few days, but I’ve been fishing long enough to know that you just have to keep going – change locations, flies, presentations – do whatever you can to turn things your way, including changing lakes. When we went to Little Minipi on the first flyout, Seumas put me onto a big char and I’ll be showing off those pictures forever.
Our final day on Minipi was all about trout. When the Beaver dropped us off, I felt like I’d stepped into a dream. We were in a boat heading to an outflowing river mouth, and we were the only humans on the 30-mile-long lake. We were catching trout within minutes, and though I don’t remember the count, we all landed numbers of good fish and lost a couple of smaller ones.
Without a doubt, I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life. The lodge, staff and fishing were top-notch, and I want to thank Labrador Tourism, the Coopers and NAFC for this amazing experience.
- Life Member Matt Stevens
Trophy Trout, Monster Salmon!
Labrador is the place to catch giant brook trout – fish that run 5, 8, even 10 pounds! And at Minipi Lodges, prime time is late June and July, according to head guide Todd Rumbolt.
Massive hex hatches put trout in feeding mode and anglers spot and stalk rising fish with dry flies on 6- and 7-weight gear.
But trophy brookies aren’t the only monsters on the menu. Newfoundland and Labrador might just have a monopoly on world-class fishing for Atlantic salmon, with more than 200 rivers that get runs of wild fish that can grow to 30 pounds.
Hard-battling landlocked Atlantic salmon are yet another option for anglers looking for adventure. They, too, grow large in this part of the world. Until recently, in fact, a 22-pound fish caught on Labrador’s Smallwood Reservoir was the all-tackle world record.
Arctic char in Labrador and Newfoundland commonly reach double-digit weights, as do sea-run brookies and voracious northern pike.
Go to FishingClub.com
and click on Web Extras to get details on all the fantastic opportunities available to anglers.