Brookies on the Keezhik
By: Gord Ellis
One of the things I love about fishing for brook trout, is they live in the most beautiful, wild places in North America. Brookies demand cold, clean and clear water to thrive, preferably without any human habitation close by. In our modern world, those places are few and far between. However, the tributaries to the Albany River watershed are little changed from how they were hundreds of years ago. Rivers like the Keezhik, Troutfly and Suzanne remain gems, unspoiled by development and pollution. To fish these rivers is to step back in time.
The Keezhik is a river that is among the most beautiful I’ve ever fished for brookies. It is the perfect size to fly fish and considering it is not a huge river, holds trout of mind-boggling size. Several years ago, I flew into Keezhik Lake with my oldest son Devin, who was about 13 at the time. Devin had not done a ton of fly fishing to that point, but he had fished enough with it that he felt comfortable with it. We had an excellent guide who not only helped run the canoe but gave Devin some “non-Dad” fly fishing tips. One of the first pools we got to was a real gem, deep and cedar lined. Devin got out with our guide and began casting a streamer fly as I sat back and watched. On about his second cast a football sized brookie rolled on the fly and he set the hook.
“Fish on Dad!” he yelled with excitement as the rod bucked under the weight of a large trout. What a sight it was to watch the droplets fly off my son’s fly line in the morning sun, as a huge, coloured up trout darted around in crystal clear water. Devin fought the fish well, but after a couple of minutes the fly pulled out and the trout was off.
“He’s gone,” said Devin a bit dejectedly.
‘There will be more” said our guide, and he was right. The Keezhik proved to be loaded with brookies, and some of them were quite large. Nearly every pool and run we stopped at gave up a fish or two. In one long hole, several brook trout could be seen chasing our flies at once. In another pool, I nailed a fish in the 4-pound range that ate the fly nearly at my feet. But Devin’s first fish had been the giant. We would have to get him another day.
The Keezhik is just one of several amazing rivers I’ve fished that run into the Albany. Nearly all have great angling, with big brookies as well ad the occasional walleye and pike mixed in. Fishing the tributary rivers of the Albany does take some work and determination. Many of the pools are lined by trees, so you have to make shorter casts or roll casts. While a few spots can be fished right from a canoe, I have found getting out and wading will allow you to cover more water, especially in the fast-water rapids. In the summer, you may want to wet wade, but I like to wear at least a pair of hip waders if possible. These rivers run cold, and you can get chilled if you are in wet pants all day. Shorts may sound like a good idea, until the bugs appear. And there will be bugs.
Wilderness North offers anglers a couple of options when it comes to accessing these classic brook trout rivers. Where the rivers have a lake or large opening as the head water, you can fly into them and paddle down. A guide is a huge help when undertaking these trips, as they know the fishable water and can help with paddling, portaging and lining the canoe. Although these rivers are not as large and as intimidating as the Albany, you can still face impressive rapids and falls. Another option when fishing these rivers is to “bushwhack” up them a ways from the mouth, then fish your way back down. This will require sone upstream canoeing and you will have to line up a rapid or two. While it is not always easy to do a trip this way, the rewards can be substantial. These rivers do not see many anglers so the pools get a lot of rest. Big, hungry brook trout will make the pain go away fast.
While the fly fishing on northern rivers requires a bit of finesse, the fish are mostly eager to bite. These northern brook trout live in a fish eat fish world, so not much gets by them without at least a swipe. Fishing dry or subsurface flies is both fun and effective on these rivers, as the trout can’t resist taking a crack at anything that floats. I imagine not many mice, mayflies or stoneflies get far if they linger on the water surface.
My favourite dry fly choices on these northern trout rivers include the Stimulator, Morrish Mouse, Chernobyl Ant and Dave’s Hopper. Your main workhorse flies, however, will be subsurface or wet flies. My favourites for subsurface angling include the Marabou Muddler, Strip Leech, Sex Dungeon, Matuka Sculpin and Clouser Minnow.
A variety of flies on hook sizes from #8 to #4 should suffice. Larger, flashier flies tend to get the most attention on the rivers. However, it never hurts to throw a box of nymphs in your vest, just in case. I would recommend a 6 or 7 weight rod for this fishing, coupled with a floating line. A 5 weight is fun, but you will lose more fish in the woods and rocks. You can toss a fly spool loaded with a sink tip in your vest, but I’ve rarely seen the need to use it. The pools are not ultra-deep, and the trout are usually willing to come up for a fly. There is also no need to use to a light tippet. I never run less than an eight – pound test leader on these rivers and will run heavier if I can get away it. There are many sticks, branches and rocks for trout to break you off on. I’ve learned this the hard way.
The tributary rivers of the Albany provide an angler with the opportunity of both adventure and untouched fishing for wild brook trout.
What more can a fly angler ask for?