Every once in awhile an opportunity comes along that is just too good to pass up. This happened to me not too long ago when I was asked to take some vacation days and help out with a fisheries project at a place that I thought I may never have the privilege of visiting. I was told that although there would be some very important fisheries work with brook trout, that there would also be plenty of time to fish. Would I be interested? Let's just say I didn't need to be asked twice.
The excursion took place from May 10 to May 14th 2006 with six others up in Quebec's famed la Reserve Beauchene. This is the same place almost all the famed TV personalities, outdoor writers and other well known anglers have described as one of the top fishing destinations on the planet. Needless to say I was pumped about taking part in the fisheries work on this trip but of course I knew the five days would not be all work and no play. As it turned out, we were able to get in plenty of fishing as well as do the work we were up there for in the first place. The following article for Fish On Line Canada readers is about that trip and the wonderful fish-lovers haven known as Beauchene.
The Drive Up
On the drive up to Timiskaming Quebec (35 minutes north east of North Bay) with fellow crew member Jim Bamford I was fortunate enough to obtain several first hand accounts of what Beauchene is all about. Jim had been going up there for over ten years and sits on their Fishery Advisory Board - so there were few individuals better suited to filling me in about what I had in store for the next few days. As we turned off the main road from Timiskaming Jim noted "This will be the longest part of your trip - the ride on this well maintained private dirt road may only be 25 minutes or so - but for your first time it'll seem like three times that."
Boy was he ever right … the anticipation and excitement was intense. Not being too overly anxious to wet a line, Jim and I launched the boat before we checked in or unpacked. Not far behind us was Mark Heaton who was the biologist in charge of the project, and the rest of the crew consisting of Gary Campbell an Outdoor ed teacher from Peel, Glenn Anderson, president of a Metro East Anglers, Andy Rubaszek - volunteer with the club and their Parkview Hatchery and Bruce Burt, another volunteer and top notch charter boat captain. All had been up there before and I was the new kid on the block, yet it seemed everyone was as excited as I was. After checking in and getting a hearty welcome from Tony Avramtchev the manager and Dick Waterous a director there, we were all off in the boats to try and catch some nice Beauchene fish.
The first day would be our only warm and sunny one there so I was still in shorts and a T shirt … hoping for some of the reserve's nice smallmouth that are open year round there. Although I was targeting these pre-season bronzebacks, my first fish ended up being a Beauchene lake trout of about 3 or 4 pounds on a green tube jig. That evening after a delicious supper with the resort staff we were off again … and this time we all managed to get into fish. As a crazy bass nut I not only landed a couple beautiful Beauchene bass on tubes and spinnerbaits but also got into them with top waters like my favorite Rapala Skitter Pop. Catching roaming smallies in early May on top waters … boy it just doesn't get any better than that! The cool 55 degree F water didn't result in typical smallmouth jumping like crazy at the end of the line or fast and furious action - but it sure was nice to get a jump start on fishing for this great gamefish.
Raising Beauchene Brook Trout
The next day was a work day and the cloudy, windy weather or lack of fishing time did not deter from our high spirits. We anxiously set out to collect several dozen 'Scotty Boxes' from the far end of Beauchene Lake early that morning. Last fall Mark and his crew caught some brook trout from one of the Reserve's lakes, collected several thousand brook trout eggs, fertilized them with sperm from ripe males and then deposited each egg into the cells within the Scotty Box. Then the boxes were sunk in the main lake to overwinter at the rivermouth where the current would keep the eggs clear of debris and well oxygenated while they developed free from any chance of predation by other species.
By Spring a high percentage of the egg embryos had hatched and when we collected them on May 11th each of these young brook trout fry in the cells were approximately ½ an inch long. By far 2006 was the most successful rearing of brook trout that Mark had ever encountered during this 8 year project as over four thousand eggs had hatched and were now eager young fry - anxious to be stocked into some of the over 20 brook trout lakes at Beauchene.
After the crew counted each and every tiny little brook trout, they were separated and stored into aerated coolers or large plastic bags before we transported them to their new homes. As a small group of eager Beauchene guests and staff looked on Mark was asked if a project like this is being carried out anywhere else. "Not that we are aware of for brook trout anyway." He explained further, "Of course brookies are stocked in many lakes, ponds and creaks across the country but these are hatchery fish. With this particular research project we are attempting to rear native Taggart strain brook trout in Scotty Boxes right in the lake and then release them to various lakes on the reserve. Each year we seem to be learning more and more and recruitment is increasing at a remarkable rate … So the success of this program here at Beauchene could very well lead to similar projects with brook trout by biologists in other parts of the country."
After our work was looked after … it was back to the fishing rods and our quest to catch one of each of the species available at the resort.
That night right by the dock in two feet of water, quite close to where some unhatched trout eggs happened to fall into the lake I had a big lake trout on 4 pound test and a light rod. Just as I was reaching down to grab the fish though it broke the line. Despite the loss, it was kind of cool to know that even lakers go for one of my favorite Lake Simcoe perch baits - a small HT Alien Jig and plastic Berkley Micro Power Nymph.
Beauchene Bio-Diversity Challenge
Our "Bio-Diversity Challenge" consisted of each one of us throwing $20 into a pot. The winner would be the one who would catch most of various species available here at Beauchene: Brook trout, lake trout, splake, walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike were eligible we agreed. Unfortunately for Bruce, we did not include yellow perch - because in one of the back lakes he managed to catch two jumbos that would rival any big perch from Lake Simcoe. These spawned out females were much darker though and unlike most of the other fish we caught, were kept and eaten.
The next day we had the pleasure of fishing from sun-up until sun-down despite the un-pleasurable weather - rain, wind and much cooler than when our trip began. (A fishing trip just wouldn't be the same without that cold front moving thru eh?) Despite these changes and the expected slower fishing action - we still all managed to catch fish. A few more smallmouth fell victim to our baits although by now the top water bite was off. Jim managed to catch a walleye on one of the Patriot Lures he designed and manufactured especially for the fish here at Beauchene. Although no one came close to catching any of the 30 pound plus lakers known to reside in Beauchene Lake the 3-5 pound ones were plentiful and fell victim to a wide variety of baits. I had most of my success for them with ¼ ounce tube jigs; Gary caught some on spoons; others with crankbaits; some while trolling with wet flies - while Bruce actually used some of his Lake Ontario tackle and employed the dipsy divers and cut bait in order to check lakers off of his list. We did keep a couple of lakers for the smoker that Glenn brought - and enjoyed some great tasting Beauchene trout while sitting on the porch overlooking the lake.
Later that evening just as I snuggled in for the night - Mark opened the door of our cabin, grinning from ear to ear to quickly show us the whitefish he had caught off the dock … "You dirty dawg!" Someone quipped knowing full well that this particular species was a bit of a wildcard in our bio-diversity challenge and that anyone catching a whitey might actually win the whole thing. Mark caught this fish on a fly rod, using one of his EBay stone flies.
The next day was our last full day and although there was some work to do, we would have a chance at some remote fishing opportunities as well. But before we began Jim took me to one of his favorite brook trout lakes on the reserve. Imagine a spot with road access where you can fish from shore and still be assured a reasonable chance at landing a wild brook trout that you measure in pounds instead of inches? Sound's too good to be true eh? Well at Beauchene this is still possible; thanks to a strict catch and release/limited selective harvest philosophy for all their species that is at the basis of their fisheries management principles. The result of course is a world class fishing destination that many return guests call "their favorite place on earth".
Ok … back to the brook trout fishing… after an hour or so without a strike and just getting ready to head back for breakfast, my proverbial "last cast" did the trick. While working one of the new XR08 purple/gold Rapala Ex Rap slash baits parallel to the rocky shoreline, the fish hit. A couple of minutes later after battling a 'speckle' that put to shame the small southern Ontario stream 6-12 inch versions I was used to, I landed my largest ever brook trout - an easy two pounder.
Following a hearty breakfast of Eggs Benedict, crisp bacon, sausages, home fries and home made bread - it was off to work. This time instead of stocking small brook trout fry into easily accessible Beauchene lakes, the crew was divided up into pairs and instructed to portage into some of the more remote back lakes with oxygenated bags full of water and 10-13 inch brook trout. In total 3,200 were stocked. Although the trails were rugged and the French black flies loved our Anglophone blood, this chore was extremely gratifying because each one of us knew we were contributing to the future of the outstanding fishery here at Beauchene.
After completing the stocking we were able to fish the small back lakes in boats that reserve staff cached there for their guests. I did however bring along my portable Lowrance Ice Machine sonar unit that made locating the drops and edges an easy task. Although we marked and saw some scary-big brookies in our back lake, my fishing partner and I only managed one small trout that afternoon. Like most good fishermen though we could and did blame our lack of success on the ever changing weather - rain one minute, swirling winds the next and even a bit of sun now and again.
K … Like where's the boat? … And, Wil's Biggest catch ever!
On our hike back to the first lake we stocked - where our original boat was located 'on shore', I was somewhat perplexed to see a vacant spot beside where I thought my partner had tied off the boat. "Hmm … what the heck … where could our boat be I wondered," out loud. I then looked up and down the lake only to see it idly drifting off to the far side about 100 yards or so from shore. A rather pretty site perhaps if it wasn't for the fact that nobody was in the darned thing and that we were miles away from the nearest road in some of the most rugged terrain la Belle province has to offer.
For some peculiar reason, I couldn't help but laugh out loud and said to no one in particular "Hmm - what do ya do now goof?How can ya bring that little boat back to shore?" Without a throw rope of any kind I grabbed the only thing I could think of with any semblance of 'rope' on it. Yep - one of my fishing rods which had a small spoon tied on and then I began to run down the marshy shoreline to try and catch up to the boat. After careful aim and one long and extremely lucky cast I managed to land that spoon right into the middle of the boat. Ye ha! Carefully I tease the spoon over the seats and bingo! It gets caught right on one of the oars which were locked into their mounts along the gunwale. Slowly I begin to reel in, praying the thin 6 pound test Berkley Vanish line would hold the weight of the boat … as I reel in and land my biggest catch ever.
"What the heck was all that shouting about" my partner remarks as he amiably comes trotting down the trail carrying his load of goods from the other lake… "And why are you already in the boat paddling it back to where I put it?" "Long story", I say … "And you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you!"
When we got back to camp for another great supper, stories flew back and forth across the dinner table as our crew swapped tales of the fish they caught and the ones that got away. After dinner some would go back out in the boats on the main lake for bass, pike and lake trout while others would go to splake lakes to try and catch one of these stocked delicious brook trout/lake trout crosses. For some inexplicable reason, I didn't go chasing smallies and opted instead for another shot at those big fat brookies. As luck would have it I even managed to nail a gorgeous 3 ¼ pound male that grabbed my darter head jig and 3 ½ inch clear colored Berkley Power grub as I swam it seductively along some jagged rocks out from shore.
What a way to finish off a great trip … catching my largest ever brook trout in the morning and then topping that off with an even bigger one that same evening. As great as the fishing was for me … for some in our bio-diversity challenge, it was even better. Some of the crew also caught northern pike - and splake, but it was none other than our fearless leader who pulled off the big win. Mark was the only one to catch a smallmouth, a northern, a splake, a brookie, a laker, and that one special evening, a whitefish on a fly rod.
The most incredible thing about Beauchene believe it or not is not even entirely fishing related. It's more about the unforgettable way that this special place has of touching every individual that goes there. You can't help but be increasingly grateful that places like this are still here in this great country and will be for a long time to come.
For more information or to check out how you can tailor make your dream trip at Beauchene, check out their website at: www.beauchene.com