Fishing | Travel | TROUT Magazine | Voices from the river

Overlooked brookies of Ontario

My TU coworker Mark Taylor has a great laugh. Kind of a mix between a giggle and guffaw. A guffawggle, if you will.

I know this because I’ve seen Mark in any number of circumstances—mingling with conference attendees at a hospitality suite, surrounded by his great family having dinner, casting to Arctic grayling in Alaska, canoeing the New River in Virginia … the list goes on. And you can tell when Mark is interested and engaged (which is generally all the time).

Because he laughs. And when he laughs, you can’t help but laugh with him.

A couple of years ago, Mark and I had the good fortune to travel north after a work conference to the wilds of northwest Ontario, where, on what so far has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us, we got the chance to cast to gorgeous native brook trout the size of footballs.

Big, regulation-size NFL footballs.

And I’ll never forget Mark, on what might have been the last cast of the day, hooking up with a truly remarkable brookie — 20 inches of shoulders and attitude. After a lengthy fight, during which Mark gathered an audience of fellow outdoor writers who were also on the trip, the fish finally came to the net.

“Are you kidding me?” Mark asked rhetorically after getting a look at the big fish in the net. “Are you kidding me?”

And then he guffawggled. It was classic Taylor—a deep belly laugh tapering off into an alto crescendo that just makes everyone around him smile.

We all gathered around the net, where the fish rested just under the cold, clear flow, and posed proudly for our cameras. Click. Flash. Click. “Can you turn it on its side?” “Maybe a quick lift?” Click. Flash. Click.

The fish, and the dozens like it we brought to hand over the course of a single canoe trip through a stream that flows quickly between two lakes, really brought out the guffawggles … in Mark and, frankly, the rest of us, too.

Top: The brilliant colors of a northwest Ontario brook trout. Above: Mark Taylor in the bow of the canoe on a trophy brook trout day in northwest Ontario. Photos by Chris Hunt.

Ontario is a fairly densely populated Canadian province, at least in the south, along the Lake Superior and Lake Huron shores. But head north, where winter sticks around a bit, and lakes and rivers pock and slice the landscape, and an angler can find relative solitude. And fish. Lots of fish.

Mark and I joined a writer’s trip to a series of North Woods lodges run by Wilderness North in late June of 2017—we lifted off the choppy waters of Lake Superior and flew north, visiting a couple of really great lakes, where we both caught lots of pike and walleye. But I would venture that both of us would claim that day on that hidden wilderness river chasing monster brook trout is where our memories will persist.

The venerable DeHavilland Beaver, the transport to brook trout paradise. Photo by Chris Hunt.

Mark lives in Virginia, where native brook trout still persist. But catching one much bigger than the palm of your hand is quite the feat. I live in Idaho, where brookies have invaded our native cutthroat trout streams, taken over and then, just to add insult to injury, stunted into micro-trout that can be fun to chase with the kids, but generally not worth the effort.

But in Ontario, brookies are both native and big. While it doesn’t get the press that other more-heralded brook trout destinations get (think Labrador), the province is a brook trout paradise, where anglers can also count on catching big pike and walleye.

Throughout the province, brookies swim in waters where they’ve always been. It’s a special place, and for anglers who appreciate brook trout— like Mark and me—it’s a place worth visiting more than once.

I just hope we get the chance.