Friday, 10 February 2017

A Fisherman's Memories of the Nipigon River

A letter to Buzz Lein from F. Stevens - September 2, 1972 - Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

A fisherman's memories of the Nipigon River.

"Dear Buzz:
I was pleased to have your brief note and to see you are still in the same area that is of mutual interest.
Hind sight makes experts of us all and i wish we had the time over again so that a serious attempt could be made to save the Nipigon River as God and Nature created it.
I don't know of any river East of the Rockies that was so well endowed with beauty, exciting force and populated with the fairest fish.
When Hydro decided to build a dam at Pine Portage, none of us figured the loss of the river could be weighed against the benefit to accrue to people from the Hydro dam. They had the right to build it and we took the decision meekly with some protests against the higher cost of delivering wood.
If I had the power and the money, I would remove the dam and try to restore the river to its original condition and I'd try to make every part of it accessible so that everyone could experience the pleasure the river gave.
There are many people who fished the river oftener than I did and who knew it far better. Len Moffat, Corley Wilson, Ray Davies, Jack McKirdy, Bonner, of Bonner's Island, etc. If you have time to talk to Ray Davies, he can tell you of fishing experiences and people better than anyone. Ray is in the eighties and you should not delay in visiting him.
The original Nipigon River was a series of falls, rapids, fast water, lakes. In some places quite narrow with high rocky banks, in others broad as the river widened into lakes.
The fast water was the most fascinating. It was crystal clear green and boiling almost to whiteness with air bubbles created by the tumbling water. It was always ice cold and you could rarely stand in the water more than 20 minutes if you wanted to get clear of the shore to cast.
Most of the fishing was done with casting rods and level wind rolls using hardware such as red and white daredevils, Gapin's Spinner and Cockatouche fly, William's spinner and worms, live cockatouche, minnows, bucktail streamers, black and white and yellow, etc.
I caught my first trout in South Bay at the spawner's shack with Len Moffat, it weighed over 6 lbs. and was caught in late evening on a daredevil casting into shore. There wasn't more than 6 inches of water where the fish struck. Moffat cast right alongside and caught its mate a few seconds later. Next day we caught another off the point above the spawner's shack.
The overflow out of South Bay into what was then Lake Hannah was a unique place. The trout would come in there and lay in the deep water. On a quiet day, you could look down into the water and see as many as 30 to 40 trout, 5 lbs. and up, and they would most of the time ignore any bait you offered.
At some time of the day though, early morning or evening, they would bite and that pool could be a busy place for a while. I caught on 7 and a quarter pound there which would have been a record fish that year, but I gutted it  and didn't enter it in any competition. Scotty Morgan, a papermaker with Great Lakes Paper, used to camp at the overflow a week at a time to fish or use it as a base.
The creek out of the overflow used to contain lots of young specs that were partial to Gapin's Silver Doctor fly. We had Bus Davidson in the river catching them while Withenshaw and I were on shore frying them up as fast as he tossed them to us. There was never a better meal than those trout fried in bacon fat with bread and butter and cold beer.
The best job of fishing I ever saw was from the dam at Virgin Falls. Bus Davidson and Gordon Withenshaw ran through the dam and came back up on the west side anchoring about 40 feet below the dam in fast water. Both were using fly rods with brown cockatouche fly and spinner and both hooked a trout at the same time. The advantage was all with the fish. Gordon lost his almost right away as his trout simply headed downriver and tore out the hook. Davidson managed to turn his fish and thirty-five minutes later he landed his fish, weighing over 6 pounds. It was a spectacle to see him work that fish upstream with white water.
Fishermen have always had a high regard for people who could cast a long distance but in fishing the Nipigon River it meant little and the fellow who got the fish was the one able to think like a fish and didn't use more that 15 feet of line.
If you knew where to look you could spot where the trout were. A tree root into the water used to provide the watching place for a six pounder at Devil's Rapids. He would dart out from the cedar stump and grab food and then go back into shelter. Len Moffat hooked this fellow with 3 feet of line but he took off downstream, jumped a cedar in the water and was gone.
Boulders and centre jams were other good spots. At island Rapids where the launch 'Ghost' used to land there was a large boulder that sheltered a trout that went into Slim Johnson's fish basket. As soon as a trout was caught, in a short time another would move into his spot.
The centre jam at Victoria Rapids and above the Ranger's Pool where the cable bridges were located were good spots to fish. Ray Davies filled his basket many times with 2 to 3 lb. fish above Ranger's Pool.
I always believed that the Nipigon River had a function in the production of trout and in the rejuvenation of them. Fish moved up and down the river and I think the highly oxygenated water of the river had a lot to do with the strength and vigour of the trout. Certainly a river trout fought more fiercely than one in Lake Nipigon.
I caught one 6 lb. trout at the drive camp at White Chutes. I'll never know why he struck my lure because when I opened him up, I found him full of peas and a piece of salt pork that was one and a half inches by four inches by one inch. He had been mooching where the cook had dumped some left-overs in the river.
We considered ourselves lucky if we came back with one or two fish. The fish were there but to get them you had to find them in the mood.
If fishing in Lake Nipigon is finished, you had better get a private eye to find out why. It is too valuable a heritage to be lost or reduced."

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