In the Big Land, a four-pound brook trout is no big deal, but anything weighing over five pounds is much tougher to find. A brook trout over five pounds is a trophy in anyone’s world. If you devote a week to Igloo, and fish diligently with a measure of skill, you will, in all likelihood, catch a brook trout over seven pounds, and you stand a very good chance of breaking the eight-pound barrier. A fish that big is simply a mind-boggling brook trout. I don’t fully understand why trout grow so big in Igloo Lake. I do know the lodge’s strict adherence to fly fishing only and live release has plenty to do with it. Before Jim Burton took over and some anglers were killing fish, five pounds was a big fish, like most other lakes. But that’s not the whole story.
Burton’s Lake is near Igloo, though it doesn’t look any different. It’s approximately the same size and depth, and it’s a most prolific waterway; you can easily catch over 50 trout a day. The fish just aren’t big lunkers like those inhabiting Igloo. Trout at Burton’s average a couple of pounds, and an odd one might tip the scales close to five, but anything larger is rare. That said, don’t pass up a day on Burton’s. The trout are dead easy to catch, feisty, and lots of fun. It’s a relaxing, zeropressure reprieve from hunting Igloo’s trophies. If you get skunked at Burton’s, you haven’t been paying proper homage to the deities of fish and fresh water.
The numbers of fish in Igloo Lake are unimpressive compared to the population at Burton’s. But that’s not the point, is it? You don’t travel across land and water from parts unknown to catch small Labrador trout. Igloo is not a numbers game. This fishery is about catching the trout of a lifetime, and it is the Big Land’s, perhaps the world’s, finest opportunity.
A Two-Faced Fishery
I’ve been to Igloo Lake twice, and enjoyed two very different experiences. In June 2014, I arrived during a spell of warm, sunshine weather, at the peak of a mayfly hatch. I have never seen so many insects on the water or in the bushes along the lake. It was an amazing experience, and I caught quite a few big trout in my week. The ice recently melted, and the massive, deep-bellied trout were ravenously hungry. It was the very best dry fly fishing of my entire life.
But there was no ice coating my dry flies. Fooling an eight-pound trout on a size 14 Adams was quite exhilarating! I will say this, however: practice your casting accuracy if you choose to hunt big Igloo prowlers during a hatch. It’s more like bonefishing than casually casting for pond trout.
Big trout will always avoid wasting precious energy. To that end, they either eat big individual chunks of protein or gorge themselves on concentrated tiny critters. Mayflies are certainly the latter to big fish, so Igloo trout typically don’t come out to play until a full-blown hatch is on the water. When they do, trout cruise slowly through the duns and helpless spinners, slurping down bits of nourishment with metronomic precision. It’s quite a spectacle.
Frank, our guide, cut the engine and let the Gander River boat glide powerlessly along an alder-trimmed shoreline. A light breeze blew zillions of mayflies onto the dark, calm water. You might say we were beyond excited. My partner, John Lupinetti, from Delaware, had never seen anything close to our expereince in his life, and neither had I. All around us, giant trout fed in nearly straight lines, zigging and zagging just enough to make our casting games more interesting.
It was John’s turn at bat. The tiny slurp and subsequent ripple created by a feeding eight-pound trout is most perplexing. The telltale sign is the immensity of the breaching dorsal fin. John took aim at a trout about 40 feet from the boat’s starboard; not exactly at the trout itself, but rather at the place where he expected it to gobble the next morsel in its path. The fish appeared to be feeding in a twofoot-wide sequenced pattern. John landed his fly four feet upstream of the fish and waited while it bobbed among the naturals. Even a perfect cast is no guarantee of success. Fortunately for John, this time, a massive trout selected his pattern over real insects. The fight was on.
Enough about dry fly fishing, rewind to frosty rods. In autumn, the angling is distinctive, but just as interesting and exciting as it is in the summer. Now is the time the trout are concentrating on reproduction rather than feeding. They are still unquestionable hungry; efficiency is still of paramount importance to metabolic survival. However, trout will not move far for sustenance, as Colin told me. I did catch trout on small bead-head offerings, but bigger, baitfish-style flies stirred up the most action. They liked to chomp the big stuff.
I have paid my dues as an angler. Far from home for a week in Norway, I watched the Gaula River burst over its banks after days of rain. I did not catch one salmon. The gods can be fickle, but eventually reward perseverance. Some call it luck, but on my last day at autumn Igloo, I experience the Holy Grail of brook trout fishing.
Andy and I are the only guests left at Igloo Lodge. The others left to catch an early flight out of Goose Bay. The guides and staff are in winterizing mode. We help pull the capable Gander Boats onto winter cradles. But there’s still time for fishing and I’m going to take full advantage.
It’s my last day, and using just one gigantic olive Zonker I somehow managed not to lose, I catch 13 brook trout, all over 7-pounds. A hook-jawed male came to my hand and rolled on its side, displaying its magnificent orange colors and that characteristic brilliant white trim on its fins. The sun is now low in the west and glimmering through the swaying treetops. It’s the perfect ending. After I pluck out the barbless hook and the fish swims away, I break down my rod and thank the universe for my good fortune.
The gods were in some kind of philanthropist crazy giving mood. It was a day that I will likely never equal, and I really don’t care to try. It is etched in my brain as the best day ever and I am most content with just that. I am truly satisfied. But I did just dye a winter rabbit skin olive. Black also works well. I change my mind; I will be back.
Paul Smith is an outdoor writer and columnist for The Telegram, and he has a love affair with big, bright, brook trout, If you have any fishing stories, he’d love to hear them. You can drop him a note at [email protected].