Big Brookies in a River You Can Wade

Ch¿¿teauguay is Quebecois for "river where the trout are glad to strike anything you care to throw them." No kidding.

Even before the river came into view you could see the clouds of caddisflies that hung above it, dancing in the bright summer sunshine that followed a passing shower. Then the river appeared, and so did the trout, swirling and splashing down through the run.

"Get ready to wear out your arm," outfitter Jean Paquet told me.

I tied on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis and waded into the broad, gravel-bedded Ch¿¿teauguay River. I made a short cast upstream and watched the fly begin its float. It went about 4 feet. Then there was a quick surge, a boil, and a heavy yank, and I was into my first Ch¿¿teauguay brookie. The 3-pound fish showed his brilliant colors as he rolled, then streaked out across the run, bowing my little Orvis 8-foot 4-weight and taking line all the way out to midstream.

"Get used to it," said Martin Croteau, my guide. "It will be like this all week."

There's no telling how many trout per mile the Ch¿¿teauguay contains, nor does anyone know how big they become. But flyfishermen there have taken brook trout up to 27 inches (estimated at 9 pounds), and 3- and 4-pounders are so common that they draw little comment. Five- and 6-pound brookies are caught by most visitors, sometimes in large numbers. You'll catch so many 21/2- and 3-pounders in a day's fishing that there is no reason to bother counting.

The Ch¿¿teauguay River rises from Great Ch¿¿teauguay Lake on the high, glacier-scoured plateau at the center of Quebec's big-trout country, 170 miles northwest of Schefferville on the Quebec-Labrador border. Unlike most northern rivers, the Ch¿¿teauguay is shallow and gentle and so easy to wade that boats are not used on it.

Its banks are not steep; the riverbottom is made up of small broken rocks and sandy gravel that permit comfortable wading. In most places there is little reason to wade more than knee-deep.

A high glacial esker parallels the river, and it's pleasant to hike for miles along the open tundra on top of the esker with a good view of the surrounding country and a long view of the river's course, and then drop down to river level to fish your way back up to the lake. There are no overhanging branches to interfere with back casts, and in most places long casting is not required.

Outfitter Jean Paquet had brought along his son Sam, age 10, during my stay. Sam arrived with a teddy bear strapped to his duffel bag and a Loomis 6-weight fly rod in his hand-and outfished almost everyone in camp.

Sam could throw a line most flyfishermen would envy and was never long without a trout on the end. Only 4 feet tall, he had no trouble wading the river. Each day he tagged along with us, dressed in a rope-tied, hiked-up pair of adult waders and his father's baggy bug shirt, with a box of big Wulff-styled Royal Coachmen crammed in his pocket.

He would charge out into the river with the assurance of a young bear, settle into a run, and begin casting, holding loops of line in his left hand while his right hand sent the fly directly to the waiting fish. (Knowing that youngsters who fish here will become confirmed flyfishermen and potential future clients, Club Ch¿¿teauguay charges only airfare for a child up to 14 when accompanied by two adults.)

When water conditions are right, there are times in late July and throughout August when an average caster can take impressive numbers of 4- and 5-pounders from a single casting position. In 1997 a Club Ch¿¿teauguay client landed more than 20 brook trout in a single morning at one pool, and every one of her fish weighed more than 4 pounds.

After a rain, caddisfly hatches occur here that resemble snowstorms. Big insects, size 10 or 12, with orange bodies and speckled brown wings, flutter over the river in swirling masses, and the water comes alive with rising trout.

Even the biggest fish feed on insects here and can be taken regularly on dry flies.. While I was in camp, Dr. John Chabot of Rye, New York, took a 24-incher weighing more than 5 pounds on a size 16 Black Gnat when he noticed that big trout were sipping tiny insects off the water, during a period when no large insects were hatching. Another guest took a huge 23-pound lake trout on a size 12 Adams dry fly.

"When the hatches are heavy, even the big lake trout move into shallow water and feed on insects," Paquet told me. "It's unusual to catch lake trout on dry flies, yet it happens here regularly."

Most large trout are meat eaters, and the Ch¿¿teauguay River brookies are no exception. Many of the biggest brook trout are taken on large, brightly colored streamers and bucktails. Deer-hair mouse creations are deadly in years when the lemming population is high.

All Wulff dry-fly patterns in sizes 8 to 12 are particularly effective, and young Sam's favorite Royal Coachman Wulffs may be the most effective pattern of all. Not to be overlooked are the Grasshopper, Elk Hair Caddis, Adams, Black Gnat, Black or Orange Humpy, March Brown, and a colorful Canadian dry fly called the Ephemerelle, which is a mayfly with yellow wings, brown hackle, and a long tail. Colorful streamers and bucktails such as the Mickey Finn, Herb Johnson Special, Magog Smelt, and Black, Gray, or Red Ghost are killers, and if you are a Muddler fan or a Bead-Head Woolly Bugger devotee, you will not be disappointed.

For the past 12 years, Jean Paquet and his brother have maintained clean, well-equipped tent camps at both Great and Little Ch¿¿teauguay Lakes for groups of up to eight flyfishermen who hike and fish the 10 miles of free-flowing river that connect the lakes, as well as several incoming streams to which trout migrate whenever the water level is attractive.

The Paquet brothers-who have exclusive outfitting rights to the Ch¿¿teauguay territory-do not permit large fish to be killed by clients. Camp policy permits flyfishing only, and the guides make sure that only pan-sized trout are killed for shore lunches and that no trophy trout are killed to take home.

"In the North, big trout are old trout," Jean Paquet explains. "They grow very slowly and are irreplaceable. The big trout must be protected in order to assure that good fishing for large trout will continue here."

In a region where customers often leave outfitter camps with coolers full of trophy fish to show off at home, the Paquets' no-kill policy is both unusual and promising. "These days taxidermists use photos and measurements, not dead fish, to create trophy mounts," Paquet says. "There's no reason to kill the big ones.

"We have something very special here. We want to keep it that way."