Our Man In Canada
August 6th, 2001

Lac du Cerf

Landlocked Salmon
By Ari Vineberg, Photos by Mark Krupa

While most regions in the province of Quebec can boast their share of pristine lakes with good populations of landlocked salmon (in Quebec, called "ounaniche"), the good waters tend to be victims of their own notoriety and, consequently, have become somewhat over-fished. In the southeastern part of the province, Lake Memphremagog is a prime example, for while the fishing there is still quite good, you have to have your boat in the line-up at the dock by 3 a.m. if you want to be on water by sunrise. Further up north, Lac St-Jean receives the same pressure. In the Laurentians, the exceptional lakes such as Tremblant or Ouimet are at the opposite end of the spectrum: uncrowded, but hard to access as all land surrounding them is private. It seems that there are few accessible ounaniche waters left.

One of the few is Lac du Cerf. Located in the Laurentian mountains about 150km Northeast of Montreal, just south of Mont Laurier, Lac Du Cerf is a paradise for those in search of silver dreams. Nestled between the mountain lowlands, it is a slice of pure wilderness where the air is crisp and redolent with the smell of pine and the water is cold, crystal clear, and full of fish.

Local trolling flies at dawn on Lac Du Cerf

The fishery is an important component of community life in the tiny municipality of Lac Du Cerf, and everyone seems to have a vested interest in its continued success. In spring, just after ice-out, the one thing on everybody's mind seems to be the ounaniche. At night, fish stories are recounted in the barroom at the motel, every day the registry at the garage is scrutinized for the latest catches, and people walk down to the public dock in the evening after supper to watch anglers returning with their catch.

Fishery Management

It should be no surprise that the community is deeply involved in the fishery. In fact, since 1987 the local Fish & Game Association, taking over for the government, has been responsible for all salmon stocking and management in the area lakes. Decisions are made in the community by those most affected by their outcome, around kitchen tables, in the church on Sundays, and in the aisles of the grocery store. These people take their salmon seriously.

Visiting anglers are encouraged to become members of the local Fish & Game Association. The membership is a paltry $10.00 and the revenue is used to fund fishery management projects. Between 1990-1995 there have been over one hundred thousand eggs and twenty thousand salmon, between 4 and 40 cm, planted in the two adjoining lakes, Grand Lac et petit Lac du Cerf. These fish originated at the fish hatchery in St. Felician in the Lac St. Jean area and were the first landlocked salmon introduced.

The return rates of these original fish has been excellent in the last few years, and just recently, the association completed a $35,000 project to create more favorable spawning beds on Flood Creek where the fish could reproduce naturally. So far, the scheme seems to be working and spawning surveys in the fall conducted by the association indicate that the fish are successfully using the creek to reproduce. Populations of ounaniche remain abundant, and last year a specimen weighing slightly above 10 pounds was taken - a lake record.

When, Where, and How

As a general rule with all landlocked salmon fishing, the best periods are immediately after ice-out in the spring and, again, in late fall when the water temperature begins to cool down. Depending on the weather conditions and the severity of the winter, the time of ice-out varies, but it usually occurs in mid to late April, in time for the opening of the season on April 27.

One of the first places to open up is Baie de l'Eglise, which is the northernmost bay and therefore receives much of the warming rays of the spring sun. The best fishing at Baie de l'Eglise is adjacent to the public boat launch, from the mouth of Baie de Bonnet up to the straits that separate Petit and Grand Lac du Cerf. On the other side of Baie de l'Eglise the sand bars are equally promising. Baie des Scouts and Baie Lefevbre are also good choices early in the season.

Note Tandem Fly in the Salmon's Jaw

As the water warms towards June, ounaniche will begin to move off to deeper water, but while the window of opportunity is short, it offers lots of action and with plenty of fish averaging 4-6 pounds the fishing can be excellent. The best periods to fish are early in the morning between 5-7 a.m. and in the evening at dusk, although it is not uncommon to pick fish up during the day.

Unlike most Laurentian shield lakes that harbour populations of salmon, there are no smelt in either of the lakes that comprise Lac du Cerf. The predominant forage fish is lake cisco, which is locally referred to as lake herring. There are tremendous schools of them roaming this oligotropic lake, and the salmon relate to these in the spring rather than to shoreline or underwater structure. Unlike smelt, which make spawning runs in the creeks in the spring, cisco spawn in the lake in the fall, making salmon location much more predictable, particularly in the spring.

Current Issue

Most fly fishers choose to troll tandem hook streamers slowly off sand bars and the points of bays, where shoals of cisco tend to locate. While casting is certainly an option, it is somewhat similar to trying to find a needle in a haystack, as there is so much water to cover in the 9.9 km-long lake and the fish are constantly on the prowl. A depth finder is a tremendous help in locating the shoals and, consequently, the ounanich, more precisely.

A seven or eight weight rod with a full sinking or sink tip line is an ideal. The most popular and productive flies include the Mickey Finn, Magog Smelt, Grey Ghost, Electric Smelt, Brown-nosed Dace and other streamer patterns which approximate cisco. Because of the excellent water clarity, somewhere between 40 and 50 feet, the fish are easily spooked and finesse is required when selecting terminal tackle. A long fluorocarbon leader, between 10 and 15 feet, tapering down to 5-6x is recommended to optimize chances of success.

If fishing more than one rod, use both a short and long line presentations to increase hook-ups. The short rod should be fished between 35-50 feet behind the boat (preferably in the propwash); the long rod at twice that distance. A few, short, staccato movements should be imparted to the fly every so often to increase its action. In order to accomplish this, hold the rod with its length parallel to the boat and use your elbow to pump it back and forth, as if you were sawing a two-by-four. Do not hold rod at right angles to the side of the boat, as this creates too much slack in the line to set the hook properly when a fish hits. When you do get a hit, expect the ounaniche to go airborne several times in an effort to shake the hook and return to freedom.

Other Species

Big Nasty

While the ounaniche are the real drawing card at Lac du Cerf, there are plenty of other species available to provide action during the salmon's mid-day siesta. By mid-May, huge pike spawn in the back bays, and it is not uncommon to see schools of them sunning in the crystalline water over the sand shoals in Bay de L'Eglise at this time. At first glance, they resemble sunken logs - until they begin to move. Because these fish feed mainly on ciscos, which are extremely oily and high in protein content, they reach quite impressive sizes. The lake record is over 40 pounds.

Summer is Bass Time on Lac Du Cerf There are also lake trout, muskie, and smallmouth bass in numbers and size ranges sufficient to warrant some serious consideration. Once again, most of these fish relate to the cisco rather than structure and tend to be deep-water oriented, often suspended in the water column.

As these are deep, oligotropic lakes, there is not a tremendous amount of aquatic vegetation or weedlines against which to toss your flies - a traditional approach for mean greenies such as pike, smallmouth, and muskies! However, in Petit Lac du Cerf there are a few shallow back bays with deadfalls which are a good bet for either pike or smallmouth. There is also a mid-lake weedbed on this lake that holds both pike and muskie by early summer. At night, the fish tend to move into the shallows to feed on other minnows, and the straits adjoining the two lakes can be productive for both pike and muskie at this time. ~ Ari Vineberg

Concluded next time.

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

Our Man In Canada Archives

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice