Our Man In Canada
September 20th, 1999
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Fishing Lake Superior Streams
The Lower Nipigon River


By Scott E. Smith

Lower Nipigon River

From Alexander's Dam to Nipigon Bay on Lake Superior is a 25-kilometer stretch of the famous Nipigon River, home of the world-record brook trout. The river's clear, wide, powerful waters appear at first to be gentle and forgiving, but once you wade into this magnificent and sometimes formidable river you will soon learn to respect her omnipotence. The average flow at Alexander's is 12000 cfs (cubic feet per second). In years of low flow, the Nipigon fishes like a world-class blue-ribbon river, with gorgeous runs, gravel bars and prolific hatches. Unfortunately the demands for hydroelectric power dictate high water levels that tend to emcumber the best hatches. Nevertheless the fish are always present and can be hooked with regularity if you adapt your techniques properly.

Author on lower Nipigon

During non-hatch periods the best approach is to swing large rabbit-strip patterns through deep current seams and beside structure. The fish in the Nipigon, to a great extent, are bank oriented. Deep holding lies a few feet from the bank provide ideal feeding stations with protection from predation and relentless current: providing nicely all the needs of a trout. Whether you are fishing from the bank or working the shoreline from a boat, cautiously cast quartering downstream and place your fly right beside the shore. Often a trophy-sized rainbow or brook trout will be stationed there.

Nipigon Brook Trout

. . . In the lower stretch of the river, the giant brook trout the river has been made famous for, have been replaced to some extent with large resident rainbow and summer steelhead. There is some debate as to whether the rainbows are resident or transient Superior fish, but regardless of their citizenship they are ass-kickers on a fly rod. I have taken rainbows in mid-summer on dries and streamers anywhere from five to eight pounds. They immediately go airborne when they feel the hook and rip off backing in seemingly endless runs. These are chunky and well-fed fish, a testament to the prolific tailwater conditions providing by damming of the river. (Not all progress is negative.)

The evening hatch on the lower Nipigon in June and July can be incredible. Clouds of caddis come off the river starting about two hours before dark, which can be as late as 11:00 p.m. in this latitude. Giant Salmon flies are encountered on the water during this same time period, primarily in the evening, but also to a lesser extent during mid-afternoon on cloudy days. These Giant salmonflies Pteronarcys dorsata are some of the biggest of the species you will encounter anywhere; the adult insect often being a full three inches in length. In fact, a good friend of mine, Mike Sewards, momentarily mistook these insects for some type of "water-bat" the first time he fished the river during this hatch. When the Pteronarcys are coming off the water in good numbers you can rest assured all the biggest trout in the river will be keyed in on them. they provide a very worthwhile meal for trophy trout, which often will not move to the surface for lesser offerings.

Nipigon below Alexander's Dam Considering the lack of fly-fishing pressure, suprisingly enough the trout in the lower Nipigon can be very selective. I have spent countless evenings trying to figure out what exactly the fish were rising for. As most ardent dry-fly anglers can attest, watching chunky trout boil around your fly time after time can be very frustrating until you find just the right presentation or pattern. I like to fish dries on the Nipigon's clear, flat surface on a downstream presentation with a long leader (up to sixteen feet). Early in the evening you should run a fairly light tippet - say 5X - and your leader should be treated with floatant right up to within two feet of the fly. I leave this portion of tippet without floatant so that it sinks slightly in the surface film and is not so evident to the fish. Quite often I have found that fussy fish are not taking off the surface at all, but are actually taking subsurface emergers; switching to a Floating Mayfly Nymph or a Timberline Emerger under these conditions will often result in hookups. During a good evening or morning hatch on the lower river you will encounter rainbows, brook trout and whitefish. The latter sometimes exceeding five pounds. This interesting combination of species adds to the mystique of the Nipigon.

Steelhead also spawn in the Nipigon and can be encountered year-round in the lower river. Steelhead are taken near spawning lies in April, May and June on egg and nymph patterns, but a more productive time for steelhead on the Nipigon is post-spawn. In early to late June (depending on the year), post-spawn steelhead will smash a black Woolly Bugger swung deep on a sink-tip line with reckless abandon. Because of the size of the river and the amount of feed in this tailwater section, the steelhead recover quickly from the rigors of spawning and fight exceptionally well. A ten-pound steelhead in the Nipigon will leave you trembling at the knee, and well into your backing. Biologists feel that the river gets a run of summer steelhead and it definitely get a run of large agressive steelhead in the fall. During summer I have encountered bright chrome fish as well as deep-bodied, colourfully detailed rainbows. I can only assume the latter are resident fish and the sleeker, brighter fish are summer steelhead.

More on the Nipigon and other recommended rivers next time! ~ Scott E. Smith

Excerpt from: Ontario
Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide

Published by: Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 82112, Portland Oregon 97282 Phone: 503-653-8108,
email Frank Amato Publications

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