Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Catching the Biggest Brook Trout of Your Life

See the previous post about the trip to Hudson Bay.

As soon we got our canoe loaded at Albert Chookomolin’s landing on the north end of Hawley Lake, Charlie and I started down the Sutton. The flight in roughed us up more than and I expected. Flying under a thick, gray cloud deck at 500 hundred feet over the Hudson Bay Lowlands can put a dark cast unto the start of any river trip.
Taking the back seat of the Turbo Beaver turned out to be a mistake. Low altitude, a headwind mixed with rain all made the flight a stomach turning ride from hell. With no way to see a horizon line out of the tiny side windows of the plane, I managed to hold back my first technicolor yawn for over an hour and a half of a three-hour flight. Two brothers followed the first before we landed on Hawley Lake. The waves of nausea passed quickly as we paddled down river. Gusty waves of rain that rhythmically pounded us on the trip north didn’t however.
It felt good to be on the water regardless of the weather. The river channels through a summer’s worth of weed growth were far too narrow for us to try to fish. In the gin clear water, we saw small schools of brook trout scoot under the canoe. Small numbers, big fish! The surreal nature of a school of brook, average size 17 to 20 inches long, swimming under a canoe still makes me smile in disbelief.
The Sutton in its upper section close to Hawley Lake runs slow through huge channelized weed beds. The banks were low to the water and lined with tag alder, scrub willow and high grasses with the tree line close to the bank. We started looking for a camp when the banks appeared to be more accessible. What we saw for the first two hours of paddling was very low and marshy. We arrived at some sharp bends in the river, a place called the First Rapids (not much of a rapids) where we were told by Albert we’d find a camp on the second bend of the first set of rapids. Almost on command as we came around a turn and there it was: our first camp.

Setting camp helped to settle the feeling of being exposed, a feeling I hadn’t felt this intensely on a trip before. Perhaps, it was the flight in over the inhospitable land, the weather, or the fact that Charlie and I would be traveling down a very remote river alone for thirteen days. To be honest, the fact that we were traveling through polar bear county loomed in the background. Even though the trees along the river made it appear we were in a northern pine forest, it only took a short walk through the trees to be reminded that the open and relatively flat Hudson Bay lowlands and it tundra like appearance stretched for miles away from the river. The vast stretch of the landscape inspired a healthy respect for the rugged strength of this land that has been the place of spiritual quests for the native Cree for generations and an appreciation for the awesome beauty of the stark landscape.
Setting tents, stringing up a tarp, stowing gear and cutting and stacking fire wood gave us a opportunity to slow our pace and start moving to the rhythm and the time of the river. The urge to get out and fish took hold immediately when we started to see fish rise in the run directly out front of our camp. While we strung up rods, the wind gusts mixed with rain and challenged our tarp and rain suits but didn’t put down the occasional trout the rising in the big bend turn hole just off of the landing from our camp.
I crossed the river to fish the runs coming into the bend turn. Two casts later I hooked and landed the first of many Sutton River brook trout. The wind and the rain challenged us. The casting was tricky, but nothing we hadn’t expected or experienced on our home rivers during the early and late seasons of Wisconsin or the exposed windy rivers of Montana.

Though the weather was obviously working against us we still caught fish. The aggressive way they took the fly was impressive. Equally impressive was the way they fought. Both presented us with an immediate problem: hook mortality. These brook trout would fight to exhaustion. Quite literally if we did not bring them in quickly they would be far too stressed to revive—one sea run brook trout literally ruptured its gills! We immediately started flatting barbs and strung our leaders from 6-8lbs. test to 10-12 lbs. test. Even though the Sutton runs very clear, the larger tippet size did not affect the fishing and allowed us the comfort of playing the fish more aggressively.

We fished until late afternoon amazed at the quality of the fishery, the size of the fish, and the raw beauty and the unique nature of the Sutton River. It was truly like catching the biggest brook trout of your life over and over on a river we had quite literally to ourselves.

See our next post about our trip to the Sutton River

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien


  1. jcwparkins@gmail.comJune 30, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    Is there a lodge one can stay at and fish from that provides meals and the basic comforts of home?

    1. Jim,

      No sadly there isn't. This is an end of the trail beginning of the barrens land place. Albert has crude shelters for hunters and fisherman; he does not cook the meals unless his is guiding you on the river. His cousin does some guiding as well, but his operation is similar.

      If you would like more information about the Sutton contact me at

      paddldog@centurytel.net or call my cell 218-591-1955