With so many brook trout of dreams this week, today, our last day, was all about ouananiche, better known as landlocked salmon. Paul Ostiguy, owner of McKenzie River Lodge, our friend and the man responsible for bringing Granny and me to Labrador was able to join us on the quest. This was fitting because Paul’s favorite fish is the ouananiche and he knows all the places to look for them.
Our target area was the McKenzie River, only today we’d venture the furthest down the McKenzie we’ve been. Till this point the Funnel Pool was the furthest we’ve traveled down. You might remember, to get to the Funnel pool took three hikes and three different canoe rides. Today the Funnel Pool would be where we started fishing and only the halfway point to the final pool we’d fish.
Our weather was sunny skies but brisk and windy. Conditions were exactly like an October day in Idaho. Everything felt right for fishing and I could hardly wait to get started. The Funnel Pool was good to us earlier this week and I was certain we’d nail a few here. Granny went through first and came up empty handed. I waded in and fished where she didn’t reach and was blanked as well. This brought on some concern because when the salmon bite isn’t on they can be nearly impossible to catch.
From the Funnel Granny and I waded downstream to the next pool while Paul and Andrew walked the canoe down through a shallow rapid. At the bottom we boarded again and paddled downstream several bends. We came one of Paul’s favorite pools, Warren’s Rock. I kicked back while Paul and Andrew guided Granny into position to start swinging the fly.
It didn’t take my lady long before the hooting and hollering started as a respectable salmon tail walked his way across the pool. Granny seems to have this swinging thing dialed. I grabbed the good camera and eased my way out. This fish was a fighter and I thought he was going to rip between someone’s legs and break her off. The battle took a good few minutes and perhaps five jumps before the salmon hit the net.
Although the ouananiche wasn’t huge the catch told us something. Our fear of salmon lockjaw was out the door. Granny and Paul posed with monster smiles then told me it was my turn. I simply said, “Nope”, and returned to the bank. I wanted to see just how lucky my girl could be.
I’m not sure how Granny does it but while I lose almost every salmon I hook while swinging a fly, she has a perfect record. It wasn’t two minutes later and the water erupted again in the tailout. This was a larger ouananiche and I heard my Ross Reel screaming and saw my Bimini Twist line to backing connection leave the rod. Two days ago the other guest, John, lost a fly line to a salmon because of a poor knot. There’s no fear of failure with a properly done Bimini in the backing looped to a whipped loop in a fly line.
Granny eased the big landlocked back upstream with precision. The idea is not to tick them off so bad that they continue down which in this case was a rapid. They don’t like to leave their pool if they don’t have too and if you fight them right you can fight them in the pool you hook them in and land them there. Granny did it again!
Granny continued swinging where she left off. I stepped up the top of the pool and wouldn’t you know hooked and lost a beast. I just don’t have the touch of hooking them well and I should’ve stuck to my druthers of having Granny run the pool again. We swung flies thoroughly for one more pass then Paul said it was time to hit his favorite ouananiche pool on the McKenzie River.
We continued downstream and swung a few spots unsuccessfully before arriving at Paul’s favorite, Berry Flat. Once again I stayed back and followed Granny remaining ready to take pictures. The first good pool she swung provided no luck but in the next one she hooked up bigtime!
We knew right away this was a big salmon. My new Winston 6-weight was heavily bent and the salmon didn’t jump. When a species of fish that normally jumps gets hooked up and doesn’t jump – it’s usually a big one. It was a good two minutes of bulldogging before Granny lifted the salmon to the surface for Andrew to net. It was a brute. Unfortunately Andrew took a swing and a miss however he caught a small salmon that Granny’s salmon spit up. The juvenile was eaten only seconds before Granny’s fly was eaten because the mangled fish was still alive.
With the large ouananiche now aware of the net and his trouble the strength of his fight picked up dramatically. The landlocked made up for not jumping early in the fight which was good news because now he started to tire. Soon the salmon was in the net and Granny and I have us a nice pic for the den!
We fished a little more but travel back upstream was going to take longer than our trip down. We’d had an epic day so at 3 we headed back. Surprisingly it wasn’t too grueling and we made the lodge in a couple hours. As a tradition, we had a last night celebration that included gargantuan steaks and some fine red wine. Paul and the McKenzie River Lodge staff know how to treat their guests!
Making the celebration even more of a celebration was hearing that the plane coming to pick us up tomorrow wasn’t going to arrive until 2 PM. What this means is that there’s time to wander down to Pool One and Two one last time. Stay tuned. It aint over till it’s over!