"The Reel Thing"
Monthly Club Newsletter
by Gordon Deval

Perennial Canadian Senior Casting Champion.
Sixty years of competitive tournament fly and bait casting.
Holds, or has held every Canadian distance fly and bait casting title.
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This is a special issue of the Reel Thing, because it was the very first one, originally written in almost 40 years ago, with an update by the author.

1961 – 2004,  IN  SEARCH  OF  THE  RECORD

            A couple of years ago, a fishing buddy of mine, Paul Quarrington, wrote a best selling book entitled FISHING WITH MY OLD GUY.  I am the ‘Old Guy’.

            I have been fishing for brook trout since I was seven years old, almost sixty-eight years, but since the day when I first saw the original mount of Doctor Cook’s fourteen pounds plus world record brookie in the railway station in what used to be called Port Arthur-Fort William, it has become an obsession with me to top the good doctor’s world record. Many brookies, up to eight pounds, had succumbed to our feather and tin tossing efforts over those early years when in 1961 the search for the record began in earnest with the Field and Stream magazine reporting that an eleven pound speckled trout had been captured in Northern Quebec’s Assinica Reserve.

            The following winter months were spent pouring over maps and interchanging mail with the ‘powers to be’ who governed the fishing and access to that area. The result of the exercise was a decision to load a car-top boat and canoe on the Chev., talk a buddy into joining me and head for the mining town, Chibougamau. It was the end of the road in the days before Quebec Hydro began building dams and roads further and further north.

If necessary, we were prepared to travel as far as we could with the car-top and motor towing the canoe then paddle and portage to what we suspected might be the source of the waters which drained into Assinica Lake. It seemed reasonable to assume that even larger trout than the eleven-pounder which had been taken out of Assinica could be in the headwaters of the entire watershed.

            We were correct and after a great deal of difficulty obtaining the necessary permission and documentation, scrapped the original plan and flew from a tiny air base on Lac Cache near the town to what we hoped would be the answer to all our dreams, the headwaters of the Broadback River. It was…..almost!

We did not top Doctor Cook’s record, but did manage to fly out a few days later and have weighed in the Hudson’s Bay store an incredible catch of speckled trout, four fish tipping the scales at more than thirty-six pounds. The largest, eleven and a quarter pounds, fell victim to my Despair nymph and took fifty-five minutes to subdue beside the rapids where she kept shop. Each time I would work the fish in close in the back current it seemed to find enough strength to get out again into the heavy flow of the main current then take all the fly line and considerable backing out to deeper water at the foot of the rapids.

            The second largest was an even ten pounds and unbelievably was caught by my buddy on a rubber worm. He now operates a commercial trout pond near Toronto and tells folks that his fish was caught on a “Dry Fly”. Oh well! It’s business, I guess. The catch and the photos thereof created quite a sensation amongst trout fishermen at the time, with call after call and question after question,

“Where were you fishing?” - “What did you use?”, etc.

My fixation on the record was somewhat appeased with the eleven-pounder but was certainly far from being satiated. In the forty-odd years since, I have fished a variety of waters in the Assinica and Broadback watersheds a total of twenty-five times and managed to land many other magnificent brookies in the eight to ten and a half pound range but never topped that first huge salvelinus fontinalus, speck, brookie, squaretail, Quebec Red, or whatever else you want to call them.

There have, however, been five or six occasions during those years when either I, or one of my buddies tied into what we were certain was a new world-record brook trout, with the first being on that initial trip to Northern Quebec. Another female brookie, one that would have crushed Dr. Cook’s record, went over a waterfall and stripped the fly-line and backing completely before eventually breaking the tippet. That fish was studied in the water above the waterfall for at least a half an hour before the cast was made with my Despair landing fifteen feet above the huge trout to allow the fly time to drift right to her nose. I had hoped that she would remain above the falls, but it was not to be. After engulfing the morsel, she made a single run up-stream then turned tail and shot right past me and over the falls.

Another potential world record was hooked by my old buddy, Tony Whittingham, on one of his seven trips with us. He thought he had that trout whipped when he finally worked it into the shallows a few feet from where I stood with my movie camera whirring away. The problem was that I was so happy and excited for him that the camera was busily filming the clouds in the sky while I was flopping around trying to get out of the trout’s way so that Tony could get down off the big rock he was perched on to land the thing. I would conservatively estimate that Brook Trout to have tipped the scales near seventeen pounds if he had slid down and netted it. But before he could, it meandered back into the current and in his attempt to arrest its progress his six pound spinning line snapped.

On a similar trip to the area a third brookie that also would have easily set a new world record was surrendered due to my own foolish carelessness. I had just released a small pike that had struck the streamer and rolled up on the leader, badly fraying it with its razor-sharp gill covers in the process. Eager to get the fly back in the water, it was not replaced. The moment the gaudy Muscarovitch streamer fly hit the water a speckled trout almost a yard long erupted with the fly firmly buried in its lip then jumped a second time like a huge steelhead. Of course, the ragged leader tippet parted.

The magnificent male brookie continued leaping between me and the fellows with whom I was fishing on both sides of the rapids, seemingly showing off his captured trophy fly to the entire world. The four of us had excellent opportunities to judge the size of this trout and all agreed it was well over thirty inches and would have weighed in excess of fifteen pounds. In total frustration at my own foolishness, I sat down on the closest rock and cried like a baby. That fish has been landed and cradled many times in my arms like a precious gold statue or young child…..but, unfortunately, only in my dreams!

There have been several others that were ‘released’ due to one reason or another, but a couple of years ago, old buddy, Rick Matusiak, designed and built a system for underwater video-taping. The camera was mounted in a waterproof housing, shaped and coloured like a bottom rock. Using an extension pole, it was lowered into one of our favourite holes then using the miniature remote television set on the surface he was able to film whatever action there was passing back and forth through the camera lens’s field of view.

What he filmed and what we have studied many times over was that this particular spot contained a number of fish that might be the ‘pot o’ gold’  that we have been searching for all these years. We were able to determine that because we were actually catching one brookie after another in the twenty-one to twenty-six inch class (four to six pounds) and although those were the majority of the trout we were also witnessing in Rick’s viewer and subsequent videos, every few moments a monster brookie or two, much larger than the others would casually mosey along by the lens, dwarfing the others in appearance.

During the past three years we have fished that spot in Northern Quebec which was tabbed by my son, Ron, as the “Glory Hole” a half a dozen times and have yet to produce Mister Big although almost everything has been offered to these monster trout except dynamite caps and hand grenades. They are there….or close by…..somewhere. We reassure ourselves continuously by studying Rick’s videos and are convinced that one of these days the record will fall to someone in our coterie of fishin’ buddies. When it does, we have agreed that we all should be able to share in the glory of the “Glory Hole”, as it can only really happen as a team effort by the total crew there on that particular excursion.

I have just returned from my twenty-fifth trip to that wonderful brook trout anglers’ paradise and although we once again had a great trip, have to sadly report that although there were many fish caught, some of which that provided superb dining, Doctor Cook’s record still stands. Next year I will be seventy-five years old. Will I go back again, or is it time to retire and settle for the lovely little brookies I can catch less than an hour from where I live in Toronto?  Ask me that same question please next spring when maybe I will be able to answer it. 

 The Reel Thing




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