Excerpted from: Fifty Places to Fish Before You Die -- by Chris Santella Brook Trout on The Woods River System, Labrador Recommended by James R. Babb When fly fishers first plied the waters of the New World in the 1700s, trout fishing MEANT brook trout fishing. Brookies (or squaretails or speckled trout) are the original trout of the east –though they‟re technically a member of the char family. Many a young boy cut his angling teeth catching little hand-sized brookies on worms or even strips of cloth from little creeks and ponds, long before rainbow and German brown trout had gained a stronghold on the eastern seaboard. Pretty and delicate as they are, forget about those little brookies for a moment, and consider the wilds of Labrador – a place where ten plus pound brook trout are a reality…and where James R. Babb and a few friends enjoyed a singularly perfect day of fishing. “I had an invitation to go up to Labrador with a few friends – John Gierach and A.K. Best – to fish at a new wilderness outpost, Three Rivers Lodge. The first few days out of the lodge, we did pretty well, though nothing out of the ordinary for Labrador. On the third day, we flew into an outpost camp called Fifth Rapids. We came to some pocket water, and noticed a small gray-winged dun coming off. A few fish were rising here and there. We all tied on some smallish dries, and in the next four or five hours, proceeded to catch upwards of 150 pounds of wild brook trout. I should add that we caught only about 30 fish. My smallest weighted about four pounds, my largest about 7. A.K. and John each got a fish around nine pounds, and I lost one fish that parted a fresh 10-pound leader between the knots. “Later around the woodstove in the lodge, A.K. summed it up pretty well: „That was the most outrageous day of fishing I‟ve ever had.‟” Labrador is about as wild as things get in eastern North America. Three Rivers Lodge is a 150-mile float plane flight from Labrador City, which isn‟t particularly close to anywhere. The thick spruce and tamarack forests here – home to black bear, bald eagle and vast herds of migrating caribou – are bisected by the Woods River system, which includes 100 miles of river, lakes and feeder streams. The lake sections hold trophy lake trout and northern pike; the big brookies concentrate in the stream sections that connect the lakes, especially in and below the riffles. The fishing here is not terrifically technical, yet the fish are not pushovers. “There are places up in the Arctic where you only need a pulse and a hook to catch fish,” Jim said The fish at Fifth Rapids weren‟t pattern crazy, but the fly had to be presented right, with a dead drift. They were just skittish enough to make things fun without driving you crazy. “In my opinion, big brook trout are much better fighters than other salmonids. They have to be extremely tough to survive in an environment where they‟re preyed upon by large pike. At one point, A.K. caught a 2 pound brookie that was grabbed by a nine pound pike before he could get it in. That‟s evolutionary theory borne out.” One of the wonderful things about the Woods River system is the endless sense of fishing possibilities it presents. “There are probably spots equally as good as Fifth Rapids to fish,” Jim said, “but they haven‟t been found yet. Only a quarter of the rivers up there have been explored by the guides at Three Rivers. If you and your guide are in an adventurous mood, you may have the chance to fish waters that have never been fished. “I‟m a big fan of little streams. There are hundreds of feeder creeks coming into the system. We stopped at one such creek that resembled a western irrigation ditch. On his first cast, John caught a six pound brookie.” Labrador is a brook trout nirvana, though it‟s a nirvana with a few drawbacks. The weather can be capricious; some days the rain and wind can be severe enough to keep even the hardiest anglers huddled around the stove. (Following their epic day, Jim and his friends spent two days weathered in with scattered snow squalls and horizontal rain.) And the mosquitoes and blackflies can be more predatory than the pike, making heavy- duty bug spray and headnets a must. (During Jim‟s trip, a light wind kept the bugs mostly at bay, adding to the pleasure.) For the trophy brook trout enthusiast in search of a true wilderness experience, the chance of a washed out day and a few mosquito bites will not be enough to deter a trip that hearkens back to angling legend Lee Wulff‟s adventurous days in this part of the world. “The Lodge has an old red Beaver float plane – a real classic,” Jim added. “For me, there are few things more fun than flying into a river that can‟t be fished any other way. It‟s just you, your buddies, and the fish.” James R. Babb is editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal and author of Crosscurrents: A Flyfisher’s Progress, and River Music: A Flyfisher’s Four Seasons. The son of a lunatic- fringe fly-fisherman and the brother of a professional fly tier, fly-fishing guide, and bamboo rodbuilder, Jim grew up fly-fishing in the mountains of East Tennessee. Since 1972 he has lived in midcoast Maine, where he has worked variously as a lobster fisherman, truck driver, boating and fishing writer, and editor of books about fishing, boats, ships, and the sea. If You Go… Prime Time: The fishing season runs from mid-June to early September. The brookies feed aggressively throughout the short summer at this latitude. Getting There: The camps operated by Three Rivers Lodge on the Woods River are 150 miles from Labrador City, and accessible only by float plane from Wabush or Labrador City. Commercial air service into Wabush is available on Air Canada (888-247-2262). NOTE: you‟ll need to pack carefully, as there‟s a 40-pound luggage restriction for the float plane ride into Three Rivers. Accommodations: Three Rivers Lodge is the only game in town on the Woods River (781-246-2527; www.trophylabrador.com). They operate a main lodge as well as several fly-in outpost camps. The guides at Three Rivers are extremely knowledgeable, and the hosts at the lodge are first-rate, offering excellent meals and comfortable cabins. Most fishing is accessed via boats or outboard-powered canoes; two days of fly-in fishing are included in the package. The trip runs just under $4,000, not including airfare to Wabush. Equipment: The brook trout of the Woods River system are big and strong, and require sturdy sticks. While a 6-weight rod might do the job, you‟d be better off with 9‟ outfits in 7- or 8-weights, loaded with floating line. Leaders should be 9‟, tapered from 1x to 3x; bring tippet material in 5 to 10 pound test. While fish are somewhat sensitive to fly size if a hatch is occurring, they are not terribly particular about patterns. Standbys for Labrador brookies include Royal Wulffs (#8-10), Quill Duns (#14-16), Green Drakes (#8-10), dark Woolly Buggers (#4-6) and weighted Muddler Minnows (#4-6).