September 21-25 2017- Somewhere south of Gogama Ontario in the wilds of beautiful Northern Ontario
About Aurora Trout:
Named after the aurora borealis because of their unique color patterns, the Aurora Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis timagamiensis) is a unique variant of the Brook Trout. It is a member of the Trout and Salmon family and looks similar to Brook Trout, yet adult fish lack the yellow marks throughout the dorsal region and exhibit few to no red spots along with those blue halos that brook trout are famous for. Adult’s average about 1 to 3 lbs, and the Ontario record is 6.44 lbs.
The aurora trout originally occupied a very restricted range, probably originally occurring in only two lakes, Whitepine and Whirligig, as well as their inflowing streams near Temagami. The subspecies was extirpated from the original lakes by the ravages of acid rain in the late 1950s, but was saved from extinction by Paul Graf, a hatchery manager at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He had brought a brood stock of the fish into the hatchery at Hill's Lake near Charlton, Ontario. He sometimes feared the fish might have been taking up valuable space in the hatchery and, on several occasions, thought about getting rid of them, until they were found to have been extirpated from the wild.
A stocking program began and since naturalised populations of aurora trout have been introduced into about a dozen lakes in northeastern Ontario as refugia, including the one we were fishing south of Gogama. In the late 1980s, the original Aurora Trout lakes were treated with lime to raise the pH to neutralize conditions, and aurora trout were reintroduced. Natural reproduction of aurora trout has been documented in the original lakes since the reintroduction, but the pH in the lakes has since begun to decline again, presumably because of reservoirs of acidic particulate depositions in the watershed.
At the lake we fished, natural reproduction is not likely so stocking occurs regularly. A one fish limit per Sport Licenced angler is in effect but like other Aurora Trout lakes this one only opens once every three years from Aug 1-Oct 15. No live baitfish are permitted and the recommendation by the local MNRF office was to harvest your one fish (especially in the heat) and then stop fishing.
When my good friend Gerry Heels asked me to accompany him up to his remote camp to try and catch ourselves an Aurora Trout, I actually had to think it over for a bit. I did have another tentative fishing related commitment during my month long vacation already filled with all sorts of angling related excursions. Looking back I’m happy I didn’t think too long … and am so glad that I jumped at this opportunity after my other buddy Greg Lunn gave me his blessing. Why did that matter? Cause I was possibly going to fish with him during the same period near Bancroft. But, when he said, “Man you gotta go after an Aurora Trout … it could be once in a lifetime and if you get one you’d likely be the first staff person from your outfit’s Aurora District to catch one too! If I was in your shoes it would be no contest – Aurora’s all the way!”
The Quest Begins:
And a long way’s away it was from the town of Aurora too. We began with a quick 3 ½ hour evening drive to Sudbury where, along with another friend Paul Kindy we spent the night. Paul would be focusing on bear hunting while Gerry and I fished on the Saturday. We headed out early the next morning and drove north another 3 ½ hours towards Gogama. From there it was another solid hour by the same logging road we use in winter with ski-doo’s for our legendary ice fishing trips to get to Gerry’s camp. (Many of those winter articles can be viewed on this site.)
That same arrival day we checked the bait piles at the bear sites, did some grouse hunting (got one with my new 20 gauge) and in record temperatures in the 30C range … even went for a swim in one of the secluded lakes we ATV’d to. Although we rarely if ever see anyone at these lakes … while I was swimming in this incredible aqua marine colored lake back from an island I swam out to, a small motorboat appeared out of nowhere in the wide open lake … I couldn’t help but wonder who was more surprised - myself or the young couple in the boat, at the encounter of seeing each other out there.
It’s been a long time since Wil has hunted grouse in shorts and short sleeve shirt but there was just no other way to handle the record setting heat during their September adventure
One of the bait barrels was torn apart by a big hungry bruin … but during our three days at camp … no bears would be seen … until of course on our way out on one of the logging roads!
The next morning Gerry and I grabbed the two ATV’s, rigged the trailer and strapped down all our fishing gear, Lowrance Unit, the electric motor, full battery and his 10 foot jon boat on top. We chose the latter over a canoe because we are fully aware how uncomfortable a canoe can be to fish in for a long day. The boat would be much heavier to portage but we figured it would be well worth it once in the water. We took off from the main camp and after a good solid hour by ATV we finally arrived at the lake … but we weren’t at our real destination just yet. This larger lake was one we had to cross before reaching our portage landing spot on the other side. We unloaded, piled our stuff in the boat and half hour later we were there … greeted as if on cue by a beautiful bald eagle hovering within easy eyeshot. “That has to be a good omen,” I pronounced as we began to unload the small boat and prepare for the steep 80 metre incline it had to be hauled up.
We knew portaging this 10 foot Jon Boat would be more work than a canoe but are glad we made the effort
In the 28C heat, manhandling that lil boat up the cliff-like incline was no easy task but we managed. Another ½ k trek to our special little Aurora Trout lake and we finally arrived. It was gorgeous! And there wasn’t another soul around.
The tree box there with the angler survey sheets were a real eye opener as angler after visiting angler had indicated very tough fishing since the season opened this summer. The vast majority had caught zero fish – one dude even having fished it for a dozen years already without handling an Aurora Trout. We knew right away that with a water temp at 70 F (71.8 by end of day) and air temp near 30C that our odds were really stacked against us. “Man, if these things behave like brook trout and we don’t even bother fishing for them in this heat … then this is gonna be a tough day,” quipped Gerry.
The 10’ Jon Boat was a pleasure to fish from – especially for two bass crazed tournament anglers who with all their tackle, and desire to stand up every once in awhile.
And so it was! For over four hours we fished the entire lake; every nook and cranny we could think of that might hold this oh-so-rare trout. I was casting most of the time a variety of lures in my tackle box, Gerry long line trolling different baits behind the boat. We didn’t mark a fish, nor even have a fish sniff at our lures. With zero wind though, we did see several jump which surely did get the adrenalin pumping.
Finally in late afternoon we decided to switch tactics completely. ”Let’s long line jigs in deep water like we do for lethargic finicky bass – with the electric motor barely keeping us moving,” I suggested. We were doing just that for awhile when Gerry noticed on the screen of his Lowrance HDS 7 that the bottom 2/3’ds of the screen was covered in what I thought were tiny baitfish … but Gerry suggested they could be grass shrimp. “We have a few lakes up here where it seems the brook trout feed almost entirely on these little shrimp things … not the same as the scuds attached to aquatic plants that perch feed on in Simcoe but actually free floating small freshwater shrimp.”
Well! As if it was almost destined to happen in that shrimp filled area we marked our first fish of the day! Even the best sonar in the world can’t make them bite but knowing there was a fish around sure was a confidence booster. Just as we rounded a 34’ deep edge and were thinking it was a no-show, the tip of my Rapala rod twitched ever so slightly. “Oh man I have a hit! I set the hook hard!
With lots of line out for my brown colored tube jig to mimic a scurrying crayfish right on bottom (I know brookies like them and presumed Aurora’s would too) there was a fairly lengthy fight as I battled my first ever Aurora trout closer and closer to the boat. I can’t recall the last time I was that nervous reeling in a fish of any size … even in a tournament! I tried not to let her jump by keeping my rod down but she managed an attempt closer to the boat to shake the hook … but to no avail, as Gerry reached out and scooped up this wonderful fish!
High fives and big whoops followed … and despite our efforts to try and keep the fish alive in the net while unhooking it … it clearly did could not swim back down – so became my one fish legal limit and I stopped fishing, hopped in the back to handle the electric motor and gave Gerry my tube!
Despite continued efforts to duplicate the same productive pattern … and even more marks on the Lowrance indicating both shrimp and fish … none were willing to sacrifice themselves for my buddy. Knowing that he would be back just before the season closes (Oct 15) for another visit though … he was finally content to call it a day, fish for a few walleye in the main lake and ride back to camp in total darkness for a late but well deserved supper. The Aurora trout’s stomach BTW was loaded with grass shrimp and its flesh was beet red and very mild – simply delicious!
We sure had a great adventure in our quest to catch an Aurora Trout and have already made plans to return in three years to try it again. Next time though we can do without the incredible heat – we had a thermometer outside the cabin that read 40C! A couple of years ago we were there on an ice fishing trip when it read -40 … both C and F where the two meet. Either kind of extremes are just a little much!