Brook Trout on the Nipigon

After his third cast into the Nipigon River, my father is angling a decent fish. By the time I trudge down the riverbank with my camera, Gord Smedley has a gloved hand gripping the tail of a 16-inch brook trout. She is undeniably beautiful: wide in girth, with her deeply coloured, bespeckled hide resplendent in the late August sun. It's a big brookie by most standards, but we are on the Nipigon, and as my dad would soon discover, the fish now swimming back to the slack water behind a group of boulders is well below average.

Earlier today we arrived at Nipigon River Adventures, based out of a historic log structure built in 1937 by a pulp and paper company. Today its luxurious guest rooms and cathedral-like living area, built around a massive stone fireplace, function well as a tourist lodge.

First Trip to the Nipigon

Although I’ve been fortunate enough to fish the Nipigon several times, my dad has never been on this fabled trout river. We launch at the Pine Portage Dam into Forgan Lake. Essentially a flooded section of the Nipigon River, the strong current, rocky islands, shoals, and narrows present a dizzying number of places for trout to hide. Dad and I stop at a shallow run that lends itself well to shore fishing. A powerful flow undulates over a mix of boulders, rock ledges, and gravel bars before dropping into a deep pool.

Gordon Smedley with a big Northwestern Ontario Nipigon River brook trout.

This is where dad hooks his first Nipigon brookie on the third cast. Thoroughly engaged, Dad continues with spinning gear while I head upstream with my fly rod. There are no rises, but I tie on a dry fly and cast above an enticing boulder run. It takes a few tries to get a solid dead drift, but when I do, my Stimulator is sucked from the glassy surface.

“Got a good one,” I call out as my father turns to see a 20-plus-inch trout jump clear out of the water and spit the barbless hook with a vigorous headshake.

Nipigon Experience

I return to the boulder run and cast toward a dark strip of water just off the steeply sloping granite shoreline. My fly disappears with an authoritative boil, but my hook set falls short. Subsequent attempts to fool the fish fail. Out of desperation I grab my spinning rod and rip a lure through the zone. At 23 inches, the duped fish turns out to be the largest trout of the day – but one I really wish I’d caught on a fly.

The historic log structure at Northwestern Ontario’s Nipigon River Adventures.

Anglers are allowed to keep one brook trout over 22 inches in the Nipigon River. This is a trophy by any standard. Although by day’s end, we’ve both landed a few “keeper” brook trout, we choose to release these squaretails in the interest of returning to the same calibre of trout fishing we just experienced on the legendary Nipigon River.

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at

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