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How to ID Aurora Trout
How to Locate Aurora Trout
How to Help Aurora Trout
Fishing for Aurora Trout
Story of the discovery of the Aurora Trout
Carnegie Museum Report of the Discovery
The Aurora's Recovery Strategy
Other Aurora Links
Aurora Trout Photo
by Robert H. Dolson (reprinted from
Field and Stream April 1941)
There were -seven of them in that rock-bound
pool - trout. The smallest was no Ionger than the span
of my hand, and the largest looked to be about a foot and a half
of streamlined, silver-bronze fighting power. As I stood gazing
I discovered another fish over in a corner of the pool. Unlike
the others. he bore the familiar markings of the brook trout.
Motionless, the eight lay in the water. The arm of the lake
stretched away between wooded hills and bent out of sight. The
sky was blue and deep.
To me, it was the most fascinating group
mounting in the whole Carnegie Museum. Across the front was a
flawless pane of glass. Water, rocks and vegetation melted into
painted background in an indiscernible line. To bear out the
truth of the picture, the lighting effects blended light and
shadow in natural unobtrusiveness. Yes, The Carnegie Museum had
outdone even its peerless self on the whole piece. It was a
block carved from the virile North and set in a dull wall, there
to glow, ever entrancing to fellows like me.
Beside the window hung an explanatory placard.
In part, it read like this:
"The aurora trout ( Salvelinus
timagamiensis), a new species, named for the northern lights, of
auora borealis, was first discovered in September. 1923. by a
group of Pittsburgh anglers. Research showed this trout to
be unknown to science. So far as known, this trout occurs only
in a few small, clear lakes about 1,300 feet above sea- level,
in ridges near the divide between the Hudson Bay and St.
Lawrence drainages. In size limits the aurora trout approaches
the brook trout. It has been taken by fly-fishing. by trolling
and by bait fishing. Its habits are at present largely unknown.
These fish found in White Pine Lake. Ontario, Canada. First
displayed at the Carnegie Museum in May. 1927."
This was all very new and very intriguing to
me. I turned back to the window to gaze again at those suspended
dynamos. And the big fellow, poised there at the back of the
Pool, did a most unusual thing. Gentlemen, he winked ! Just Iike
that. Right at the psychological moment, when my eyes were full
of Canadian sky and water and my nostrils were searching for the
fragrance of pine. That wink did things to me. I went home, dug
out my topographical maps of Ontario, and set about locating
that little lake, tucked away somewhere in the Canadian bush.
After I had succeeded in doing this, I further extended my
search by reading in the annals of the Carnegie Museum all the
details of the expedition on which the aurora trout was
discovered. Dr. A. W. Henn, one of the members of that memorable
trip, added interesting and instructive comments.
This took place in the early spring. By
the middle of July I was overhauling camping gear and laying in
a new supply of fishing tackle, including the usual run of
unusual-looking lures. I never have been able to pare down to
essentials on fishing tackle, no matter how light I wish to
Well, I talked Dad into going. That wasn't
very hard. And we later recruited my 17-year-old brother, who is
already a mighty convenient man to have along. AND so, one
bright morning in August we stowed our carefully chosen
outfit in the car, checking each piece as we packed it away:
three sleeping bags rolled into one duffel, a three-man tepee
type tent, one clothes duffel, a heavy food pack with shoulder
straps and tump, a light tarpaulin, a very compact cooking kit
and our fishing tackle. All sundries were packed in a small
shoulder sack. Then we went north. Seven hundred miles
away on the second afternoon we exchanged the steering wheel for
paddles. An hour's work carried us to the foot of the first
rapids, where we set up a couple of rods. Every cast brought a
We picked a beautiful site for our island camp on that
walleye. They slashed at the spinners, and
fought hard in the swift current. Four pounders were average.
We packed over the half-mile portage. The 18-foot canoe ground
the paddles two inches into my office-softened shoulders on the
way over. Just at dark we made camp on a narrow ledge. Before
turning in we wedged a large log between us and the edge of that
ledge to preclude the possibility of rolling off during the
Moon rays were spearing through the wall of
pine on the opposite hill as I crawled into my sleeping bag.
Behind, the river boomed distantly over the rocks. I slept
fitfully, as I always do the first night out.
A half hour was spent the next morning in studying the
topographical map. Inci dentally, each of us always carried one
of these maps, wrapped in waterproof silk. Each carried a
compass. Extra cautious? Well, maybe. But we all came back.
The second portage was about five miles south,
on up the river. I mean I think it was. We never found it.
Floating logs were responsible for that - floating logs and
stumps and trees, evidently picked up by a flood. They hemmed us
in on every side. We couldn't reach the spot where we thought
the trail began. We couldn't reach the shore within a mile of
it, and where we were able to land the bush, thick and black,
stopped us. It was a tough day for us, and an even tougher one
for the canoe, for we scraped it over sunken Iogs and rammed it.
through the branches of half-submerged trees. In many places we
cleared a channel with the ax. After ten hours of bucking that
canoeman's nightmare, during which time we made p:actically no
headway, we turned back, making camp on the same ledge occupied
the night before. It was difficult to get. back, for during the
day the logs had closed in behind us.
The next morning we back-tracked over the
portage and paddled down the river, pulling in at the rangers'
station, where the car was parked. We had a talk with one of the
rangers, explaining the approximate section of country we wished
to reach and the impossibility of getting there over the route
we had expected to travel. And the ranger - bless him!-cleared
the cluttered waters with a few words. He told us of an old
mining road which cut its hardy way through the bush and
river sixteen miles up.
A short time later we had the canoe on the car
and were doing four miles an hour over that road. Two red foxes
trotted ahead of the car for a quarter of a mile on the way in.
We reached the river at
dark, unloaded only the necessary duffel and, aided by the car
lights, made a quick camp.
Rain was pelting on my sleeping bag
when I awoke. The early-morning sky was solid lead. Back in the
woods a Canada jay was screaming. Judging by the sounds
emanating from the car, parked close by in the little clearing,
one might have thought that the motor was running. Closer
inspection disclosed the fact that it was only the snores of
foxy Father, who had elected to sleep inside. On the ground
beside me was the Kid-a rain-darkened, humped mass of canvas,
pocked with puddles of water. I kicked vigorously to shake the
water from my own bag, and then crawled out, clutching pants and
boots, which I had placed inside for safe keeping. Over the
breakfast fire, made from inside slabs of a pine log, we heated
a large can of beef and brewed a pot of tea. At ten in the
morning the rain stopped. We took the canoe down from the car
top and carried it to the water. A half hour later, with
the outfit covered by the tarpaulin, we pushed off and once more
headed up the misty river into the aurora-trout country.
Rain fell intermittently during the day.
Wherever we landed the slippery rocks and logs made walking
difficult. Once, stepping ashore at a portage, I fell, splitting
the blade of my paddle on a stone. As I got up I thanked the
gods for the extra paddle we had put in the canoe.
Ducks were more plentiful along the river than
we had ever seen them. Mallards, black ducks and sawbills flew
up from every bend. A moose cracked into the dripping bush at
the water's edge.
4 auroras that any man would be proud to catch
Only once, in a little lake with many deep
bays, did we lose the channel of the river, and then our
excellent map brought us quickly back to the course. It was late
on the second afternoon that we took the outfit over the next to
last portage, which brought us to a little body of water known
as Fort Lake. Hastily we loaded and pushed off. Thirty feet from
shore we hit a rock -hard. The heavily laden canoe lurched
clear. From my seat in the stern I leaned over and in the
shallow water picked up a foot long strip of canvas torn from
the canoe bottom.
Water came in, not fast but with a steadiness
not exactly comforting. I kicked myself without moving for my
hurried carelessness, and told the Kid to keep on paddling. We
made it across the lake, Dad
bailing with the drinking cup. At the foot of the last portage
we turned the canoe over. The bottom was gouged and ripped for
over a foot and a half. We left the boat there to dry out and,
shouldering our packs. went up the trail.
When the Kid and I returned, the canvas was
quite dry. No marine glue and patches were to be had, but there
was something which has patched rips in canoes for me before - a
roll of three-inch adhesive tape. We cut two strips about two
feet long, and heated the gummed side with matches to make them
stick better, laid them, overlapping, the length of the gash and
pressed them down firmly. A third strip sealed the seam of the
Then, before portaging the canoe over, we
dropped it back into Fort Lake. This we did to test the patch,
so that if it were not watertight the canoe would have a chance
to dry out again on the portage over. But it rode high and dry,
with no sign of seepage. And I might add that for the ten days
following we had no trouble whatever with the leak.
It was a steep pitch up that hill. The faint
trail was overgrown and thick. Fallen logs, waist-high,
stretched across it. And so it was nearly an hour before we
topped the last rise, climbed over a large tree trunk and,
hurrying down an incline, dropped our canoe into White Pine
Lake-crystal home of the auroras. The portage trail evidently
struck on a finger of the main body of water, for we
could see only a very narrow channel stretching away to the
south. With duffel safely aboard, we turned the canoe down this
gut and wound our way out. A few hundred yards on we rounded a
point, and the lake proper unfolded before us. To our right, on
the west shore, a. pointed hill rose into the sky. From previous
observation of the painted background in the museum mounting, I
now recognized this as Tower Hill. We threw out a trout spoon
and started trolling.
One mile and no strikes down the lake, we came
to a beautiful little island. The northern point, high and not
too densely wooded, seemed to offer an ideal camping location.
We swung in and landed. Something that looked like a sign was
sticking on a pine tree about thirty feet from the water’s edge.
Dad walked up to see. Then he bellowed like a bull moose. I drop
the duffel I was unloading and went after Dad, the Kid close
behind me. It was a sign, and this is what it said:
FISHING IN THESE WATER PROHIBITED
Dept. of Fisheries, Ontario, Canada
Dad said, “I’ll be damned !” and since that
seemed to pretty well cover it, I didn’t say anything. Neither
did the Kid. The three of us just stood there, fifty miles from
nowhere, and read that fool metal poster over and over. I
won’t dwell on the doings of that particular evening. Suffice it
to say that we made some sort of preparations for the night and,
after grouching it over, went to bed under a blanket of gloom
which was heavier than the fillers in our sleeping bags.
View Larger Map
Over the breakfast bacon next morning, feeling
refreshed and consequently half amused over the whole thing, we
carefully considered it from every angle. Why hadn’t the ranger
warned us that fishing was prohibited in the lake in which
aurora trout were most extensively found? Why wasn’t
there a notice posted at the end of the lake where the portage
trail came in, or even at the lower end, where it left Fort
And it all did exactly no good, of course,
for there was that sign sticking to the tree,
almost in our camp. At nine in the morning
we were still debating our next move. The
Kid was eying the rods with meaningful
glances, and I knew that something had to
be done, and quickly.
The solution came in a flash - the flash of
a canoe paddle. We saw it a half mile away,
glinting in the morning sun. As it drew
near we observed three men in a canoe, and
two of them were fishing-trolling. We
paddled out to meet them. Here is the story which the guide told
us and which I later verified, along with other facts.
The lake had been posted for the two previous
years, during much of which time scientists had been camped
there, learning the habits of the aurora trout and making
efforts to propagate them in other waters. The results of
their labors have not, to my knowledge, been made public,
although all the persons to whom I talked seemed to feel that it
was certain they had not had any success. The lake had been
again opened to public fishing. Purely by accident, this one
sign had not been taken down.
Incidentally, the rangers later told me that
another reason the taking of these fish had been for a time
prohibited was because fishing parties had been coming in by
plane, netting large numbers of these very rare trout and flying
out again. no doubt to brag about their catch. It's too bad to
mention such men in a sporting magazine.
Our first day was non productive. On the
second afternoon trolling along the west shore of White Pine
Lake-with a small silver spoon and worm, the Kid hooked a trout.
Clearly it was not a large fish,
but on a light rod with forty yards of line out it
scrapped beautifully and aerially.
Carefully he brought it up to tlre boat. The
net dipped and raised. I plunged my hand in and held up 15
shimmering inches of aurora trout! He was built very much like a
brook trout, and a replica of the museum fish in color. OI
course. he was more beautiful, for he was alive with the
tingling life bred in him by cold Northern waters, drops of
which were intensifying the beauty of clear bronze back and
silver-green sides. A faint red. streak, low on the sides, set
off the ivory white of the belly. The pure-red fins were tipped
with white. He was superb !
Perhaps it seems strange that we were not able
to take any fish out of that remote lake during the first day
and a half of hard fishing. Here are a few reasons which had a
direct bearing on the matter. It was August, which is not as
good a Canadian trout month as the few falling before and after
on the calendar. The weather was unsettled. with rain and strong
winds from the north and northeast. We didn't know the best
fishing grounds in the lake. Much of our time was spent
experimenting with flies and artificial lures, none of which
were at all productive for us. Maybe earlier or later in the
season these would have turned the trick. We trolled too fast at
first, for the trout were deep and we weren't getting down to
them. Well, after the first one they started to come
in better-and bigger. -
We caught three more that afternoon. all over
two pounds. They are tremendous fighters, spending more time in
the air than any bass, musky, or other trout I have ever caught.
It is impossible to reel fast enough to keep them down.
The following morning we swung the canoe over
a short portage into a little lake lying just west of White
Pine. It was pocketed in such a peculiar way that the
troublesome wind, swirling out of the hills, blew from every
direction at once. There were trout in it, though.
On the first trip around the lake, Dad, trolling with the old
faithful spoon and worm, raised up half a foot from his seat in
the bottom of the canoe and sank the barb into a lunker.
Gradually he worked it up close enough for us to realize its
tremendous size. The fish took one look at us and then actually
rocked the canoe with a
thrilling smash into the side. Fifteen full minutes later Dad
led him to net, the whole twenty-three inches of him. The scales
showed 4 pounds 9 ounces-the largest trout we were to catch on
During the next hour we caught a dozen more,
ranging from one to three pounds. All were returned to the water
with the exception of the first two, which we kept for eating.
They were delicious. The meat is very red and firm.
Although I am now sure that the trout taken
from this lake were auroras, they did not have the brilliancy of
hue characterizing those found in White Pine Lake. The color was
more uniform and much darker, almost a brown. This was probably
due to some difference in the water, for this lake bottom was
not so solidly of rock formation. In all other visible respects
these trout were auroras. Of the thirty-odd fish we netted in
that lake on three different occasions, not one was a speckled
The next day was one that I shall not soon
forget. We were up with the dawn, to be ready for a full day`s
tilt with the auroras. We slid the canoe into a pine shadowed
lake of glass, over which mists moved in the soft breeze.
The Kid was paddling. A hundred yards off the
point of the island I bent the rod into a good one and turned to
watch as, far behind the canoe, the fighter rocketed from the
stillness into the first rays of the sun. Ten minutes later he
lay glowing in the bottom of the boat, all the game life in him
exhausted by those mad leaps and rushes. He weighed just a shade
under 3 pounds. I put on a fresh worm, whisked out forty yards
of line and settled back. Another trout struck immediately.
Again the fierce fight, and Dad netted me an 18-inch brook
trout, our first one, colored and formed superbly. Two more
auroras, one of which I lost, followed in quick succession after
that. With an aching wrist I turned the rod over to the Kid. Dad
hadn’t had a strike, but he looked as pleased as though he’d
caught all the fish himself.
During the day we netted twenty-two, seventeen
auroras, four brooks and one hybrid marked predominantly like an
aurora but with discernible speckles on the sides. All weighed
over two pounds, and the largest one, an aurora, weighed four.
Dad took him. At no time during our stay did we catch any kind
of fish but trout. I am convinced that no other species, except
shiners, inhabit these lakes.
The days blinked past. On Sunday we went for a
walk to another little lake, unnamed on the map. It was
gorgeously set in wild scenery. At the upper end, where a small
stream flows in, there were two
beaver dams. I stood on the edge of one and watched scores of
brook trout swimming about in the clear water.
The day we left White Pine Lake I lay in my
sleeping bag and watched the early- morning clouds, first banked
in heavy waves in the east, then marching in majestic rows
across the sky, separating and thinning, until the sun shot his
magic rays through the ranks and scattered this army in stately
Leaving was hard. The aurora trout is a
thoroughbred, a fighter, and he lives in the magic North-a land
lush with pines and blueberries. To make his acquaintance is to
be accorded the privilege of treating him respectfully and
carefully, for his numbers are not legion. I hope the Canadian
Government is successful in its splendid efforts to expand his
habitat-which, according to the natives, is about three little
lakes almost within bow-shot of each other-so that his numbers
will be, if not legion, at least safe from the possibility of
too great depletion.
We swung easily over the portages and through
the lakes. The sun was bright and hot those days going out. The
Kid, stripped to the waist, oozing perspiration, chopped and
lifted, chopped and lifted from his seat in the bow. Dad, hat
over his eyes, oozing contentment, basked and dozed against a
pile of duffel. I paddled slowly, as may become the sternman on
And so we went back, down the river.