Aurora Trout Photos Courtesy of Robert McFarlane of CastingOutLoud.com
Aurora Trout

Aurora Trout

 
Aurora Trout Photos Courtesy of Robert McFarlane of CastingOutLoud.com

Content for this site written by Tyler Dunn

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Aurora Trout

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.

Fishing Tackle

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 travel.

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

White Pine Lake
We picked a beautiful site for our island camp on that Ontario lake.

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 night.

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 intersected the 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.

Four Aurora Trout
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.

Eagle Claw HooksWhen 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 first two.

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:

NOTICE!
CLOSED WATERS
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 Lake?

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 have 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 the trip.

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 trout.

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 confusion.

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 occasion.

And so we went back, down the river.  

Facts of Fishing