Many summers ago on northern Quebec’s George River, my Atlantic-salmon fly swung into a deep whirlpool close to shore, where a fish struck and fought similarly to a white perch – if white perch grew to several pounds. It swam rapidly in 10- to 12-foot circles around and around beneath the surface beyond our sight, puzzling the guide to its identity – and boring me. I had landed myriad Atlantic salmon and assumed the fish was a northern pike.

Surface foam near the bank obscured the thrashing pugilist, but soon, the guide netted it – about a 7-pound lake trout. (This species may live in rivers year-round in the subarctic.) As I released it, the guide roared with laughter and in French nicknamed me “the little lake-trout fisherman.” Back at the lodge, the story of my small lake trout put other guides into peals of laughter, too, ensuring my dubious title that week.

We call them togue in this state, and a 7-pounder impressed many Mainers. I know a writer with a 10-pounder mounted for his den, the largest Maine togue he had ever caught. It would infuriate him to reveal his name, because in Canada, he has landed myriad togue in the 20- to 30-pound range. A Maine 10-pounder was special to him, though, and when he tells folks about it, he offers a caveat about this state’s diminutive togue sizes.

(Maine’s record togue weighed 31 pounds, 8 ounces, caught in 1958. Now folks consider a 20-pounder a giant and a 10-pounder bragging size.)

The week I earned my lake-trout title, I caught a togue in rapids, and it fought and fought against an 8-weight fly rod, forcing me to run downriver in pursuit, while slipping on wet boulders and ledges. When the togue finally came to hand, it weighed in the 25-pound range, and as the guide said, the fish’s maw was big enough to stick his head inside. That fish battled as hard as any Atlantic that I had landed that week, and I thought it was bigger than the guide’s estimate. However, I’m no togue fisherman.

After shooting photos, I released the prize, which infuriated some guides. They relished smoked togue, particularly big togue, and none of them could understand why an ignorant Yankee threw it back.

It made sense to release it. Any togue that size is old, and old fish (or game) accumulate toxins, even in the wilderness. For instance, in northern Maine away from roads, brookies have enough mercury carried on west winds from coal-fired electric plants in the Midwest to warrant an eating advisory in the IFW fishing-laws booklet.

Not to belabor the point, but guides teasing me about catching a 7-pound togue struck me as weird. If we were going to smoke a lake trout, the younger one with less toxins would have been a safer choice by far.

If we travel for sport, it’s common to find strange attitudes and customs. That same summer of the little togue, I asked a guide on Quebec’s North Shore if the spruce along the bank were all black spruce.

“I don’t know, Ken. A spruce’s a spruce,” he replied.

During that same summer, I fished for Minnesota walleyes and kept seeing magnificent roadside oak species growing everywhere. I asked the guide the tree’s name, and he said the same thing, “An oak’s an oak…”

“Yahoo, guys.” (I later looked the tree up – bur oak.)

I always ask flora and fauna names to include in articles, and it struck me as odd that outdoor folks would not know the names of trees that surrounded them day after day, month after month, year after year.

However, most guides I’ve known on Atlantic-salmon rivers have been remarkable people, and many claimed to have begun fishing when they were 5 to 8 years old. Fishing for the species was second nature and didn’t make them feel special. To them, they couldn’t imagine not fishing for the species.

Once, one of these expert New Brunswick guides criticized me for doing what had filled me with pride until that moment. When fishing wet flies, I would cover pools with complete thoroughness with a downstream, quartering-across presentation. After working out a 60- or 70-foot line, I’d cast the fly and swing it in an arc before the retrieval. After each cast, I’d take one step downstream and do it again and again until reaching the pool’s end.

“Why do you do that, Ken?” he asked, “Take one step between casts. It’s so slow it drives me crazy.”

Until he said that, I had never thought of any other presentation. His advice was to take three or four big steps downstream after each cast and retrieve, so the salmon didn’t get to study the fly at their leisure. The feathered creation may pass each lie just once, when it was close enough for a convenient rise. The tip made sense, and in short, with a presentation as simple as a wet fly, there are more ways than one to approach a pool.

When we had Atlantic-salmon fishing in Maine, rivers often offered crowded fishing that required long waits in line. In those situations, my thorough coverage made sense between turns. In Canada, where we “rented” water with no crowds, my guide’s fast coverage was a sane option as we hopped from pool to pool all day.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]

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