Copyright 2000 - Luis Nasim
All rights reserved

Imagine a river that flows for over 900 miles from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with sections that run at a rate of 200,000 cubic feet per second.  Imagine a river that provides hydroelectric power and drinking water to millions.  Think of  a river that has become one of the most heavily used trade routes for the transport of commodities, one for which a seaway with a system of locks had to be built to make it fully navigable, as well as to make up the 250 foot drop that exists between Lake Ontario and the City of Montreal.  Add a set of fierce rapids just south of Montreal: a section of river a mile and a half wide, the same stretch of water that frustrated French explorer Jacques Cartier back in 1535 when he set to searching for a passage to east Asia.  Picture all this and you have visualized the majestic St. Lawrence River.

The St. Lawrence river rapids just south of Montreal provide a safe haven for a number of fish species. The massive volume of water moving through the area shields them and keeps them in relative safety from the world's top predator.

The Lachine rapids and the Laprairie basin, as this area is called,  provide cool oxygenated water for a number of species, including pike, walleye, musky, smallmouth bass (largemouth bass further downstream), brown trout, rainbow trout, sturgeon, carp, perch and suckers among others.  Additionally, a small number of Lake Ontario escapees like chinook, coho, steelhead and lake trout, find refuge and are sporadically hooked by fishermen in these turbulent, shallow waters, that make it so treacherous for wader and boater alike to get close to their quarry.

Once upon a time, these magnificent waters held runs of atlantic salmon as far up as Montreal and beyond.  But pollution and man's encroachment through development of industries led to the demise of this fishery. Today, salar does come into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but only makes it to rivers and tributaries of its lower reaches.
The sports fishery for other salmonids is mostly put and take.  Although some natural reproduction does take place within the rapids themselves, success is anything but guaranteed in this harsh climatic and aqueous environment.  In some years, during spring, large chunks of ice scour and destroy potentially good spawning habitat.  This, coupled with existing levels of industrial pollutants, conspires against successful natural reproduction.

Statistics show that almost half of the contaminants entering the St. Lawrence come from the Great Lakes.  Other pollutants come in the river through tributaries or are discharged into the river by local industries.

Although the St. Lawrence river at Montreal remains legally open to trout fishing throughout the year, ice buildup along its shores makes fishing during the winter months difficult and dangerous.   Those who decide to "risk it" on a mild February day, and who slowly fish the edges of the ice with streamers or large nymphs are sometimes rewarded by a hefty brown or rainbow looking for food along this natural edge.

As early spring arrives toward the end of March, this watery corridor comes to life with the chirps and sounds of a myriad of birds, many of them migratory, who use the St. Lawrence's rich habitat as staging grounds.
The fishing season begins in earnest later on, toward the middle or end of April, once all the ice floes are gone and waters recede to manageable levels.  The shallows warm up quickly at this time of the year, bringing forth new life in the form of caddis and stoneflies as well as spawning runs of suckers.  Bright rainbows and opportunistic browns will spread to the shallows of the rapids in search of an easy meal, including the prized sucker spawn.

A number of different flies can produce at this time.  Favourite among them are caddis larvae and pupae in sizes #10 to 14, large weighted stoneflies patterns (#4 to 8), egg imitations, and a variety of streamers like the Grey Ghost, Mickey Finn, and Magog Smelt, in sizes #2 to #10.

All these can produce when fished slowly and deep.  Except for pocket water, the river is best fished with a high density sink tip and short leader.

Toward the third week in May, for about ten days, the locally famous "Shad fly" hatch makes its appearance.  A gazillion green caddis actually make it difficult, if not impossible, to breathe without swallowing a mouthful.  Motorists traveling to and from Montreal via the various access bridges know the bugs well, as it becomes a chore to clean all those sticky little green egg sacks off their windshields.  For anglers who persevere, this time of the year affords a chance at catching sizeable fish on dries or emergers.

Fly fishing the St. Lawrence requires relatively stout tackle to handle the wind and good size fish in heavy currents.  A 7 or 8  weight rod seems ideal although, depending on the area being fished, one could go as light as a 6.  Another option is a light two handed rod.   

A 6/7, 7/8 or even 8/9 two handed rod in lengths of 11 to 14 feet is a great tool to cover difficult to reach water.  Additionally, such a rod provides great mending abilities to make those flies remain in the strike zone longer.  

Author with a St.Lawrence Smallmouth Bass

As summer approaches, trout usually move to deeper pockets and holes further into the river and become more difficult to find.  Fortunately, smallmouth bass tend to move into these recently vacated areas, and provide great sport on the same tackle.  Current speed in much of the river is very fast.  The sheer size of the river coupled with its fast current can be intimidating for those who fish it for the first time.  Studded felt soles and a wading staff are pretty much mandatory, for safety reasons and to cover water with ease. 

The rapids and surrounding areas can also be fished from a boat, but few venture in these menacing waters without a thorough knowledge of the area.  Those with jet boats tend to frequent the shallowest reaches and fastest currents.  The tendency for boaters is to float sections of the rapids, as it is almost impossible to anchor anywhere due to the fast current.  Starting as early as late September and continuing through December, trout come back to the shallows and provide good sport for the wading fly fisher.

The same streamers mentioned above work well and fishing can be very good during a brief period in October.  Usually waters are still low and clear during this time, and fishing at dawn or during low light periods will provide better chances to catch some of these spooky fish.

Wading far into the St. Lawrence, I sometimes become mesmerized by the roar of rushing water as I rhythmically drift my presentation through promising lies. Its watery sounds drown out the nearby city's presence, leaving only a faint image of skyscrapers cropping up in the distance.

All is well in this daydream world, in which one only gets shocked back to reality by the blast of the horn from a transatlantic barge slipping through the locks nearby, or the jolt of a hefty brown as it hammers the fly.  Either way, the magnificence of the mighty St. Lawrence is once again brought into focus.

Copyright © 2000 - Luis Nasim - All rights reserved
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