Meet the Crown Prince of Newfoundland and Labrador

Down in the States, they’re called “Landlocked salmon,” and they mostly hide deep in lakes. In Newfoundland and Labrador, they use the French / Indian term “Ouananiche” and you catch them mostly in rivers and streams. You could also call them “Quicksilver” for they shine like metal mercury and they’re surely quick – as you’ll discover as one peels 50 yards of backing off your reel in a few glorious seconds.

Genetically, Ouananiche are the same Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) that go to sea. If sea-run salmon are the kings of freshwater game fish, Ouananiche are the Crown Princes. Ouananiche don’t grow quite as large as sea-run Atlantics, but they still get plenty big. The world record, according to the Fishing Hall of Fame, is 22 pounds 11 ounces! It came, naturally, from Smallwood Reservoir in Labrador.

There’s one huge difference between sea-run salmon and Ouananiche. Unlike Atlantic salmon, Ouananiche are actually feeding when you fish for them, which make them easier to hook (but not any easier to land).

They’ll readily take flies. If the water is high, try smelt-imitating streamer patterns like the Gray Ghost or Magog smelt. In the lower, clearer waters of summer, caddis and stonefly nymph patterns can be hot.

But the most exciting fishing happens on the surface. I’ve had great success with big, bushy dry flies such as Stimulators and Wulfs. And here’s a secret not everyone knows: like big rainbow trout, Ouananiche love to take skated bomber and mouse patterns off the surface. Just make sure your heart can stand all that excitement when a giant silver rocket slams into your surface-skating fly. There’s nothing in the world like it.

Pound for pound, Ouananiche fight every bit as hard as their sea-run brethren, especially on a light fly rod. They run fast, jump high, and just don’t quit. Remember, their Latin name is Salmo Salar, and “salmo” means “leaper.” In rivers where huge brook trout and lakers are also present, your first clue that you’ve hooked an Ouananiche is usually a spectacular jump.

Most rivers and lakes in Labrador hold some Ouananiche, and they are especially active in the first and last days of the season. The largest one I’ve ever landed came from a nameless river deep in the wilds of Labrador. It weighed 11 pounds (that’s bigger than many sea-run salmon I’ve caught). I had to weigh and release it quickly, because my fishing companion needed help to land a 13-pounder – the largest landlocked salmon I have ever seen.

On the Island of Newfoundland, 7- and 8-pound Ouananiche are common, especially in some of the remote lakes where outfitters have fly-in camps.

Ouananiche. Landlocked Atlantic salmon. By either name it’s still a big, strong, bright, beautiful fish that lives in some of the most remote and beautiful places in all of North America. That’s what you get when you fish for Ouananiche in Labrador or Newfoundland. What more could you ask for from life?
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