Ouananiche: Little Brother of the King

The Olive Woolly Bugger dropped behind the rock and disappeared into the pool, drifted a few moments, then stopped. I raised the rod tip, not knowing what would happen next. The fly might just have hung on a rock... or it could be another of the many four- and five-pound brook trout in spawning colors that I’d taken and released from this section of the river. It could even be a lake trout (I’d just released a 10-pounder a few minutes before) or perhaps a whitefish or a northern pike.

But this time, the surface of the pool exploded in silver and my permanent Labrador grin got a little bigger. Ouananiche, landlocked Atlantic salmon, Salmo Salar, genetically the same fish as its sea-run sibling, little brother of the king of all game fish. This one took to the air three times, then decided he wanted to visit the next lake downstream. Puffing from a flat-out run of nearly 100 yards over rocks and boulders, I finally landed the 11-pounder in a back eddy, held him a moment to admire his black-speckled deep-silver sides, then released him. He splashed me with his big tail as he scooted for deeper water. I was grinning like an idiot, until I realized that my fishing partner was attached to a 13-pounder in the next pool down… I helped him land, weigh, and release it. Gracious of me, don’t you think?

I know fish that jump higher, and fish that run faster, and fish that pull harder, but I don’t know any fish that combines all three virtues, plus beauty, as well as the Ouananiche and his sea-run brother.

Did you know that a world-record Ouananiche, a 22-pound, 11-ounce behemoth was taken from the Smallwood Reservoir in Labrador? Shouldn’t surprise you. Labrador has the best and biggest Ouananiche I’ve found in a lifetime of chasing these silver jewels. In some waters, seven- and eight-pound Ouananiche are common, especially in the fall, and 10- to 12-pound fish aren’t uncommon.

And best of all, they live in the same waters that hold monster brook trout and even bigger lake trout, or northern pike. In Labrador, you never know what your next cast is going to bring. Well, actually, you do. It’s probably going to bring you the most memorable fish of your life… maybe a big Ouananiche.