Lessons from the Trail: Expedition Fishing Tackle

Episode 13 of Jim Baird's Côte-Nord Adventure

By Jim Baird

When you head out into the wilderness, you don’t always know what kind of fish you’ll be catching, and the species of fish in the water below your boat may change throughout your trip. For these reasons, it’s good to bring versatile lures. And, since your fishing tackle is technically a survival tool, having a fair amount of lures in your arsenal isn’t a bad idea either, especially in silty or muddier rivers where you tend to get snagged more and lose lures. On a two-week trip, you can potentially run out of lures quickly, so get some backups of your favorite ones.

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Here’s what’s in my tackle box for wilderness tripping:

Spoon
Spoon

Spoons: A variety spoons should include Williams spoons like the large size Williams Wablar, Williams White Fish, or Eppengear Daredevel which are staples in the north. These will catch you pike, lake trout, walleye and Arctic char, but large Pixie Spoons are often the go-to for char. I also use smaller spoons like the Mooselook Wablar to catch Brook Trout.

Spinners: These have to be the most versatile lure out there. They’ll catch any species from Salmon to Tout to Walleye. They also come in a variety of sizes, from #0 to #5. Your best bet is to bring a variety of different color spinners in #3 and #4 sizes. A couple of #5s don’t hurt either, and take some #2s as well if you’ll be casting for Arctic grayling. Mepps spinners are my go-to brand. Smaller spinners like the #3 are best for smaller sized trout like rainbows and brookies.

Jig Head
Jig Head

Jig head and plastic grub: Bring a selection of plastic grubs and jig heads. Plastic grubs are made to fit on jig heads, I go with Mr. Twister grubs and there are several brands available. Jig heads can also be used to bait minnows and other live bait. They’re good for a cast and retrieve approach or for vertical jigging. Again, this is a great versatile bait that can be fished while trolling, and at varying depths.

Sinkers: A selection of split shot sinkers are likely all you need, but it’s a good idea to bring a selection of 2oz Egg Sinkers or Pencil Sinkers along too. These can be rigged with in several methods to get your lure down deeper if warmer temps have pushed your query down.

Three-way Swivel
Three-way Swivel

Three-way swivel: Used with large sinkers in a technical rigging strategy for getting your lure down deep when trolling. I explain it a little in Episode 3 at 2:30.

Clamp Swivels: Fish that have never seen a lure usually aren’t too picky, so using a clamp swivel at the end of your line will allow you to switch lures on and off faster, and it won’t spook the fish. It will also help prevent your line from spinning up into a birds-nest if you’re trolling for a long time with a spinner.

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Swivels: To be even more sure that your line doesn’t spin up and birds-nest when trolling with a spinner, put a second swivel on your line about four inches up from your clamp swivel.

Minnow Lure
Minnow Lure

Minnow Lure: You may want to consider bringing a large size minnow lure or two with you. Smaller Rapala lures are good for brook trout, and walleye. While the large Yamika Flat Fish can be priceless for reeling in monster lake trout and pike.

Hooks: It’s never a bad idea to pack a few extra hooks with you, and put some in your survival kit too.

Line: The most important thing is to remember to bring back up line. I prefer braided line that’s about 25lb test at an 8lb diameter. What line you use depends mostly on the type of fish you’ll be fishing for. If you’re after land-locked Rainbow Trout for example, 6lb test should be fine. But if you’re going for monster pike, it’s better to step it up and go with 30lb test.

Wire leader: If you’re going for toothy fish like northern pike and muskie, tie a wire leader onto the end of your line so the fish can’t bite you off.

In Bass Country? Bass don’t occur in the North, but when I do trips further to the south, there are often plentiful smallmouth bass to tangle with. For these occasions, I take a package or two of Yamamoto Senko or 5″ Yum worms. Rigging them wacky style and fishing with a slow approach is the way to go. I also bring along a surface popper, but #4 spinners, jig heads with grubs, and medium size minnow lures work well for bass too.

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Fly Casting

In Quebec, it’s illegal for nonaboriginals to fish for Atlantic salmon with anything other than a fly fishing outfit. When Atlantic salmon are running, they are usually not eating, and they can be very fickle in rising to a fly, even if you see many in the river. Atlantic salmon, like all salmon, are anadromous, meaning they live in salt water and run up freshwater rivers to spawn. So, if your fishing for them in a river, you have to be there during the run. Aside from differences in appearance, the main difference between Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon species is that Atlantic salmon don’t die after they spawn. I knew the run would be at its end when we’d reach the Natashquan proper, but I couldn’t resist the urge to bring along a fly rod and try my luck.

If you’re fly casting for salmon or other large fish, you’ll need a strong rod and a larger reel to hold all the line a big fish might strip. I went with a Cebela’s rod and reel. The rod is a #9 weight graphite rod, and the reel can hold about 250yd of heavy line. Taking a 4-piece break down rod is essential as is a sturdy case. Graphite is responsive but it is brittle. An assortment of dry flies in my pocket-sized fly box rounded out my outfit. I couldn’t wait to hook up.

I’m far from an experienced fly caster, but it felt very relaxing to wet a line in the eddies at the base of the chute that evening. And I enjoyed trying to perfect my cast more and more with each try. I looked to the left to see a red sky, and then to the right to see the long rapid we’d run the following morning. It was nearly a perfect moment.

— Check out more LESSONS FROM THE TRAIL WITH JIM BAIRD, including:

Episode 1 of the Côte-Nord Adventure: Getting There
Episode 2: How to Strap a Canoe on a Float Plane
Episode 3: Tips for Dealing with Waves and Bugs
Episode 4: Sometimes There’s a Cabin
Episode 5: Shotgun Whitewater
Episode 6: Maneuvering a Canoe in Whitewater
Episode 7: Cleaning Pike and Brook Trout
Episode 8: Delaying the Inevitable
Episode 9: The Big Carry
Episode 10: Bear Trouble
Episode 11: Heavy Rain
Episode 12: How to Use and Axe

This summer, C&K is rolling out new episodes of Jim Baird’s Cote Nord Adventure series, presented by Nova Craft Canoe.

About this Series: Come along with Adventurer Jim Baird, his girlfriend Tori, and their dog Buck as they paddle a wild and seldom traveled river of Quebec’s breathtaking Côte-Nord region. Watch the story of their adventure unfold in this 15-part video series as they use and learn a variety of wilderness travel skills, including everything from whitewater paddling maneuvers to axemanship and, when unwanted visitors show up, operating a bear banger. You’ll get to see things from the dog’s perspective too. So grab a paddle, and get ready for a 14-day journey that begins 118 miles from the nearest road.