Thu. Feb 29th, 2024
Studying coastal brook trout in Neys Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Mitch Kostecki, Deputy Superintendent of White Lake Provincial Park.

If you have ever visited Neys Provincial ParkYou know it’s a gem found along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Neys is known for its beautiful scenery along the rugged coast of Superior, home of the famous Lawren Harris painting “pic island,”and even has a history of being one of several prisoner of war camps located throughout northwestern Ontario during World War II.

Why is Neys not so well known? The excellent fishing opportunities found along that same rugged coastline.

What species of fish call Neys home?

Since Neys is located along Lake Superior, there is the potential to catch multiple species of fish in the same general area. Common fish caught along the coast, or a little further out by boat, are chinook and coho salmon, lake trout, whitefish, rainbow trout, and even Lake Superior pike.

driftwood on the beach

One fish in particular has caught my attention. For the past eight years, I have been able to participate in a long-term monitoring project with the Upper Great Lakes Management Unit to study this species. This species of fish is the brook trout, or more specifically the Lake Superior shoreline brook trout.

Where do I find coasters?

Coasters (as these fish are more commonly known) are brook trout that primarily reside year-round in the frigid waters of Lake Superior and are an extremely aggressive fighting fish. The Coaster tends to have a more silver color compared to its interior counterpart.

A closeup of the Brook Trout Coaster.A beautifully colored mountain brook trout. This fish was caught near the end of the open season, when the colors become darker and much more similar to inland brook trout.

These fish spawn and spawn in September and October in the smaller tributaries and streams that flow into Lake Superior. They then return to the large lake to spend the rest of the year.

This pattern is reflected in Coaster Brook’s open season for trout fishing, as trout can only be fished from the fourth Saturday in April through Labor Day. This information can be found at Fisheries Management Zone 9according to the Summary of Ontario Fishing Regulations.

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Sailing the coast for coasters

Staff member holding a roller coaster sitting on a boat.This fish is estimated to be 8-10 years old based on its size for a coastal Lake Superior brook trout.

The question is: what exactly does studying the Coaster population in Neys Provincial Park entail?

The simplest answer is to spend a lot of time fishing from early May to late August along the beautiful coastline of Neys Provincial Park (something I think a lot of people wouldn’t mind at all).

The scenery and opportunity to see wildlife alone always makes the trip worth it, but catching beautiful fish is always a bonus!

Our tracking begins once we catch one of these beautiful fish. Once a Coaster is hooked and placed in the landing net, we quickly remove the lure from its mouth, take a quick measurement, and place the fish in the livewell to decrease the stress placed on it.

Once the Coaster has had a chance to fully recover, a floy tag is inserted into the back of the fish. The floy-tag is fluorescent orange or yellow with a serial number identifying that specific fish on one side and the Upper Great Lakes Management Unit phone number on the other.

If we or other anglers catch that same fish at another time, they are encouraged to measure the fish and report the serial number.

A staff member returns a tagged fish to the water.“The release” of one of our tagged Coaster Brook trout back into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Note the small yellow label behind the dorsal fin.

Once the fish is measured and marked, a small piece of the fin is removed and sent to Thunder Bay for an age interpretation.

How is the study going?

Staff member holding a roller coaster on the boat.The hooked lower jaw, also known as the Kype, is an excellent indicator that this fish is most likely a male.

Over the past eight years, we have caught and released approximately 250 brook trout. On average, you can catch between 5 and 10 Coasters in one outing, if you know how to fish them. Plus, with a little luck, we always have the chance to catch even more!

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What does this mean for the fishery? Well, like any fishery, there are good years and bad years, as natural cycles occur in fish populations. Additionally, there are years in which the size of the coasters can vary greatly. Our last outing to Neys produced 21 brook trout, five pike and one lake trout within 10 hours of fishing. That’s equivalent to one capture every twenty-two minutes!

The Coasters ranged from 10” to 22”, which is very promising. This shows that not only is there an established population of larger fish, but that the fish are still reproducing year after year.

A 16” Coaster Brook Trout. Note the pale/silver color most common in the fish.

All the fish we catch around Neys Provincial Park have a quick photo taken and are returned to Lake Superior so they can grow in the future.

It should be noted that you can only have one Coaster Brook trout over 22” in length with a sport fishing license, and you cannot have any Coaster Brook trout with a conservation fishing license.

Personally, I like to promote a conservation approach when fishing for coastal brook trout, as it is a management-sensitive fish and also such a beautiful fish that one should simply enjoy the opportunity to catch one before releasing it.

Tips and tricks for landing on a roller coaster

If you want to go out and catch your own, the best place to find them is, as the name implies, along the shoreline of Lake Superior.

An aerial photograph of the coast of Neys Provincial Park.

These fish love structures in the form of large rocks and submerged reefs, where they hide and ambush their prey when they swim.

Some of the best lures to use when targeting coasters include jig flies, spoons, and spinners. A single hook is preferred to put less stress on the fish when caught and ensures they have a better chance of surviving once released.

Where do we go from here?

I still plan to fish each year in Neys Provincial Park for the opportunity to catch some beautiful Coaster Brook trout. Although we do not keep any fish caught while monitoring, the sheer pleasure of catching an aggressive fighting fish is always worth the time.

It’s also interesting to see how the data develops throughout each year and how many new Coasters come to the area, as well as re-catching the same fish year after year in some cases.

All I know is that as long as there is a healthy population of Coaster Brook trout around Neys, I will be fishing.

Neys Provincial Park It is located 3 ¼ hours from Thunder Bay and 30 minutes from Marathon.