The Undiscovered Minipi Watershed

DSC02053When you picture a perfect day of fly-fishing, what do you envision? Do you catch lots of fish? Few but primarily large fish? Do you imagine trekking trails to find a secret spot that no one has been to before, or do you picture a leisurely spot that has been tested and proven fruitful over many years?

Like many of our anglers, we’re guessing that exploring new and yet-untouched lakes and rivers might be what you’re looking for.

Previous guests Duncan Lewis and Howard Guptill have told us of spots that, to their knowledge and their guides knowledge, had never been fished before. Lakes shaped like hearts, some spots only 3-4 feet deep teeming with brook trout that anxiously snatch flies the second they hit the water. Not all huge fish, but lots and lots of fish.

The heart shaped lake that proved fruitful for one guest claims, “It can’t be too far from the Kenamu River, it was an adventure. We saw the remains of trappers’ camps, not recent, and remains of an old canoe.”

Even our guides, some of whom have been with us for over 30 years, have said that there’s much to the Minipi Watershed that still remains unexplored.

“You should note that Big Hairy Lake itself is some 12 miles, or 19 kilometers long,” says guide Ralph Coles.

The Minipi Watershed covers a generous portion of south-central Labrador, it’s an area where one cannot travel far without needing a canoe to continue their journey. One of the more popular fishing locales for Coopers’ guests, Minipi Lake, stretches 35 miles – from Black Fly inlet in the southeast to the Outlet, the Gorge and Minipi Lodge in the northwest.

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Channeling his inner Lee Wulff, our beaver pilot Chris Woodward has the adventure bug. Chris is always hoping for that one guest who’s not afraid to fly the extra mile into the wild for what could be the ‘big one.’

“We are always looking for some new places to go on a fly out,” says Chris, “The best thing is to sit down with (head guide) Ray and I the day before and decide if you want to go to the places we know are great like Little Minipi and Big Minipi, or take a chance on somewhere new. Who knows it might be great or not so great, but that’s all part of the adventure isn’t it?”

In this excerpt from an interview last season, Minipi veteran Duncan Lewis recalls finding what guests now know as Black Duck drainage:

People had flown over these lakes in float plane because it’s the route between Minipi and Anne Marie, they would say they could look out the window and see fish rising in a couple of big lakes up there. There were enough stories about the fish rising that one day when there was nothing going on, Howard and I decided we would go over and have a look. I’m going to say we were the first ones, at least in the Coopers’ time frame, to walk in there. Howard is a real woodsman. We got as far as we could in the water and then we took off through the woods. He picked up on an old trappers trail – it looked just like all of the other woods to me but he said it was a trappers trail and we followed all the way through to the landing spot at the other drainage where we found a nice plunge pool. There were no hatches or anything going on at that time so we took out the gas stove and made tea. We sat there long enough that the hatch started and it turned out to be a wonderful fishing event. We caught great big ones, turned out to be quite a few of them (trout). That peaked our interest of course and we ended up cutting some trail.

When Lee Wulff discovered Minipi in the 50s, he had a vision of keeping its waters and all the fish that called it home, safe. This upcoming fishing season will be our 38th year, and the fishing today is as good if not better because we’ve followed through with Lee’s wishes. There is much left to discover within the boundaries of the giant Minipi Watershed, we’re looking forward to finding out what’s ahead.

For more on our named fishing locations, click here. To make your own discoveries, give us a call.

A Walk to the Falls

It isn’t far from Minipi Lake Lodge to the Falls, but it’s a most interesting ramble. There’s a lot to see and learn here about this northern black spruce ecosystem.  Just keep your eyes open and listen to your guide.

Burned landThis is a landscape shaped by fire, something that becomes obvious as soon as you set off across the sandy hills by the Lodge. There are hardly any spruce here. The low-growing, bushy northern birch is the dominant plant with patches of blueberry and caribou lichen interspersed.  Look for bear, wolf and moose tracks in the damper sections.  A fire burned through here in 1950, the result of a plane crash visible just to the west.  This wasn’t a very big burn but was large enough to create an open strip that helped as a firebreak to hold back a much larger fire in 1999.

As you climb, you enter the more recent burn.  There are lots of dead standing trunks and fallen, twisted logs and stumps.  Northern birch and blueberries have begun to fill in along with the white-flowered, leathery Labrador tea and Kalmia (sheep’s laurel).  There are patches of an attractive little lichen called “British soldiers”, certainly a reference to the ranks of characteristic small red growths that form the plant.  There are many kinds of berries too.  In one sandy hollow the trail goes past several magnaberry or whiteberry plants.  These red-stemmed vines spread over an area of a square meter or more, and are quite distinctive and attractive.

LandscapeFrom the height of land through the burnt forest you can see the full extent and impact of the 1999 fire.  Probably started by lightning, it came from the west and traveled more than 30 miles across the hills before dying out a few miles to the east on the shores of Minipi Lake.  It took a valiant effort to save the Lodge.  Water bombers, professional forest fire fighters, and Minipi guides all played a role in that.  Here and there you can still find holes where they had to dig out smoldering hot spots that remained in the fire’s wake.

Though the track of the fire is evident everywhere you look, unburned stands of spruce and balsam fir can also be seen.  This forest was protected in large part by its locally damper surroundings in bogs and river valleys.  These stands are the source of seedlings that will eventually re-forest the burned over areas.  But it takes along, long time.

The path comes into a major unburned region as you begin to descend into the Minipi River valley.  The river here, the outlet of the Minipi system, has cut through a rocky ridge to form a series of strong rapids and falls that leads to the deep gorge.  Sand substrate gives way to moss-covered scree.  The growth is luxuriant and the forest is thick, no doubt fed by springs through the rocks from the sand above.  Mind your step on the 200’ descent.  Things can be slippery.

Flora and faunaThe flora here is very different.  There are ferns, trout lilies, bakeapples (a tiny golden raspberry) and the ubiquitous sphagnum moss.  In one small flat area we came across a patch of horsetails, an ancient plant that harks back to the Carboniferous era.

And then there’s the Falls.  The entire Minipi watershed drains across this set of impressive rocky ledges.  Despite the overall strength of the cataract it is possible to pick out little side channels and steps in the rock where leaping fish might ascend.  But it is probably unlikely that fish from below the Falls contribute much to the populations of the lakes and short river sections of the Minipi system proper.  If that happened regularly, we might expect ouananiche (landlocked Atlantic salmon) to appear in the watershed, but they never have.

Still we hardly know anything about the fauna and ecology of the river below the region of the Falls.  That’s a story that will have to remain for some future time.

Minipi’s Wildlife

One of the great things about fishing at Minipi Lodge is, despite the fact that you’re going to have fun catching world class brookies, you never know what nature is going to provide you.

On one particular day me and my guests Steve, Lewis and Terry decided to go fishing on the Little Minipi River. So as usual Chris the pilot flew us to the Little Minipi OutCamp so that we could take a boat and navigate to the river. To reach the river we had to navigate for about 30 min to cross the lake and get to the outlet. The scenery was beautiful. To be there standing in such wilderness is an incredible feeling.

On our way to the river we saw something strange swimming across the lake. As we got closer we found out this strange thing was in fact a beautiful young caribou. I immediately informed my guests to get their cameras ready to video as I was getting closer and closer to the caribou.

The set up was perfect. We had the chance to get close enough to watch him swim but still keep a safe distance. What a wonderful moment it was. My first ever caribou in the wild.


After a few pictures and video we made our way to the river, and as we expected, had another great day of fishing.