About 25 years ago, my father, Gord Sr., spent a day on a trapline with Ray Dupuis Sr. in the Black Sturgeon area. At the time, my dad was about 56 and Dupuis was 60. It was late fall in the northwest, and not warm. The two men snaked through the woods, checking on Dupuis’ extensive trapline.
Normally, Dupuis would have done this alone, and as often as not would have spent the night in the bush, curled up in the back of his truck in a sleeping bag. Some nights the temperature would drop to -30 C. My dad, amazed at this, asked Dupuis why he would endure such a miserable night in the woods. Ray, with a smile told him, “It knocks the sissy out of you.”
Dupuis, a lifelong resident of Nipigon, is, in my estimation, the ultimate outdoorsman. At 86, he’s still a hunter, a trapper, an angler and, perhaps most importantly, a conservationist. His interest in the outdoors goes beyond consumption. He wants the province’s fish and wildlife to be there for his grandchildren and great grandchildren and he acts accordingly.
I first met Dupuis three decades ago, when I was a budding outdoor writer. At that point he was already a brook trout fishing legend in the Nipigon area, and something of a guru. Interviewing Dupuis was like meeting the Dalai Lama. Yet, he could not have been kinder to this green and slightly star-struck journalist. He was down to earth, humble, and funny.
A leader in catch and release
As a young man, Dupuis spent endless hours fishing speckled trout on the banks of the Nipigon. In the 1950s, he says, there were loads of brook trout from one to nine pounds in the river, but catching them was a trick, due to the log drives on the river.
“In those days they were always driving wood down the river,” said Dupuis. “And we got to know how to cast out between the logs and stick the point of our rod down underneath the logs and then reel. We got quite a few fish that way.”
Then, Dupuis says, things began to change.
Fishing pressure increased, as did the harvest. Water levels on the river began to yo-yo, a by-product of hydro generation, and rapidly changing water levels left trout eggs high and dry.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Dupuis says, he noticed a decline in the number of brook trout in the river. He began to release all the brookies he caught and encouraged other local trout anglers to do the same, but his promotion of live release for the famous Nipigon speckled trout was not always an easy sell. In fact, there was some kickback from a few locals.
“I haven’t kept a trout from the Nipigon River in over 25 years,” he says. “That live release…we got in quite a few heated discussions with other sport fishermen on that. But it’s workin’ real good.”
Angler of the Year
What Dupuis had to say about trout and their conservation mattered locally, because he was both a community leader and a great fisherman.
In the 1980s, the Ontario Molson Big Fish/OFAH Contest was the most high-profile angling event of its kind in Canada. Dupuis practically owned the brook trout catch and release category, and usually showed up in a couple other categories as well. In 1985, Dupuis was named Angler of the Year by the Big Fish contest for the many trophy-sized trout he caught and released.
Rob Swainson worked closely with Dupuis on the rehabilitation of the Nipigon brook trout. Now retired, Swainson was an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry biologist in Nipigon for nearly three decades. Dupuis credits Swainson with pushing for many of the regulation changes that helped save the Nipigon brook trout and Swainson has high praise for the veteran Nipigon angler.
“Ray was the first to raise the alarm bells and ask the MNR to do something about the (brook trout) decline,” said Swainson. “His help allowed me to right away tackle the real issues … water level fluctuations and over-fishing. Ray’s vocal support of the proposed recovery efforts was instrumental in garnering the public’s support.”
A well-earned accolade
In 2018, Dupuis was nominated for the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame by his childhood friend, Dan Gapen. A well-known name in the North American fishing industry for his writing and tackle company, Gapen was already a member of the Hall of Fame. Gapen’s father, Don, owned the Chalet Lodge on the Nipigon River, which in its day was one of the most prestigious angling destinations in North America.
Gapen and Dupuis were close childhood friends and spent many formative days together fishing and guiding. They largely lost track of each other as adults. Then Gapen returned to Nipigon for the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the world record brook trout in 2015, and the two reconnected.
Dupuis was inducted in March of 2019, in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Sportsmen’s Show, surrounded by many of his kids and grandkids who travelled from all over North America for the ceremony.
This past summer, I bumped into Dupuis at the Nipigon Marina. He was heading out on the river by himself, with just a couple of rods and a few of his home-tied “cockatouche” sculpin flies in the boat. We chatted about the fishing, he asked about my dad, and then he was off in pursuit of brook trout; his enthusiasm for the wilderness still plainly evident after nearly nine decades.
We should all be so lucky.
Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS