(Saint-Alexis-des-Monts) “I had been waiting 15 years to come back to Lac au Sorcier. »

Pierre Jean drops this sentence as he tests his engine, comfortably installed in his boat. This year, his wish was granted. Like us, he is one of the 150 lucky people who won the fishermen’s jackpot: the chance to spend a day on the prestigious Lac au Sorcier, located in the Mastigouche wildlife reserve.

“The last time I came here, I was with my father, now deceased. It stirs up emotions,” he blurts out.

This time, he is accompanied by his daughter, Edith Jean, and his wife, Nicole Lépine. “He’s been preparing for two weeks, doing his flies. We are very excited,” adds Ms. Lépine.

Because fishing is serious here. At 5:30 a.m., the sun rose on this June morning and the fishing began. Already three rowboats are in the water, including that of the Jean-Lépine family.

To reach the “big lake”, you have to cross inlets bordered by spruce and cedar trees, and go around the Big Island. We can finally see the majestic lake in all its extent, with the Laurentian mountains and the pines overhanging the rocky cliffs in the background.

Quickly however, the horizon is swallowed by mist and rain. But it is in bad taste, while the forests of Quebec are burning, to complain about the downpours. A 14-degree day in the drizzle forges morale. And the vacationers who accompanied us on the lake did not lose hope.

“We have a big speckle. Did you catch anything? says our pilot, my friend Maxime Charbonneau, to the occupants of a rowboat in the distance.

“A-nothing,” three men respond. We continue to explore. No question of throwing in the towel, when you do not know if you will come back here one day, a cane in hand.

In 2023, nearly 15,000 people participated in the draw to access this “star” body of water, the last in the SEPAQ network to be awarded in this way, due to its high popularity. And the number of participants is increasing from year to year – in particular because of the publicity made by the SEPAQ – which decreases the chances of access.

This popularity can be explained in particular by the size of the catches and by the presence of landlocked salmon, a fish that is generally associated with Lac Saint-Jean and which is rather rare in southern Quebec. This freshwater salmon has a special attraction for fishermen since it fights a fierce battle before being caught, underlines Pascal Sirois, full professor in the department of basic sciences at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, specialist in fish ecology and himself an avid fisherman.

Due to its attractiveness, several lakes were stocked in the early 20th century, but landlocked salmon are temperamental. To get established, it needs – it’s a salmon – a gravelly river to swim up to dig its nest in, and its favorite dish: rainbow smelt.

And the Sorcerer offers it to him. The landlocked salmon that proliferate there were stocked when access to the lake was private, restricted to wealthy – and often American – members of the private St. Bernard Club.

Frank Guimond has been making flies since he was very young. “It’s been 50 years,” he says proudly, met in the workshop next to his house, in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, the last village before accessing the Mastigouche reserve.

His father was also a guide at the private club, he transported clients from lake to lake in portage, so that they could access Sorcerer’s Lake. It was an American, giving him a kit for making flies, that sparked the passion of Mr. Guimond, who now has a workshop full to bursting with multicolored materials that allow him to create flies that imitate fish and insects.

“Today you have to be lucky to get to the lake, but at least it’s possible,” he drops.

His Walter du Sorcier fly, which precisely imitates the landlocked salmon’s favorite smelt, is featured at the Le 1871 boutique, also in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts. Open for two years, it sells hunting and fishing items and rents forestry equipment, two sectors of activity strongly linked to the identity of the village.

“Before, to buy a fishing rod, you had to go back to Trois-Rivières,” says Gabriel Constantin, who owns the store with his wife.

For him, the Sorcerer is synonymous with good business, he rents engines to propel the rowboats on this large lake – this is where we borrowed our machine – and sells accessories to catch the famous fish.

Mr. Constantin is too young to remember the days of private clubs. But he remembers, however, that the lake was once more accessible for residents of the area. At one time, a draw was held every morning at the wildlife reserve, which allowed residents of Alexismont to try their luck.

They now have to put their name in the hat, like all of us. Even if the chances are slim, it’s still better than in the club days, he points out.

Unfortunately, we did not see landlocked salmon during our stay, except on our sonar, which indicated its presence, deep in the lake. With the heat of early June, she went there to cool off.

At the end of the day, in a dense fog creating a mysterious atmosphere that befits a place called Sorcerer’s Lake, Maxime however manages a second catch that saves honor, but especially supper: a large speckled which will then be emptied, cleaned and stuffed with lemon, onions and dill.

Cooked over embers, accompanied by potatoes and a cucumber tomato salad, it almost makes us forget landlocked salmon.

Lac au Sorcier offers larger specimens of fish, but more difficult to catch. The number of catches is lower than in other lakes in the area, but the fish caught are larger.

Speckled trout (brook trout): 439 catches, average 629 g

Ouananiche: 365 captures, average 987 g

Sorcerer’s Lake has long fascinated anglers. But for decades, it was wealthy Americans who profited.

In 1914, the St. Bernard Fish and Game Club paid $400 for its exclusive access rights to eight lakes, including the Sorcier and the Sacacomie, shows an archival document from the Ministry of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries.

This club was founded by Burlington notables, including General William W. Henry, who served for a long time as United States Consul in Quebec, and Vermont Senator George F. Edmunds, who wrote the constitution of the club in 1885.

The St. Bernard lost its monopoly during a major access operation to the territory carried out in the 1970s. practice of wildlife harvesting activities, the Mastigouche Park Reserve, which will later become the Mastigouche Wildlife Reserve, will make it possible to recover territories occupied by hunting and fishing clubs with exclusive rights for the benefit of the population of Quebec, “said SEPAQ on its website.