It was hot last year, too, the first week of August.
We wondered what the weather was like in Canada. Sondra Gray, who is the editor of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal which I publish, loves to fish, and her husband, David, had a vacation coming up. Gas was high, about 2.59 a gallon, if I remember right, but a display company in Minneapolis had asked me to build an old time wooden johnboat about 10 feet long and they would pay my expenses for delivery. So Gloria and Sondra and David and I loaded up our fishing gear and supplies, and called my old friend, Tinker Helseth, who is a bush pilot and outfitter and guide at Nestor Falls, Ontario.
We would deliver the boat, collect the money and head on up to the Lake of the Woods country, where it was sure to be cooler, and the fishing is usually good. Tinker had a cabin open I had never visited before on a lake known as Loonhaunt. Loonhaunt has a variety of fish – walleye, northerns, lake trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass. It even has some muskie in places and crappie, of all things. In addition, it is a beautiful wilderness lake with no roads. Tinker flew us into the cabin and we were set for five days of fishing.
The Loonhaunt cabin is beautiful in itself, made from huge logs, with a propane powered refrigerator and stove, and lights from a solar unit powering batteries from the sun. There’s wildlife all around it, from bear and moose, to chipmunks and red squirrels. Red squirrels in Canada are not like our fox squirrels, they are small, have little pointed ears, and are the main prey of the pine marten, a cat-sized tree varmint much like a cross between a grey fox and a weasel.
A cluster of Indian Pipe was growing outside the cabin and at night I kept calling up a pair of owls. They were dumb enough to roost in a tree above the porch in plain sight, and hoot at me every time I hooted at them. Wildflowers unlike anything Sondra and Gloria had ever seen were all around the little cabin. Occasional summer showers came and went and the whole area was lush and green.
At first we went after smallmouth and largemouth with topwater lures, and everyone had a ball, catching them around a rocky reef and a nearby weed bed where reeds grew out of the water a hundred yards from the bank. But we caught more of them on Wiggle-Warts than topwater lures.
We had to use steel leaders because occasional northern pike came along play havoc with everything. Northerns are not a very desirable fish in Canadian waters because they are slimy and slick and chaotic when you get one in the boat. That mouthful of teeth and razor-sharp gill covers cause a lot of problems when you are trying to get a hook out of one. And of course, they cut your line if you aren’t using steel leader. But really, if you know how to filet a northern pike and trim out the fine Y-bones which lie down the middle of a filet, they are about the best eating of all the fish up there. Truthfully, I favor them over the walleye.
There were a couple of days when David and I left our wives at the cabin, (Women have to rest a lot more than men do…and wash dishes.) and motored to an area not far out into the lake where 90 feet of water harbored giant lake trout. You fish for them by lowering a flashy spoon to the bottom and jerking it up six or eight feet and letting it fall again. Sometimes you do that for an hour and they ignore it, but sometimes they inhale the thing and bend your rod double. They fight like tigers when you are trying to get them up through 70 or 80 feet of water. I think one of the ones I lost was close to 20 pounds. I finally landed one about seven or eight pounds and we had a feast.
David and I ate pretty good on that trip, because his wife is a very good cook. That’s not to say Gloria Jean isn’t. I always tell folks that she can bake a muskrat so as you can’t tell it from baked possum. But she was willing to let Sondra enjoy herself at that stove. Gloria enjoys being there, relaxing and reading a book and watching the birds and wildlife. She has been to Canada often and caught lots of fish, lots of big fish. Sondra on the other hand hasn’t fished a lot until she became the editor of an outdoor magazine, and she goes at it with intensity and competitiveness born from having three older brothers. If you catch a bigger fish than she does, she might pout and not speak to you for an hour or so, and put too much salt in your eggs. David and I worked to see to it she caught a lot of fish so we could keep her happy and eat well.
The highlight of our trip came when all four of us got into one boat with a nine-horse motor and headed for the far end of Loonhaunt, a trip that took about 40 minutes. Tinker had given me a map showing me a spot in a bay where he said we could catch a ton of big walleye in the evenings as the sun set. It is a job to take a paper map and use it to find a twenty-yard-wide fishing spot on a lake 6 or 7 miles long, filled with islands and reefs and bays.
I dropped the anchor in 25 feet of water, and said I thought I had found it. Sondra was about to become as happy as she has ever been. Using big minnows on jigs, we fished straight down under the boat, and in 30 years of fishing for walleye in Canada, I have never seen the equal to that first evening, with loons calling around us and ravens cackling on a nearby shore and the sun set behind the pointed tips of tall pines.
David dropped the jig to the bottom, picked it up and a walleye nailed it. His light spinning tackle was strained. About the same time, Gloria and Sondra had fish on, too. I sat back and netted and released walleye for the two ladies, as they tried to see who could catch the biggest one.
The smallest of about two-dozen walleye that evening was 20 inches long, and the largest was a 26-incher that David caught. Sondra caught several that she had to work hard to land, in the 24 to 25 inch range. David and I were smart enough not to let her know that he caught the biggest one. Anyhow, she caught the most.
I caught a few myself, though I didn’t spend much time fishing. I was too busy trying to officiate and release fish. We took four of the smallest ones back to the cabin and had a walleye dinner fairly late that night. The following evening we went back and did the same thing again. It no doubt was the best summer walleye fishing I have ever seen, and the setting was next to nothing I have ever experienced in Canada.
It is August again, and I know Sondra and Gloria would love to go back to Canada. But gas is a dollar a gallon higher this year than last. Wish I could find somebody up in Minneapolis who wanted another johnboat.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. My website, where you can see some of those Canada photos, is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com