From deep in the Canadian woods

Posted September 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

I am sending this column from a place called Nestor Falls in Northwest Ontario at the east end of Lake of the Woods. We have been fishing here for several days and two of those days were a lot like winter. There was a series of fronts coming through, providing sunshine for an hour and then heavy clouds and rain for an hour.

For the next couple of days we expect to have very nice weather, and fishing should be good. Up to now, the crappie which move in and school at various places in the lake, have not showed up. The walleye fishing has been good, but they are small. Most have only been 12 to 14 inches, some much smaller. In two days of fishing we have only hooked four walleye above 15 inches. Of course the smaller fish are very good to eat, and on light tackle they fight hard.

We had a shore lunch yesterday in which I tried to show everyone how the old timers did it out on some beautiful rocky point, and it was enjoyable. Afterward we got into a spot off a reef and caught some yellow perch, rock bass and smallmouth bass. Again, they weren’t lunkers.

The yellow perch is a fish not talked about much, as they are often stunted and wormy, but on Lake of the Woods they get up to 12 inches or so in length, and they are just as good to eat as a walleye. They are a colorful little fish, looked down upon by walleye anglers, and those after northern pike or muskie, but they are, like our bluegill and sunfish, numerous and easy to catch.

Right now, most fishing is deep on Lake of the Woods, and it will get better that first week of October, but it will be windy and cold much of the time. It might be hard to imagine, but one morning here it was 29 degrees and one day we wore coveralls, and got out to build a fire once just to warm up. They say that for the next couple of days, the high temperatures will rise to the mid fifties.

One guide told me he thinks Lake of the Woods is getting too much fishing pressure, and too much commercial fishing is affecting the size of the fish. Certainly if you fly out to the many surrounding lakes you will catch bigger fish, but another guide discounts the idea. He says the commercial fishing pressure on Lake of the Woods is as great as ever. But one thing most agree on is the fact that northern pike are slowly becoming fewer and fewer and smaller and smaller. But in those remote fly-in lakes there are plenty of them. Even there, it seems to me they are not as big as they once were.

There is a spot out on Lake of the Woods where we have been fishing where an eagle puts on quite a show for us. He sits very close and provides some beautiful pictures, but when we catch a yellow perch and throw it back into the water, he sweeps down and nails it, close to the boat. It is a sight to see, as he dives and circles and whips those big wings to get right over the fish, then nails it with his talons. I have never seen an eagle so close in Missouri or Arkansas waters.

As close as he gets to us, this big mature white-headed eagle has a mate that stays in one spot on the limb of a high dead tree on a nearby ridgetop and seldom moves. It seems as if that might be a female which the male is feeding. Or maybe you can put it in human terms and imagine her sitting there giving him instructions. Of course, there is no way of knowing if that nearly tame eagle which has become our close friend is a male or female. I’d bet the two of them raised young eagles somewhere on Lake of the Woods this spring.

There was a bellowing bull moose on a ridgetop close to where we were fishing yesterday and we have seen several deer around the lake. Deer and moose do not live in abundance in the same habitat successfully because moose are affected by a brain worm which deer carry. It seems to kill the moose, but not the deer. Nevertheless, deer are thriving, and the bucks up here look like they will make two of the bucks we have in the Ozarks. There are antlers on these deer that look like the ones raised in midwest deer farms.

There are also the wild creatures here that fascinate us – those of us who come from the Ozarks anyway. Little half sized red squirrels with pointed ears that give you what-for in high pitched squeaks from pine branches and their enemy, the pine marten, which is something like an oversized tree weasel.

There are larger tree creatures known as fishers, which are the pine marten’s enemy, and an assortment of birds you never see in the midwest, like the whiskey jay. The colors right now are fantastic, reds and orange bright against the green pines… fall is here, and winter is near in Ontario.

We are not just here for the fishing, we are finishing a book about my old friend Tinker Helseth, which is a tribute to the old time Canadian trappers, hunters, bush pilots and guides he knew in his boyhood. It will be a great book, as Tinker himself is a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman, who knows more about the Canadian Woods and waters than any man I have ever met up here. His book will be done before Christmas, and if you want one of the signed and numbered copies when they come off the press, drop me a post card and we will hold one for you.

I’ll be back in my office next week, writing again about the Ozarks, and hopefully we will have some really good photos from this trip. My address is Box 22 Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and the email address is