May 10, 2018

Northward bound

Reviving a long-sought dream with my Gramps to haul in big walleye north of the border

By: Kyle Sorenson

A fishing trip, no matter where it’s planned, is something we look forward to. Maybe it’s to a place where we have been before or maybe it’s a place we soon hope to experience. Either way, the anticipation leading up to the trip can be almost as exciting as when the tires first hit the road to start the adventure.

I had been to Canada only one other time in my 31-year-long life, but it was when I was knee-high to a grasshopper so many of the memories didn’t stick. We talked about heading back numerous times, especially when my grandpa and I would see Jack Mark as he came in on his float plane, landing on Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh after a fun-filled stay at one of the many Canadian resorts he owned. As Gramps and I would disembark the ol’ 1969 tin can boat with an 8-horse Merc on that back, we’d swap fishing reports – ours from the Lake Winnebago System, his from northern Ontario. While it always seemed as though his reports were better than ours, his 100-plus walleye days compared to our single-digit days, he’d always mention we needed to come up with him and check out one of his places.

As the years passed – as eventually did Gramps and Mark – Gramps and I never made it up to experience one of Mark’s resorts located in the heart of walleye heaven, much less back into Canada. Life sometimes presents us with reminders of those from the past in the most interesting of ways, almost like it’s meant to be. I didn’t know it then, but as last summer rolled around, I would be presented with one of these thought-provoking situations which would soon lead me back into a fisherman’s paradise.

The Badger Sportsman crew – along with the folks at Wilderness North (an Ontario resort with multiple lodges and locations – decided to plan an action-packed Canadian fishing get-away. I was fortunate enough to be invited along, and was so excited when the logistics were set, the dates locked in, and thus, the planning began.

As I had previously said, it had been many years since I was up in Canada. I could faintly remember some of the details from the last trip, but I certainly needed to prepare. I jumped into the magnificent world of YouTube and began doing my homework, sometimes taking a break to read an article here and there. Through all the research I had done, a mess of plastics and tackle were gathered, and a game plan was formed.

After I thought I knew everything I needed to know, one day late last summer, my wife, Traci, said to me out of the blue, “Kyle, it’s pretty cool you’re going to your Grandpa’s old neighbor’s resort!” I couldn’t believe what she had just said and asked if she meant Jack. As she responded, I still remember the warm enthusiasm that had taken over me. I couldn’t get over the fact that even through with all the research I had done, I simply overlooked the history of the resort and how it had come to be. For lack of better words, I’ll just say it was absolutely an awesome feeling knowing that I, along with Gramps in spirit, were heading up to the place that had been talked about so many times, so many years ago. 

Heading North

As the date hit, the equipment and gear were checked and doubled checked as it was loaded into the Badger Sportsman truck which was soon Canadian bound. Maybe it was the awesome scenery or the anticipation, either way, the drive went by in a flash. As we came to Thunder Bay, Ontario, we drove right through without eating as my co-pilot, Chase, told a wonderful tale of a McDonalds, even a Wal-Mart, at our final destination in Armstrong, Ontario. This was where the dirt road ended, literally, and everything after was the true Canadian Wilderness.

The sun had set a few hours prior to us reaching Armstrong. The little town was dark - not a person around. The roads were made of gravel and the place seemed almost desolate. Could a McDonald’s be hiding around the next bend of the road? No, but what we did find, however, was the local municipal building and police station. The lights were on and we found a sign on the walk-up window with an after-hours number to call for assistance. We were desperate, so I picked up the phone and made the call.

A man with a thick Canadian accent answered with a greeting, which to this day, I’m still not too sure of what it consisted of. I apologized for bothering him and explained our poor planning, asking where the McDonalds was located. Now I’m going to tell you, I instantly knew Chase and I had made a big mistake, because before I even got done with my sentence, the laughter from the other end of the line was overwhelming. I was hysterically informed the town pretty much shuts down after 10 p.m., and there certainly wasn’t a McDonalds around. Well, I thanked him for his time, and Chase and I tucked our tails and headed to the cabin we were staying for the evening. Some potato chips were rationed out and we turned in as thoughts of holding the first Canadian walleye in over 20 years danced through my mind.

The next morning held an amazing breakfast and a gallon of coffee. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the Badger Sportsman magazine crew arrived, and our equipment and necessities were unpacked and weighed. Weighing is important when traveling via float plane. I’m not sure what our items weighed entirely, but I can assure you, we had everything we needed … and more. Pre-flight was completed and we were off.

After an amazingly smooth and quick flight, we touched down into the pristine waters of Whitewater Lake to arrive at Strikers Point Lodge. The staff were waiting and took care of the unpacking while we enjoyed the first of many wonderfully prepared, homecooked meals. As I looked around the table, I could see it in everyone’s eyes - it was time to fish.

After loading up into the 16-foot Lund boats, we headed out to the first spot. I brought along my primary jigging combos I use on the Lake Winnebago System which run in the 7-foot long, medium-action category, all spooled with 8-pound braid. In Canada, the combo worked amazing, but there was absolutely no need for a fluorocarbon leader, so I tied a simple lead-head jig, brandishing a Gulp! Minnow, directly onto the braid. It made for easy reties, with phenomenal sensibility. I found a snap-jig presentation worked great and the reaction bites it produced were sometimes very aggressive. A huge highlight came on the first day while I experimented with different tactics and presentations.

We took a scenic ride to fish a northeastern portion of Whitewater Lake that offered breathtaking views of a river system that abruptly turned into rapids. It gave off such a relaxing melody. While just being in this area was incredible in itself, to top it off, we were catching fish ... a lot of fish. It seemed as though the fish were congregating on a shoreline shelf, just outside the reach of the river’s full current. Cast after cast, we plucked away at the shelf until I set the hook after seeing the line flinch. The rod didn’t move so I figured the jig had just found its way into a hiding spot between a couple of rocks. Suddenly, the line began to move, which was the start of a 16-minute fight with an absolute beauty of a fish.

During the fight, that fish was called many different species. It ultimately surfaced and we positively identified it as a northern pike, which certainly fit into the master angler category. The fish somehow fit into my Conservation Series net and some fun pictures followed. The fish was too big for the 40-inch sticker-type tape measure that was stuck to the side of the Lund, so we attempted a redneck measurement using an oar – in the water. But the fish decided she had enough. With a sudden smack of her tail, she was gone, back down into the stained waters of Whitewater Lake to fight another day. Unfortunately, we never got an official measurement on it, besides knowing it was certainly longer than 40 inches. The good thing, the fish got back with a lot of spunk, allowing me to have yet another successful release in the predatory fish category.

Moving on

As the days went by, unforgettable memories were made, including coming outside of the lodge one morning after eating a hearty breakfast to find a moose, eating from tree, just feet from me. I absolutely loved this place, but I soon found out the trip wasn’t done as there was one more surprise the crew from Wilderness North had up their sleeves, a stay at the Dawn Lake Outpost.

After saying our goodbyes to the wonderful staff at Striker’s Point Lodge, a short float plane flight followed, ultimately touching down in Dawn Lake. After unloading, the plane left. I stood on the dock taking it in and I couldn’t help but realize we had literally been dropped off into the middle of nowhere. Yelling across the lake, my voice echoed for what seemed like an eternity. There wasn’t a soul around. The only form of communication we were left with was a solar-powered satellite transmitter with very limited internet capabilities. It was awesome.

We fired up the boats and instantly began pulling in walleyes. Fish, after fish, after fish. It was simply incredible. As the sun set and a fresh meal of walleye sat nicely in my stomach, I didn’t know it, but I was soon about to experience something that I will never forget.

Seeing we were on a fishing trip, we of course had to try our luck at the night bite, if there was such a thing here. As we made our way to the dock, a soft flickering light in the sky caught our attention. I stood there, jaw probably touching the ground, as I became mystified at what I instantly identified as the Aroura Borealis – the Northern Lights. Their ever so-graceful appearance as they danced and wandered over us left me at a loss for words. As I looked in every direction, it seemed as though their everchanging shapes and movements had no script.

Now you might call me a bit loose in the head for what I’m about to say, but I swear I could feel their energy and hear their movements. They gave off a feeling I still have trouble finding the words for, and their unannounced appearance in my life will be something that will hard to beat. One of nature’s purest and highly sought-after sights, being seen by accident, originated from the simple notion of just wanting to catch a walleye in the dark. Incredible.

This trip – or should I say, this adventure – is something I wish everyone reading could experience at least once in their lifetime. It not only is exciting, but it’s something that can recharge a person not only physically, but also mentally, from the daily rigors of life to which we are accustomed. Badger Sportsman Publisher Art Dumke told me before the trip, “Kyle, this place will wreck you.” I can honestly say he wasn’t joking. It made me want more, and so, a new tradition was born. Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”

Sorenson and the rest of the Badger Sportsman magazine crew had their cameras along during this fun-filled adventure at Wilderness North. Check out the OB Outdoors YouTube Channel (youtube.com/oboutdoor) to see some of the above-mentioned memories, along with many others, including fly fishing for walleye and northern pike! If you want to experience an amazing adventure – one that will build memories for a lifetime – log on to Wilderness North’s website for more details at wildernessnorth.com.