The trip starts with a fourteen hour ramble through farm country; silos and water towers dot the horizon – a pink and blue sunrise over Sandusky, swampland of Lake Erie. Semi trucks, rows and rows of corn.
Eventually the Midwest slips away, and we drive along the haunted Lake Superior coastline. We make the obligatory stop at Duty Free. I don’t like scotch, but buy a liter of Famous Grouse anyway. Something about it calls to me, maybe my grandfather’s genes. The Grouse was his downfall on his last trip a decade ago. He drank a handle of it one day and it nearly killed him.
We pull into White River Ontario at nightfall, and pile into the only restaurant in town. A fifteen year old kid with a guitar stumbles through the first few riffs of a handful of classic rock songs, over and over again. We beg the waitress to make him stop and gag down our shitty food.
The next morning the train to the lake is late. The rail workers had been on strike and the Canadian government ordered them back to work just that day. Three and a half hours we spend bitching about the train and drinking a cocktail called a tornado, I’d picked up from our buddy in NYC, Captain Ken. Half Famous Grouse and half Coors Light on ice. They went down smooth – aside from all of the complaining. About the train. And the scotch.
The travel to get there is so long and ritualized that it looms larger than it should in my memory of the trip.
“Casting this fly is like throwing grandma’s coat at the pike,” my buddy Julian says. A new fly name is born. A big bushy belly of white Icelandic Sheep with a topping of thin brown grizzly hackles — Grandma’s Coat catches fish. I switch off between my eight and nine weight Winston BiiX fly rods with RIO Outbound fly lines.
I fish a neon green, nine-inch Dahlberg magnum rabbit strip mega deer hair diver on the intermediate rod. I work what looks like Kermit the Frog’s tadpole baby through deep rockpiles. The pike love it, and it stands up to the abuse surprisingly well. We can see the fly swimming, even six feet down, and watch the fish dart out of the shadows to try to kill it. We dub that fly “The Muppet”.
We named another fly The Kardashian – it’s a curvy tandem hook deal with huge clear goo cure eyes, a lot of flash, and a lot of wagging action on the tail. As you might imagine the Kardashian runs shallow and the fish are constantly trying to nail it. And the more pounded it gets, it seems to drive the fish even crazier. Don’t over analyze it.
Late in the evening on the second day I land a fish over forty inches, in a spot no fish that large should have been. But the pattern is off this year. The warm Midwest winter, the weird cooling period in late spring – the weather is inconsistent and the fish are all over the place. No luck finding a pile of forty inchers every day on the flats. We have to work for them, and we do.
There are plenty of fifty fish days, blind casting bays and big rocky points. But we can’t be selective, so we catch a lot of snakes.
At night we cook steaks and beans and fart and snore and play cards. We wake puffy and hungover, then waddle down to the lake and catch a bunch of pike. We break for lunch to deep fry all the walleye my dad and our friend John catch. Repeat for seven days.
For those of you interested in this trip, contact the shop or visit North to Adventure.