Just back from the annual Canadian northern pike trip, I’m still reeling from sunburn, fried walleye and travel hangover.
The trip started with a fourteen hour drive from Akron, Ohio through the Rust Belt and into Canada at Sault Ste Marie, and up Canada’s Rte 17 around Lake Superior through the moose riddled landscape.
We spent the night in White River Ontario, and hopped a train to the lake in the morning. Unfortunately, some busybody wrecked the train situation. For over forty years, our family has taken this train into Lake Esnagi, and has ridden in the back with the gear, pounding cold meatballs and Molsons. But this year, the railroad officials decided not to let guests ride in the cargo cars thanks to an anonymous letter from a rider complaining about the drunken fishermen in the back. So instead the complainers got stuck with our crew, reeking of stale bourbon and reading aloud from raunchy Canadian porn mags, in the passenger car next to them.
We were shocked by the lake conditions when we pulled up to the water. After the warmest spring on record and minimal snowpack, the lake water level was down several feet. Ice out, normally in mid-to-late May, had been April 1st. The lake and fishing conditions were practically a month ahead of schedule. Also, the lake’s massive Hexagenia mayfly hatch had exploded. Neither boded well for fly fishing for pike. Every fish in that lake gorges on the huge mayflies when they’re available, and with warmer lower water, the largest pike weren’t likely to spend afternoons in the shallow bays.
Also, we didn’t have Nate. After something like fifteen consecutive years without missing a trip, Nate stayed back in Oregon this year to make the most of his offshore fishing season. While I can catch pike till my arms fall off, in order to catch the biggest pike you need to hunt them. And that’s what Nate does best.
The deck was stacked against us, but we tied on our shock tippets and headed out to strafe the shorelines with our eight-weights. The first day, we started out at a spot with guaranteed success, a big bay next to deep water with a big boulder pile in the middle. We banged out a bunch of pike and a big aggressive walleye and started to shake off the cobwebs
The next few days, we spent poling around the shallow flats where big pike had been holding in years past. Protected bays with feeder creeks, the mouth of the Magpie River, windblown coves where baitfish stacked up – but the biggest fish eluded us, while my dad and fishing buddy John trolled up monsters off the deep water points with crankbaits.
Rather than fight the inevitable, we got out the trolling rods for a morning to put our boat on the boards. It took no time for Julian to hook up with a big 38-inch monster for a photo, and then it was back to business as usual.
We spent the rest of the week eating deep fried walleye and banging on small to medium size pike on near-shore rock piles. Playing poker all night, and enjoying good bourbon.
Even without the forty-inch pike on the fly rod this year, the trip was still a blast and we managed to bust up our arms and hands on more than enough five to ten pound fish to make up for it.