FISHING IN NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO: THE PERFECT LIFE
By Elle Andra-Warner
“If politicians fished, it would be better for everyone” laughed Ken Boshcoff, former Mayor of Thunder Bay and now the Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Rainy River. “For me, fishing is a life saver. It gives me a chance to completely relax and recharge. I love fishing. I can’t say enough about how good fishing is.”
Every year, Boshcoff goes out with a group of friends on his annual fishing trip to secret fishing “holes” in Northwestern Ontario. “They are drive able destinations for pickerel fishing...but that’s all I can tell you about where we go!”.
Northwestern Ontario is fishing country with a bonanza of wilderness lakes, rivers and streams, with a diversity of fish. Trout. Salmon (coho, pink and Chinook). Smallmouth bass. Northern pike, Walleye (northerners call them pickerel). Perch. Whitefish. Muskey. Splake (lake trout/brook trout hybrid - delicious tasting.) And there’s room for all types of fishing - from catch-and-release fly-fishing, remote fly-in fishing, to walk-and-wade, shoreline and charter fishing.
“Northwestern Ontario is one of the new frontiers in the fly-fishing world. Many well-travelled fly anglers are finding a gold mine of fly-fishing opportunities in the wilderness here” says Thunder Bay’s Scott Smith, internationally renowned fly-fishing speaker, writer and author of the best-seller fishing book, Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide.
Fly fishing is an ancient sport dating back to the Romans and Macedonians over 2000 years ago. The basic equipment and concept is still the same today: using a long, flexible road and a weighted line, you catch fish with relatively weightless artificial lure that looks like a tiny insect. Fly-fishing is a method of catching fish that is based on casting technique skills and knowledge about the fish and their habitat. You are constantly working your body trying to get that perfect cast, while at the same time your mind is busy analyzing water conditions and planning the next cast. (Did you know a British woman, Dame Julian Barners, is generally credited with writing in 1496 the first complete reference work on fly fishing Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle?)
“The big draw for fly anglers here is our world-class brook trout. The world record for it, at 14 pounds 8 ounces, was caught in 1915 in the famous Nipigon River, a magnificent river which is about an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay. The river and coastal streams still produce huge brook trout” says Smith. “The other drawing is the solitude. There is so much room here for anglers to be on their own. I have guided parties of eight fly anglers for six days without encountering other anglers.”
For the business traveller who likes to fish, fly-fishing is good within the city limits at Current River and McIntyre River. The latter (known locally as The Mac) is a spring steelhead river with the first fish coming right after ice-out in mid-April. Or you can take a short drive to the picturesque McKenzie River, 30 kilometres east of the city of Thunder Bay on the Trans-Canada Highway. Around the end of April/early May, there is a good run of steelhead; late summer, coast brook and pink salmon; and in early fall, lake trout, coho salmon and Chinook.
But the ultimate Canadian adventure is a fly-in fishing holiday at a remote outpost on one of the thousands of fishing lakes scattered across Northwestern Ontario. Hundreds of excellent outfitters provide tourists with first class service, from rustic cabins with bare essentials (clean but spartan) to exotic wilderness lodges with amenities like hot showers, fishing guides and staff to cook gourmet meals.
And these trips are no longer designed for only men - the biggest increase has been in families who get hooked on this kind of fishing vacation. They fly in small float planes like the Otter, Beaver, Cessna or Beech Craft to lakes with names like Esnagami (great spring fishing), Anishanabi, Redsand Lake, Shawanabis Lake, Medicine Stone, Meta, Ogoki, Pats Lake, Kitty Hawk....to name a few.
When my husband and I flew from the northern frontier town of Nakina on a fly-in fishing vacation to some remote lake with a now-forgotten name, I came to understand why people seek out these adventures. It is humbling to look out the plane’s window at the grandeur of a wilderness valhalla stretching into the horizon. You can feel the spirituality, the mystical pull of the boreal wild and the raw power of the land that rejuvenates and reenergizes the soul.
We had a great time at our no-frills outpost cabin (rows of bunk beds with propane stove and fridge, and an outside ‘john’). The fishing was great, with lots of pickerel for a supper and a breakfast. ...but the best eating was the shore lunch.
Ah...the shore lunch. One of the great northern Canadian traditions. Nothing beats a mid-day shore lunch of fresh caught walleye pan fried over an open fire, with potatoes and baked beans. Someone once called it “a genuine slice of Canadian gastronomie”.
Back in the 15th century, Dame Barners wrote that “...the sport and game of angling is the best means and cause that brings a man into a merry spirit”. The concept is echoed today by fishing enthusiasts like Smith who writes in his book:
To live the perfect life would be to fish every day of the northern season from April to December, plying the many streams on the north shore...never tiring of he variety of species and places to fish.