As usual I was the first to arrive - except of course for the time Cousin Dave thought it would be fun to beat me into camp, thereby conjuring up some bad juju, that almost screwed up the entire week – but my plans to get organized, relax, and have a cocktail or two before the rest of the crew arrived hit something of a glitch.
When I pulled up there were still a couple of guys moving their stuff out of Cabin 14, with the result that the cleaning crew could not get in until around 11, and given the state of cleanliness, or rather lack thereof that the cabin was left in, the cleaners needed about 1 hour to get things back into shape.
But once they cleared out, I put it into high gear and got everything put away/organized in record time, and was just about to mix a cocktail when Gary’s truck, with Lynn riding shotgun, and Dave stuffed in behind the front seat pulled up.
After we had finished unloading their gear, Nick, Ivan and Chief Constable Criddle rolled in, which put a further hold on my cocktail aspirations.
The Brown’s were nowhere to be seen, but then again they rarely arrive much before 3, and as for Mr. Moffatt: aka The Wicked Pickle and/or Organic Mike, he had a function to attend back home, so we were not sure if he would turn up later that night, or first thing the following morning - but with steak on tomorrows breakfast menu, my money was on tonight.
Once all of the groceries were put away, rooms organized and boats launched, it was now time to attack the “Welcome Cooler” with a vengeance – and the boys did not disappoint.
In the space of approximately 7 hours, a rather large cooler, that was filled to overflowing with a variety of beverages, was reduced to only 2 bottles of some Smirnoff Vodka Cooler shit, meaning that if Mike did show up this evening, and assuming the coolers didn’t bite the dust in the interim - he was screwed.
Dinner consisted of Gary’s “Sawgeeg” patties, and they may very well have been the best he has ever made – and trust me – that’s saying something.
Not surprisingly, no one made even the slightest move, or for that matter dared to suggest that that some fishing might be in order, so we just hung around, drank and laughed a lot.
Other than when it comes to meal planning – or more particularly consuming said meals – no one pays a great deal of attention to the time, so I had no idea when the Pickle actually burst upon the scene. (See above comment regarding steak for breakfast.)
Although several of us, myself included had drifted off to bed, fortunately there were still a few guys who had somehow managed to remain upright to greet him, and he did himself proud by arriving with pizza in hand, thereby paying the “toll” for being late to the dance.
Needless to say, a good time was had by all, and everyone eventually got themselves tucked in, where they were no doubt dreaming and scheming about what tomorrow and the rest of the week would bring.
Another pizza perhaps? Hey, never say never…
Never Let a Little Thing Like a Big Dinner Get in the Way of a Late Night Snack
Not only did Mike arrive with a “pie,” he also had a brand new “pimped up” Lund Fury in tow.
The Pickle, who just recently joined the ranks of the retired, decided to treat himself to a new boat and motor combo, and was somewhat anxious to give it a spin, although as we were to learn later, he had also joined the ranks of those who think owners manuals are for wimps, and who are not otherwise “in the know,” when it comes to understanding high tech outboards and sophisticated trolling motors.
But I digress.
I was up a few minutes before Lynn, our breakfast chef, and much to my surprise found that there was one piece of pizza remaining, which I immediately scarfed down.
Mike suggested that he purposely left it for me, but I was not buying it. The only logical explanation was that they were either full, forgot it was there, or fell asleep before they got to it.
As Gary would say: “I’m no fool in the face!”
Our day started on a high note, with crispy home fries, eggs cooked to order, and bacon wrapped fillet mignons.
After breakfast, I offered to give Mike a hand in getting his remote control synced to his new iPilot trolling motor.
Having a look at the owner’s manual, I couldn’t find any information on how to perform the sync operation, so I took a look at my manual, and it clearly set out the sync process – hold down the “learn” button on the power head, and then press any button on the remote.
No problem, right?
It wouldn’t be if your trolling motor actually had a “learn” button, which if Mike’s did, it was not anywhere to be seen. I suggested that he see if any help was available on line when he got back from fishing, and we could try and sort it out then.
Trystan, our resident Millwright, who happened to be fishing with Mike, figured out that they had in fact installed the wrong trolling motor – one that operated with a foot pedal, not a remote.
Notwithstanding the dire weather predictions it was not too bad out on the water, but unfortunately the fishing was really slow.
Dave and I fished Bruce for the entire day, and only managed to catch one “take home” fish.
Some of the guys went back into McPhee, but most of them had not fared any better than us, but because we didn’t see Nick, Ivan and Russ come back into Bruce, figured that they must be on to some fish.
Turns out that they had not caught anything all day, and were literally minutes from leaving, when Russ picked up a small Walleye. They decided to stay a bit longer, and caught 7 in very short order along the north side, towards the back of the lake.
Unfortunately, it shut down as quickly as it started, but we did have 8 fish in the freezer on day one.
For dinner we had Ivan’s homemade beef noodle soup, and veal goulash. He served the soup first, and then we waited about an hour before pigging out on the stew.
Both were out of this world, and the soup featured homemade noodles that were so light and thin, if you were to leave an open bag unattended, they would probably float away.
As has been our tradition in Cabin 14, we acknowledge those who retire in any given year, and this was to be Mike’s turn in the barrel.
He was presented with a cake, and a custom fillet knife with the words “Organic Mike” engraved on the blade, which was somewhat self serving on our part in that Mike is our fish cleaner.
We then drank a toast to both him and Jackie – who had just recently passed – from a bottle of scotch Dave brought along that had once belonged to his dad.
One would have thought that after some pre dinner snacks, beef noodle soup, goulash and noodles, followed by cake, that everyone would have been finished eating for the day.
Oh ye of little faith.
A few of us were over watching the Memorial Cup final, when at end of the first period someone - probably Dave - suggested that the smoked ribs I had brought along smothered in Lauren’s BBQ sauce, would make a great snack.
Hey, if you’ll eat it I’ll cook it, so I went back to the cabin and prepped the ribs.
Mike, Nick, Dave and Lynn then proceeded to demolish all 4 racks, and if anyone else had tried to grab one, they may very well have lost a hand.
The next morning Gary, who was resting his eyes at the time, asked why he had not been invited to the party, but was assured by Dave that he had repeatedly asked him to join us.
What he forgot to mention was that he was standing about 20 feet away, and didn’t speak above a whisper when issuing the invitation.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
In what has now become an annual event, we would be hosting Dorothy, Albert, Lori and Mike for dinner.
The evening’s menu was to feature:
• 30 Day - Dry Aged New York Strips
• Grilled Jumbo Tiger Shrimp with Garlic Parsley Butter
• Caesar Salad
• Selection of Fine Cheeses
• Vintage Port
The cellar selection was a smooth; full bodied 2014 Tormaresca Trentangeli – Aglianico
Not too shabby for “fish camp” don’t ya think!
But more on this later in the narrative.
At this juncture, it’s probably worth spending a bit of time explaining how this years trip became known as:
The Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip Affair
Apparently it all started at the Elimination Draw in Welland, a couple of weeks prior to our arrival at Beaverland.
Dave and Trystan had decided that an appropriate addition to our Culinary Itinerary would be the aforementioned dip, and while it appeared straight forward enough, there was a dispute brewing whether to Ranch or not to Ranch – which was in fact the question.
By that I mean Dave seemed to be of the view that it was essential to include a cup of Ranch Dressing in the mixture, while Trystan was heard to mumble the word Philistine when the subject came up.
When Dave and I are out in the boat, our conversation covers a wide range of topics, the most common one being food.
You could tell that Dave was not about to be out maneuvered, and I was told in strict confidence about the plan he had hatched to ensure that the end product contained ALL of the necessary ingredients.
As was the case yesterday, if you didn’t like the weather, just wait a couple of minutes and Mother Nature would deal you a new card.
Our entire group fished McPhee today, and we caught fish both along the north and south shores, towards the back.
The fish were in relatively shallow water – 4 to 8 ft. generally – and the surface temperature of the lake was in and around the 60-degree mark throughout the day - give or take a degree or two.
On the way back to camp, we pulled up to where Mike and Trystan were fishing, and I couldn’t resist asking Mike what the break in protocol for his motor was.
The blank look on his face was priceless, and as we were pulling away, I could see him rooting around for his owner’s manual.
Fortunately the weather cleared up long enough for Dave to spark up the BBQ and cook the steaks. It’s worth noting that all of the steaks were perfectly cooked, which is no small feat when you have 14 steaks on the go, and are using real charcoal.
A great time was had by all, and towards the end of our meal, which was held in the lodge common room, a dozen or so guys trooped in to watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
There was some good-natured ribbing back and forth, as most of the guys who came in were clearly Penguin’s fans, while several members of our crew were inexplicitly rooting for Nashville.
What the hell does Nashville have to do with hockey anyway?
Right after dinner, Dorothy headed off to pick some rhubarb that was growing somewhere on the camp grounds, and promised to turn it into a couple of pies for us before the week was out – which I might add were delivered by Albert on Wednesday.
Thanks Dorothy, they were fantastic!
Return of the ‘Shrooms
Tuesday is what Uncle Harry referred to as “Shrove Tuesday,” and he would always treat us to a batch of his beer pancakes.
Lynn has dutifully followed in his footsteps, but managed to do so without waking up everyone in camp, and using every pot, pan, dish and utensil in the cabin.
Lynn likes to get things set up the evening before he cooks, and had opened a couple of beers so they could flatten out over night, prior to mixing up the batter in the morning.
I could hear him clomping around about 6 am – Gary swears he must have wooden soles on his shoes – and when I wandered into the kitchen, he was standing beside the stove with a somewhat puzzled look on his face.
When asked if he was missing something, he said that he was sure he had left out a couple of open beers the night before, but could only find 2, half empty bottles.
At that point we just looked at each other and realized that some “beer mice” had raided his stash after he had gone to bed. The least they could have done was finish them off and destroyed the evidence.
The missing beers notwithstanding, Lynn improvised by using some fresh ones, and the pancakes and peameal bacon were excellent.
Uncle Harry would have approved.
Although the weather continued to be unstable, and it was starting to turn cold, McPhee was hot, and everyone brought in so many fish that we were now only 16 away from limiting out.
In addition to our “take home” fish, there were also several caught within the slot size, with the biggest so far being Nick’s 21½” Walleye.
The plan was to keep in touch with each other until we had the 16, and from that point on it would be catch and release only.
Dinner this evening was grilled chicken, tomato/onion and cheese salad, together with the aforementioned ‘Shrooms.
These giant mushroom caps are stuffed with escargot and garlic that had been sautéed in butter and finished with some Cognac and fresh lemon, together with a mixture of cream cheese, crabmeat, Tabasco and a little Worcestershire sauce.
They are then covered with a mixture of shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and baked in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melts, and they are golden brown on top.
This dish had been off the menu for several years, but Cousin Dave successfully lobbied to have them reinstated to this years Culinary Itinerary, and although there were 24 ‘Shrooms to be had, surprisingly Dave only ate 8, or 33 .3% of them.
I say surprisingly only because he spent most of the day obsessing over who was likely to want some, and how he could dissuade them from eating no more than 1, maybe 2 pieces - or ideally none.
Once again, you would have thought everyone would pull back on the food consumption after a rather large dinner, but it was Hockey Night in Canada, so therefor snacks of one kind or another, and some cold beers were an absolute requirement.
After all we’re Canadian – eh…
This evenings snack of choice were Gary’s Buffalo Turds, and you’ll just have to trust me that they taste a hell of a lot better than they sound.
Later that evening I paid a visit to my old fishing buddy Billy Stein, his son Adam and friend Troy, who were also in camp for the week.
We had a very nice time sipping on some wine, and reminiscing about our trips to Great Bear Lake, and the competition we used to have as to who could produce the most elaborate shore lunch.
It’s All About the Quality and Not the Quantity Don’t Ya Know!
Because most of the guys wanted to take fish home, we would be having our fish fry tonight, and that way free up a bit of cap space.
If anything, it was colder today than yesterday, but having said that, and although it would be strictly catch and release, maybe someone would be able to top Nick’s 21½ ”.
While the weather was crappy the fishing was not, and everyone caught, including Brownie and Gary who did not mess with any of the little stuff, and landed 3 over 20” which included Gary’s 22” Walleye, which put him into the lead for the biggest fish of the week.
Once everyone had returned for the day, Mike set about the task of skinning 20 fish, giving us 40 fillets for our fry up.
Once they had been spread out on the table, we did an audit to ensure that the Pickle didn’t loose any between the fish cleaning hut and the cabin – something that had been known to happen in the past.
Fortunately, they were all present and accounted for.
The rain had been off and on all day, but we decided to risk cooking the fish al fresco, rather than muck about inside the cabin.
Although there were some rather large, forbidding black clouds heading our way, we managed to get 4 batches cooked before the skies opened up – and open up they did.
Much to my surprise, the hot oil did not start spitting like a pissed off Cobra when the rain hit the pans, but rather it cooled the oil to the point where the last 2 batches of fish where not as crispy as the first ones.
In any event, the boys ate all but 8 fillets, which were served up with baked beans and the Tiger’s coleslaw. The left over fillets were shared with a group of guys in another cabin who had not been having much luck on the fishing front.
Now I don’t know how he did it, but the Pickle somehow managed to ensure that I got the one fillet in the entire batch that had several bones it in. All I know is that he did, and I have an entire year to figure it out – and get even.
For the evening snack I whipped up a modified version of “Philly Cheese Steak,” using the left over steak from Monday.
My plan was to halve one of the Italian loaves that we would not be using to make garlic bread, cover both sides with a thick coating of garlic/parsley butter, then layer on thinly sliced pieces of steak, and cover with slices of Velveeta cheese. I would then cover the cheese with a mess of sautéed peppers and onions, and finish things up with another layer of Velveeta.
Bake at 350 until the cheese melts – let it rest for 5 minutes, slice, and enjoy.
It was salubrious!
The “McPheeness” Monster
It was omelette Thursday in Cabin 14 this morning.
Lynn worked up quite a sweat preparing big, fluffy omelette’s for most or our crew, giving them a choice of plain, just cheese, cheese and onion, cheese and mushrooms, onions and mushrooms, just onions or mushrooms, and finally onions, mushrooms and cheese – or for that matter, none of the above if you preferred them fried.
No wonder the poor guy was sweating by the time he finished!
We had more crappy weather, featuring what was perhaps the coldest day yet. So cold, that when it was time to head out, Gary almost forgot something – to stay in!
Our task for today was to catch another 16 fish, so everyone who wanted to, could take home their limit.
Those of us who did head out went directly to McPhee, but the cold front had started to take its toll, and by the end of the day we had only collected a total of 3 fish.
But as they say, patience is virtue, and notwithstanding the shitty weather, Dave and I stuck it out, and in doing so - hit the jackpot.
We had been fishing the south shore, and but for 1 “take home” fish, there was nothing doing, so we moved over to the other side of the lake.
As if it were an omen of things to come, the skies cleared, and the wind died right down, and while still a bit cool, it was the first time we had really been warm all day, despite the fact we were wearing several layers of clothing.
No sooner had we started fishing than Dave nailed what turned out to be a 22½ “ Walleye, thereby, albeit temporarily, putting him into the lead.
We completed our drift, and had just begun the next one when I got a very solid hit. I knew it had some size, and was very relieved when I felt a head shake, signifying that I hadn’t hooked into a log or something.
After a decent fight, we got her into the net, and she measured an impressive 27” – a pretty big Walleye for these parts to be sure. Dave, who gets more exited about a big fish than anyone I know, was absolutely beside himself.
It’s worth noting that she was a healthy release, and hopefully will keep producing little ones for many more years.
But we were not done just yet.
On the next drift Dave caught a 23” Walleye, and we figured that we had indeed stumbled on the Walleye mother load, but they call it fishing and not catching for a reason, and other than a couple of taps, the fish turned off.
We could have cared less at that point, and in any event it was time to head on home, make dinner and celebrate Constable Criddle’s birthday.
Tonight was “Greek Night” – no, not THAT kind of Greek Night – but rather one that featured grilled, marinated pork tenderloin, Greek salad, grilled pitas and Tzatziki.
Later this evening, the answer to the burning question of whether to “Ranch or not to Ranch?” would finally be settled, because tonight was:
Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip Night in Canada - oh baby!
I decided to stay above the fray, and opted instead to watch the basketball game, while the 2 sides duked it out.
I did try a little bit of the final product, but have to admit that it was impossible to tell whether the dip contained any Ranch, given all of the other ingredients that went into mixture, including a cup of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
Dave on the other hand, seemed very pleased with himself, so I suspect he put his plan into action, and somehow managed to slip some Ranch past Trystan.
Later that evening we played a game of Chase the Ace, and I have to admit that I was on something of a roll, because not only did I win the card game, I was now in the lead for the biggest Walleye, and had won the hockey pool the night before.
After all, they say that good things come in 3’s – right?
Or Maybe They Come in 4’s?
After demolishing all of the remaining bacon, and most of the eggs, we headed out on yet another cool, overcast day.
We had 13 more fish to catch if there was going to be enough to send everyone home with their limit, but if yesterday was any indication, it was going to be a tough order to fill.
Dave and I messed around the shoal on the east side of Bruce first thing in the morning, but there was nothing going on, so we headed back into McPhee.
Not unlike yesterday it was very slow, and it seemed as though the Catfish had taken over, because there were a number of the tell tale “meows” coming from every boat that was “lucky” enough to land one. Gary also caught a decent size Pike in the back of McPhee, by the rocks.
That said, Dave and I did managed to catch one take home fish together with a 20” Walleye. If I recall correctly, Brownies boat brought in 2 “take home” fish as well.
On the way back, we stopped at the back of Bruce again, but it was deader than a doornail. Nick, Ivan and Russ fished Big Jim’s favourite spot, on the west side, just inside the narrows in Bruce, and caught a couple of fish in the slot size.
We made one last stop in Little Marten, at the first point on the right, just past the entrance to Wicksteed. Together with one good size Bass, Dave caught a 22” Walleye.
Speaking of Bass, all of the boats caught and released some very nice ones throughout the week. Seems as though they had moved into the areas where we would normally expect to catch Walleye in the spring.
Once all of the boats had reported in, we had 26 Walleye to take home.
It was now time to pack up, and settle our account. This year’s total, including all of our food ($160) and lodging ($201) was:
$361.00 per person.
Yup – that’s all.
The last order of “official” business was the draw to see who would have to buy the groceries next year, and because Nick “won” last year, he was excluded from the draw, and thereby accorded the honour of drawing this years “lucky” name.
And the “winner” was: The Boogie Man!
Boy if looks could kill, but in fairness, he took it like a man.
Nick, you may want to hire someone to start you car in the morning for the next few months.
Because my name didn’t get pulled, I guess you could say that my little winning steak now ran to 4. Clearly it was time to stop that nonsense and give someone else a turn!
Tonight was “Croatian Night,” and we chowed down on some fantastic cabbage rolls (courtesy of Nick’s mom) and pirogues, smothered in fried onions, peppers and sour cream.
We awoke to a perfectly calm, cloudless day. I guess we were all too pissed off to notice that most of the boat covers were covered with frost – but this was the first time we saw the sun first thing in the morning all week – and we were leaving!
As usual, we gathered at Antonio’s in South River for breakfast, and made short work of the big fish pool money.
Brownie, who must have forgotten where he was momentarily, committed the cardinal sin of ordering poached eggs, thereby delaying everyone’s breakfast – except for mine, Dave’s, Gary’s and Lynn’s that is, because we were lucky enough to have ordered before him!
Fact is, ordering a poached egg in a Northern Ontario restaurant that specializes in getting people in and out quickly, is much like ordering a Greek salad in a Chinese restaurant.
You had better be prepared to wait, and don’t be surprised with what turns up on your plate.
My only regret was, that because of the weather, we didn’t get a chance to test the custom-landing platform Dave had designed and manufactured for my drone.
Maybe next year.
Needless to say it was a great week, that featured some very good fishing, fantastic food, a few cocktails, loads of laughs, and above all:
Latest from Harold Ball
- Transition - Esnagami Wilderness Lodge - June 11-18, 2022
- On the Road Yet Again!!! - Esnagami Wilderness Lodge - August 13-21, 2021
- For Some Christmas Came Early This Year… Esnagami Wilderness Lodge - July 24 to 30, 2021
- Esnagami Wilderness Lodge - June 12 to 19, 2021
- Keeping Up with the Paraprosdokians - Beaverland Camp - September 16 to 23, 2020