On the Road Yet Again!!! - Esnagami Wilderness Lodge - August 13-21, 2021

Field Journal

I will apologize, well sort of, if you are getting bored with my 2021 field journal entries featuring Esnagami Lodge, but...

...with no trip to Great Bear Lake for the second consecutive year we, we being Kenny and I for trips #2 and #4, Billy and I for trip #3, and me, myself and I for the 1st one, figured why not spend that time catching trophy Brook Trout, tons of mean, feisty Pike and about a million Walleye?

So we did, and if you are in fact bored – tuff – you can always find something less interesting to read or…

With 4 return trips totaling just slightly less than 10,000 km under my belt, I suspect I could have made the drive to and from Nakina with my eyes closed but opted to keep them open, because as Kenny would say – just in case.

One unique feature of the final two was that I actually got to eat inside of a restaurant for what was only the 4th or 5th time since the onset of this GD pandemic.

We were able to dine in-house (enough with this dining al fresco shit already) at the Husky Station in New Liskard – they make a very good eggs benny – and on the way home at Giovanni’s in Sault St. Marie, a great family style Italian restaurant.

My only complaint was that Giovanni’s was out of Spumoni ice cream during each visit. And while I appreciate that Spumoni can be somewhat difficult to come by, it was always available in years past.

Must have been some sort of a COVID related supply chain thing, and my ice cream was probably sitting in a container on some ship that was waiting to be unloaded on either the east or west coast.

Ok – so enough of my whining already.

One thing I will do this time around is spare you the “critter count” as I’m sure you have all heard enough – I know I have – about how many crows, starlings, ducks, cows, loons and such we have seen both while travelling and at the lodge.

Now having said that you’re not going to get off the hook that easily, because there is one “critter event” that is worth mentioning.

Just west of Hurst, we came upon what could best be described as a field of crows. Normally we encounter them singly or in pairs, but in this instance there were well over 50 of them milling around in a field.

It was puzzling to say the least, and there was some speculation that they may have gathered to discuss who had jurisdiction over any roadkill found along various stretches of Hwy #11.

All I really know is that there was no social distancing and no masks being worn, and it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that this gathering turned out to be a super spreader event.

You may recall that I mentioned in one of last year’s blog entries there was a rumour going around that a gold mining operation was going to open in Geraldton, but there was some ongoing litigation or whatever that was holding things up.

Well, apparently the rumours were true, and because the mining operations will take place in the area along Hwy #11 near the turn off to Geraldton, they have cut a new right of way for the highway just north of the golf course.

Should turn out to be a nice boost for the local economy once it all comes together.

Now Who Put Those Damn Onions in the Onion Rings?

The audacity of some people!

After checking in at the Between the Bridges in Geraldton, we opted to grab some take out from the Crown & Anchor, and Kenny and I both ordered their version of a “Teen Burger” and together with some fries, decided to split an order of onion rings.

While eating dinner I noticed that there was a growing pile of cooked onions on Kenny’s plate, but before I could ask where they came from, watched in stunned silence as he bit through an onion ring, and then carefully extracted the entire onion before popping the remaining part into his mouth.

Once I regained my composure and was able to speak, he informed me that he really didn’t care for the onion part of an ONION ring, preferring rather to eat the outside only.

Wow…

Día Uno

This was going to be one of the busier weeks at Esnagami, therefore Nakina Air was operating both of their Otters, with the result that there was very little wait time before boarding our fight to the lodge.

After landing and sorting out our gear on the dock, we were informed that we’d be staying in the newly refurbished Spruce Lodge (prior to the reno it was known as Amity) rather than our usual haunt – Lakeview.

While a little disappointing at first as Lakeview had become something of our home away from home thanks to Rowan, we received nothing short of a royal welcome!

Not only had she made and put up a welcome back sign in our cabin, (please note whose name appears first) someone had also wrapped strands of solar “twinkle” lights around the railing of our deck and even put a solar pathway light near the stairs that constantly kept changing colour, both of which came on automatically every evening giving the place a certain je ne sais quoi.

I’m not sure if it was Sue and/or Rowan who was responsible for installing the mood lighting, but whoever it was I can assure them that it did not go unappreciated.

As it happened Kenny fell in love with the shower, which was roomier than the one in Lakeview, and as an added bonus Eric set it up so we could continue to use the dock adjacent to Lakeview rather than have to hump it down to the main dock.

Because the bugs had pretty much taken a powder by this time of the year, we could sit out on our deck, which commands a beautiful view the lake, at any time of the day or night we felt so inclined.

It was also great for watching and taking photographs of the stars and the Perseids meteor shower, which as luck would have it was in full swing while we were in camp.

Given the success Billy and I had fishing for Pike a couple of weeks ago, that, and having been shown a number of “new” weed beds Kenny had never visited, our plan was to start off, and as it turned out finish the week with an emphasis on Esox lucius.

First on our agenda was Liam’s Secret Spot #43, where we boated 5, including my 35 incher, and then it was then over to the Aquarium where we caught 2 more. Next stop was Betty Falls, and while we got several hits, only managed to boat 1. Cormorant Rock was next, where we added another 4, bringing our total to 12.

On the way home we stopped at Cemetery Point, and while fishing in 15 to 20 ft. of water, picked up 4 Walleye that were all about 20”.

Our last stop was – what else - Last Chance, and while we did provoke a couple of strikes, there were no hook ups.

After dinner we made our way over to Fire Island, but because it was so slow, opted to give Cemetery another go. Fortunately there were still some Walleye around, although it appeared we’d managed to stumble onto the nursery, because we couldn’t catch anything north of 15”.

And finally, for the real fishing dweebs among us, you will no doubt be interested to know that the surface temperature throughout the day and evening held at 65 degrees.

Btw – if any of the aforementioned dweebs want to know what the top Pike and Walleye lures were today – it’ll cost ya…

Día Dos

Today’s weather, which featured plenty of sun, light to moderate winds and loads of heat, was to be the blueprint for the remainder of the week.

With the wind coming directly out of the South – which in my experience doesn’t happen all that often - it gave us the rare opportunity to drift the east shore of “Scooby” Island, and while we caught several nice Walleye, we were anxious to do more Pike fishing in a new weed bed we had stumbled on last year.

Our “new” weed bed turned out to be a bust, so it was over to Maun Bay, and even though we thoroughly worked over the weed beds just inside the entrance, and in and around Maun Creek – nada.

Having had enough of chasing Pike for the time being, Eric had mentioned that the Walleye were rumoured to be in residence in the shallow water just off the point of a small island in the middle of the bay and, as is usually the case - he was right.

Between us we caught about a dozen, but the Pike began to beckon yet again, so we exited the bay and began fishing our way east.

Stopping at the North Cliffs weed bed we picked up one small Pike, and another 2 in Caribou Straights, but that was pretty much it for the rest of the day, even though we worked several weed beds that had produced when I was there with Billy.

Mercifully the Walleye were not suffering from lock jaw, and between Maun, Eric’s Island, Cemetery and Turkey Dave Point our total for the day came to 31.

And speaking of Turkey Dave, fortunately the man himself managed to make it to the lodge once Canada opened the international border with the US and brought along several of the biggest – I’m talking basketball size here – and sweetest tasting cantaloupes Kenny or I had ever eaten. So good in fact that we had some for breakfast and dinner throughout most of the week.

It had stayed hot, windy and very muggy throughout the day, therefore having had enough of fishing in a convection oven, rather than go out after dinner, we poured a couple of drinks and watched the sun set from the comfort of the Muskoka chairs on our deck.

Día Tres

Pike remained at the top of our agenda in hopes of catching one or more of what for us, anyway, had been those elusive 40+ inchers. We knew they were definitely out there, so clearly it was simply a matter of persistence, approach and most importantly - location, location, location.

Liam’s Secret Spot #43 was up first, and while we didn’t catch anything over 30”, 2 in the mid-twenties succumbed to our offerings. Next was the Aquarium were Kenny pulled one up, and we got 2 more just across from the Aquarium at the entrance to Louella Bay.

Setting up shop off of Whiskey Jack, 3 more were brought heel, with another 2 added to our total at Last Chance.

While continuing to spend most our time fishing for Pike, we did catch a dozen Walleye between Whiskey Jack and Turkey Dave.

The top Pike Lure today and yesterday was a #6 Vibrax spinner, with a blue or silver body and red blade, with a 4” white grub attached. Btw – no charge for the info.

Once back at our cabin, and having an hour to kill before dinner, Kenny and I played our first game of cribbage in 2 years. We used to play at least one game on most days, but for some unknown reason got out of the habit until now.

Btw – Kenny won the game – just…

We made our way over to Fire after dinner, and it was much more productive than last evening, having caught over 20 right off the point in 4 to 8 ft. of water, most of which were between 18 and 20 inches.

It was a great way to cap off what was overall a very pleasant day.

Día Cuatro

Eric was going to join us for a fish today but had some things to take care of around camp this morning, so we didn’t hook up until after lunch.

Because stubborn is as stubborn does, at Kenny’s insistence made our way over to Tuna Fish, and much to no one’s surprise – mine anyway - did nothing more than wash jigs for about an hour.

We still had some time to kill before collecting Eric, so rather than continue to waste time at Tuna, went over to the Caribou Straights weed bed where we boated 3 Pike, and then stopped off at Turkey Dave, picking up 6 Walleye in the process.

First off he took us to what I call Cherry Narrows (?) where we caught several gators in the weeds at the south end of the narrows, and even picked up a couple of Walleye on the edge of the weeds.

Eric, who could probably catch a Walleye in your bathtub, was using his Walleye rod and flipping out a plastic shad even though we were deep into the weeds hunting Pike. I thought it was a somewhat dangerous move, until he started to pull out Walleye after Walleye.

He was using what I call a “Chicago Shad,” which he had picked up while we were doing a show in Chicago a couple of years back, and brother, was it ever effective. So much so that after seeing the rather sad and expectant look on my face, he was kind enough to give me a couple.

This was followed by a visit to Eric’s Super Duper-Secret weed bed, where we caught 4, including Kenny’s 32 incher. I happened to mention that I didn’t recall ever fishing there, to which he replied that if I wasn’t with him - I hadn’t.

Moving across to Squirrel Island not only did I catch a Pike, but also saw my first Tern of the year. They had been conspicuously absent on each or my previous 3 visits, and it was nice to know they hadn’t entirely abandoned the lake.

Omishashoe was the next stop where we apprehended another 6 Walleye. Relocating to Whirler we pitched a no hitter but did manage to pick up 1 Walleye on the back side of Squirrel. It was then back to Cherry Narrows (?) where we finished off the afternoon with another 6 Walleye.

That evening while sitting out on the deck, we noticed a cloud of tiny bugs hovering over the railing, and while they were not bothering us in the least, Kenny felt it was necessary to do something about it because after all it was only a matter of time before they attacked. He then unsheathed his bug zapper, the infamous Executioner, and had a grand old time transforming them into sparks as he waved it through the swarm.

On a final note, a group went into Betty Lake today and in addition to a number of smaller Pike, caught a 37, 39 and 40 incher. The 40 must have been one nasty fish, because while the lucky angler was holding it up for a picture, the Pike took it personally and suddenly lurched sideways, breaking the poor guy’s finger in the process.

Ouch!

I suppose the good news is that when he told people it was broken while wrestling with a Pike, he had witnesses to back up his story.

Día Cinco

Today was an absolute scorcher, with very high humidity thrown in to add to our overall level of discomfort.

Given that we had some luck there the previous day, we thought why not hit Cherry Narrows again, and our efforts were rewarded with one Pike and a half-dozen Walleye.

Eric’s Super Duper Secret Spot was next up, where Kenny landed a couple more Pike. Not having fished it for a while, I moved over to Snaggy Point where along with a couple of snags, someone managed to get their line tangled in the motor.

And as everyone knows, removing braided line from around a prop is SOOO much fun.

Gull Rock then beckoned, and although we didn’t catch any Walleye, Kenny caught a 30” Pike while fishing in 20 ft. of water with a jig and minnow.

Group shore lunch was on the agenda today, but because of the extreme heat, and the fact that the open fire ban had just been lifted - meaning things were still pretty dry - Eric opted to prepare and serve lunch at the lodge which worked out very well indeed.

After telling him about our experience at Gull Rock, he suggested we work “This & That” reefs. He was pretty sure there would be some big Pike hanging around this time of year, as they had access to baitfish and Walleye up on the reef, and plenty of deep, cool water to retreat to when they were not actively feeding.

We started at “This”, although it may very well have been “That” reef, no one really knows for sure which is which, and using a #6 Vibrax, I caught a nice Walleye up on the rocks in about 4 ft. of water.

While making another pass along side of the reef, Kenny, who was fishing with a jig/minnow, told me was snagged, that is until his “snag” started to swim away.

He managed to bring what was clearly a 40+ inch Pike fairly close to the boat, but after taking one look at us, it headed off for parts unknown leaving Kenny with nothing but slack line – sans jig and minnow.

Unfortunately, unlike the Pike at Gull Rock, which was perfectly hooked in the corner of the mouth, that was not the case here, so it was pretty easy for this big old gator to break him off.

Before heading back in we stopped at Last Chance, where I caught a small Pike which was our last fish of the day, because after having been fried to a crisp for about 7 hours, we elected to stay in after dinner and try and cool off out on the deck and watch the meteor shower which put on a very good show tonight.

Or to put it another way, just stick a fork in us because we were done!

Día Seis

Last evening we reached a consensus that rather than start the day off on yet another Pike hunt, why not fish Trout Bay and see if we could find some big Walleye?

Billy and I spent a fair amount of time there a couple weeks ago and had some very good luck trolling a deep diving Rapala Tail Dancer (it ran at approx. 30 ft.) over 80 ft. of water, so there was ample precedent for trying it again.

And while we didn’t set the world on fire in terms of numbers, Kenny did catch a very impressive 27” Walleye fishing the pattern I just mentioned.

Not unlike the last time I fished Trout, my sonar was black with suspended fish between 30 and 40 ft., so Kenny lowered a jig/minnow (he did the same thing last year with the same result) and caught a good size Whitefish. Even though our survey sample was rather limited, I’m relatively sure that while there are some Walleye mixed it, most of fish showing on the sonar were Whitefish.

After a time, that ever present Pike itch needed to be scratched, and we began scratching it at Cormorant Rock. Kenny landed 5, including a 33 incher, while me on the other hand acted as something of an attractor, because every time I got a hit, he would cast to the same spot and catch the fish!

To add to the excitement, when pulling what turned out to be a relatively small Pike out of the weeds, my brand new St. Croix Pike rod snapped.

I fully expected that St. Croix would replace it under warranty – which they did not - but that’s a story for another day.

We then hit both Cabbage Patches where Kenny, the only guy in the boat with a working Pike rod, caught 3, including a 35 incher.

After giving the Cabbage Patches a good play, I pointed the bow towards Blueberry Island, but Eric the Guide managed to get there just ahead of us, and being a relatively small weed bed, we left it to him and his guests.

There is a random weed bed in Reed’s Narrows Eric had showed me earlier this year that I was having a hell of a finding. I asked him about it at breakfast a couple of days ago, and he told me to line up about 50 yards or so off a little rocky point, that should be easy to spot, it being the only one along that particular stretch of shoreline.

And while up until today, his directions notwithstanding, I had been doing a great job of dodging it, my luck finally changed.

The first order of business was to punch it into my GPS, and we – that would be the Royal We in this case – caught 2.

That brought our daily total to 14 Pike – 2 of them Trophies, along with several Walleye, including Kenny’s 27 inch trophy.

That evening while lounging on our deck admiring the sunset, “twinkle” lights, and the colour shifting orb, something about the size of an Airbus fluttered by. At first I thought it was a bat, but after consulting with Esnagami Lodge’s resident Lepidopterist, otherwise known as Eric Lund, I was advised that it weren’t no bat, but rather a ginormous Gypsy Month.

And while the moth itself is apparently nothing to get your shorts in a knot over, according to CTV, the caterpillar is:

“Picture a hairy five-centimetre-long caterpillar that can drop from tree branches onto unsuspecting passersby, has few natural predators, and can coat a tree trunk so thick you can knock them off by the hundreds with a broom. This is the gypsy moth caterpillar, and it is your creepy-crawly nightmare of the summer.”

It was a good thing I found out about this AFTER we got home, otherwise we probably would have spent much of the week looking up while carrying around a broom.

Día Siete

The day dawned hot and very hazy, although the haze had pretty much burned off by noon.

Being our final day and all, as mentioned earlier, we elected to finish off just as we had started, by hitting as many weed beds as possible in search of that ever elusive 40+.

And to that end we visited:

• This & That Reefs – 0
• North Cliffs – 2
• Rock & Former Stick – 2
• “Sandbanks”- 1 Pike and a 22” Walleye
• Pike Island – 1
• Caribou Straights - 2
• Blueberry Island – 0
• Cabbage Patch 1 – 0
• Cabbage Patch 2 – 2
• Ice Creek – 0
• Cormorant Rock – 0 (must have caught them all yesterday)

Although it was a bit slow when compared to some of our other days, I suspect the heat was starting to take its toll. The surface temperature had jumped 5 degrees to 72 since the beginning of the week, and the Pike were simply hunkering down in those deep, cold weed beds, waiting for it to cool down some before heading out on the prowl.

The good news was that with the exception of Blueberry, we did manage to provoke a least one hit in each location.

In order to mix it up some we put aside our Pike obsession for an hour or so and trolled Hot’n Tot’s (red/gold was the hot colour) between Jackfish and Black Flag, catching 10 Walleye in the process.

Rather than go out after dinner, we took our time packing and enjoyed one final sunset on the deck before turning in.

Y en Conclusión…

Well folks, that’s another one in the books, and a great time was had by all.

The weather, although hot, was certainly manageable, and the fishing lived up to, and in many instances exceeded our expectations.

The service was spot on; the food was great, and the staff could not have been more pleasant, efficient and accommodating.

But perhaps the cherry on the sundae, at least from Kenny’s perspective, was that because the shower in Spruce Lodge was somewhat bigger than the one in Lakeview, whenever he dropped the soap, he didn’t have to completely exit the shower in order to retrieve it.

Whatever floats your boat or bar of soap I reckon.

In my case, it was not a matter of bigger, but rather smaller, so please bear with me a moment longer while I attempt to explain.

I’ve made close to 50 trips to the lodge over the years, and from a fishing perspective, no two have been exactly the same. There always has, and for that matter continues to be a new bay, reef, shoal, hump, point or weed bed to explore, which in my view speaks volumes about the nature and scope of the angling opportunities Esnagami Lake continues to offer.

In 2021 I probably fished more new water than in the past 10 years combined, with the result that the lake, although no less challenging, somehow seemed to grow smaller and more familiar.

I found that the daily discussions that often took place about where, or for that matter how to fish, had now been replaced with a sense of confidence or self-assurance on my part, to the extent that if Kenny wanted to fish for Pike, Walleye or whatever on any given day, I instinctively knew exactly where to take him without having to give it much thought, or talk about it for hours on end.

Truth be told, I spent almost as much time just “guiding” as I did actively fishing this year and loved every single minute of it.

It was much like finally being able to bring a slightly blurry picture into sharp focus, and as a result maybe, just maybe, I’m now starting to see the lake and better appreciate what it has to offer in much the same way Eric does – which from where I sit, is about as good as it gets…

 

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