Well, Ok Then!
Esnagami Wilderness Lodge. June 10 to 17, 2023
Happy Birthday to ???
Me! Just in case you are dying of suspense to know.
Tomorrow would be a travelling day, or in other words, 12 to 14 hours of, as Stompin” Tom put it, Rocks and Trees and Trees and Rocks. As we would be leaving from Kenny’s cottage, Barry, Al and I met up there, and fortunately for me, Lauren was kind enough to drop me off, because as I told Kenny, there was no way I was leaving my car in his neighbourhood for an entire week.
Barry and Al, who had somehow managed to find out it was my B’day, gifted me a card, and a couple of very nice bottles of wine – which was very much appreciated.
Kenny on the other hand came through as expected, and presented me with the gift he likely gives to one and all regardless of the occasion – bupkis - or absolutely nothing if you prefer the extended version.
It was a very pleasant evening, which included dinner at Swiss Chalet and a win by the Blue Jays.
As it was going to be a very, very early morning, we all hit the sack around 10pm.
Let’s Roll – You Can Sleep Once Your Dead!
Easy for them to say, because unlike me, who did all of the driving, the rest of my posse had several naps en route. In all honesty, I really don’t mind doing the driving, because if for no other reason, it makes that first cocktail after we finally get to Geraldton taste even better!
We got underway by 3:45am, and despite Kenny wanting to stop for gas every time the needle on the gauge dipped below full, we made good time, arriving in New Liskard just shy of 9am with a ¼ tank to spare.
Following a good breakfast at the Husky Restaurant, which much to everyone’s surprise, Kenny paid for (although I was told I had to leave the tip), it was time to watch our pit crew try and fuel up the van.
Barry and Al were the stars of this show, and it took all of 20 minutes and 2 pumps to fill up. According to Al, the pumps and not the operators were the problem. And if you believe that…
Our only additional stop before making the final push to Geraldton, was in Hurst for fuel, and the obligatory ice cream cone at Mickey D’s.
We were being joined on this trip by Mike Moffatt and his buddy Al who hails from Quebec – or Al #2, as he will be referred to from here on, so as not to confuse him with Al #1 - and Cousin Dave and Gary D, who together with Mike, I had just spent a week with at Beaverland Camp in Marten River, ON.
We pulled into the Between the Bridges Motor Inn at approx. 4:45pm, with Mike and Al #2 arriving about 6, followed by Gary and Dave at 7. Weather during the trip was cool – it was 10C in New Liskard – with some sun, and scattered showers, although when we arrived in Geraldton, it was sunny and 26.
Only a few critters were spotted along the way, including crows, crows and more crows, 2 Moose, several Sandhill Cranes, and 1 unidentified running object, with opinions as to what it actually was ranging from a Cougar to Bigfoot.
Al #1’s wife Fern, was kind enough to bake some homemade muffins for us to snack on en route, and also made up a fantastic charcuterie box (she packed everything in a plastic tackle box) that we wolfed down together with some pre-dinner cocktails. Fern, thanks very much, and it was even better than last years. Al has our order for 2024 btw – lol.
Between the Bridges now has a very nice, fully licensed bar/restaurant on premises, which in terms of dine in options, is currently about the only game in town.
The food was very good, and several of us ordered their excellent Pad Thai with chicken. The only glitch was that when Gary ordered his without tofu – seriously, who eats tofu anyway? - it somehow got translated into Cousin Dave getting almost no chicken in his. Mine and Gary’s had loads of chicken, maybe even extra chicken, so it was probably something he said.
The weather was perfect when we packed it in for the day, but the forecast for tomorrow was less than encouraging, with a nasty cold front expected to move in overnight.
It Could Have Paid for Both Kenny’s and My Trip
Al #1 likes to keep in regular touch with Fern throughout our jaunt to and from the lodge, and will usually give her a call from time to time, so he can update her on how things are going and check in to confirm that everything is ok back home.
When talking to her, his favourite reply was – “OK,” which he used more often than not. So often in fact that Kenny and I took note, and started to keep a record of the “ok’s” from the time we left the cottage, until we arrived in Geraldton. By our rough calculation, if we had a toonie for each one, our trips would have been fully paid for, or at the very least, significantly discounted.
We of course kidded him about it, and if I recall correctly he just laughed and explained that by responding with “ok” most of the time, he was less likely to get into any trouble.
So Why Did They Choose Today to Finally Get it Right?
Much to our collective chagrin, the weather report was spot on for a change.
It had rained throughout the night, and we woke to high winds, a low ceiling (neither of them particularly good if you are planning to hop onto a float plane), and the temperature had dropped from 26 degrees to 6.
We headed off for the float base in Nakina at 6:15am, and when we were about halfway there, slowed down to wave hello and say good morning to a bear. Fortunately the weather conditions were somewhat better in Nakina, and we were able to fly into the lodge.
Although we managed to get there, the wind picked up shortly after we landed. It was howling in from the north, which generated whitecaps in home bay, so Kenny and I took our time getting unpacked in the hope that things would calm down enough to entice us to go out on the water.
It never really calmed down all that much, but everyone else in our group did go out, however their efforts were only rewarded with a handful of fish. Truth be told, it would have taken some doing for Kenny and I to get some fishing in that afternoon – and why was that you may ask?
Because Barry made off with our boat.
While we were expressly assigned the boat which was moored at the dock next to our cabin, he claims that someone put his, rather than Kenny’s seat in it, and when he pointed that out, this mysterious “someone” told him to take the boat. I know Kenny wasn’t buying it, and because we weren’t allocated another until just before dinner, we would not have been able to get out in any event.
It remained cold and windy throughout the day and evening, so instead of going fishing, I busied myself by folding up several hundred of the t-shirts that are awarded to those anglers who catch and release a trophy size Pike or Walley.
The Long and “Whiney” Road
Unfortunately Kenny’s, and to a much, much lesser degree, my day got off to something of a rocky start, because all manner of issues arose to vex him/us, such as:
Issue #1: Kenny’s pills went missing.
Resolution: Turns out they were right where he put them.
Issue #2: Kenny’s special dietary supplements went missing.
Resolution: Cooler with supplements located and brought to cabin.
Issue #3: Barry commandeers our Boat.
Resolution: New boat assigned.
Issue #4: Weather crappy so no fishing.
Resolution: Stayed warm and dry in cabin.
Issue #5: Trophy t-shirts needed folding.
Resolution: I folded them.
Fortunately it all worked out in the end, but the whining by a certain somebody that went on before everything was resolved. Geesh!
Given the less than ideal weather conditions, a number of our fellow guests stayed in camp and did their fishing off of the main dock. One lucky angler corralled a 24” Walleye, and a guy from the London Fly Fishing Club who, along with several other club members were visiting the lodge for the first time, caught another Walleye on of all things, a float/Wooly Bugger/minnow combo.
We Decided Not to Order Any Kerfuffle’s for Breakfast This Morning
We had more than enough of those yesterday thanks very much…
The weather was much improved, and although it remained somewhat chilly, the sun was shining, and the winds were moderate. In other words, if it stayed this way, we could get out and about and the fish should be in a cooperative mood.
In order to make up for lost time, we visited Turkey Dave Point, Last Chance, Fire Island, Cemetery Point, Moose Bay, Pike Island, the bay just south of Pike Island, Tuna Fish, the bay adjacent to Tuna Fish, and 1 Fish Point. With the exception of the Pike spots on our tour, we caught Walleye at each stop.
Kenny was using a jig/minnow combo, although I seem to recall him drowning a few worms as well. I chose to go with a “Chicago” Shad, and although I did well, minnows had something of an edge today.
On the other hand, the Shad turned out to be a Whirler (Whitefish) killer. I caught 4 at Pike Island and 1 at Tuna Fish. Kenny also got one at Tuna.
Our last stop before heading in was Turkey Dave Point, where we hooked up with Cousin Dave and Gary. They, together with several other boats had caught a bunch at Omishashoe Island, and the fun continued at Turkey Dave, because there were fish all over the place.
I hooked into something that had some real shoulders, but it broke me off, and my guess was that it may have been our first encounter with a Pike. Kenny on the other hand boated a beautiful 28 ½ inch Walleye, which was the only trophy caught by our group today. Overall we caught and released over 80 Walleye, with Cousin Dave and Gary catching a similar number - and that was just their total before going out after dinner!
Seems as though the cold front had put a damper on the Pike fishing, at least for today. Last week was a different story (of course) with a number over 40” being caught, many of them on flies. The biggest was a rather impressive 44 ½.
But then again the week was still young.
All the guys caught loads of fish, led by Al #2's, 26" Walleye that he got in Cherry Bay.
I suppose because it was another cool morning, pretty much everyone at our table had the hood on their sweatshirts pulled up over their heads, which made it seem like I was having breakfast in a Trappist Monastery with a bunch of Monks wearing their cowls.
Having missed last year, I was excited to be heading down the Esnagami River with Eric for what promised to be some amazing Brook Trout fishing, particularly if our previous trips were any barometer of what the day might bring.
Fishing on the river had been very good for the most part, with Dragonfly’s now beginning to emerge and hatch in numbers, so there was a decent chance that it would be a “match the hatch” kind of day.
Greg picked us up in the 185 at 8:15, and we had a smooth flight to the River Camp, which is located where the river widens to form Merkley Lake. As we were gearing up, it dawned on us that our lunch got left behind at the lodge. Seems we both thought the other guy was bringing it.
There was enough stuff in the outpost cabin to make up a shore lunch kit, but as we had a pickup time of 4:30, wanted to spend as much time as possible fishing. Fortunately the group who were previously in camp left behind 2 granola bars and a large bottle of frozen Clamato juice. Guess what we had for lunch?
We fished the 2nd set below the River Camp, Crazy Trout Town, the “S” Bend, the Honey Hole, and caught trout in each location. I also caught a couple of Golden Trout (Walleye), one of which, that might have gone 6”, did its best to impersonate a trout because the little bugger hit like a freight train.
Eric even managed to catch one of the very rare and elusive “Oh Shit” genus of Brook Trout. This unique fish literally jumped over 2 feet out of the water, and swallowed Eric’s fly that had been left dangling over the side while he was repositioning the canoe.
Not surprisingly, when it hit, we both said:
We had a bit of a mishap at the first stop, and lost our anchor, but Eric did an incredible job of keeping our canoe perfectly positioned throughout the day, while still managing to fish.
I stayed with a black Bead Headed Wooly Bugger, attached to a 4ft - 8lb test leader and #2 (fast) sink tip, which netted me 17 trout, the biggest being between 15” and 17”. Eric’s go to was a Chernobyl Ant with a nymph dropper, and that combo yielded another 10, with most of them going after the ant.
The weather, like the company could not have been better, and other than around the River Camp, there were virtually no bugs.
With the lodge being up for sale, this may very well have been our final river trip, and if that turns out to be the case, then our swansong was perfection personified, and one that I will never forget.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
While I was down River with Eric, his son Liam got the short straw once again, and had the pleasure of guiding Kenny. Together with Barry and Al #1, they spent some time at Black Flag, where Kenny lost a Walleye that both he and Liam were convinced was well over 30”.
Liam said that he got very afraid after the fish broke Kenny off, because he had never in his entire life heard more “f” bombs dropped with so much precision, passion and conviction.
Although all of the boats comprising our little armada recorded ridiculous numbers of fish during the day, everyone but Kenny and I went out after dinner, and while no one had managed to catch a trophy earlier, Mike bested a 25 ½” Walleye that evening.
The Great Bug Hunt
I now know what it feels like to be prey, because around 11:30 pm, we were attacked by swarms of mosquitos. The damn things must have been lurking under the beds and patiently waiting for lights out, because we were in the cabin, chatting and playing cards for several hours before calling it a night, and neither of us could remember being bothered by a single bug.
Once we realized what was happening, both of us sprang into action. I stumbled around in the dark and succeeded in turning on the lights and the Konk dispenser, while Kenny began waving around his bug zapper. He managed not only to zap a whole mess of mosquitos, he got me on the hand, and only missed hitting something that really mattered by 2”.
Fortunately after several minutes of frenzied activity, we cleared them out and were able to go back to sleep.
The Konk dispenser will be staying on at all times from now on.
The Hunt for “Captain” Kenny’s White Whale
As we were off in search of Kenny’s metaphoric white whale, our ship, or rather cedar strip, was duly christened the Pequod before making sail and heading out to sea this morning. And while I was more than willing to get into the spirit of things, I refused to re-christened Queequeg or Ahab, because that would have been a bridge too far.
As noted, Kenny lost a very big Walleye at Black Flag, and because his desire to redeem himself had clearly crossed over into obsession territory, he insisted that we return and make every effort to capture the beast.
While I intimated that the likelihood of finding and corralling this brute was a long shot at best, if for no other reason than it was probably swimming around with a jig and plastic shad stuck in his mouth, by definition “he was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist,” so we made sail and pointed our bow towards the rising sun.
Unlike the previous day, Black Flag was dead, and after 2 hours of virtually nothing but snags and a lot of cursing, off we went to Tuna Fish in search of what we were convinced must be greener pastures. Not.
We all have no doubt heard the expression: “ We should have been there yesterday.” In this instance it can be amended to: “We should have been there an hour after we left.”
Why? Because Barry and Al #1, who had tired Black Flag earlier and went elsewhere because it was slow, came back shortly after we had bugged out. They not only caught a shit load of fish, Barry got a 26” and 28” Walleye, using his new secret weapon, a scent called Bait Fuel.
While Tuna didn’t produce all that much, we stopped at Turkey Dave on the way back to the lodge, and did very well indeed. I believe if the breeze that had been blowing onto the point when we first arrived had not died, our total would have been even higher.
Mike and Al #2 went out today with Liam at the helm, and while they didn’t catch any Pike, they caught more than their fair share of Walley.
As has been the case for the past couple of days, everyone in our group did very well.
This evening every boat – with the exception of ours - converged on Fire Island, and by all accounts it was, in the vernacular - nuts. Collectively they caught too many Walleye to count, topped off by Al #1's - 26”.
Embarking On a Journey of Exploration
Well, not so fast on the embarkation part.
It was June 10 all over again. When we turned in it was sunny, warm and calm, so warm in fact that we left the windows in the cabin open, but at some point during the night the ball game changed, and a wicked cold front decided to settle in over the area. So cold that I got up in the middle of the night, closed all the windows and turned on the heater!
The wind had picked significantly and was blasting in from the north, and with it came a drop in temperature. If I recall correctly it was about 4C first thing in the morning yes, let me spell it out – 4 degrees Celsius - while just before lights out the previous evening, it was hovering around 22C.
Some folks desire to get out there and fish, regardless of the conditions is simply ineluctable (your new word for the week), and those “folks” in this instance were Cousin Dave – all by his lonesome I might add – Gary being “no fool in the face” as he has been known to say - and Mike and Al #2.
Because of the wind direction, Eric suggested that they’re best bet in terms of handling the waves was to go directly into the wind, and which would give them a fairly straight run over to Maun and Spotted Bays. Both areas can produce some very good Pike fishing, so why not give it a shot on the oft chance that the change in weather might get those toothy critters moving?
After breakfast I got back to work and folded the remainder of the trophy t-shirts. I took a look outside at 11:40, and as it was still very cold and windy, went back to our cabin, cranked up the heater and settled back with a book.
Our 3 intrepid members of the Polar Bear Club bounced their way back across the lake, arriving at the dock by mid-afternoon, and other than getting partially frozen, caught one fish.
After dinner Mike and Al #2, together with Cousin Dave and Barry went out in what was the same lousy weather we had throughout the day, and while they caught a few, there was nothing that would get them either honorable mention or a t-shirt.
Yesterday, a few members of the London Fly Fishing Club went into Betty Lake, and while they didn’t catch any trophies, did boat 30 Pike, 2 of them under somewhat funny and unusual circumstances.
In one instance, 2 guys were stripping in their flies at the same time, and one obviously very confused and/or greedy Pike grabbed one, and then the other fly. Needless to say this made landing it somewhat challenging, and I can only imagine the fun they would have had if it was a 40 incher!
On the flip side, there was another Pike who completely eschewed the fly being offered, and was landed while hanging onto nothing but the fly line.
Kyle Randal of The Wilderness Journal fame arrived today, and would be filming a Walleye/Pike show to be broadcast on his show either later this year, or early next.
Embarking On a Journey of Exploration – Redux
What did I say yesterday? Oh ya – not so fast!
While it was a tad warmer this morning, the wind had now been blowing at 20 mph + for over 36 hours and counting.
Gary always comes up with some line that best sums up the situation, and this morning was no exception, when he said:
“I forgot something.”
And when somewhat asked what? He quickly replied:
“To stay in!”
Kenny and I were going to monitor the situation, and if the wind quieted a bit, we thought about giving it a shot around noon.
But before I get into that, there is the mystery of the missing bug zapper.
Last evening while we were sitting in our cabin, Kenny suddenly stood up and started looking under and behind things. When I asked what he was looking for, he said that his bug zapper had gone missing.
As one does not want to be without such a critical piece of equipment (see June 12 – The Great Bug Hunt), we went into full search mode. Every nook and cranny in the cabin was searched, as was the dining room and lounge. We then went over his movements both before and after dinner, following which members of our group, staff and even a few other guests were questioned by our own Inspector Clouseau - but to no avail.
Our little mystery could now be best described, as Winston Churchill once put it: “… a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…”, because when we left the cabin to head over to the dining room for breakfast, there it was, leaning against the cabin right outside of the door.
We vowed to continue our efforts to flush out the culprit, or perhaps even culprits, but the mystery remains unsolved to this day.
The wind began to abate somewhat around 11, and there were even a few smears of blue on the otherwise grey sky, so Kenny and I decided to bite the bullet, and head out. We stopped at Turkey Dave, and 5 hours and 100 + Walleye later (one being a 27 ½ for Moi), we called it a day.
I was fishing exclusively with a “Chicago” Shad, while Kenny was tipping his Shad with a minnow. We were about dead even in terms of fish caught, but in my opinion, and my opinion only I might add, I was clearly the superior angler because I caught just as many without having to resort to using live bait.
One of the many things that makes Esnagami Wilderness Lodge so special is that you don’t have to travel very far to find fish. Esnagami is a very big lake with miles of fish producing water, therefor if you want to go further afield, there is no shortage of places to go. But if, for example, the weather is such that it makes sense to stay close to home, there are plenty of spots to visit that habitually hold fish.
Turkey Dave Point is one of those places, and is only 5 minutes from the lodge if you putt over at trolling speed. Open it up and you are there in about a minute.
Barry and Al #1 went back to Black Flag where they caught north of 100 Walleye. Mike and Al #2 caught loads, as did Cousin Dave and Gary, who made the board with a 25” Walleye. Now all we had to do is get Cousin Dave a trophy. Perhaps tonight after dinner?
Unfortunately there was no cigar to be had this evening, but all boats did report very good numbers.
Which, btw, should never be confused with Pike catching.
Due to the open fire restrictions in the area, there would be no group shore lunch this week. Undeterred, our pack was planning to have their own shore lunch, which was doable if you either ate your beans cold, and fish and potatoes sashimi style, or used a propane burner rather than wood to make your fire.
Kenny and I elected not to join in but rather opted for sandwiches, because we planned on hunting for Pike in several areas that were some distance away from where they intended to have lunch.
When we were on our way out we saw Mike and Al #2 heading back towards the lodge, which was strange as they had left just a couple of minutes before us. Unlike ours, that particular mystery did get solved – well sort of – because during dinner Mike told me that they went back to make sure that someone had remembered to take the propane burner.
That explanation was in and of itself strange, and my guess is that they were the ones who were supposed to take it, forgot, and there was no way Mike was going to hand Kenny and I that little tidbit so we could use it to torment him and Al #2 with for the rest of the week.
Shore lunch was a terrific success, and they managed to get it all done in just over an hour. Mike, as he has been known to do, misplaced one of the fillets, but fortuitously, it did turn up in time to make it into the frying pan.
The Pike were definitely shallow - anywhere from 2 to 5 feet - and although we saw over a dozen, despite throwing pretty much everything we had at them, inexplicably could not provoke a strike. After using up all of our hardware options, it’s too bad that I hadn’t brought my fly rod, as flies seemed to be the ticket, at least in Betty Lake. Or maybe we should have just gone to Betty, because it was unquestionably slim pick n’s on the main lake.
We packed it in fairly early, and like yesterday, finished off the day, and in this instance the week, with a double header.
In retrospect I could have left my tackle bag at home and just brought along a few jig heads and a several shads, because I only used 3 jig heads and 3 shads to catch over 300 Walleye throughout the entire week. I could have also left all of my Pike lures back in Whitby as well.
As this was our last day, Cousin Dave was going to have to get on his bike if he wanted a t-shirt, and yippee ki yay - he finished the week with a 24 ¾ “ Walleye!
We were able to catch up with an old friend today, as Troy, who was the chef at the lodge several years ago, came in to take on the breakfast and baking duties. This meant that not only did we have a Troy as dinner chef – T #1 – we had T #2 looking after our breakfast and deserts.
EWL also welcomed back Jimmy Flanagan who hails from Ireland, and whom I had the pleasure of taking a river trip with a number of years back.
All Good Things…
I’ll let the guys finish that sentence off.
Our flight to Nakina was right on time, and we were on the road to Sault St. Marie by 9:30.
Kenny and I hosted a cocktail reception in our room at the Water Tower Inn, which was followed by a delicious dinner at Giovanni’s.
The rest of the drive went off without a hitch, with thanks to Al for taking the wheel from SSM to Parry Sound.
Despite a few weather hiccups, it was a great trip by any measure. Loads of fish, great service and food, together with a really fantastic group of people to share it all with.
In the event anyone is interested, I have reserved 10 spots during the same week next year, so if any of you gentlemen would like to join me – and I hope that you all will - just let me know.
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