Tuesday, 22 March 2011 10:55
Written by Shel Zolkewich
Part of me wants to stay put in this queen-sized bed beneath 600 thread-count sheets on this June morning. A few minutes ago, I heard the latch on the cabin door click open. My guide, Aaron Weibe, tiptoed into the living room, set down a carafe of hot coffee and went about setting the fireplace aglow. Mornings at Utik Lake, 700 km north of Winnipeg, can be chilly, even in summer.
“Morning, Aaron,” I called from the next room.
“Morning, Shel. Ready to hit the water?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered, doing my best to feign disinterest. Of course, Aaron knows I’m kidding. He’s likely rolling his eyes right now. We spent half a day on the water yesterday where my secrets were revealed—I love setting that hook. So even though these swanky accommodations at North Haven Resort are more than just a little tempting, the fishing is even better.
North Haven Resort - Utik Lake
The three-year-old North Haven Resort is quite possibly Manitoba’s most upscale fishing lodge. Heck, it doesn’t even seem right to call it a lodge. There are no low-slung log cabins here, dark inside and smelling of decades-old woodsmoke, an old trapper-like character frying up bacon (or something) in a cast-iron pan out the front door. Instead, I slip out of bed, don the fluffy robe and matching slippers provided, stroll out onto the deck with that room service cup of coffee and watch a trio of loons as the eastern sky glows with the promise of a fantastic day.
And it will be a fantastic day. Our first order of business is to catch some walleye for shore lunch. These are the only fish that we will actually keep. Like most Manitoban lodges, it’s a catch-and-release situation. Catch the big fish, take a photo and gently ease it back into those deep, cool waters to fight another day. We drop jigs and minnows and watch them tumble to the drop-off of the rocky island. Yes, we watch them all the way down—the water is that clear. Into the live well they go. And off to some prime northern pike grounds we go.
How good is the fishing here? I have five trophy pike under my belt, and every single one was caught at Utik Lake. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of pike that fell under the 41-inch Master Angler requirements. These fish are big, hungry and nasty. And they are my favourite species, bar none.
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge - Aikens Lake
On the advice of my guide named Turbo, I clip a floating white frog lure on my line and cast into the grassy edge of Aikens Lake. I’m still flapping my jaw about how I don’t think this idea will work when I see the bulrushes lay down as if a giant snake is meandering through them. There’s a mighty splash. I set my hook and something big pulls back. Fish on! Turbo, I take it back.
I’m battling a 40-inch northern pike. It’s hard to believe I’m no further north than Hecla Island, yet I’m in a whole other world. The boreal beauty of Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park shows off tumbling waterfalls and deep, dark evergreen forests. And where we have a landscape like this, we have fish. Lots of fish.
We know where the pike are, so it’s time to find some walleye, but it would be a shame not to check out one of this lake’s coolest features. So we crawl into the mouth of the Gammon River. In low water, getting there means cutting the motor, jumping in the drink and pulling the boat through this stretch. It’s all worth it as we cruise upon Indian Nose, a giant outcropping that traces the distinctive profile of an aboriginal man. Right below it are pictographs, native rock paintings of red ochre estimated to be over 1,000 years old. I can’t help but imagine all those who have traveled this river before me.
After our sightseeing, we head for The Honey Hole and quickly discover how this spot got its name. With tumbling rapids at the front of the boat, the walleye are chomping at our hooks and in no time, we have enough for our shore lunch.
For the afternoon we travel to the deepest part of the lake. It’s hard to imagine what lurks in that nearly 90 metres of water. We soon find what we’re looking for—lake trout. Bringing them into the boat in another matter. Lake trout will let you reel them in—to a certain point. Then they swim back down. You reel them back up. Then back down they go. We build muscle and learn patience.
Elk Island Lodge - God’s Lake
It’s midday on this dead calm August day on God’s Lake, 560 km northeast of Winnipeg. The granite claws of the Canadian Shield rise high out of cold, blue lakes that reach 45 metres to the bottom. The sun scatters splinters of light across the water’s surface.
My guide, Moses Nasee, wheels around to a sunny spot on a breezy point. It’s time for the greatest meal that Canada has to offer—shore lunch. Soon enough, two other guides, Clayton Bee and Darren Nasee, are helping Moses filet fat walleyes, gather wood for a fire and open cans of beans.
The boys set gigantic pans of canola oil over this blazing fire. Beans get tucked alongside a smouldering log, safely away from the flames. Into one pan goes chopped potatoes and onions. Wearing long oven mitts and using extra-long tongs, Darren tosses the mixture as it start to turn golden. Into the other pan, Moses slides plump walleye strips.
Within minutes, everyone is enjoying heaping helpings of lunch, scenery and conversation. Even though it’s a lunch you never want to see come to an end, the fishing rods are looking a little lonely. So Moses and I pack up and head for Brown Bay.
It’s the old standby, the Len Thompson Five of Diamonds, No. 4 that beckons from my tackle box. It’s not a hip or trendy or particularly popular lure these days. In fact, it’s seriously old-fashioned. But it’s my favourite.
With a big heave, I cast as far as I can. The flat spoon bounces once, just long enough to catch one blinding glint from the sun. Before it can sink, there’s a sudden swirl and a roaring splash at the surface. I reel back hard on my rod, setting the hook. Fish on!
Wide-eyed and wordless, Moses and I share our surprise. “Getting the net, getting the net,” he chirps as I dance around the casting deck, following the lead of a northern pike on my hook. Three metres away from the boat, we get a show. A big jump, long body twisting madly, that shiny Five of Diamonds firmly hooked on the side of a gaping mouth.
Played out, he comes to the surface where Moses scoops him into a gigantic net. As soon as the line goes slack, the barbless hook pops out, and Moses and I share one of those “whoa, just in time” glances. Moses grabs the measuring stick in one hand and lifts the fish out of the water with the other one.
“So close!” yells Moses, as the nose of the pike doesn’t quite make it to the 41-inch mark, signifying Manitoba Master Angler status. Still, it’s a huge, powerful and impressive fish. And it’s going back into the water to grow a little and fight another day.