Aswopiswanan Lake, Northern Manitoba, July 29 – August 6, 2020 — Imagine a land of sky blue water* framed by endless popcorn, all of it patrolled by bald eagles above and by submarine-size northern pike below; where the eagles outnumber the people and the fish can weigh more than small children.
We were there. Four guys alone with two motorboats and a zillion miles of nowhere; where eagle chatter dominates nature’s gossip; where waves slapping your boat is the drumbeat of time passing; where no sign of civilization can find you. Walden Pond, eat your heart out.
We were an interesting deck to shuffle. On the one hand, we are variously two sets of brothers, one uncle, two nephews, two sons, and three of us are dads. On the other, we were simply four fishermen loaded for pike.
Four a.m. wake up.
Let’s start at the beginning. It takes four flights to get there from here. One from where you are to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Winnipeg; overnight in Winnipeg. Day two opens with a zero-dark-thirty take off in a Beechcraft King Air to a dirt strip at Point St. Theresa. Next it’s a float plane flight about another hour north to the lake and a lunchtime arrival.
What a treat. Our floatplane was a 1953 vintage De Havilland Beaver (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Canada_DHC-2_Beaver), the aircraft bush pilots love.
Although retro as hell featuring well-worn rudder pedals as proof of its lucky legacy, it was updated with the latest avionics from Best Buy.
Fortunately the Beaver can schlepp a load. My brother’s boys are not small people. Matt is 6’6 330lbs. Nate is 220 lbs. Somehow we fit. Since this lake is a regular stop on their fishing circuit, they gave the rookie the front row seat with its E ticket ride.
Number two for takeoff following 10-minutes to warm-up the oil pan. The windows were so scratched that I wondered how the pilot could see much of anything.
Airborne in under a minute. As long as the number of take-offs and landings are equal, all’s good.
The glaciers pocked Northern Manitoba with more lakes than you can count. Classic boreal forest carpets the exposed granite ridges.
Esker debries lines the lake bottoms.
Definitely an old-school stick and rudder aircraft. Happy landing. Hardly a bump when we hit the water.
The fish camp decorated in early particleboard reminded me of hiker accommodations powered by propane where the shower output dribbles like an old man standing at a urinal. Unfortunately at some point prior to our arrival the building made a wrong turn on its foundation but remained true inside. A crew flew in to shore it up on the plane that lifted us out.
After tossing our gear inside, it didn’t take long to launch the two 14-foot boats pushed by 20-horse Yamaha outboards. Thus powered to stay out of trouble, we still could scoot up the lake at a pretty good clip. It’s the venerable kit used in International Falls when I was a kid.
Twenty horses pack a punch even in rough water when the boat smacks your butt like the principal’s paddle back in the day.
Ok. We’re there. We’re on the water. Let’s get down to business.
In this case we don’t have to talk about the ones that got away even though many did. We were using barbless hooks from which smaller fish can easily unhook themselves by wiggling. With the exception of a few walleyes we ate, this trip was strictly catch and release.
Proof they weren’t all lunkers. Too many hammer handles to count. (A hammer handle is a northern pike about the same size as a hammer handle.)
We’ll save the lunkers for last so stay tuned. Now for what happened in the middle.
Northern pike are notoriously aggressive. They’re also cannibalistic.
It works like this. Grandpa hangs out outside the nursery school door waiting for his grandkid’s class to get out, then boom. They eat about anything that moves.
The lunkers are large enough to eat almost any fish or bird in or on the lake. This medium size northern followed a smaller one my brother hooked and attempted to devour it while still on on the hook. The aggressor fish was oblivious of everything else except eating.
An overnight storm proved challenging in several ways.
The wicked wind of the west kicked up waves around three feet tall. The boat moored perpendicular to the wind was swamped.
Bailing it out proved challenging. Then we discovered a leak and water in the gas.
Fortunately there were five boats to choose from so we made a change.
Later, I was wearing an automatic flotation device when a wave flipped me out of the boat as I stood to cast. The auto feature worked. The water was warm! Fortunately I saved the tackle and the ride back to change clothes was short. I was embarrassed but delighted with the outcome. Don’t screw around without PPE.
The abundant wild life have been noted. Here’s some proof. Unfortunately we didn’t photograph the beaver swimming from its lodge.
Now for the best video clip of the trip. Bald eagles owned the sky.
I quickly fished my iPhone from my pocket when I spied this one. It delivered for my effort. I captured several eagle clips. This was by far the best.
Ready for the sunsets and sunrises?
The best was taken by my nephew. I was too whipped and jaded to get out of bed to view the northern lights the first night.
He caught the big dipper dead center.
What’s with the ancient rifle or the weird chairs? The prop looks like it diced some rocks instead of onions.
The hook and bullet trade is not known for its attention to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.
Even motorboat fishing has its zen.
Let’s get ready.
Ok, here come the trophy fish. They are in the 38 inches+ class. When they hit, you know it. Your rod bends like a troll with a bad back. The drag groans as the fish overpower the brake. You hang on and reel like crazy. You’re hoping Jaws is on the line.
I won the contest for most fish over 40 inches and for the biggest fish.
This is the 42 1/2 inch lake snake that won me $15. My brother Jack did the honors. The fish are seriously stressed by handling. The less, the better. They also secrete a huge amount of slime as a defense mechanism.
These are serious predators. Here’s what it did to my lure.
The fish was strong enough to break off on of the hooks and bend the rings. My nephew Nate restored the lure to mint condition.
There are a lot of ways to end this story.
It could be the wings back to reality.
It could be another eagle video.
It could be landing a fish.
Instead its the real reason for going in the first place – family, fish and fresh coffee at dawn.
*Appropriated on purpose from a Hamm’s Beer ad from yesteryear.
Thanks to Bolton Lake Lodge, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I took 330 photos and video clips during the week. Here are some out takes: