Seven days in a wilderness paradise catching more fish than most would believe possible, surrounded by scenery no photographer could truly capture, leaves one longing for extended simplicity.
Back in the world, surrounded once again by constant distraction, I can draw upon the week in which the biggest decisions were bacon or sausage for breakfast, and whether we should first fish for walleye or northern pike.
My dad, myself and six other men took float planes into Opasquia Provincial Park in extreme northern Ontario through Big Hook Wilderness Camps. It was the best fishing in the most pristine setting I’ve ever experienced.
A dream trip. One I hope to make again.
Getting to our lake was no easy task. We drove to Red Lake, Ontario, which is about five hours north of where we crossed the border at International Falls, Minnesota. You do need a passport to enter Canada these days, but our crossings were simple. We experienced friendly border guards coming and going with no searches of our vehicles.
As we headed north through Canada, we did pass a checkpoint where vehicles were stopped and searched heading back south — but break no rules, and you’ll have no problems.
After staying the night in Red Lake, we took a small plane that carried all eight of us to Sandy Lake First Nation, an Oji-Cree reservation. From there, we divided into three float planes that took us to camp.
The lake was gorgeous. Thousands of acres of pristine water engulfed by pine and birch forest. Wildlife was everywhere. Bald eagles, both mature and juvenile, were constantly in view. We watched from close range as a moose calf rode on its mother’s back while she swam across a cove.
Too many islands to count, deep water, shallow reefs, massive weed beds, rapids and waterfalls all combined to give us options for fishing. All of them produced.
Our abode was little more than a shack, a cabin constructed with bare minimum quality of craftsmanship. A 1×4 ridge board was installed where at minimum a 2×6 should have been. Yet the cabin has stood for more than 30 years, and it held up during a storm I feared would rip the roof off.
We had solar power backed up by a generator, a shower with hot water, and all the necessary cooking appliances. The outhouse served its purpose, but no one lingered to read a magazine. The cabin was fine, but it might be rough for anyone not looking for adventure.
Camp included three 14-foot Lund v-bottom boats outfitted with 15 horsepower 4-stroke Yamahas and one 20-footer with a 20-horse. My dad and I were given the larger boat to help make up for his lack of fishing experience.
These basic crafts served us well, proving one does not need to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a fancy boat to catch fish.
My tackle box was mostly a waste of space. When I return, I’ll take only the essentials, including 1/4-ounce jig heads in chartreuse and hot pink, and a number of large bucktails, spoons and swimbaits.
Line should be stout for northern. I fished 20-pound braid with a steel leader. For walleye, lighter monofilament is fine. Bring at least two more rods than you think you’ll need. Keep two rigged for walleye and two rigged for northern. Accidents happen.
On this trip, I reared back to throw a bucktail and the giant treble hook snagged my favorite walleye rod. Before I realized what was happening, I had heaved it high overhead into the water with no hope of retrieval.
Then, while trying to unstick a jig head in shallow water between two rocks, I snapped the tip off my remaining walleye rod. I finished the trip with six inches trimmed from the top.
We ate like kings. One of the guys on this adventure was making his 25th or so trip, so he knew what to bring. We had prime rib, New York strips, giant burgers, pork chops and more. Each dinner included a healthy portion of fresh, fried walleye. Every morning, a big breakfast was made and devoured before anyone went fishing. There was no need to go out too early. When you have thousands of acres of water to yourself, you don’t have to worry about someone setting up in your spot. And the fish bit all day long.
Bring good food. It enhances the pleasure of the trip.
For years, I ventured north to Wisconsin and Minnesota with my grandfather. He was obsessed with walleye fishing. He devoured magazine articles and books on the species.
He watched, recorded and re-watched television shows offering tips and tactics on how to catch more walleye. There’s no telling how much time and money he spent pursuing the species. But in just 30 minutes on the first day of this trip, my dad and I put together a stringer of fish so far superior to anything my grandpa ever caught, I could not help but feel remorseful that the old man never had the opportunity to take a trip like the one we were on.
In all my years of fishing, nothing has compared. I honestly don’t know if there is a water in the lower 48 states that can produce the quantity and quality of fish a remote perfect habitat lake like this one.
If you have ever thought you might enjoy a fly-in fishing trip to a remote northern destination, I’m here to tell you, do it. This trip ranks right up there with the greatest I have ever been on, and I’m not just talking about the fact that I was fortunate enough to spend time with my father and our friends. I’m talking about the fishing.
I’ve never experienced fishing like this. It was beyond my imagination.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.