It’s the sum of its parts! That was the theme I finally decided upon when trying to come up with an opening line about a recent walleye fishing trip into Ontario. There wasn’t just one experience during the three days that stood out as a favorite moment; there wasn’t one landscape that rose above the rest in grandeur, and there wasn’t one catch that was more joyful and exhilarating than another. The fact is, everything was great!
Trip highlights kept building with each passing minute. What landlubber doesn’t enjoy a boat ride over sky blue waters, past shorelines of lush evergreens and broad-leaved hardwoods all the while crisp Canadian air is streaming into your lungs as you are delicately sprinkled in a fine mist spray from the bow.
As a mostly no-frills kind of camper, I relished in sight of a beautifully woodsy cabin nestled into the rocky hillside above the dock and sheds at water’s edge. So far, all the components of a quintessential fishing trip were revealing themselves. The best was yet to come.
This vast expanse of lakes and waterways extends for hundreds of miles beyond the eastern shores of the great Lake of the Woods across Minnesota’s border in Ontario. Unlike the rounded glaciated potholes further south, these lakes are characterized by myriad fingers and fjord-like bays that form an almost continuous liquid lacework of water – interrupted by an occasional portage or two.
Our fishing hot spots were a short boat ride and one challenging portage from our base cabin. The anticipation of getting on fish heightened as we ripped across open stretches of water, through narrows, around rock outcroppings until we slowed in our approach to a thin stretch of sand at the base of a cut in the trees – and the Portage.
Tipping my head back to see the top of the sloping portage trail, my neck stiffened as my eyes traced the steep incline of the uneven, rocky pathway before me. “I’m really out of shape for this,” I thought as I threaded my arm through as many pack straps as I could muster and trudged up and then back down the rocky mountain goat test track before me. I marveled at our host’s stamina, a college buddy my age but obviously better attuned at this than what I was struggling with at the moment.
The rock scramble over to the other lake (several feet lower in elevation, landmarked by a ten-foot cascading waterfall) was followed by a short ride to several honey holes where we hoped to pick up a few fish each for a shore lunch feast. I think every walleye in the world likes to chomp on spinner jigs seasoned with a night crawler. They certainly worked for us. In short order, we had plenty of “small” walleye to bring ashore for the next, perhaps most enjoyable part of the entire day – fresh-caught fillets fried over an open campfire – shore lunch supreme!
I love to camp cook. My first merit badge in scouting was based on campfire cuisine. As soon as my buddy, Chris, had shown me his blackened and seasoned wok-like camp skillet with its long handle, I knew he had it covered. He is as seasoned at cooking as was the pan I was stuffing into a camp pack.
I challenge anyone to cook me a walleye that tastes any better than a coated fillet fried to a crispy golden brown over the sizzling oil of a pine-fueled campfire.
Nothing compares; nothing!
A warmed can of beans was the perfect complement to the fish – but even they paled in comparison to the heavenly taste of walleye.
Post lunch fishing was a laid back effort to put a few keepers on the stringer. Bellies full of fish, we let our impatience lead us from one prospective stretch of water to the next. We finally picked up enough to bring back to the freezer to add to the take-home tally. More fast time across the water, another schlepping of gear back over that ankle-bangin’ portage and we were soon back at the cabin.
Surprisingly, our lake’s water in early August was a comfy 80+F. Skinny dipping anyone? A cool splash down and lathering up washed every last remnant of fatigue from our aged bodies. Our extended dockside repast of cigars and sipping whiskey had me wondering if perhaps we hadn’t all passed through a mortal threshold and ended up in heaven after all.
Whether such trips are what they are because they rekindle other exceptional memories in addition to the fresh ones that will now be added, or most certainly tied to the friendship of life-long buddies sharing an adventure, it all comes together to become the parts that add up to yet another grand event.
I probably won’t ever forget how I felt going over that portage the first time. I look back at that as ‘paying my dues’, as it were. What I will certainly remember are those two incredible shore lunches, a most enjoyable stretch of fishing and catching, and especially the priceless camaraderie with college buddies. All this and yet another chance to enjoy some of the most exhilarating and refreshing landscape on earth?
Those are indeed the parts that add up to a grand fishing trip!