The Final Walleye Fishing Journey

I catch the primary fish at Deadwood Portage. It’s a pleasant 3-pounder that takes a curly-tailed jig bounced by means of a brief, rocky speedy. The walleye flashes its signature gold-green flanks. Dinner fish, I believe and thread it on a blue nylon stringer: metallic tip by means of the underside of the lip, then by means of the O-ring to comfortable it down. For only a second I ponder in regards to the satisfying act of placing a fish on a stringer. What number of instances have I performed this and not using a single second of reflection about how lucky I’m to have the ability to catch, clear, prepare dinner, and eat my very own fish? I slip the stringer into the water and the introspection goes down with it.

The adventurers line their canoes by means of a speedy. Dusan Smetana

From right here we’ve 4 extra miles of river to paddle, one other portage, and a stiff Class II speedy to run with totally loaded canoes. Already we’ve come far: Final evening a prepare dropped us off in the midst of black-dark nowhere for a tough bivvy by the Canadian Nationwide Railway tracks. We slept off a 20-hour journey day till midmorning, then pushed the boats by means of Peterbell Marsh to the Missinaibi River, a languid, amber-colored waterway hemmed in with spiky grasses. Bleary-eyed and saddle sore earlier than our first canoe stroke, we paddled north. Now we’ve extra paddling forward of us, wooden to assemble, a fireplace to construct, fish to fry, and tents to pitch, and the solar is dropping quick. Up to now, I’m getting precisely what I’d hoped for.

River Runners

When most individuals consider walleye fishing, they consider huge lakes, huge outboards, downriggers, lead-core trolling strains, and crankbaits working so deep the fish want eyeballs the dimensions of gumdrops.

However we had a special concept. My buddy Peter DeJong and I knew that not all walleyes hand around in white-capped lakes. We figured there have been wilderness fish far up within the northlands, walleyes that hardly ever noticed a hook, by no means heard a motor, and shared waters with pike, moose, and sandhill cranes. DeJong is an enormous, burly, bearded Canadian, the form of man who wears wool plaid when it’s 90 levels and nonetheless makes use of a tumpline. Collectively, we hatched an enormous, burly, river journey within the voyageur model. We’d run whitewater rapids, cross empty lakes, hump our gear by means of bogs and woods, and fish our method by means of boreal Ontario. And we’d do it alongside probably the most historic fur-trading routes within the land of the maple leaf: the Missinaibi-Moose River hall.

F&S Classics: Walleyes Gone Wild
An enormous Missinaibi walleye. Dusan Smetana

The shortest route between Lake Superior and James Bay, the Missinaibi pours by means of a 265-mile-long hall of boreal forest and Canadian Protect rock. In deep time, nomadic bands of Algonquin-speaking natives paddled the river, marking passage with pictographs on uncovered cliff faces. (Missinaibi interprets to “pictured waters,” after the reflections of those work.) Later, Ojibway and Cree plied the river. And from 1740 to 1880, it was a key buying and selling route for trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Co. and North West Co., each of which constructed buying and selling posts alongside its banks.

It’s empty nation. The stretch of the river from Peterbell to Moose River is assessed as “superior, with troublesome portages and remoteness.” David Morin, whose firm is one among a handful to outfit journeys on the Missinaibi, says few of those that run the river additionally fish. “They’ll make a few casts one evening and assume that’s all there may be to it. It appears that evidently hardcore paddlers simply don’t care about fishing. And hardcore fishermen aren’t too involved in coping with rapids.”

However we had been. DeJong and I wished all of it, each totem and cliché of boreal Canada, all rolled into one week within the woods, with paddles and rods in hand. We added to our occasion photographer Dusan Smetana and Ontario native Lee Bremer, at present doing laborious time in e Manhattan monetary district. Quickly sufficient, we stood by the CNR tracks in the dead of night and watched the prepare’s lights slowly disappear within the distance.

The Tuke

For a day and a half we paddle, float, and fish by means of beautiful stretches of river-long, languid swimming pools the place mergansers and river otters swim away at our method. As a result of the Missinaibi is one among 39 waterways within the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, its banks are protected against logging and improvement. The end result: a whole bunch of miles of shoreline the place historical bushes tumble in water clear sufficient to drink. As soon as Smetana reels in a 4-pound walleye close to the riverbank. Its flanks shimmer with colour. He holds the fish up. “At residence in Montana,” he says, “the walleyes are silvery. A little bit boring. Nothing like this. Such a stunning fish.”

F&S Classics: Walleyes Gone Wild
Prepping fish for dinner. Dusan Smetana

We dredge the water for its kin. To resolve issues, I’m tossing an Arctic Fox deep-running spinner and, alternatively, a standard-issue chartreuse leadhead jig. DeJong fires off a Shad Rap, and Smetana swears by his “magic lure,” a Storm Sizzling ‘N Tot in silver and blue that he picked up on the final minute at a Timmons, Ontario, Wal-Mart. Every time he ties right into a fish he sings out in his Slovakian accent, sounding like an Outdated World peddler, “Lure on the market! Magic lure on the market!” He’s onto one thing, and he is aware of it.

I, nonetheless, am not. Perhaps it’s my Southern nature, my inexperience with any bottom-dwelling fish aside from a channel cat. However I’m having hassle with walleyes. Smetana takes a take a look at my retrieve and sidles over for some fast recommendation.

“Are you feeling the tuke?” he asks.

“The took?”

“No, no. The tuke.” He sounds out the phrase; it rhymes with puke. “You should retrieve so slowly that you simply really feel just a little tuke. Not a took. It’s as if a rock has eaten your lure. Besides it’s a walleye.”

I give it a whirl. Casting throughout a present seam, I let the spinner fall to the underside. I begin the retrieve, slowly bump-bumping the lure throughout the boulders. I really feel it drag throughout a ledge after which the road goes slack as uplifted currents boil off the river backside, lifting the lure like a leaf in a whirlwind. It drops once more, the road barely taut because the spinner falls, after which tuke!

I set the hook and the rod involves life.

I do know simply sufficient about walleye fishing to know that there are a number of methods to catch them that don’t contain canoes and white-knuckled rapids runs and lengthy days in wild nation. However I’m fairly positive there are none higher.

Incident at Greenhill

Our first important problem—aside from discovering fish—comes throughout our second day on the river. Greenhill Rapids is a 3/4-mile-long cauldron throughout the spine of an esker, a kind of bizarre rock formations created by the dragging fingers of a receding glacier. There’s a dogleg flip within the center and canoe-swamping pillow rocks all the way in which down. At low water it’s too low, at excessive water it’s loopy, and when the water is excellent it isn’t to be taken flippantly. We play it protected, portaging each bag, pack, and rod for a mile throughout hill and bathroom. Then Bremer and Smetana slip into the river. DeJong and I give them a half hour to make it by means of the rapids, then we push off. After I lick my lips, my tongue is dry as toast.

F&S Classics: Walleyes Gone Wild
Learning the map, the writer plots his route down the Brunswick River. Dusan Smetana

We run the large higher drops cleanly, bashing by means of excessive rollers, then eddy out behind a midstream boulder. From right here on on the market are drops, rocks, and souse holes aplenty, however an easy line by means of the melee beckons. “A stroll within the park,” DeJong figures, nervously, as we guzzle a quart of water and congratulate ourselves on a textbook begin.

That’s when the wheels come off. I give the boat a robust ahead stroke to reenter a tough present line however misjudge my downstream lean. The canoe responds by jerking violently to starboard. As I’m going over I get a look at DeJong, high-bracing from the bow, however he is aware of the goose is cooked. In half a second we’re each within the water, the boat between us, uncontrolled.

For a few minutes it looks like no huge deal. We roller-coaster for 300 yards, however then larger boulders and nasty ledge drops seem. Our canoe lurches to a cease, pinned towards a truck-size rock. The present washes me previous the canoe as I make a determined seize for a gunwale. Upstream, DeJong slips over a ledge and bobs to the floor. My OK signal lets him know I’m unharmed, and he returns it with a smile.

Simply then he slams right into a subsurface boulder. He hits it laborious, the form of laborious wherein bones find yourself on the skin of pores and skin and rescue operations begin. His grin morphs immediately into an O of ache. He slides over a hump of foaming water and involves an instantaneous cease, his physique downstream, proper leg pointing upcurrent. The look on DeJong’s face is as alarming as his posture, one foot trapped between rocks on the river backside because the Missinaibi pours over his shoulders.

Twenty yards downstream, I can do nothing however watch as he struggles to proper himself and hold his head above water. If he loses buy and his free leg slips, the present will sweep him downstream and break his leg, if it isn’t damaged already. DeJong strains towards the river present, at instances utterly submerged as he tries to twist out of the snare.

Abruptly he wrenches himself free. Grimacing, he works throughout the river, and I collect a rescue rope in case he stumbles once more. He makes it to the overturned canoe wild-eyed and panting, soaked and beginning to chill. “I’m all proper,” he says. For a full minute neither of us speaks. “Unusual option to catch a walleye, eh?” he says. We snort the nervous snort of a few guys who know they’ve dodged a bullet.

After we flip and bail the boat we grind down Greenhill’s boulder backyard with no method by any means. Later that evening, we camp beneath St. Peter Rapids. And after dinner we sit again from the campfire, bellies filled with fried fish eaten with our fingers-no aspect dishes and none desired.

“We got here awfully near ending our journey with a really costly helicopter tour of Ontario,” I say. “To not point out per week of hospital meals.”

“It’s scary how shortly issues can flip dangerous,” DeJong says. “Simply whenever you assume you’ve bought it found out…” His voice trails off, drowned out within the roar of the Missinaibi. Cedar smoke curls up towards a crimson sky, and we flip silent once more, till the mosquitoes drive us into the tents.

The Tao of the Walleye

After Greenhill, we fall right into a soothing rhythm. We sleep till 7 A.M., when the mosquitoes retreat again to the darkish woods. Espresso and breakfast, a half hour of fishing the closest rapids, then we pack the gear and boats and push off. And the times are lengthy ones. Making camp by six provides us simply sufficient time to fish out the two-hour sunsets. Then it’s a race to get the fish cleaned and fried and eaten earlier than the nightly storm of mosquitoes.

“I really like this manner of journey, eh?” DeJong says one evening, splitting cedar sticks with a small hatchet as I clear a Missinaibi Grand Slam-walleyes, pike, and smallmouth bass. “Making your individual method. By no means a watch. Dwelling out of a bag.”

Bremer pipes in, “However there’s this inherent battle on a canoe fishing journey.” Bremer is 2 years out of faculty, a considerate, competent fellow who has cheerfully suffered days of senseless banter between De Jong, Smetana, and me. “For those who’re fishing laborious, then you definately’re not making a lot progress, and I get this responsible feeling of simply losing time. However in the event you’re actually making miles down the river, you’re in all probability passing up a number of good fishing spots, and who needs that?”

None of us. Nevertheless it’s one thing we wrestle with at each rock and riffle alongside the way in which.

Simply above Cut up Rock Falls the Missinaibi turns nasty once more. Below jack pines and crimson cedars, the complete river narrows to a 6-foot-wide cleft in a granite boulder the dimensions of a small house constructing. The V-notch of foaming water disappears with such violence that the thought of working it’s laughable. The gear goes on our backs once more for the carry up and over a big cliff face.

On the base of the falls is one other perfect pool. I think about walleyes crisscrossed within the water column like firewood, pike cruising the perimeters. However we catch nothing. We fish the shady, violent chasm on the outfall, the roiling present, the eddy strains, the pool: not a single fish.

In reality, the fishing has been stop-and-go all alongside. Nevertheless it’s a scorching streak in Ontario, 95-degree days for a stable week, with megawatt daylight that has to offer light-sensitive walleyes a migraine. We fish each conceivable method: fly rods and spinning gear, vertical jigging, backside bouncing, down-and-across drifting. My companions inform me to give up fretting-by inheritor requirements, the walleye motion is among the many greatest they’ve skilled. However I’m having hassle separating the 2 worlds we’re attempting to sew collectively: river working and river fishing. One factor’s for positive: I appear to be the one one stressing out over the fish. As soon as, I paddle again to camp to seek out Bremer lolling about on a Therm-a-Relaxation unfold over the rocks, studying.

“What are you doing over there, Lee?” I holler. “Studying self-help bestsellers?”

He gazes at me with half-open eyes, content material as a cat. “Man, I’m attempting to get my life so as. Can’t you see? I’m a large number!” He grins and lies again down.

Bloodbath at Thunder Falls

All of it comes collectively at Thunder Falls. It’s the final portage of an extended day, a full carry of boats and all gear across the highest falls of the journey, adopted by a hasty repacking on the base of the falls for a paddle to a sandy campsite on the far aspect of the pool. As soon as we get there, we dump our gear. Pitching camp can wait.

We’ve been fooled earlier than, however the place appears fishy. The river squeezes by means of the higher falls and unravels into half a dozen decrease cascades, every one its personal fishable stream. We eyeball the torrents, decide our lures, and cut up up.

My second solid whacks a hammer-handle pike that chops the air with its tooth. I give it a dying grip behind the gill plates and twist the spinner from its jaws. That’s when the pike squirms out of my palms and onto the underside of the empty canoe. It flops like loopy. I scoop it between my naked ft and the canoe paddle, make a seize and miss, then pin it down with a naked foot and kill it with my knife. The canoe hull is coated with fish slime and scales. My ft are smeared with blood. One thing clicks in my mind: Extra.

I see Smetana land a pleasant walleye, then lose a pair. I hook two extra walleyes and one other pike. That’s 4 fish for dinner—sufficient for us to eat—so now I fish for enjoyable.

After I solid into the boil of whitewater on the base of the falls, a pleasant 30-inch pike nails the spinner the moment it hits the water, a foot of the fish porpoising above the floor. Vicious. Primal. Its vitality appears to journey up the monofilament line and down the rod, into my arms and throughout my physique. After miles and days of robust fishing, the chunk is on. The pike breaks me off on the boat and steals my lure, a cut up second after we lock eyes over the gunwale. I retie and solid like a person possessed.

It’s a spot and a time the place all the weather of Canadian canoe tripping and wilderness fishing come collectively—water and rock, a fireplace on the darkening shore, keen fish, urgency and vitality. I fish and fish, touchdown walleyes and pike, releasing them and touchdown extra.

And as shortly because the fishing fever crests, it retreats. There’s a feeling you have got whenever you completely should catch another fish. It issues little whether or not you’ve already caught two or 20 or 100. One much less gained’t be sufficient, however only one extra will put every part in steadiness. Make all of it proper.

Out the place the whitewater trails into foam, I hook a scrawny walleye, and it’s over for me.

I paddle over to Smetana, who has been working a single seam for a stable hour. His blue shirt is buttoned to the neck, collar turned as much as fend off the bugs. He’s wild-eyed.

The underside of his canoe is a wrack of fish—pike and walleyes stacked like driftwood. For a second I consider the Nineteenth-century harvest work of fish and recreation piled excessive, rabbits and pheasants hanging from pegs, creels overstuffed with trout. I’ve by no means thought-about these work as depictions of extra however slightly of insurance coverage for the unsure days forward when the fish may not chunk and the sport may not transfer and the kids will go hungry.

“You hear of a capturing rampage?” Smetana stammers. “I used to be on a fishing rampage. I couldn’t assist myself. I wished fish and fish and fish, for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It was feeling. Have you learnt this sense what I’m speaking about?”

I do.

So we fry fish for a stable hour and a half, below tall black spruces, the smoke scenting the fillets and scattering the bugs, and we drink the final of the Scotch as a result of we all know there is not going to be a greater time for it.

A Lengthy Shortcut

A couple of mornings later we pore over the maps to get a way of our route’s previous few days. The Missinaibi uncoils in an extended looping bend to the east. We’ve some 20 miles left to paddle-beautiful water, however with few rapids to run or swifts to fish. There’s, nonetheless, another route. I level it out on the map.

F&S Classics: Walleyes Gone Wild
The writer grabs a keeper fish for supper. Dusan Smetana

A mile west lies Brunswick Lake, a Rorschach blot of blue water with fingers extending in all instructions. A collection of hatch marks denotes an historical portage route from the river to the lake. It crosses a trackless swath of inexperienced (woods? swamps? who is aware of?) and ends in a thin string bathroom that connects to the lake itself. We don’t know a factor about it aside from a scribbled warning within the clothes shop’s handwriting: DON’T BE STUPID.

“Hmmm,” says De Jong, with a half-groan, half-murmur of appreciation.

Smetana wrinkles his nostril. “I don’t find out about that. When the boat floats, it’s a lovely factor. Really easy.”

“It’d be going towards the captain’s orders,” Bremer chimes in, grinning. “I form of like that.”

The portage is figure, each inch of it. It takes two journeys to get the boats and equipment to a lily pad-choked bathroom, the place we push the canoes by means of waist-deep muck. We slip by means of a display screen of untamed rice and attain open water finally, however the lake is pounded by a 20-knot wind, with breaking whitecaps and bands of sheeting rain so far as we will see. A fishless day drags on as we grind upwind throughout Brunswick Lake to our camp on a tiny island with tall crimson pines and mossy granite boulders. We throw up the tents and get a fast hearth roaring to dry socks and boots. Lastly, time for the rods.

However situations may hardly be worse. The wind howls throughout the miles-long lake. Rain falls in intermittent showers. In the previous couple of hours, the temperature has plummeted 20 levels. Nonetheless, we hunker within the lee of the wind, dredging the dropoffs. DeJong is single-minded, a superb attribute for loopy fishing.

“They’re in right here,” he grumbles, casting like a robotic.

Solid. Retrieve. Solid.

“They gotta be in right here. Don’t you assume they’re in right here?”

Solid. Solid. Solid.

He all of the sudden ties into a pleasant pike that tail-walks beside the bow seat. “Oh, lovely fish,” he says, however I’m considering: About six serving items. Figuring on fish holding within the cross, we paddle out the inlet between our island and the subsequent within the archipelago, however the wind is simply too fierce for canoes, and a wall of rain is closing in from the north. We retreat to our island idyll the place a fireplace roils and hunker down below a tarp, stoves scorching. A pair of loons cries from someplace out within the monochromatic panorama, cliffs and islands wreathed in fog and spray and spume. DeJong licks fish grease from his fingers. “Yet one more completely Canadian second,” he says.

A Brunswick River Tragedy

The following morning dawns calm and clear, excellent situations to cross the higher reaches of Brunswick Lake. Throughout the evening, the wind blew out, and now daylight drenches the large open water. We load up on fish off the purpose of a rocky islet the place gulls nest, dive-bombing our boats as we cross. On the lake’s outlet, marshes fringe the shore and funnel us into the Brunswick River, a 3rd the dimensions of the Missinaibi and getting smaller with every paddle stroke. Because the river necks down it requires a few of our hardest, quickest strikes of the journey. Dodging rocks, we careen from financial institution to financial institution, ducking below tree limbs, rod suggestions snagging within the cedars.

On the base of 1 slot of rapids, we pull out at the very least a dozen walleyes and a smattering of perch. I maintain up an arm-straining stringer worthy of a last-night feast.

“Epic,” DeJong mutters. “Merely epic.”

We’re a mere half mile from our takeout after we run right into a gnarly set of rapids. The river pours by means of a 6-foot-wide channel of froth that runs a pair hundred ft by means of acres of naked boulders. Smack within the center is an uncovered rock, nearly unimaginable to keep away from. “Proper! Proper!” I yell from the bow, stabbing the water with a draw stroke. De Jong pries the strict in response, but it surely’s too sturdy a transfer. “No! Not that far proper! Left! Left!”

We bang our method down the chute. It’s not fairly, however we’re upright and dry, and we eddy out in a pool to observe Smetana and Bremer. I suck in breath as they flip precariously broadside midway down. They get the boat righted within the nick of time, scrape by the midstream boulder, and plunge over the past ledge and into the pool. Six days of river lastly lie behind us.

That’s when DeJong screams from the strict of the boat. “No! No! No!”

I spin round within the bow seat. He holds up a half foot of frayed nylon cord-all that is still of our last-night stringer. “The fish,” he groans. “They’re gone. I forgot to drag them in earlier than we ran the rapids.” He slumps over.

I’m unsure what to say. “This,” he declares, “is a Brunswick River tragedy.”

We spent the final evening hungry but additionally utterly glad.

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