Monday, May 28, 2018

The Last Cast: On the Fly for Pike in Canada

Luggage was packed floor to ceiling to knees and Scott's carry-on: coffee!
After watching a guy getting arrested at the Holiday gas station in International Falls, it finally hit me that vacation had begun! We charmed our way through customs at International Falls on May 18, enjoyed a Canadian favorite - butter tarts with ice cream - at a quirky restaurant outside Dryden, and finished up with a pretty, but sadly bear-free, 2-hour drive to Sioux Lookout where 8 of us would board the Sioux Falls Outposts' Otter plane the next morning for our 6-day Lake Miniss pike-fishing trip in Ontario, Canada.

This was supposed to be the third consecutive trip to Lake St. Joe, but a late ice out meant we switched to Miniss since its waters open a week earlier... otherwise we'd have had to cancel the trip.

Other than a very windy second day, the weather was great. Fish were still sluggish and slower to bite due to late ice out, but it got better as the days went on and as we learned this lake.

Ed was my same boat partner from 2 years ago. He powered the motor, and I did the anchor, rock-sighting, and navigation with the map (I did well for a self-titled Geographical Moron). He fished with fly and lure. He got one wally and the rest were pike. I used a 10wt fly rod to do my hunting.

Our trip organizer, John, cooked breakfasts and suppers (yum!). Final night was for ribs that were fantastic. We had a spontaneous walleye supper the first night and I really liked my first taste of walleye!!

I had one day when I only caught 1 pike, but there were gear and other issues. Otherwise, up to 6 pike/day for me, and I didn't let some hammer handles hook up. Slowish fishing, but enough while motoring around.

Up until the final afternoon, the biggest pike we boated measured 31-32", and I had caught no walleye. John had boated a larger pike while using a twister tail that was chomped while about 15' deep. He didn't measure it.

Scott and Ward had follows of 35"+ and 40"+ pike in a specific bay with current. No big-pike takes. Ed and I visited new water for us on the final day, and we did well and had fun. Then, we visited Scott/Ward in the bay of large pike follows. They'd had additional follows but were readying to leave. They recommended we motor to the "tutu tree" and try for where they had spotted the larger pike. We did. Ed had a decent 30"+ follow. I had nothing. I switched to a couple other flies, finally deciding between a chartreuse fly and a walleye-colored fly I'd tied specifically for the trip but had yet to fish. The fish had come most often to smaller flies (including a 3.5-inch 4-minute tie of a silver minnow pattern I'd used daily). But, I went with the larger walleye fly.

I made a few casts but knew Ed wanted to get going. We needed to pack to fly out the next AM. With Ed being the responsible person in our boat and nicknaming me "Last Cast Lisa," I made my last cast toward deeper water, gave the fly time to sink and stripped the line.

The 37-inch pike that wanted a walleye.
My fly stopped hard but with that subtle difference that tells you this is NOT a rock. I strip set hard once, twice, then stripped to bring the fish toward me while yelling twice to Ed to "Get the net!" The 2nd time I yelled was when the fish turned, I strip set hard the third time, and then I saw her. Eternally calm Ed exclaimed that wow I really did need the net. I don't usually want a green fish in the net, but we were looking at likely the largest fish of our group's trip, so after she turned, Ed netted her before she could get a good fight going. Of course, she was then very active in the net.

Ed tried a few times to measure her while I readied tools and got pictures of her in the net. She would thrash whenever he touched the tail, and this would botch the measurement.

The pike-slimed walleye fly.
She overpowered the jaw spreaders x 3 and, luckily, popped the snap (now in garbage) during the 3rd time, so I only had to deal with the de-barbed fly, not leader and fly line. The 4th time, spreaders stayed in place, and I freed the slimed walleye fly from inside her mouth.

Of course, we let her rest in the submerged net off and on while I also calmed down. I appreciated Ed's patience just as much as I appreciated this pike taking my fly. Managing a netted fish is not yet a huge strength of mine, but you have to do it to get better, and I did it.

Ed and John both have tooth-resistant gloves. I was able to use Ed's glove this trip for larger pike. After 2 efforts with the glove, she was secured, and I slowly lifted her into a classic hold that I was unable to manage two years ago during our first pike trip. My finger had been in a splint that trip. After boating the pike fondly christened "42," for pictures I could only hold that largest pike from our first trip in the net on my lap, and later hold her tail with my intact hand while helping her recover in the water. This year I got to manage the netted fish, pose nicely with her, then do a hand release while appreciating life's small accomplishments.

A beautifully-patterned 37-inch pike.
While I held her for pictures, Ed measured her again. We knew this pike wasn't 40 inches. She was 37".

Back at the cabin, Ed spread the good news. Our group was very pleased as was I. Jeff asked if I knew the Fishermen's Handshake. I said no. He said he hadn't used it on the trip because no one had gotten a fish large enough. We did the Fishermen's Handshake to honor the pike that came to the last cast. I gave kudos to Ed, Scott, and Ward, because without them, that fish would not have connected with my last cast.

It wasn't actually the last cast of the trip though. While packing after supper, I went to the porch to look for any missing gear and realized I had missed something more important than that. I took in a breath and smelled ... pike. At that moment I realized that I hadn't really taken the time to truly experience as fully as I could where I was. I smelled the air around me, went to the sandy beach to pick up a chair, and I plopped it on the edge of the dock.

I sat and enjoyed the evening sounds, the myriad of tree frogs, the birds, a couple fish splashes, eventually the wolves, and I looked at a bright half-moon. I realized I hadn't once looked for the light-pollution-free Canadian stars. I am almost embarrassed to write that.

But darkness comes late to the cabin and all of my Northern Midwestern friends go to bed early. Just what was I to do until it got dark? I remembered the fish splashes. I also remembered that the shore in front of the cabin isn't a hot spot for fishing but there were those splashes, and maybe night brings better fishing?

So, I went back to the cabin and unpacked headlamp, rod, reel, and a couple flies. I was targeting walleye.

I got a net from the fish cleaning house. My first walleye was foul-hooked. But during the hour, I netted 4 wallys, the largest 19 inches. I cheered them all (and they also wanted that crazily simple-to-tie minnow pattern!). I used the headlamp to see to remove the fly from each fish.

It was good to know I wouldn't leave Canada empty-handed of walleye. Afterward, I scanned the water with the headlamp on. Wow! What fun to see glowing walleye eyes moving around on the water bottom! Then, I saw small glowing eyes on the water's surface and what appeared to be wings. A swimming bat!? No, it was the water-pushing rear legs of a frog or toad. I kept my lamp on it, hoping it would not become a walleye or pike meal but wanting to watch if it should. The toad swam next to the dock and luckily, no splashes were heard, but I know they don't taste good.

The next morn we flew home, and I could keep my eyes open the entire time, unlike the bumpy flight in, where keeping my eyes closed and imagining fish being caught while singing "Thunderstruck" in my head kept the nausea away. Those Canadian lakes are also beautiful seen from the air.

It was a pleasure to spend another memorable pike-fishing trip with great people on beautiful water.
(Trip dates: 5/18-24/2018) Written 5/27-28/2018

Lisa, John, Scott, Ward, Jeff & sons Tom and John, and my patient boat partner Ed

Trip Photos
(Click on any picture to view it larger)

Vacation begins!!

Ready to cross the border.

Wishing we'd flown business class....
A distant view of the cut rock channel into a finger bay.

Ed on one of our plentiful pike days. 

Another water source to feed Lake Miniss.

At the mouth of a finger bay.

Even the pit stops offer beautiful views!

Cautiously motoring through the cut rock bank of a finger bay.
Beaver lodges are plentiful here. We saw one otter and one beaver.

Six of us motored to the Miniss River on the 2nd to last day of fishing.

The Miniss River.

Near the short walking trail to a little boat on another section of Lk Miniss.

A little boat and motor for anyone wanting to fish more water. Don't forget to put in the plug!
Shiprock Island

Pike can't resist a chartreuse fly!
Relaxing at the cabin before supper.

Ed and Scott at the dock. 

Ribfest! And who ate the most? Your's truly-- just to compliment the cook!
The Otter's arrival on Lake Miniss to fly us back to Sioux Lookout.

The view from Canadian skies as we leave all that fishing goodness.