The water level on Lake of the Woods was four feet higher than normal this year. When we boated to our usual campsite on Deadbroke Island, we found it mostly underwater. For several seasons, my friends and I have talked about moving the location of our base camp, and now we were forced to. Even though we usually are the only people camping in the Lake of the Woods backcountry, good campsites are hard to find. There are hundreds of kilometers of wilderness where we are allowed to camp, but most shorelines are either too steep or too heavily wooded for easy access. Flat areas to pitch tents are rare and flat areas with a protected bay for our boats even rarer. After sending search parties in three directions to find a new site, Clint, Ken, and Larry found an excellent spot on the tip of Bath Island. Our group this year had grown from four to seven people, and this larger piece of open ground actually served our purpose better than the small peninsula at Deadbroke.
Fishing this year started out slow. While it usually takes us a day or two to find the walleyes in deep water (if we find them at all), we’ve always been able to catch northern pike and smallmouth bass in the shallows. This year we couldn’t even find even them, although some of the guys hooked big muskies casting in five or six feet of water. Normally we catch one or two muskies on the entire trip; this year we caught at least six and had just as many follow-ups. A follow-up is when a fish is seen coming up behind a lure, but does not strike. If a fish is four feet long, even a follow-up is memorable.
By the third day, we learned the northerns and bass were in 20-30 feet of water right along with the walleyes. Maybe it was because the shallows had yet to warm up. Maybe it had something to do with the high water level. Once we figured out where the fish were, the action improved. For the first time ever, we ate walleye four dinners out of six, and we could have eaten fish every evening had we wanted to.
One reason for our improved fishing was the addition of Victor to our fishing party. Victor is Tom’s son and a sophomore in college. He also is a master fisherman. At home, he reads about the habits of fish and about the latest advances in fishing gear. On the lake, he fished almost every waking moment. While the rest of us enjoyed a beer after a full day of fishing, Victor continued to cast from shore. When some of us cooked dinner on a camp stove or baked cornbread with a campfire reflector oven, Victor kept fishing. At six in the morning, while I was still a half hour away from crawling out of my sleeping bag,Victor and Tom’s boat could be heard motoring away for an early start on the day. There were seven of us on the trip, and Victor easily caught half of the fish.
Soon after setting up camp in our newfound campsite, while Jack and Clint were cooking dinner and the rest of us were not doing much of anything, we heard Victor yell from the bay where the boats were moored. “Help, huge fish,” he shouted. We all ran toward his voice to see him battling a big muskie from the stern of his tied up boat. In the first hour of the first day, Victor landed a trophy fish while Ken, Larry, Tom, and I were poking sticks at the campfire. It pretty much set the tone for the week.
It snowed the first day of our trip, but progressively warmed each day afterwards. Rain fell only twice the whole week, and both times it was in the middle of the night. The food was very good, the company exceptional. I caught more walleye than on any of our other trips. The crisp air even beat down some of the lingering effects of my bout with COVID. As always, the Canada fishing trip was an excellent way to kick off the summer.