Stories from the Lake
Lake of the Muskies
If there is a freshwater angling paradise, Lake of the Woods is it. The multi-species options on the lake are second to none. The scenery is incredible and throughout the year, no matter the season, something is always biting.
Walleyes, smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, crappies, lake trout and perch all exist in huge numbers and offer trophy fishing opportunities. Further options exist for the less popular whitefish, burbot, especially during winter.
The 14,000 islands on the lake give visitors a good chance of viewing wildlife like deer, moose, bears, wolves or one of the many bird species that inhabit the lake area.
Spring, summer, fall and winter all offer world-class fishing options and the many resorts and guides around the lake can put you on fish in short order no matter which section you visit.
Then there’s the musky. The pinnacle of freshwater, the fish of 10,000 casts, the waterwolf. Musky thrive in the massive Lake of the Woods and can be caught by anglers throughout the open-water season. Let’s take a look at how to catch a musky on Lake of the Woods.
The first thing that musky anglers need to know if they come to Lake of the Woods is an understanding of the seasonal movements of the fish. Far more important than the choice of lure is putting that lure in front of some fish. Musky are opportunistic feeders and if they are in the mood to bite, a variety of lures can generally tempt them. Throughout the season, there are general rules to follow for catching muskies on Lake of the Woods. With any form of fishing, there are always exceptions to the rules and the angler that gets creative and explores new opportunities often scores. Use these general rules as a starting point for your trip this year.
Annually, the musky season in Sunset Country opens every year on the third Saturday in June. Musky are a spring spawning fish and they move into shallow bays and coves to spawn in late May and early June. By the time the season opens, muskies have typically moved out from their spawning areas but many fish are still located in shallow water. That is where you want to start your search.
Many anglers actually plan their trip to Lake of the Woods to coincide with the June opener and this is never a bad idea. Muskies are green and have not seen a lure in months. They are also active and foraging in an effort to recover from the rigors of the spawn.
Locationally, anglers should keep a few things in mind early in the season, June through July. Focus efforts around large, shallow bays. Rock reefs in these bays, large pencil reed areas or large weed beds in 6 – 12 feet of water are my top three choices. Lure options should include some in-line spinners (bucktails) and topwater baits, which can shine this time of year, especially early and late in the day.
As summer progresses, anglers should start thinking more about getting out of the weeds and onto the rocks. Throughout August and early September, rock reefs, especially the large complexes of reefs attract fish that are focusing their feeding efforts more on larger prey like cisco, baby walleye and smallmouth bass. Anglers are wise to take a run-and-gun approach to their days on the water throughout the summer. Hitting as many high-percentage spots as possible in a day; main lake points, island saddles and large reef structures, is the best way to connect with fish. Some anglers that are new to Lake of the Woods have been known to have success by following one of the many extensive buoy systems (routes) and hitting as many marked reefs as they can in a day.
Lure options and fishing techniques during the summer can vary widely because the window is wide open as far as where fish could be located. It is best to have options; in-line spinners, topwaters, jerkbaits and glidebaits can all put fish in the boat. In all my years of guiding, experience has taught me that in-line bucktail style baits are the best fish catchers. They seem to trigger more fish to bite and hook up better than any other style of bait. Summertime is casting time in my opinion, you can put your bait in front of more fish and cover a higher percentage of water than you can by trolling.
As the fall approaches and water starts to cool, muskies on Lake of the Woods begin to change their attitudes. A nearly dormant fish under the ice, muskies put on the feedbag big time in the fall in order to bulk up for the long winter. Now is the time to bust out the big baits and start trolling. Locationally, muskies can be found in predictable locations. It’s all about following the bait, specifically the plentiful cisco that spawns in the fall. Ciscos spawn on rocks, and it seems like many of the major neck-down areas of the lake that have some current moving through them are the most high-percentage spots. Most experienced anglers spend their time trolling large cisco imitating crankbaits through these areas at speeds of 2.5 – 4.5 mph. Windblown rocky shorelines can be a good place to troll your baits as well. Hardcore anglers catch fish until the bitter end of the open water season, sometimes fishing right into December. I know a handful of anglers that have even broken ice to get out on the lake for that last outing of the year.
Anglers that have never fished on Lake of the Woods can understandably be intimidated by the massive size of this body of water. As big as it is, navigation is easy thanks to the great mapping available both on paper and on chips that can be used in GPS units. The unique thing about the lake is that is basically like 5 lakes in one with all of the different basins that have different water clarities and average depths. If you like clear water, the Whitefish and Clearwater Bay areas have extremely clear water. If you like darker water (muskies do) the south end of the lake from Sabaskong Bay all the way up to Kenora at the north end offers great musky fishing. There are great resorts located in all corners of the lake that have knowledgeable people available to give you information on the musky bite as well as other fish that can be caught. These guys can also arrange your dream fishing trip. If you want to catch a musky, Lake of the Woods is the place to go this year!
Jeff, a young professional guide who grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods obtained his first guide job at age 14. He makes his living through all season guiding (both hunting and fishing), tournament fishing and promotion. His credits include twice winning the Kenora Bass International tourney on Lake of the Woods; appearing on several TV shows including Lindner’s Angling Edge, In Fisherman, Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing, Dave Mercer’s Facts of Fishing; author of numerous articles for In Fisherman and Ontario Out of Doors. Contact Jeff at www.gussyoutdoors.com
By, Jeff GustafsonContact Information
Lodged in the Past
The yearly trek to the lake is nothing new. People have been traveling to the Lake of the Woods area for over 100 years. For some, the excitement of a northern adventure had been passed down through their family. Others will discover the area on their own and experience it for the first time.
Kenora is considered the northern gateway to Lake of the Woods and is one of the oldest ports on the lake. There was a time when it was known as Rat Portage and it was a settlement on a canoe route, not a tourist attraction.
There’s a story that the first tourists to the area came in 1869, an American family were here for a two-week vacation. But, it was cut short when a family member drowned – an interesting story not backed up by any actual fact.
Tourism on Lake of the Woods started in the 1880′s with the arrival of the train. The area was exposed to more people who were impressed by the natural beauty of the lake.
With the lake’s increasing popularity newspaper publications across the country featured articles promoting the area. Victoria’s The Colonist newspaper of May 1896 talked about what to experience on a trip to the lake.
We have come to the conclusion that on the Lake of the Woods can be found more fairy land beauty, more real isolation from the bustle of life and more roaming over nature in her primitive beauty, untouched by the hand of man with less trouble and inconvenience, than can be found in any other locality in North America, and we may say in the world at large.
People were further enticed to the area with the promise of unforgettable fishing and hunting opportunities. Advertising for the area announced that, here you can find the mighty Muskellunge who can test the prowess of a keen angler and run as high as fifty-six pounds. The tasty Lake Trout at his best in the spring and late summer, going frequently well over twenty pounds and the appetising Pickerel or ‘Walleyed Pike’ that often goes over ten pounds, and the popular Great Northern Pike that tops the scales at twenty pounds and over.
When people arrived by train to experience this wilderness wonderland they needed somewhere to stay. Lodges opened up along to train lines to accommodate the influx of anglers and hunters.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway built the original Minaki Lodge in the area where its line crosses the Winnipeg River. It was taken over by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1925. They aimed to blend ‚Äúthe primitive with the elegance of civilization.
In 1922 the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it would build bungalow camps at the lower end of Devils Gap on Lake of the Woods. Devils Gap Lodge opened on July, 01, 1923.
The main lodge building was comprised of a dining room with seating for one-hundred, a kitchen, a lounge area with a stone fireplace, and a huge screened veranda. Also built were twenty-two bungalow camps that had a veranda, camp cots, and running water. In 1923 rates were $5.00 per day, or $30.00 per week. People returned year after year. The bungalow cabins were never referred to by name, but instead by the regular guest names. So, great the popularity of the resort became in the 1930′s, reservations were required two to three years in advance.
A more adventurous way people traveled through the Lake of the Woods was by steamer boat. Steamers regularly traveled between the northern Kenora area and the southern Rainy River district. Tourists would hire a boat to take their group out onto the lake. At the end of a successful trip they would hire a local photographer like Carl Linde to take pictures of their catch. It would give them something to take home and with these pictures they were guaranteed to astound their colleagues.
Eventually by the 1930′s the TransCanada highway was built across the country and further connected the two coasts. The northern section of the Lake of the Woods district was opened up to the United States with the opening of Highway 71. It connected this area to the Rainy River District highway system. And, by the mid-1960′s a crude road linked Minaki to the TransCanada highway.
Along these roads new resorts opened up to accommodate the arrival of curious, adventure seeking American anglers and hunters. Automobiles full of outdoors men headed to the north looking for untouched waters to explore. Sioux Narrows, Nestor Falls, and Morson became hotspots these people flocked too. Amazingly many of the early roadside resorts are still operating. But resorts like Moose and Muskie in Morson, Westview Resort in Nestor Falls, and Traube’s Sioux Narrows Lodge in Sioux Narrows have come and gone.
The angling and hunting tourist trade has definitely evolved over the last one-hundred years. It helped transform the area into an outdoor destination and added the terms American Plan, Light Housekeeping, and Fly-In to everybody’s vocabulary. The one constant has always been the untouched beauty of the area and it only seems to get better with age.
Editors Note: Many early camp owners changed their businesses from logging camps to tourism. One of the earliest tourism operators was also a pharmacist. Ernie Calvert started Calvert Camps with not much more than ‘tent camps’ or tent cabins in the 1920′s. His guests travelled via the Chicago Flyer, a train that travelled on the Canadian National Rail line from Chicago to Rainy River. Ernie would take them by boat from Rainy River to Morson; in later years, by car, then boat to his outpost cabins.
Some Lodges from Our past
Anchor Island Lodge
Barney’s Ball Lake Lodge
Echo Lodge Camps
Eisentraut’s Canadian Camp
Fowler’s Minnesabic Island Lodge
Greenlees Bigstone Lodge
Hockey Haven Resort
Kipling Island Lodge
Monument Bay Lodge
Ostling’s Tourist Camp
McPherson’s Island Camp
Moose and Muskie
Pentney’s on Lake of the Woods
Turtle Portage Camp
Dalseg’s Virgin Pine
Hook ‘n Horn
Hagan’s Cedar Lodge
Martha’s Camp Long Bay
Miller’s Bridge Camp
Sioux Narrows Hotel
Streeter’s Hidden Valley Lodge
White Moose Lodge
After research at the Lake of the Woods Museum, personal contacts and local knowledge, it was determined that the lodges and resorts mentioned here are no longer in operation under the name so listed. Please note this list is not all inclusive.
By, Rick BrignalContact Information
The Sioux Narrows Bridge
If you’re like most people, you probably think of wooden bridges as relics from the past-charming in their antiquity as you come upon them on quiet country roads, yet certainly inferior to their modern concrete and steel counterparts. But then there was the Sioux Narrows Bridge…
At 210 feet, it was thought to be the longest single-span wooden bridge in the world, carrying Highway 71 over a channel of the Lake of the Woods in the town of Sioux Narrows.
Opened on July 1st, 1936 the erection of this bridge proved to be one of the major challenges in the construction of Highway 71 between Fort Frances and Kenora.
The bridge itself was a Howe box truss approximately 210 feet long and 27.5 feet wide, constructed largely of Douglas fir pressure treated with creosote and augmented by steel members. The BC fir was a grade known as dense selected structural hewn from trees that would have predated European settlement in Canada. The core and end members which were the internal components of the bridge, ranged in length from the minimum of sixty feet to a maximum of approximately 105 feet.
Construction on the bridge began in 1935 with the bridge being constructed entirely on site. Each of the thousands of pieces of the bridge came with a lead tag indicating what it was and where it was to go. Each piece was unique both with respect to its length and the angle at which it was cut. The entire structure was shipped from BC like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Engineers who examined the bridge contended that the structure required no ‘field cuts’. Evidence would further suggest that the entire structure fit together perfectly and that it was constructed by carpenters and not engineers.
It was a very sophisticated and complex design. The deck system was designed so that it could be cambered; meaning that if in time it should sink in the middle, it could be raised up again by simply putting more tension on a series of metal rods underneath the decks. Also, because wood shrinks, the whole system was totally adjustable and could easily be tightened up.
The bridge was initially designed to last 40 years. It was thought at one time that the bridge would have to be replaced as were its wooden counterparts at Berry Creek and Reed Narrows. This view towards a replacement prompted intense studies to be undertaken to determine the soundness of the bridge. The results of these engineering studies proved to be quite surprising. From the results of testing sixty core samples of wood from the bridge there were no major signs of decay. In addition, tests undertaken to calculate weight and stress which the bridge was able to accommodate were performed up to a loading of approximately 244 000 pounds. This is six times the original design capacity of twenty tones and would have been quite sufficient to handle Ministry of Transportation loads at that time which did not exceed 150 000 pounds.
With the strength of the bridge no longer in question, many improvements were undertaken to ensure its longevity and safety. In 1981 a new deck was installed which incorporated the use of 2” x 6” decking material placed on edge and forced together by hydraulic jacks. This effectively produced a watertight slab. Following this, a continuous asphalt surface was laid over the bridge for the first time. This surface replaced the ‘weak link’ in the bridge which was the asphalt planking formerly used.
In addition to this new surface for vehicles, a cantilevered walkway was also constructed on the west side to provide a safe pedestrian crossing. Part of the reason for the bridge’s longevity was the excellent care it received. Every spring the bridge was carefully washed down and flushed of the accumulated winter debris. But one aspect of the winter that was positively beneficial was the use of salt on the roads, which acted to preserve the wood of the structure.
In 2003, a condition survey was conducted on the Sioux Narrows bridge. The study confirmed that the bridge was deteriorating in a numbers of ways, namely: deformations (lateral twisting and moving), decay of timber (resulting in reductions in load carrying capacity), timber fibre crushing, corrosion and component failure (crushing and buckling). It was found that 78% of the bridge members had failed and needed to be replaced. A temporary bridge was installed while construction on the brand new bridge commenced.
In November 2007, the new bridge was finally completed. Timbers from the old bridge were incorporated into the new structure and the truss appearance preserved. A ribbon cutting to dedicate the new bridge was held July 1st, 2008 – 72 years after the original celebration.
From: “The Sioux Narrows Bridge” by Jeff Polakoff.
Beyond the Bridge – Sioux Narrows. 1985.
Ice In Ice Out
In the summer of 1981 Lake of the Woods cabin owner Mike Meunier found a wood board while cleaning his shore line in Morson. The board was inscribed with the ice in and ice out dates from 1935 to 1964. The origin of the board was never found but Mike believed that it came from a nearby closed fishery building that had belonged to John Kreger.
The board also has a diagram for a building project. Mike stated, “After I found the board, I became very interested in continuing the history and seeing what each year would bring. I also kept track of the years where the lake water level was high or running over my dock.” When Mike ran out of room on the board he made another one. He hopes his kids will continue the record keeping as Mike is now 84 years old.
There are many others living near the waters of the lake that have recorded this annual event. One local legend states that when the ice goes out of the Rainy River which feeds Lake of the Woods, that ice on many parts of the lake is still good for snowmobiles and ATVs for approximately one week and the ice being out in another week. At other times the ice on the lake is no longer good for travel and yet the Rainy River has not opened. Ice conditions change daily as the ice nears the “do not travel due to poor ice conditions” mark.
Many locals determine the stability of the ice each day before traveling very far on the lake. One can determine ice stability by the consistency, color and thickness. The surface ice color is blue then changes to white, to dark blue then white again during winter. Spring ice that is several feet thick starts to honeycomb or allow water to pass through and will no longer hold weight. By drilling holes in the ice, this condition is verified. This is not the same as a crack in the ice where water flows to the surface yet the sheet of ice is still stable as is often seen during the winter season. Safety should always be a concern when traveling near a break in the ice. Often breaks in the ice create pushed up ice called pressure ridges. These ice ridges can tower many feet and be hundreds of yards long. These pressure ridges can be very picturesque and vary in location each year depending on the wind and weather conditions. The wind often pushes water onto shores creating streams of ice hanging from trees and rocks. The wind can also pile slabs of ice onto shorelines pushing everything in the way such as dock pilings and large boulders.
The Rainy River Record newspaper has been recording ice flow since 1934. Their earliest recorded date of ice movement on Rainy River was February 27, 1998. This date corresponds to April 12, 1998 for ice off of Lake of the Woods on Mike’s record. Mike’s earliest date for ice off is April 7, 2000. In general, ice is off the Rainy River the week of April 8 – 15 and off Lake of the Woods April 29 to May 5. This supports the general rule of a two week period of time between when ice is off on the Rainy River and ice off on Lake of the Woods. The exact date for ice off each year can vary as much as 4 to 6 weeks. The disclaimer is that ice conditions vary each year so the exact date of ice in and ice out each year is not precise. The late “ice out” years have seen snowmobile groups able to travel across the lake in May. At other times late March is the latest ice travel is safe.
Ice travel can be dangerous at any time within the season not just near ice breakup and there is usually a full month between the time when ice is no longer safe and when you can see open water. There are problem areas due to water currents and narrow areas that never have good ice. Some locations have open water even when the temperature is -30 Fahrenheit. The Norman Dam in Kenora and the Falls in Nestor Falls are examples of places that have open water year round. Using a local fishing guide is always best if you are not familiar with the area. Following vehicle tracks is never a good idea because the tracks may have been made in February when the ice was stable. Even the experienced ice traveler can be surprised because ice stable in the morning, will break by afternoon. One island cabin owner related his experience. “I’ve been ice traveling to the cabin for more than 30 years. In 2002 while following my son’s vehicle back to main land, he passed over a reef. My vehicle went through the ice. I escaped with my life and my truck had to be retrieved from the water after the ice was out.”
The fascination of waiting for the ice to go each spring isn’t just for the anglers awaiting open waters but other activities are also determined by this annual event. Island cabin owners and resort owners must wait till there is open water to navigate from mainland with supplies. A wind barge can travel on ice and water is sometimes used during this period. Some fly-in outpost resorts will have a delayed spring opener due to lingering ice preventing float planes from landing. At the beginning of ice out on the main part of Lake of the Woods, ice still remains by island shorelines and some water channels. The latest ice opener was recorded May 22, 1950. Some resort owners still tell stories of all the problems that happened when anglers came for the Walleye fishing opener and there was too much ice on the lake to launch a boat. Even in recent years, resort owners are found shoveling fresh snow off of the guest cabin decks just before the arrival of anglers.
Problems don’t just exist at spring, they also happen in late autumn. There are many stories of people that have taken to the water by boat, only to be stranded because the wind moved the remaining ice. There are duck hunters, deer hunters and resort owners that have been stranded at island cabins because freeze-up occurred while they were using a boat to navigate the lake. Whether you enjoy ice fishing or fishing from a boat, the two time periods each year that one cannot travel on Lake of the Woods, is always too long.
Note: Lake ice is deemed unsafe at all times.
By Nancy MillerContact Information
We see them along the highways all around this area. Rocks piled up in different shapes. But what are they? Many of us don’t know what they are and only a handful of us know. Consider yourself as the few that do know. An inuksuk (plural inuksuit) (from the Inuktitut: plural alternatively inukshuk in English or inukhuk in Inuinnaqtun) is a man-made stone landmark or cairn, used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America, from Alaska to Greenland.
This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome, containing areas with few natural landmarks.
The inuksuk may have been used for navigation, as a point of reference, a marker for hunting grounds, or as a food cache.
The Inupiat in northern Alaska used inuksuit to assist in the herding of caribou into contained areas for slaughter.
Inuksuit vary in shape and size, with deep roots in the Inuit culture.
Historically the most common type of inuksuit is a single stone positioned in an upright manner.
An inuksuk is often confused with an inunnguaq, a cairn representing a human figure. And there is some debate as to whether the appearance of human or cross shaped cairns developed in the Inuit culture before the arrival of European missionaries and explorers.
The word inuksuk means “something which acts for or performs the function of a person.” The word comes from the morphemes inuk (“person”) and -suk (“ersatz or substitute”). It is pronounced inutsuk in Nunavik and the southern part of Baffin Island (see Inuit language phonology and phonetics for the linguistic reasons).
In many of the central Nunavut dialects, it has the etymologically related name inuksugaq (plural: inuksugait).
Despite the predominant English spelling as inukshuk, both the Government of Nunavut and the Government of Canada through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada are promoting the Inuit preferred spelling inuksuk.
A structure similar to an inuksuk but meant to represent a human figure, called an inunnguaq (“imitation of a person”, plural inunnguat), has become widely familiar to non-Inuit.
However, it is not the most common type of inuksuk and is distinguished from inuksuit in general.
Inuksuit continue to serve as an Inuit cultural symbol.
For example, an inuksuk is shown on the flag and Coat of Arms of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and the flag of Nunatsiavut.
The high school in Iqaluit is named Inuksuk High School after the landmarks.
Inuksuit are also increasingly serving as a mainstream Canadian national symbol.
On July 13, 2005 Canadian military personnel erected an inuksuk on Hans Island, along with a plaque and a Canadian flag, as part of Canada’s long-standing dispute with Denmark over the small Arctic island.
The markers have been erected throughout the country, including a nine-meter high inuksuk that stands in Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Located in Battery Park, it commemorates the World Youth Day 2002 festival that was held in the city in July 2002.
Officials in various wilderness parks across Canada are forced to routinely dismantle inuksuit constructed by hikers and campers, for fear that they could misdirect park visitors from the actual cairns and other markers that mark various hiking trails.
The practice of erecting inuksuit in parks has become so widespread that Killarney Provincial Park, on the north shore of Ontario’s Georgian Bay, issued a notice in 2007 urging visitors to “stop the invasion” of inuksuit.
An inunnguaq forms the basis of the logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor.
Although the design is under question, it is widely acknowledged that it pays tribute to the inuksuk that stands artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories (which is now in the territory of Nunavut that separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999).
It was given as a gift to the city for Expo 86. The land has since been donated to the city and it is now a protected site.
Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem, with Kanak’s creation having the additional representation of the strength of his people and the modes of communication and technology before modern Canada.
Inuksuit have also begun to be recognized around the world as an iconic Canadian symbol, thanks in large part to the Vancouver 2010 logo, but also to the construction of inuksuit around the world.
There are four authentic inuksuit around the world donated – wholly or in part – by the government of Canada: in Monterrey, Mexico; Oslo, Norway; Washington, D.C. and Guatemala City.
The most recent of these inuksuit was built in Monterrey in October 2007 by the renowned Inuvialuit artist Bill Nasogaluak.
The sculpture was presented to the people of the northern state of Nuevo León as a gift from the Monterrey Chapter of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and the Government of Canada, to mark the Chamber’s 10th anniversary in the city.
The sculpture stands over the Santa Lucia Riverwalk. Nasogaluak, of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, personally chose the rocks for the structure from a local quarry near Monterrey.
The Inuksuk also contains two rocks that the artist took to Mexico from Canada, one from the high Arctic and another from his home town of Toronto.
By Ronald WolfContact Information
Do you ever stop and think about the people that have influenced your life? What events in your life have redirected your future? That you would find something when you were just a teenager that would change your life course?
I would like to introduce you to Ron Mazur, a teacher from Argo High School in Summit Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, who has made a profound difference in the lives of some of his students. This group has been coming together for more than 20 years to fish the waters of Lake of the Woods.
In order to tell their story, I was invited to sit in on one of the recap sessions held each night after a day of fishing. The room is filled with loud excitement and anglers’ listing their catch of the day to the record keeper. There are 5 conversations going on at once. Of special interest is the newest piece of equipment for the group, a portable photo printer that is bringing to life the day’s trophy muskie for all of those in attendance. There in vivid color is the fish that tells the story of how a group of urban kids would fall in love with the sport of fishing and how this sport would transform their lives and influence their careers.
Ron is a tall thin, statuesque man with a love for practical jokes and a passion for fishing. He is the kind of guy you could spend all night listening to his stories of fishing and not notice that the clock says 2 AM. Ron is able to tell his adventures so that you feel you are there with him in the boat; you can feel the sun on your face, hear the hum of the reel as he casts his favorite lucky lure and see the fish charging the bait.
Ron tells the story of how a group of strangers from Chicago came to fish together on Lake of the Woods. Ron was a member of the Midwest Muskie Club when he decided to travel to Lake of the Woods in search of a trophy. As a teacher, Ron felt that a good addition to the traditional physical education classes was a course on fishing. He obtained approval from the school board. This fishing class would give Ron an opportunity to share his passion for fishing with youth that otherwise would not have the opportunity to try this outdoor sport. Ron taught his students knot tying and other fishing techniques. The kids practiced casting lures in the school swimming pool. Some of the kids that signed up for the class had never had a chance to fish nor had tried casting lures.
By this time, Ron had begun a lifelong friendship with Rich Zebleckis, owner of Swenson’s Resort on Lake of the Woods. Ron and Rich presented fishing seminars together at Chicago area sport shows. Ron asked Rich to put together a fishing package so he could bring the students to Canada. The intent was to bring as many kids and their chaperones as possible to experience the variety of fish species available. After the first two years, it became apparent that the majority of these eager young anglers were looking for their trophy muskie. Each year the number of anglers grew with friends, fathers and students. In total, over 40 different people have participated in this annual outing.
Along with an education in fishing techniques, the students were given hands on training on map reading, understanding the influences of weather patterns on the lake and also the habits of other wildlife in the area. For many, their love for fishing and this part of Canada grew to the point of influencing major decisions in their lives. They stayed in school, many choosing careers that deal with the environment and the outdoors or careers that allowed them to continue to fish the lake.
In addition to influences on careers, fishing on Lake of the Woods influenced their personal lives. Many chose wives on the condition they would be able to continue their annual fishing trip to Canada. The prospective wives were told that this part of the angler’s life was not negotiable; this was a part of their life that they were not willing to change. Some have even timed the birth of their children so that it would not interfere with this annual event. One angler, Brett Dunn stated, “Your child better be born in the winter, because it would be a crying shame to have to miss the birth of your own kid because you were catching muskies on Lake of the Woods.”
Over the 20+ years of fishing the group has tabulated some impressive stats. With the use of computer technology, all the information on the group is readily available. No fish story can be exaggerated. Each catch is carefully recorded to list who made the catch, what lure and color was used, where the fish was caught, who caught the fish and its length.
Tim McDonald, a commercial artist is the leader with the most inches of fish caught in one trip. Tim has three published muskie prints, two of which graced the cover of Musky Hunter magazine. Brett Dunn holds the record for the longest muskie at 54 inches. The group has caught over 600 muskie with almost 300 being over 40 inches and 20 over 50 inches.
They have tabulated over 120 different muskie fishing locations on Lake of the Woods. The anglers use code names for many of these locations. They often name the location after the angler that first caught a fish in the location or after a distinctive land feature. This naming technique has also drifted into their names for their meals – pelican eggs and mystery meat sandwiches.
Jim Vondrak, one of the original chaperones has never missed the annual event along with his son Tom. Jim tells of how he saw changes in his son from fishing on the lake. Jim said his son graduated high school and lived in a mobile home during his six years at university. The walls and ceiling of the trailer were so covered with fishing maps of Lake of the Woods that you couldn’t touch the walls without touching a map. Jim said he made a point of telling Tom’s future wife that she would need to accept Tom’s love for fishing because that part of his life was not going to change. Jim and Tom talk about this annual event like doctors preparing for major surgery. Some of the decisions that need to be made: how many fishing rods to take, which type of lures to bring, what time they will arrive, when they will put the boat in the water and which favorite spot they will go to first. Tom is teaching his two girls to fish and plans to bring his girls up to Lake of the Woods. That trip however would not be part of the annual trek as this group is only for the guys.
Tom Vondrak stated, “Ron has created a bunch of fishing monsters addicted to Lake of the Woods. It’s the only vacation that everyone talks about the next year before we even get home. Ron taught me how to fish plastic worms, so I guess he is responsible for the about 10,000 bass on the end of my line. I’ve never been to paradise, but I bet it looks a lot like Lake of the Woods.”
Some of the now adult anglers have purchased property on the lake and are in the process of building their dream cabin. One of this group Tom Burri struggled with choosing between being a positive influence in society or a detriment. This now successful fisheries biologist was asked what turned his life around, Tom said, “I met a fish”. Tom made the decision to get an education and find a job so that he could continue his passion for fishing on Lake of the Woods. Tom stated, “I fell in love with the “Up North” life introduced by Ron. I am quite sure it saved my life from the many temptations and dangers found in a big city. It also provided me with a direction to head and the wonderful life I now lead.”
With all this positive influence on others one might wonder how Ron’s life was impacted. Tragically Ron lost his first wife after a lengthy illness a number of years ago. Ron later found friendship with camp owner Rich’s daughter Sue. Ron and Sue both have such a love for fishing it was only natural that they would fall in love and get married at the Lady of the Lake Church in Morson on Lake of the Woods.
All of us have had a mentor that helped to direct our careers and helped us choose a path. Some people are able to keep their relationship alive throughout their lives. This group has seen each other through the joys of marriage, the birth of children, the sadness of divorce, illness and death. Throughout it all remains their love for fishing and the appreciation for Lake of the Woods.
By Nancy MillerContact Information
Reaching New Heights – The Lake Level Question
WRITER’S NOTE: We’ve all heard them, those apochryphal stories of how the level of Lake of the Woods changed after the building of the dams at the north end. The water went up three feet, nine feet, twelve feet. Meadows became marshes. Mainland became islands. Islands disappeared. Here, we look back and try to literally get to the bottom of this.
November 8, 1895 – Special Agent A.F. Naff of the United States government arrived at the scene of the investigation, Lake of the Woods. His assignment ? To ascertain whether the construction and maintenance of dams at the north end of the lake had resulted in raising the lake level to such a degree as to cause the flooding of lands at the south end.
Before his arrival on site, Naff had done his homework. A sizable dossier of background material, compiled by the General Land Office, was tucked into his travel case. Detailed information about the rollerway dam constructed at the western outlet of Lake of the Woods into the Winnipeg River was supported by signed statements of the need for water level regulation by those with navigational interests. All this was filed next to angry letters of complaint from residents who claimed that the resulting raised water level had damaged valuable land.
Exceptionally low water in the early 1880s had wreaked havoc with the navigational and industrial interests on Lake of the Woods. In a letter, dated October 7, 1884, this matter was brought to the attention of the Ministry of Public Works:
The water of the Lake of the Woods, during the past few years, has been gradually decreasing, and is now so low that the lumbering and other manufacturing interests are seriously interfered with, and the general business and prosperity of the place is retarded.
It was suggested that the outlets at the north end of the lake be dammed in order to raise the lake level and improve the water power possibilities. It was three years before a solution and agreement were reached. In the spring of 1887, John Mather, a principal in the Keewatin Lumbering and Manufacturing Co. and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, agreed to construct a dam at the western outlet provided that $7,000 of financial assistance be provided by the government. During the following winter, a rollerway dam was built.
For those at the north end of the lake, the dam and its effect on the lake level were key to the commercial development of the area, which, at that time, was centred primarily around Rat Portage (now Kenora). There was little development along the lake’s south shore. Even by 1900, Warroad consisted of only a few temporary buildings, a couple of saloons, a barber shop, restaurant, general store, hotel and little else.
However, those settlers who had taken up land on the south shore were outraged by the damage that had been done by the altered lake level and hounded their government to do something about it.
Dealing with the matter from his office in the Department of the Interior in Washington, DC when the lake in question was several states away seemed ridiculous, so Naff set off to see for himself.
Unfortunately the lateness of the season hindered his work. November wasn’t exactly the ideal month to be launching an inquiry into lake levels. With the ice starting to form Naff had difficulty getting around in a boat. Several times he went through the ice into the frigid water in his attempts to make the necessary observations. His efforts to walk along the icy shore from the south end, up to the Northwest Angle, and then to Rat Portage were also thwarted. His guide deserted him after five miles of tramping, and finding no one else who would venture across with him, he ended up turning back and taking the train to town. In spite of the setbacks, he managed to interview several lake residents and recorded their observations on the altered lake level.
Chief Maypok of Warroad was the first to render his signed affadavit on November 12, 1895:
I am about 49 years of age and have lived at Warroad Indian Village, on the South shore of Lake of the Woods, all of my life. I have been all over the Lake of the Woods and especially along its South shore and am well acquainted with it as it is now and as it has been over twenty years past. I know that within the past eight years the water has been raised several feet on the said lake from some cause. I have never kept any measurement of the rise of the water but know that at one time I could walk on the beach of the original lake shore all the way to Rainy River on the East and to the Northwest Angle on the West and North. Trees and bushes were at that time, eight years ago, growing along this original beach but are now broken and fallen down and lying in the water. The water extends inland from one-half mile in some places to as much as two or three miles in other places… The land that is overflowed around the shore as above mentioned is good rich land and at one time had fine crops of grass on it which made good hay. My understanding is that the dam built by the Canadians at the outlet of the lake has been the cause of the water rising in the same. I know that a short time after they commenced building the dam the water commenced rising.
Sixty-year old Pash-te-tu-wa-scung of Manitou Falls related similar observations:
I have traveled over the lake in a birch bark canoe and have walked along the beach on the South shore from Buffalo Point to Rainy River on the sand where it is now covered three or four feet with water… I have seen where timber once stood, water covering the logs and stumps and spreading out in every direction so as to destroy hay meadows, islands, and other low grounds of much value. I can notice that all this change has come over the lake within the last eight years… This overflow has been caused by the dam that was built at Rat Portage.
Sam Whiting, resident of Rat Portage since 1880 and captain and pilot on Lake of the Woods, stated that in the summer of 1880 the water was 6 feet lower than it was after the dam was put in across the western outlet in 1888. However, he also noted that between 1880 and 1887, the water rose as much as 3 feet from natural causes. He estimated that the dam brought about a 2-1/2 to 3 foot increase in water level based on observations taken from landmarks around the lake.
Lumberman D.C. Cameron’s estimate of the increase was more conservative:
I have been out on the Lake of the Woods more or less in connection with my lumbering business and in a general way I am familiar with the said lake and its conditions and changes on the 12 years last passed… I think the old dam has had the effect of holding the water up at least two feet higher, in the Lake of the Woods, than it would be if the dam were entirely away.
When Naff finally reached Rat Portage he investigated the rollerway dam himself. He found it to be intact, although the top portion had been washed away. He also inspected the new Norman Dam, located about a mile below the rollerway. It consisted of two sets of masonry piers and sluices, joined by a rock hill. Naff found that in its present state it would not affect the level of the lake.
It was not until 1898 when stoplogs were placed in the sluices that the Norman Dam was used to regulate the lake level. It then replaced the old rollerway which was dismantled in May of 1899. Still each dam was thought to have raised the level three feet about the natural level. This then begs the question ? what was the natural level of the lake?
Naff’s published report provides no empirical data, just his observations and those of the lake people with whom he conducted interviews. He concluded that the stage of the lake was “an abnormal one” and “the source of much dissatisfaction” by settlers at the south end of the lake. In the end, no action was taken by the U.S. government as a result of the investigation.
Following the completion of the Norman Dam at the western outlet and later the Kenora power plant at the eastern outlet of the lake, their potential effect upon the lake level again came to the attention of the American government. That’s when the International Joint Commission (IJC) stepped in.
The purpose of this international body, composed of three members appointed by the U.S. government and three by the Canadian government, was to examine and resolve disputes between the two countries. The water level debate on Lake of the Woods was a case in point.
In 1912, the IJC was assigned the task of examining water level regulation on Lake of the Woods and it’s in their research that we find some answers and confirmation.
Their method of examining the issue was considerably more in-depth and data-based than Naff’s previous study. Hearings were held both in Warroad and Kenora. Evidence was taken from those in industry who were dependent upon water power and water depths for navigational purposes, steamboat captains, lumbering interests, railway managers, and miners. Agricultural and fishing interests were also heard.
Through the summer of 1913 and 1914, extensive field operations were conducted to determine the location and amount of low lying lands that might be affected. A survey of boathouses and docks were done. Wild rice fields were charted. High water marks were examined.
Recorded water levels at various points around the lake were gathered, standardized, compared, and rated according to reliability. From those, mean lake levels were plotted from 1892 to 1915.
Taking into consideration the seasonal fluctuations of the lake level, the extremes depending on spring run-off and other factors, even the effect of wind on gauge readings, what was found was that the average controlled level of the lake was 1059.75 feet at sea-level datum. The average computed natural level (i.e. before the construction of the dams) was 1056.72 a difference of 3.04 feet.
Granted there were extremes, and perhaps it is from those that tales of a 12 foot difference have arisen. Steamboat Captain Frank Hooper recorded in his notes dramatic fluctuations in lake levels before the construction of the dam. He noted that in the spring of 1876 the water level was the highest he had ever seen it and this was confirmed by Hudson’s Bay Company workers and First Nations people. In the following season of 1877, “the water was low in the spring but rose in June to within six inches of the high water mark of the summer of 1876 but went down the latter part of the summer to about 7 feet below the high water mark of the summer of 1876.”
Once lake levels were regulated, the IJC found the extremes to have averaged out at about 5.82 feet, in the years between 1893-1915, varying between a high of 1062.37 (in 1900) and a low of 1056.55 (in 1894). These results were published the year before the flood of 1916, when the lake level reached 1063.57.
Given the data and facts compiled by the IJC and confirmed by the personal observations of those that lived and worked on the lake prior to and after the construction of the dams, a three foot increase seems to be the most accurate estimate of the lake level change.
By Lori NelsonContact Information
Dangers of the North Woods – A to Z
For generations many human beings have lived in fear of the forest. Wild animals threatened our early ancestors, and robbers, cutthroats and enemies lurked behind every tree. The woodsman had to rescue Red Riding Hood after she initially met the beast in a woods.
Goldilocks took a walk in the woods where she came across the home of the three bears (which she consequently burgled and vandalized.) Werewolves inhabiting the forests abound in the imaginations of writers and their readers. It is no wonder this fear of the ‘wild’ is so prevalent? However, for many of us, the bush, the forest, the woods, the wild—it doesn’t matter what it is named—is a friendly place that poses minimal risks that are far outweighed by the enjoyment it provides.
Below are listed 26 items, A to Z, which may be considered a danger, danger related or worthy of mention while traveling in the bush.
Ankles – The Canadian Shield is known for its exposed rock and rough terrain which results in twisted or bruised ankles of those who insist on traversing the bush in street shoes. The biggest protection against this type of injury is a decent pair of boots that offer non-slip soles and that are high enough to protect against bruised and battered ankles.
Beaver Fever – This is an intestinal infection also known as Giardiasis. It is passed from animals to humans in water making it advisable to boil all drinking water for at least a minute. Just because the water looks clean enough to drink doesn’t mean it is.
Carnivores – Your chances of getting killed by a carnivore in the bush are less than winning a big lottery twice in the same year. This is not to say you shouldn’t be concerned with the bear, wild cat or wolf you encounter. About the worst thing you can do is scream and run away. When confronting a lone bear, stand tall, back away, and talk tough. Better still, read a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Natural Resources covering this topic.
Deer Mice – People have been sweeping the droppings of these handsome little rodents from their cabins and bedclothes for generations. However, it has been found that hantaviruses, the cause of potentially fatal diseases, is present in the droppings and urine of some of these rodents. Sometimes during a vigorous cleanup campaign, airborne particles are inhaled and the disease—which doesn’t affect the mice—is transmitted to humans. This is not new to the area but health authorities are advising people to take precautions.
Eagles – the only time you would have trouble with these magnificent raptors is if you were a sick or dead fish, or other carrion.
First aid – It is wise to pack one of these kits. Even small ones contain disinfectant salves and bandages.
Ground hogs – By themselves these rodents are harmless but you wouldn’t want to step in one of their burrows. Keeping your eyes open for this and other footing hazards. Algae covered rocks on the shoreline are about the slipperiest footing you will ever encounter. In the winter, water sometimes freezes on rocky slopes before the snow falls and remains a footing hazard long after it is covered with snow.
Heat- It has been found that birds can handle cold much more than heat. Walking in the bush is good exercise and like all good exercise sometimes results in working up a good sweat. Wear layers of clothing and remember that the water you lose has to be replaced.
Ice – This can be very dangerous. Anyone walking on a lake or pond must remember that while the air temperature is a very crispy –35C, the temperature of the water below the ice is above 0C. Put a nice insulating layer of snow on the ice and the ice can become even more dangerous. Carrying a walking stick in situations like this is recommended.
Jays—Gray jays have the nickname ‘camp robber’ because of their penchant for stealing morsels of food. However, they aren’t the only thieves you will meet in the north woods. Foxes are notorious for stealing everything from baseball caps and golf balls, to boots and socks that are left out to dry. Our friends the black bears will steal garbage and food supplies if they are not properly stored.
Killer deer – Many people will be surprised to learn that Bambi’s mother or father will attack if provoked, and in some cases the provocation doesn’t have to be too obvious. Those hooves can inflict considerable damage. Deer are wild creatures and deserve their space. Keep in mind that our wild animals are not in a petting zoo.
Light – The life-giving light that comes from the sun is also a killer. Whether at the beach, on the water fishing, or in the bush hiking, protect yourself from the sun with appropriate clothing and sunblock.
Mosquitoes and black flies – The scourges of the Boreal Forest have to be these two biters. Many a good adventure has been spoiled by the insistence of these insects to share part of you. Don’t leave home without protection.
Night – The only danger in the bush at night (outside of insects) is that you might fall and injure yourself. The night is as friendly as the day and with a full moon or starry sky dancing with Northern Lights, it can be just as beautiful and intriguing. If there are ghosts that inhabit the woods at night, they are friendly ones.
Otters – These tough, playful carnivores can present hours of entertainment. However, they pose no danger even though they are feisty enough to take on a beaver… and win.
Poison Ivy – Know what it looks like so you can avoid it. If you are one of those people who react strongly to the plant, you already know what it looks like.
Quicksand – While we have very little of that if any, we do have something close. During the building of the Trans-Canada Railway, engineers had to change routes at times because of the seemingly bottomless peat bogs. These present no problem unless you are planning to build a railway or a highway. For the student of nature, bogs present a very interesting habitat.
Rats – Well, we have muskrats and that brings us to beavers. Although neither of these are a danger, those who take along a feisty dog are cautioned against allowing Fido to tangle with a beaver. Many a dog has had the advantage on land when battling these slow-moving rodents, but in the water the tables turn. Beavers are capable of removing a piece of leg bone as easily as taking a chunk out of a waterside birch.
Skunks – For those with sensitive olfactory organs, Mephitis mephitis is no stranger. This stout cat-sized ominivore is considered one of the most useful of animals because of its penchant for grubs, mice and other small rodents. While most predators learn to steer clear of skunks, great horned horned owls regularly feast on them.
Turtles – While the snapping turtle can be extremely vicious and defensive if disturbed on land, in water it would rather swim than fight. In some areas, turtle hunters will wade along river banks reaching their bare hands under the overhangs in order to feel and pull out snappers. Only rarely are they bitten.
Underwater – Unfortunately, too many people lose their lives to Northern Ontario waters each year. Most of these could have been avoided by wearing an approved lifejacket. Personally, I never paddle without one.
Very cold weather – Hypothermia is a condition cautioned by the gradual lowering of body temperature. Avoiding hypothermia requires several simple precautions. Dress for the weather, eat, drink water, and rest frequently. Food helps campers maintain energy levels and stay warm. Overexertion can make hikers weak and wet with perspiration. Dressing in layers also reduces the risk of frostbite.
Whistles – Losing North on the compass can be embarrassing (personal experience) and in some cases downright dangerous. Make sure someone is aware where you will be hiking. Carry a map if one is available, and always pack a compass. If lost, there is an accepted international signal for help or assistance needed, and that is the number three. Three blasts of a shotgun, three smoking fires, three fallen trees lying side by side, three piles of rocks or three blasts from a referee whistle. Of course if in need and if capable, you can always yell “HELP” but a shrill whistle is much more easily heard from a greater distance and doesn’t take as much energy.
X-Rays – see A for ‘ankle’ above.
Y – This letter reminds me of Yolanda Fortesque who chased me though the forest when I was ten years old resulting in psychological scars that exist to this day. Besides, towards the end of the alphabet it becomes increasingly difficult to find the right words.
Zelda – A certain mountain man always carried his carbine, a weapon he affectionately named Zelda to save him from ‘fierce critters.’ I too have a friend called Zelda that I often carry with me. No, Zelda is not a weapon but rather my spotting scope, and while I can’t shoot anything with her, I can use her to increase my enjoyment of the outdoors ten-fold. And, if the need arises, I can use her tripod to shoot pictures.
By Phil BurkeContact Information
Black Crappies – Lake of the Woods Best Kept Secret
What would you say if I told you that Ontario biologists were developing a new species of fish that combined the best features of many of the most popular species? With a taste that rivaled walleye, the brawling ability of smallmouth bass and the pure good looks of speckled trout.
Well, to the best of my knowledge, no one is working on any such crossbreed. They don’t have to — it already exists — in the delightful little character we know as the black crappie.
Now, some of you are probably thinking. “Who is this guy kidding? He’s talking about a pan fish! Heck, everybody knows that pan fish are for small kids and grandfathers.” Well, if you think the only fish that merited your attention are the glamour boys and girls – like walleye, northern pike, muskies, bass and lake trout – you’re missing out on some of the fastest, most exciting and most enjoyable fishing imaginable. As for taste, well, superlatives can’t begin to describe a plate of hot crappie fillets sautéed with almonds and parsley and seasoned with the juice from a freshly squeezed lemon.
I’ll never forget the first time I fished for crappies in Lake of the Woods. It was mid-May, more than thirty years ago, and we reasoned we’d find the fish relatively close to shore taking advantage of the warmer water and feeding upon the abundant minnows and insects. It was a good guess given that crappies are warm-water fish, preferring temperatures similar to largemouth bass. In fact, because of the similarities between the two species, a first time crappie angler could do worse than to start off as though he or she were fishing for springtime bass.
Our first stop was a small backwater bay that was littered with the remnant brown stalks of the previous year’s pencil reeds. New green growth was just beginning to poke up through the sandy-bay bottom in response to the tepid spring conditions.
As we entered the bay that morning, my mind was not totally on fishing. We had just come through a particularly cold Northwestern Ontario winter and it felt downright delicious just to laze in the boat, soak up the first rays from the spring sun and survey the scene before us.
There is little that can compare with a Lake of the Woods marsh in early spring — the soft mist rising from the bay; the clean, earthy odours emanating from the warm, moist forest floor; the familiar tunes of marsh birds and waterfowl.
I was about to remark as much to my buddy, Ken, when I heard him flip the bail of his spinning reel and make a cast. This was followed seconds later by the sound of a gentle splash as his tiny jig-and-minnow combination plunked down beside the base of a clump of dead reeds. , As the jig began to settle through a few feet of water, I heard a whoosh accompanied by a minor eruption in the bay. Since the water was so shallow, Ken’s fish had only one escape route: skyward!
Almost immediately, the fish was dancing across the surface, performing all sorts of gymnastics. Even as it began to tire, Ken’s light-action rod bent precariously and the four-pound test line continuously slipped out as the fish exerted pressure on the drag. Gradually, however, his rod extracted its toll and I found myself scooping up a frothing 1.5 pounds of slab-sided fury.
The crappie was the size and shape of your mother’s good china dinner plate and its markings and colour were stunning. In the morning sunlight, the sides of the fish were a gleaming montage of yellow, green, gold and silver sprinkled with generous dabs of ebony and purple.
It didn’t take me long to rig up a similar light jig-and-minnow combination and toss it beside a likely looking clump of reeds. In order to keep the bait about a foot off the bottom, I used a light, thin pencil bobber.
I made a cast, the bobber righted itself and was then violently yanked under the surface. Because of the clear water, I could see the fluorescent red-and-yellow markings on the float streaking like a torpedo across the bay. I tightened up my line and set the hook as hard as I dared. When the crappie felt the sting, it quickly slanted up to the surface and put on a performance superior to the one just displayed by its brother. When the fish finally decided that a series of acrobatic aerial displays was not going to succeed, it bore deep and attempted to put every reed, weed, stick and boulder in the bay between itself and the boat.
I am still not sure how the hook held in that fragile mouth, but hold it did, and after a few seconds I gained the upper hand. In another minute or so, I netted the twin to our first fish and quickly admired my first-ever crappie. A pan fish, you say. Maybe, but I don’t think I was any happier when I netted my first muskie!
That morning, we played the same scene over and over again as Ken and I battled with one belligerent crappie after another. By noon, we’d caught and released between two and three dozen fish averaging a pound plus, with several nudging the scales between 1 _ and 1 3/4 pounds. I was hooked on Lake of the Woods crappies for the rest of my life.
You can enjoy the same kind of action, from early spring until late fall, so long as you keep a few seasonal vagaries in mind.
In the spring, for instance, you’ll find the fish vacating their deep-water winter haunts in favour of shallow shoreline areas. At this time of year, the shoreline zone provides comfortably warm water conditions and it also plays host to much of the small aquatic life in the lake upon which the fish voraciously prey. As a result, schools of big slab-sided crappies are often located around such productive springtime structure as fallen trees and brush, emerging weed and reed growth, rock piles and even large individual boulders.
As spring progresses and water temperatures approach 15°C (60°F), the urge to spawn becomes the dominant force in shaping habits and locational patterns. Preferred crappie spawning areas generally have three principal features in common — large flats with extensive water depths in the 1.2- to 1.8-metre (four- to six-foot) range, a fairly firm sand or sand/muck bottom and large clumps of pencil reeds.
If you recall the early spring fishing experience I related at the beginning, you will probably recognize that what my buddy and I actually stumbled upon (totally by accident I admit) was a large school of crappie in the process of setting up house in a prime shallow backwater spawning bay.
Like most members of the sunfish family, (including largemouth and smallmouth bass), the male crappies precede the larger females onto the spawning grounds. During this period, the males roam the flats searching for choice sites to sweep out a nest. Usually the ideal location will be tight against the base of a clump of pencil reeds, a fallen tree or a few isolated boulders.
As water temperatures creep toward the critical 18°C, the females begin to move onto the flats to join their mates and to deposit their eggs in the previously prepared nests. The females retreat from the beds following the completion of spawning; however, the males stay behind jealously guarding the eggs until they have hatched. At this time of year, they will savagely attack any lure or bait that comes within striking range and the angler who quietly stalks the spawning bays and flats can experience some spectacularly fast angling. In fact, it is not unusual to catch 25 or 30 platter-sized fish in a single morning or afternoon.
By now, many conscientious anglers are probably questioning the ethics of fishing for spawning fish. The crappie’s reasonably prolific nature, however, tends to accommodate a reasonable harvest although many crappie fanatics carefully release the bigger specimens during the spawn. It is a wise investment for the future.
Once spring egg-laying chores are completed, water temperatures rise and force the fish to vacate their shallow easy-to-reach springtime locations.
Extended underwater points, the edge of weedbeds and submerged islands and reefs are all potential hot spots in summer. Even the open water between two of these areas can yield hefty fish as schools of crappies often roam between sites herding and feeding upon pockets of minnows.
While knowing where crappie can be found in summer is important, it’s only one-half of the equation and, in itself, is no guarantee of action. The other important consideration is the depth the fish are using. It can be anywhere from just under the surface to just off the bottom.
To illustrate how important depth control can be, consider the following incident that occurred last summer while I was fishing with my grandson.
We had motored to the deep-water edge of a nice bed of cabbage weeds growing in about 4.5 metres (15 feet) of water. This particular weedbed had been an excellent producer of big fish in the past, but before we could expect consistent action this time, we knew we would first have to pinpoint the depth the fish were working. I rigged up our outfits with slip bobbers, which slide down the line to permit easy casting and yet which also accurately control the depth being fished. I initially set Liam’s jig-and-minnow combination a foot off bottom, while I started off fishing about three feet under the surface.
After 20 minutes. Liam had picked up only one fish while I hadn’t even had a hit. A strategy change was in order so I adjusted his bobber so that his bait would now ride about 1.5 metres (five feet) off bottom and I moved mine so that it would be straining the area 1.5 metres under the surface.
Over the next quarter hour, we both started to pick up the occasional fish; however, the action was far from frenetic.
Reasoning that we were just skirting the edges of the productive fish-holding zone, I readjusted our bobbers for the third time so that we were both finally fishing in the middle of the water column, about equal distance two to 2.5 metres (seven to eight feet) from the surface and the bottom.
Liam stood in the bow of the boat and double-handed a cast to the edge of the weeds. His thin bobber barely had time to come to attention when it began to bounce up and down like popcorn about to explode in the pan. It then slowly began to creep across the surface, but by the time it had travelled two metres, it sped off leaving a wake in its place.
Liam let out a wild shriek and from the bend in his rod, I could see that he was fast into a nice fish. I quickly cast my line out behind the back of the boat so as not to risk tangling lines and set my rod down quickly as I rummaged about for the net in the bottom of the boat. Through the turquoise water, I could catch occasional glimpses of the fish as it streaked toward bottom each time it spied the boat. On about the third or fourth pass, I scooped up a gorgeous near two-pound crappie just as my bobber disappeared beneath the surface.
Over the next few hours, we hauled one stout crappie after another into the boat. By the time we headed back to the dock we had caught and released a score of chunky fish – keeping just enough for dinner. And I’d learned once again that it’s usually far more productive to thoroughly fish one or two sites than it is to hopscotch all over the lake fishing many different locations.
For the angler who has mastered spring and summer crappie fishing, fall angling presents very few problems. In early autumn, the fish will usually still be frequenting their summer hangouts. But as water cools, some of the fish will migrate shoreward and restake positions around shoreline deadfalls, weedbeds and rock piles.
This shoreward pattern will remain productive throughout Indian summer, but it usually breaks down quickly once a series of hard frosts have occurred. For the balance of the open-water season, the fish remain deep with main lake structures and the green edge of weedbeds providing sustained action until ice finally seals over the big lake.
When it comes to tackle requirements for crappie, there is little doubt that lightweight outfits designed to handle four- to six-pound test lines are ideal. But it would be unfair to leave you with the impression that it is essential to use the newest graphite and most expensive equipment in order to catch crappie. For if the truth were known, probably as many fish have been taken on cane poles south of the border, where crappie reign supreme, as have been taken on more conventional tackle. You should, however, bear in mind that the lightest tackle you own will generally provide the most satisfactory results on these sporting characters.
Also, rods and reels designed for light line will best handle the 1/16 to 1/8th ounce jigs which, when tipped with a small shiner, fathead or dace minnow, are assaulted by crappie with reckless abandon.
The final items of terminal tackle worth purchasing are thin bobbers of both the slip and pencil variety. As I mentioned previously, a bobber will allow you to exert precise control over the depth your bait is working, a factor often critical in determining the eventual out-come of any crappie trip.
Slip bobbers are most often used when fishing deep water. In these circumstances, the bobber will slide through your line down to the bait and won’t interfere with the process of casting.
Thin pencil or quill bobbers, on the other hand, arc generally used when fishing water shallower than six or seven feet deep. In water this shallow, a fixed bobber rarely interferes with casting, yet through design, the light thin float will register even the most delicate bite by the most cautious and wary fish. And they’re super sensitive when crappies are hitting your jig and minnow from below and rising up with the bait. At these times, a light pencil bobber will almost pop out of the water and lie flat on the surface registering a take by a fish. Then it’s just a matter of quickly reeling in slack line and setting the hook.
Countless crappie have crossed the gunwales since that first memorable morning on Lake of the Woods so many years ago, and during that time these game little battlers have never once failed to impress me. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I am continually surprised when unknowing anglers wrinkle up their noses at the mention of fishing for crappies.
So remember, if you concentrate solely on the glamour species, give yourself a real break this season and try fishing for crappies. Believe me, you’ll never regret it and you may well become hooked for life.
By Gord Pyzer
* Twenty-four time national award winning writer, Gord Pyzer, is the Fishing Editor of Outdoor Canada Magazine, Field Editor Of In-Fisherman magazine and television and Co-Host of the nationally syndicated Real Fishing Radio Show.Contact Information
For the Naturalist
If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.
– John Burroughs
On land, water or in the air, Northwestern Ontario is a haven for naturalists of all stripes. The naturalist may be a six-year-old who stands for hours in a pond netting tadpoles and crayfish, the retiree who spends half a day perched on a clifftop viewing an osprey nest through a spotting scope, or members of a family studying the strata of rock as old as time itself. In fact, a naturalist may be anyone of any age who loves nature and revels in its wonders and beauty. And to enjoy this title we don’t need a college degree in biology.
Many of our visitors are aware of our game fish but there is much more to the area than pursuing creatures of the fin. Nature is at her best here during the spring and summer months and while you are enjoying our marvelous scenery, you might keep an eye out for some interesting residents. Morning and evening are best for nature forays because during the heat of the afternoon, much of our wildlife lies low. Humans weren’t the first ones to invent the siesta.
Lake of the Woods country is the three-season home of a healthy population of bald eagles. Any local person will tell you that this was not always the case. In the 1960’s there were few eagles to be seen. Since then the ban on the use of certain pesticides, particularly those containing DDT, has had a positive effect on raptor populations and once again these large birds of prey can lay eggs with shells that won’t break when an adult attempts to incubate them. In addition to the bald eagle, another popular raptor you may see is the osprey, also known as the fish hawk. While the eagle favours fish and carrion, the osprey’s diet is exclusively fish.
For the birding naturalist visiting the area, our forests are filled with insect-gobbling little warblers, those pretty but elusive songsters that take advantage of our heavy forest foliage to remain hidden from prying eyes. One of the best places to observe birds is near or on our lakes and rivers where the stately great blue heron forages along the shore and a myriad of waterfowl paddle contentedly through cattails while loons yodel across the water. You will notice that some ducks dive completely underwater, while others tip their heads into the water exposing their feathery rear ends to the sky. You just can’t buy entertainment this good.
On larger lakes and rivers, those black water birds that fly in long, low lines are double crested cormorants. The large white birds with enormous orange bills are, of course, white pelicans, and they are magnificent fliers. Lake of the Woods is near the eastern limit of this western bird. After seeing these birds in action everyone will agree that their bills must be able to “hold more than their bellies can,” as the children’s rhyme declares. Two species of gulls are very common here, the ring billed gull and the herring gull. Take a close look at these birds; the smaller ring billed gull is aptly named.
On your travels either by foot, bike, or slow-moving watercraft—the naturalist’s water-transportation of choice is a canoe—you might encounter a few of our favourite furry residents. Black bears are abundant and their teeth, claws and sheer size demand that they be respected. The best way to avoid problems with these animals is to store food properly and dispose of garbage wisely. Foxes are common but few wolves and coyotes are seen. Among the larger herbivores, most people go home with mental images of white-tailed deer or, if they are very fortunate, a moose, although these giants are very secretive in the spring and summer months. Some other mammals you are likely to spot are otters, minks, martens, groundhogs, beavers, hares, muskrats and of course, mice and their relatives. If you happen to see a particularly cute-looking mouse with a short tail, it is a meadow mouse, more commonly known as a vole. Rodents like these form the base of one our local food chains.
You may even run across our smallest carnivore, a shrew, described as a tiny, smoky-coloured mouse-like creature with almost no visible eyes or ears and a pointed snout. But these mammals are not rodents. They have voracious appetites and a metabolism that requires them to eat continually or die of starvation within a few hours.
While we have our share of spiders and while they are interesting to observe, there are none that cause any safety concerns. The fishing spider, also locally known as a dock spider, is fascinating to watch, but its large size is intimidating to some people. However, black flies and mosquitoes can be a real concern and it is inviting disaster to go into the bush—Northwestern Ontario word for forest—for any length of time without adequate protection from these blood-sucking fiends. Proper clothing and a good repellant are strongly advised.
So let’s choose a fine, warm, sunny morning and spend a few hours reclined against the sturdy trunk of a giant red pine observing a world unsullied by humanity. And if someone has the effrontery to ask what you are doing, politely reply that you are a naturalist and that you are working. As with all nature study, the reward is in the journey, not the destination.
Welcome to our corner of the Canadian Shield, fellow naturalists, and enjoy your stay.
By Phil BurkeContact Information
Paddy Reid & Archaeology in Kenora & NW Ontario
For the better part of 25 years Paddy Reid was the defining force in the field of archaeology in Northwestern Ontario. He was the undisputed expert in the discipline of reconstructing the heritage which is an integral part of Lake of the Woods and surrounding areas.
In 1970 he left the army and entered university full time attaining his masters degree at McMaster University. In 1974 the position of resident archaeologist came open in Kenora. Reid applied for and got the position and moved to Kenora for what he thought would be a three year sojourn. Fascination with the work in this area turned three years into permanent residency.
From earliest evidenced times, this area was at the hub of the mid-continent crossroads. Because all travel was by canoe, people travelling from the Gulf of Mexico or the eastern part of the continent had to travel through this area to reach Hudson Bay or Great Slave Lake. Trading was an integral part of the cultures that inhabited North America and is evidenced by artifacts that have been found in this area. Copper from Lake Superior, marine shells from the Gulf of Mexico and volcanic glass from Mt. St. Helen’s in Washington have all been found at excavated sites in Northwestern Ontario.
“The area is very significant from an archaeological viewpoint” states Reid. “The oldest recorded site around Kenora is on Tunnel Island and dates back 7000 years. The oldest site in Northwestern Ontario are the Manitou Mounds situated on the Rainy River and is approximately 8000 years old.” He adds, “The Manitou Mounds originated with the Paleo culture shortly after the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier. It consists of 15 burial mounds and two dozen village sites yielding evidence of cultural patterns from 6000 B.C. to the present.” He goes on to say, “It is also very significant on a national scale as it is the only national historic site in northwestern Ontario.”
In the post ice age era, the oldest cultures were the Paleo Indians which date back to 7000 B.C. The next group of peoples were the archaic culture which date from 5000 B.C. to roughly 2000 B.C. These people developed the ability to work metal, primarily copper into spear points through a process of cold hammering, a significant advancement in any culture They were the forerunners to the Laurel people which predominated the area until 100 A.D. Their successors were the Blackduck and Selkirk Indians which were the antecedents to the First Nations people that inhabit the area today.
One of the most visible signs of ancient cultures are the pictograph sites which dot rocks and cliffs around many of the lakes in Northwestern Ontario including Lake of the Woods. These are forms of rock art which were painted by various aboriginal groups and are considered sacred sites. As one Ojibway elder explained to Reid, “They are visions in the quest for medicine.” They cannot be interpreted as Egyptian hieroglyphs but extensive research has been done on what they represent. Notes Reid, “One of the most comprehensive books was written by Grace Rajonovich and is titled ‘Reading Rock Art’”. Reid is not apprehensive about people visiting pictograph sites but he says, “They should first be educated how to treat them. They shouldn’t touch them as sweat from hands can instigate erosion. The sites have to be treated with respect – they are the religious shrines of the Indian people. People should leave an offering when they visit, be it tobacco or some other meaningful item.”
Other forms of rock art were also used. There are approximately seven petroglyph sites in the Kenora area. These are pictures carved into the rock. He states, “There is no real explanation why people would carve their pictures instead of paint other then it was probably a cultural difference.” “The third form of rock art is the petroform where rocks were placed in a manner to outline an image or picture. There are several examples of this type of representation in the Minaki area.” These are not to be confused with Inukshuks which dot the highways in this area. Petroforms were placed by the Indian peoples before European influence.
Location of other archaeological finds such as burial sites or village encampments are not publicized. Even though the Ontario Heritage Act… Continued on Page 53 Continued from Page 30 …provides for steep fines and possible jail terms for offences committed under the act, the possibility of looting and unauthorized excavation is always present. If someone finds evidence of such a site they are to report it to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Recreation in order that the resident archaeologist can process the find. It is the policy of the Ministry to consult with the First Nations bands in the investigation of any archaeological sites of aboriginal origin.
When Paddy Reid retired, the Ministry was left with one archaeologist to cover Northern Ontario. That is the area from the Manitoba border to the Quebec border. Stated Reid, “Our heritage is going to suffer. We’re going to lose sites simply because the manpower doesn’t exist to excavate them.” He didn’t regret leaving public service though. He was modest when asked if he made a significant contribution to archaeology in the area. “I think so. When I got here in 1974 there were only 24 known sites. When I retired there were approximately 1200. There were over 500,000 classified artifacts in the Kenora lab which were shipped to the present office in Thunder Bay.” When asked what he considered his most significant find. He replied “The most significant thing is not what I found but what I learned. I got to know the Ojibway people and their culture.”
– Rick Vandervliet
This story is in tribute of Paddy Reid who passed away in August of 2006. Without him, the richness of our past might never have been uncovered.Contact Information
Pursuing the Prodigious Pike
No aspect of fishing has changed more over the past couple of decades than our understanding of northern pike. Indeed, if we had been discussing pike fishing in Lake of the Woods only a few years ago, our tackle box would have been small, the offerings skimpy and the techniques and tactics few and far between.
My, oh, my, how times have changed.
Today, we know pike are amazingly adaptable creatures found in the deep, cold waters of Whitefish and Clearwater Bays, as well as the shallow, warm sections of Sabaskong Bay and the moderate waters of the central and northern sections of the lake.
To prosper in so many diverse environments, northern pike exploit every opportunity that crosses their paths. Depending on the season, we are apt to find pike shallow, deep and just about everywhere in between. Some fish relate to weeds, some to wood, some to rocks and most to a bit of everything. Big pike typically behave in ways different than small pike so our strategies often vary depending on whether we are looking for size, action or a combination of both.
Not surprisingly, as our knowledge of pike behaviour and of seasonal locations has evolved and expanded so too has the size of our tackle box. Today, we need a variety of lures to be able to catch pike whenever and wherever we find them in the magnificent one-million-acres we know as Lake of the Woods.
Take topwater lures as a good case in point. Just be careful if you have a bad heart. There is nothing more exciting than watching a huge Lake of the Woods pike crush a surface bait. The summer months are best early in the morning, late in the afternoon and during overcast conditions. Deep weed edges, woody shorelines and rocky main lake structures are perfect locations.
Instead of throwing a big noisy buzzbait over a weedbed, though, position your boat so it is parallel to the edge of it and so you can keep your lure running over the prime pike zone. Do the same thing when you’re fishing in and amongst fallen trees and logs. Pike are ambush predators that hide along the fringes of cover rather than burying themselves deep inside it.
The biggest, most colourful (white, chartreuse, yellow and orange) ear-splitting buzzbaits attract the most attention. Add a trailer hook and a 5-inch worm, twister tail or pork chunk to seal the deal when the fish are aggressive. But here is the key: Don’t react to the explosion when a pike wallows on the lure. Keep your rod tip pointed up during the retrieve and reel into the fish rather than dropping the tip and actually setting the hook.
Many pike anglers miss the best big fish locations of isolated rock piles, underwater points and shallow boulder strewn shoals. And they think they can only use topwater lures when conditions are calm. Big mistakes. A slight chop is better than a slick surface for walking a big Zarra Spook, Skitter Walk, Live Sammy or Gunfish. And a fast retrieve produces explosive strikes.
When they’re less belligerent or when you’re fishing a portion of the lake where the water is stained, a prop bait like the Boy Howdy, Splash-Tail or Skitter Prop sputtering on the surface will cause pike to become unglued. Prop baits are also deadly when pike are resting beside isolated forms of cover such as a giant deadhead poking its nose above the water.
When the water is cold, typically in early spring and late fall on Lake of the Woods, cast a jerkbait. They’re at their best in and around rock structure. And while they’re not snagless, you can throw a hard jerk when there is only a few feet of water over the tops of deep weeds.
Soft jerkbaits rigged Texas-style, on the other hand, are deadly when the vegetation is sparse with plenty of open pockets. My favourite time and place to fish them on Lake of the Woods is in the fall where I find thinning cabbage weeds in Whitefish Bay, Sabaskong Bay and Clearwater Bay adjacent to main lake rock structures.
Retrieve a hard jerkbait as close to structure and cover as possible. Wind the lure down, jerk it three or four times and pause. The colder the water the longer you should wait. Nick the tops of the weeds, scrape the rocks and tick the logs and stumps. Pike usually strike when the lure suspends, rises slowly or starts the next series of jerks.
In mid-summer when the northerns go deep, troll hard jerkbaits around rocky main lake points and over the tops of mid-lake humps. Contour trolling a big floating F18 Rapala behind a three-way rig is a deadly hot weather pattern on the big lake.
Rig a large soft 9-inch Houdini Shad on a stout 5/0 to 7/0 offset hook without any additional weight and let it flutter toward bottom after you cast. Then hop, pop, twitch and pause the lure continually to imitate a dying baitfish. Along weed edges swim the lure through the grass deflecting it off any stalks you feel. Ditto when you’re fishing the open corridor between the tops of deep weeds and the surface. Let it fall and then pop it back to the surface.
Lures like the Storm Wildeye Swim Shad, Berkley Power Swim Shad and Lindy Little Joe Old Bayside Monster Minnow Spadetail are known as swimbaits and they may be the easiest lures to fish for pike because there is no wrong way to present them. By varying the speed of your retrieve, you can fish them shallow, deep and anywhere in between. Swimbaits excel around hard rock structures and are amazingly productive along weed and reed lines. They work best from early summer until late fall.
Regardless of the specific swimbait you use, after you cast it out, keep your rod tip pointed up, reel in line at a moderately quick speed, pausing briefly every five to ten seconds. Usually, you’ll feel the pike hit when the lure hesitates momentarily and falls.
The Suspending Wildeye Swim Bait is a unique casting lure that deserves to be in every Lake of the Woods pike angler’s tackle box. When you retrieve the soft plastic lure, it wobbles like a regular swimbait; however, when you stop reeling, it suspends and slowly floats to the surface. It is a superb choice for stop-and-go presentations and anytime you need to work a lure up and over a piece of structure or cover because pike run into the lures when you stop reeling.
From late spring until mid-autumn when the northerns in Lake of the Woods have set up along weed and reed lines and along shorelines littered with fallen trees and submerged wood, a slightly larger than normal (3/4- to 1-ounce) bass-style willowleaf spinnerbait (add a twister tail or worm) is a marvellous pike tool when retrieved quickly so the lure bulges just under the surface. Don’t hop, pop or manipulate it in any way. Just keep it moving.
When the biggest toothies won’t come to the surface, though, you can dredge them up with a heavier 1 1/2-ounce to 2 1/2-ounce muskie size spinnerbait. Just let it flutter down and then slowly crank it back to the boat, keeping the lure within a foot of the bottom at all times. It works best in thick grass but it can be awesome on main lake rocky structures as well.
Hard Crankbaits like the Rapala Super Shad Rap, Cordell CS25 Super Spot, Lucky Craft LV500 and LVR D-15 and soft crankbaits like the 9” Storm Kickin’ Minnow, on the other hand, excel in open water, on deep flats and around main lake rocky structures from mid-summer until freeze up. The lipless versions are superb around weed and reed lines.
You can troll these lures as well as cast them but don’t troll aimlessly. Concentrate on key transitions, edges, drop offs, breaklines and specific bottom contours.
The CS25 Super Spot and Lucky Craft LV and LVR models are awesome vibrating lipless casting lures. When you pause them for even a millisecond, a following pike has only the option of opening its mouth and eating it.
These lures may look a tad on the small size but they fish big. Part of the reason is you can retrieve them quickly and they won’t roll over and blow out.
Weedless spoons like the Silver Minnow excel in and around cover (especially in mid-summer) while the traditional style spoons produce best in main lake areas, especially around rocky structures, from early summer until late fall.
The Silver Minnow is amazingly weedless for such a heavy lure. It is also strikingly versatile from a speed point of view. When pike are aggressive, retrieve it quickly through the weed tops. Pause when you reach an opening and let the lure flutter down briefly. When the fish are neutral or negative, however, swim it under the canopy at a more modest speed, keeping it about half way between the bottom and the surface.
Troll the bigger, heavier, traditional style spoons in the summer and late fall. Each spoon style has a different swinging, swaying, wobbling and thumping action so experiment to determine what the pike want. The red-and-white colour pattern is a classic, as is the Five-Of-Diamonds, but I typically favour pure silver and gold finishes for their unmatched flash in deep water and unparalleled baitfish imitating qualities. The new Williams Sal-T series that incorporates two colour hackle and crystalflsh is awesome Lake of the Woods pike medicine.
Talking about awesome pike lures, you can’t go wrong fishing with in-line spinners such as the Mepps Aglia #5 and #4 Long, Mepps Musky Marabou and Musky Killer, Blue Fox Musky Buck and M/G Buck-A-Boo Muskie spinner.
Bulge an in-line spinner around the perimeter, over the tops and down the open lanes in weed and reed beds. Experiment with blade sizes, shapes and colours. As a general rule, larger and wider spinner blades create more loft allowing you to retrieve the lure more slowly while creating the illusion of a fast moving bait riding high in the water column.
While most anglers know that in-line spinners are fabulous around vegetation, few cast them over the numerous shallow rock piles, reefs and shoals characterizing Lake of the Woods. They should. Another mistake is not scaling down the size of the lure by using a #5 Aglia-type spinner when weather conditions (bright sun, warm, clear water and calm conditions) dictate a change.
Finally, when Lake of the Woods pike head for deeper water in mid-summer, patrolling weedlines and the edges of hard rock structures, especially the sections exposed to the wind and waves nothing catches their attention quicker than a large (1/2- to 1-ounce) bass style jig dressed with a big bulbous 5- to 8-inch long soft plastic twister tail, minnow, lizard, eel or creature bait. The weight of the jig and the size of the dressing depend on the depth of the water and the size of the fish. But big is usually better.
There is nothing fancy here. When the fish are aggressive, cast out the jig and soft plastic, let it fall to the bottom and then snap it back to the boat briskly using an exaggerated lift, fall, pause retrieve. And here’s another secret: Use a heavy jig that forces you to work quickly. Think of it as jig fishing with an attitude.
And if you spot a big pike on your sonar screen hanging below the boat, drop the jig down quickly and vertically pop it up and down. It is always worth a bonus two or three extra fish on magnificent Lake of the Woods.
– Gord Pyzer
Twenty-time national award winning writer, Gord Pyzer, is the Fishing Editor of Outdoor Canada Magazine, Field Editor of In-Fisherman Magazine and Television and Co-Host of the nationally syndicated Real Fishing Radio Show.Contact Information
Ice Fishing Comfort
• Hire a local guide
• Know your ice thicknesses
• Wear layered clothing: you’ll be warm as you drill ice holes and set up, then cool down as you relax at your spot
• Take a good pair of waterproof boots rated for cold weather
• On a sunny day, light reflects off the ice and snow. Prevent windburn and sunburn with sunscreen, sunglasses, and other protective gear
• Fish with a friend and watch each other for signs of frostbite
• Let someone back home know where you are going and when you are returning
• Clean up your site when finished for the day
• Build a fire on the shore, not on the ice
• Buy your fishing license from local marinas, bait shops or sporting goods stores
• Speak with local bait shops for expert advice
• Up to two lines per license
Assembled with contributions by Tourism Kenora and Al SmithContact Information
Drawing the Line… The Canada-U.S. Border
A general rule of thumb when establishing a boundary is to know the lay of the land in question. If one does, chances are the boundary will make sense, it will be geographically sound, and once established that will be it.
When the Canada-US boundary west of Lake Superior to Lake of the Woods was first established in 1783, those involved in the negotiations hadn’t a clue about the lay of the land. The result? Almost another 60 years of squabbling and a boundary that has been described as “irrational and impractical” and, at one point, geographically impossible. Today when one looks at a map, the border between Canada and the United States follows a seemingly logical route from the east coast through to the west coast except for the bizarre little jog it takes into Lake of the Woods.
Boundary discussions began in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolution. In acknowledgement of American independence, a boundary was established between the United States and the British territory to the north. The general plan was to have the boundary begin at the Bay of Fundy and extend west to the Mississippi River.
The maps of the day were based on the observations and sketches of explorers and fur traders which were essentially tracings of canoe routes that contained only the necessary information for navigating. However, lack of information and uncertainty didn’t deter the map-makers of the day.
John Mitchell, a cartographer for the Lord Commissioner of Trade and Plantations, had published a map of the British and French Dominions of North America in 1755 and it was this map that was used to establish the boundary west of Lake Superior through to Lake of the Woods. Mitchell’s map had its shortcomings, not the least of which was its alarming inaccuracies. For instance, Lake of the Woods was depicted as a perfectly ovoid-shaped lake with nine islands. More importantly though was a small note in the upper corner of Mitchell’s map – “The head of the Mississippi is not yet known. It is supposed to arise about the 50th degree of latitude.” Assuming that a due west line would strike the Mississippi, the treaty commissioners described the boundary as running west from Lake Superior to the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods and then due west to the Mississippi.
Discovery of the geographical impossibility of the boundary didn’t come to light until 14 years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. In 1797, explorer, map-maker, and North West Company employee David Thompson located the most northerly source of the Mississippi a few miles north of Bemidji, which is south of Lake of the Woods.
The British proposed another look at the boundary. The Americans, realizing that the error had been in their favour, weren’t interested. Even when the 48th parallel came into play as the northern boundary of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Americans still insisted on the inclusion of the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods (which is north of the 49th parallel) as a reference point in the boundary settlement.
The boundary wasn’t looked at again until 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812. Again the British suggested revising the boundary to run west from Lake Superior directly to the headwaters of the Mississippi (at Lake Itasca in Minnesota and well south of Lake of the Woods), ceding them more territory than the original agreement. The Americans remained adamant. They would agree to a re-examination of the boundary from Lake of the Woods to the Mississippi only.
The result of that treaty was that in 1818 both governments agreed that the border would run from the mouth of the Rainy River by a direct line to 100 yards east of Oak Island and then to the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods and from there in a north or south direction (“as the case may be”) to the 49th parallel and then due west along the parallel.
The next step was to determine the exact location of the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods. A survey team was sent out in 1822 and returned red-faced and unsuccessful. They had been completely baffled by all the islands, bays and peninsulas and claimed that determining the point was an impossiblity.
In 1824, the Commission hired David Thompson to determine which point would be used. He returned to them with four possible sites – one in Northwest Angle Inlet, one in Monument Bay, a third in Portage Bay, and the fourth at the north end of the lake, near the portage into the Winnipeg River. Either the most western or the most northern point would have to be chosen – Northwest Angle or Rat Portage (now the city of Kenora).
The following year, Dr. J.L. Tiarks, an astromoner with the British government, conducted an inspection of both sites and determined that the Northwest Angle was the most northwestern point on the lake. From that point, a perpendicular was dropped to the 49th parallel, just above Muskeg Bay, creating the Northwest Angle.
In 1842, with the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the boundary between Lake Superior and the 49th parallel was finally settled.
It took nearly 60 years to roughly establish the boundary that runs through Lake of the Woods. It was another 60 years before the line was properly surveyed, mapped, and monumented. Until then there still arose questions about the nationality of certain islands on the lake.
The Treaty of 1908, concerning the boundary between Canada and the United States from the east to the west coast, stipulated that there needed to be a re-establishment of the international boundary in which the course of it was described in detail and marked with boundary reference markers.
From 1912 to 1916, survey crews from both Canada and the United States worked along the boundary from Lake Superior west through Lake of the Woods. Reference boundary markers were erected, triangulation towers were built, and exact geographical reference points were taken. The surveying and mapping was completed in 1916. During that period, surveyors set 1382 monuments along the 426 miles of boundary line, determined 5100 reference points, and surveyed 1740 square miles of territory to produce 36 joint boundary maps.
Even still, things weren’t completely settled. Another treaty in 1925 was struck to more clearly define the boundary and to maintain the demarcation of the line. The northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods was adjusted a final time.
Here’s to that eccentric boundary that was one hundred and forty-years in the making. It was drawn and redrawn but still includes that odd little jog that splits Lake of the Woods between two countries, creates the American orphan-land of Northwest Angle, and absolutely defies logic.
By Lori NelsonContact Information
There is pleasure in the pathless woods, There is rapture on the lonely shore – Lord Byron
A blue jay balanced on the thin branch of a birch tree and watched intently as a belted kingfisher skimmed over the bay. A beaver, pushing silvery bubbles with its nose, cut through the calm surface leaving a trailing V in its wake. A doe and her fawn wandered down a rocky slope to wade in the water, feeding on lily pads and delicious grasses while nearby a stately great blue heron stalked its evening meal.
High over the pine-spruce forest, a bald eagle soared majestically, circling on invisible thermals and in the distance, the mournful wail of a pair of loons flowed from the silence as if by magic.
It’s not hard to understand why thousands of tourists choose the Lake of the Woods area in which to vacation or visit. As we travel our highways, back roads, forest paths or waterways, it is hard to believe that the beauty we cherish is the direct result of the brutal and gargantuan forces that shaped our continent and subsequently determined our flora and fauna.
The hills of our terrain can hardly be termed ‘mountains’ but in eons past that is exactly what many of them were. In the beginning the continent builders spewed volcanic ash and rock while colliding geological plates pushed mountain ranges into the air that would have made our present Rocky Mountains look puny by comparison. Mountain ranges came and went over the billions of years as the patient and persuasive powers of erosion wore them away. If in one year an area of the earth rose a simple millimetre (a millimeter’s size is about the thickness of a dime) the change incurred over a million years would be ten kilometres or six miles. The human mind can hardly comprehend the effects of the vastness of time particularly when we are dealing with eons.
The most recent determinant of our present day topography and bio-geography was the Pleistocene Period which is noted for a series of four different glacial events it produced that spanned many millions of years. Less than 10,000 years ago the Lake of the Woods area was completely covered with a blanket of ice that ranged from 1.6 to 3.2 km (1 to 2 miles) thick. And, as it is with ice, it moved, squeezed from the bottom of the ice sheets by the immense weight above it. Mountains were ground to rubble, huge pieces of rock broke off and moved along, their edges smoothed by the abrasive sandpaper. The glaciers acted like snowploughs depositing piles and furrows of rubble, gravel and sand. Every living thing in the path of the ice either fled or was destroyed.
The glaciers melted over many thousands of years and the withdrawal of these ice masses affected the land as much as the expansion. Massive flooding was produced as the mean temperature of the earth increased. By the time these colossal bulldozers had retreated the terrain was biologically barren, devoid of any life form. Lake of the Woods was under an enormous body of water that came to known as Lake Agassiz that covered an area larger than the present Great Lakes.
Only after the lake waters receded did terrestrial life have a chance to reestablish itself. First came the lichens, mosses and other tundra plants, living, dying, decomposing, and enriching the almost sterile substrate so that eventually other plants could take root. It is estimated that the plant life moved north at an average of 80 km (50 miles) a century. Animal life followed these pioneer plants, seeking new habitat in response to population pressures further south. A warming trend resulted in even greater colonization and then 7000 years ago things began to cool off resulting in the climate, plant and animal life we have today.
The flora and fauna that thrive in the Lake of the Woods area, like all life forms, have adapted to a specific habitat, a home where basic needs are met: climate, food, water, shelter from predators and space to live and grow. To appreciate our nature at its best, bring along a pair of binoculars, a guidebook or two, and as you encounter different habitats you will soon learn what plants and wildlife you are likely to see.
Traveling the waterways, cruising the roadways or flying over the Shield terrain reinforces the wildness that we call home. There is so little of the Lake of the Woods area that is populated by humans or developed, we are humbled by its rugged majesty and entreat others to share in its beauty.
By Phil BurkeContact Information
Three Sisters Islands are famous for holding big fish. If you want to fish out of Kenora, Clearwater Bay and surrounding areas have some excellent areas to work.
Local seasons permitting, you can generally start chasing these beasts at ice out. Things really get going as the water temperature is in the 50-55 degree range Fahrenheit. In early season, many anglers take fish from the shore by dead baiting on a pike quick strike rig. As the water warms, trout will hit spoons with much vigor as you work points or under water structures. My favorite is white and blue; however, other colors will produce results as well. I always long line as the trout can be spooky in early season. The use of a 3 way swivel can help get your bait down to the desired depth, and a line counter can be very handy. It will allow you to track how much line you have out while trolling. Try working different depths until you get the desired strike.
As the season progresses, the trout will move deeper and hang around the thermocline. The magic depth is usually 60-70 feet. Trolling for lakers in summer requires a good medium heavy action rod with at least 20 pound test line. Several anglers use wire or lead core line when trolling a willow leaf as the lakers hug the bottom contours of the basin. Troll like you would for walleye and speed up occasionally to trigger strikes. Any trip down to Echo or Whitefish Bays, you will see plenty anglers using down riggers. You can control the depth presentation of your bait and insure it is where you want it to be.
All this being said, is it necessary to have good electronics. The fish finder can make or break your day. Look for suspended trout above the schools, these babies are active and have the feed bag on. If all you are catching is smaller trout, you may want to fish a little shallower as the little guys try to stay as far away from the big girls as they can. Lake Trout can be very aggressive and will feed on anything that moves including its own. My favorite tactic is jigging. When the winds are soft, I use the locator to locate a school, get right on top of them and jig. Minnows work well, but my all time favorite is a white tube jig with a sucker belly. Some of my buddies even rip spoons while jigging and have been very successful. White bucktails of up to 2 ounces work wonders some days. Airplane jigs and jigging spoons work as well. I have even caught decent trout using a gold Williams wobblers as a jig. Sometimes by ripping it thru the school, trout will smash the bait so hard you can lose your rod. This tactic works by allowing your bait to hit the bottom, then reel up for all you are worth as fast as you can. I have seen trout hit the bait 10 feet from the boat in the middle of summer. These beasts will follow your lure up. Lake Trout act as a natural indicator of the overall state of affairs of the lake. Report of fish from 30 – 40 pounds come in from Sioux Narrows to Big Stone Bay. I fish Knickerbocker Inlet a few times every year and always manage to land a few jumbo’s. Lake of the Woods protects its fishery by insuring the limits are reasonable and fish are not over harvested.
And in the winter…….I have been ice fishing several times on the lake and for those of you that have not, you need to go. I like to run and gun and move till I find the trout. I can’t think of a better way to spend a frosty Canadian winter than ice fishing on Lake of the Woods; in my onion one of the finest bodies of water in the world. Ice fishing in Morson or Nestor Falls can be a blast. The lodge owners can tell you where to go, some may even go with you. That’s what it is all about, getting out enjoying our great body of water and catching fish. The whole family can join in the fun. There is nothing like setting the hook on a big laker. The fight can go on for 15 minutes. The best advice I can give you is to use a 10 inch ice auger so you can get the fish through the hole. I heard tell of one fellow that got his trout stuck in a ten inch hole. Now that’s a fish story that I would like to see!
For the more adventurous, try taking a trout on a streamer in spring. Fly fisherman have taken all sizes of trout in the early season. I have fished and caught many different species on Lake of the Woods, and I have to tell you that hooking a big trout is second to none. On the ice or in the boat, Lake Trout can be a true angler’s dream. They can battle with the best of them and are highly regarded as a strong fighting fish with long powerful runs. As an angler that visits the lake weekly, I can tell you that the people are the best and the fishing is second to none. Come on up and pay us a visit, you will be happy you did. Till next time, “keep your lines tight.”
By Craig StaponContact Information
Steamboats on Lake of the Woods
WATERFRONT FLOTSAM – Kenora Miner and News – 1905
The Catherine S showed up Monday last at noon time with a three-pocket tow from Dawson Narrows.
Tomorrow at noon, the Keewatin will go on ferry duty while the Argyle with the Brandon takes the conference delegates for a ride on the lake.
The Clipper returned Sunday from her trip to Big Island with oxen for the Indians. On Monday she took some picnic parties out to the Sultana and later on took a fishing outfit down to Quarry Island.
A tow of 15,000 logs was taken to the Keewatin tie mill on Wednesday by the Shamrock, brought in from Grassy River.
The Day Star, the Presbyterian mission steamer, is busy these days taking out supplies to the school for the winter. She left Saturday with a big load of flour, syrup, etc.
These were among the busy fleet of steamboats that plied the Lake of the Woods for close to a century. They hauled log booms, hosted dances, took excursions, transported mining supplies, brought settlers along the route to their new homes, and dramatically changed the style of travel on Lake of the Woods.
Previous to their use all lake travel had been done by birch bark canoe, then by York boat. But with the increased traffic on what was then the only practical thoroughfare to the Canadian west, the need for faster and larger vessels was realized.
The first steamboat on the lake was owned and operated by the Canadian government and was put into service in 1872 as a tug to pull York boats through the two sets of rapids on the Rainy River. The nameless steamer was joined a year later by another and then another which was christened Lady of the Lake.
These first steamers were engaged in passenger service, conveying settlers from Rainy River to Rat Portage (now Kenora), or west via the North West Angle and the Dawson Trail. The Lady of the Lake, at 115 feet in length, was a side-wheeler that ran the route until she was dismantled in 1880. Many of her parts, however, were used in the construction of another steamer, the Lilly McCauley.
The Shamrock, Monarch, and Highland Maid all ran the passenger route between Fort Frances and Rat Portage. Their one-way fare was $6.00 for adults (which included meals), $3.00 for children, $5.00/head for cattle and horses, $8.00/ton for household goods, and $10.00/ton for supplies. The round trip could be made in less than 48 hours – each leg of the trip averaging about 21 hours with layovers to pick up and discharge passengers. Because the trip could not be made without refueling, there were wooding stations located along the main steamboat routes where the boats could pull in and stock up on wood.
Some boats worked together to cover the route between Fort Frances, Rainy River and Kenora. The Agwinde, a 105-foot stern-wheeler, was part of the Rainy River Navigation Company’s fleet of passenger and freight steamboats. She worked the route in conjunction with the Keenora. The Agwinde made the sheltered, shallow run between Fort Frances and Rainy River which suited her flat-bottomed design. The Keenora covered the northern leg, crossing the wide open expanse of the Big Traverse, on which the Agwinde would have been quite unstable. The two steamboats kept a busy schedule during the May-to-November season, running daily trips from one end of the lake to the other.
The passenger boats eventually began to offer leisure tours and in doing so initiated the first attempts to attract tourists to the lake.
As the industry of the region expanded beyond the original base of fur trade into commercial fishing, lumbering, gold mining, and tourism, steamboats became an even more common sight on the lake.
While saw mills were becoming established in the communities of Keewatin and Rat Portage, logging camps were being constructed on all parts of the lake. In the journals of John Gardner, one the area’s earliest settlers who worked at various logging camps, the arrival of the steamboats was always recorded with an account of the number of workers brought out, the replenishment of supplies, and the delivery of much-awaited mail. The Jenny Lind, Lotta S and the Clipper were all engaged in freighting men and supplies to the camps. Other steamboats, the Empress, Kingfisher, Algoma, and Mather were used to tow the immense log booms from down the lake to the sawmills in Rat Portage.
The Sultana, Regina, and Mikado steamboats were each part of the operations of successfully run gold mines on Lake of the Woods. Their purpose was multi-fold. They were used to freight supplies, equipment, labourers, and ore. As well, potential investors were escorted out to the mines aboard the company steamers.
The Scud and Frank Marshall were often seem loaded to the gills with packed fish boxes en route to Rat Portage where the fish were then shipped to market by rail. During the commercial fishing heyday of the 1890s, four million pounds of fish and a quarter of a million pounds of caviar were shipped annually from the area.
The steamboats met their ends in various ways. The Couchiching, a steam tug, was built in 1883, abandoned on the sandbar at Bush Island in 1897 and ten years later was dynamited into oblivion. The fish boat Keewatin and the ferry Kennina both burned. The Speedwell was wrecked on a reef. Others simply outlived their usefulness and were dismantled and sunk. The remains of some of those early boats are scattered along the lake bottom off various islands and in numerous bays and provide intriguing exploration for divers. They are, however, protected archaeological sites and cannot be disturbed.
Through the course of 90 years, side-wheelers, stern-wheelers, sturdy tugboats, elegant excursion boats, and accommodating ferries plied the lake. But with the coming of the railway, roadways, and diesel and gasoline engines, one by one the steamboats fell into disuse, bringing an end to this significant era on Lake of the Woods.
The Annie Mc, a ferry between Rat Portage, Norman, and Keewatin, was jokingly called “Consumption”, because her exhaust “sounded as if it were the last gasp of a diseased lung.”
The Clipper was reputedly the fastest boat on the lake, and the first boat on the lake to have electric lights.
The 75-foot Edna Brydges was launched in 1895. She could accommodate 60 passengers in style. White linens, silverware, and caviar were dining room staples.
The Kathleen ran “blueberry excursions” on the Winnipeg River. During these outings lunch could be obtained on board or, for those who brought their own picnic basket, hot water for tea was available.
The Swallow was the first stern-wheeler on the Lake of the Woods. In 1896, after only two summers of service, she was wrecked in a storm on the Big Traverse.
The Rover, belonging to the Norman Fish Company fleet, was often referred to as Roll Over due to her unstable nature.
The last steamboat on the lake, the Mather, was pulled from service in 1960 and can be seen in McLeod Park in Kenora.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR MUSEUMS
Lake of the Woods Museum
Rainy River Women’s Institute Museum
Fort Frances Museum
By Lori NelsonContact Information