On the Trail of the Wendigo Walleye
In early August, Neale and I who were visiting Canada for the first time and Mike, an expatriate Canadian, set out for a weekâ€™s fishing on the Larder Lake system in Temiskaming, Ontario. Armed with some great advice from Italo and some gear from Canadian Sport Fishing we had high hopes.
On the drive up North from Toronto, we discussed tactics and techniques. I recounted bass stories from my native South Africa, while Neale gave us his tips for landing monster British pike. Mike, being the only Canadian in the party was at an advantage. He was the only one who had fished Ontario lakes before and he was the only one who had caught a walleye. We all agreed that if just one of us could net this famous Canadian fish, the trip would be considered a success.
Having only seen photos of Wendigo Lake, we weren’t really sure what to expect as we arrived in Engelhart, Northern Ontario and wound our way along a dirt road, to the shores of the lake. The water was the lowest it had been in years and Stephen, our host, forewarned us that our chances of catching any walleye would be slim, as they were seeking the coolness of the deepest parts of the lake. But as we surveyed the sheer epic beauty of the place, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm and no sooner had we disembarked from the pontoon boat at Weekes Island, which was to be our base for the week, than we were setting up our rods.
At the tackle shop in Englehart we’d picked up some worms and minnows to supplement our Rapala lures, jigs and spoons. The first evening from the end of the dock, the small mouth bass were biting our worms, a good sign for the week to come. The next day, the same was true of most of our spoons, either off the dock or off the moored pontoon boat on the leeward side of our small, rocky outcrop of land. It was when I changed to a black and silver Rapala Shad Rap that things got interesting. The bass I caught were edging towards the two pound mark and then, my first ever northern pike. Slow and lazy at first, it started to make powerful, deep runs when it caught sight of shore. You could understand why itâ€™s been called the ‘sentry of the river’. As I released this imposing fish, even at just five pounds, I was careful not to tangle with its pin-sharp teeth while it thrashed in my net.
The following day, we piled into canoes and set off up the Larder River, a chain of elongated and interconnect lakes which form Larder Lake Provincial Park. We portaged around some swift water and into Skead Lake, a smaller, narrower stretch of water. We fished the about twenty meters from the shore where there was some good structure, rocks and weeds. Neale landed a decent sized small mouth bass that jagged and tail danced right up until he got it to the boat. This was the first but not the last fish he would hook with a Rapala Husky Jerk, a lure that would prove to be a favorite of his. I persisted with the Rapala Shad Rap and caught a slightly bigger pike than my first along with some smaller bass while Mike, on a spinner bait, brought in the biggest pike of the trip, around six pounds.
Late in the afternoon we portaged back into the lower Larder River and fished a small bay at the mouth the Skeletonpup River where some of the locals had pointed us. As the sun dipped behind the tree covered hills, the wind died and the water became glassily calm. Mike tied on a big old Red Devil spoon and we had our last few casts before heading back for some well-earned beers. The tip of Mike’s rod bent low as he reeled in. At first we thought it was a snag, the Red Devil was heavy and it had probably hooked a log on the lake bed. But then there was some movement. Not much, but he definitely had a fish on. After a brief fight, Neale and I got sight of our first walleye. I netted it and lifted it into the boat and Mike administered the last rites. We paddled into the salmon pink sunset, back to Weekes Island where some pan fried pickerel awaited us, happy in the knowledge that if we didn’t catch another fish all week, it would still be mission accomplished.
Thanks to Italo and the team at Canadian Sport Fishing and for all your help and advice!