Growing up in rural South Carolina, I often dreamed of adventures in my outdoor life that would probably never happen. I remember reading in Sports Afield magazine of Ted Kerasote telling stories about Canadian fly in fishing trips. He told about catching fish I had never heard of, much less seen. The way he described the serenity, silence, pristine waters, and 100-plus fish a day burned in my brain, and I resolved, “One day I am going to do that!”
That day arrived—twice now, in fact—and there are more to come. Being the dad of two sons and three daughters brings a lot of joys and it creates opportunities for a host of memories. In 2019, it so happened that my oldest son, Alex, was getting married in September of that year, and his younger brother, Ridge, was heading off to college. I knew if there ever was a time for a father- sons outing, it was then.
To take advantage of this occasion in our lives, I called my friend and owner of Kashabowie Outposts, Fern Duquette. Fern is the owner and operator of one of the finest adventure sites in North America. Kashabowie Outposts owns and operates 10 cabins on remote lakes in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. They use these cabins to carry clients on Canadian fly in fishing adventures.
After speaking with Fern, we decided that out of the lakes he had available, Piche Lake would be ideal for the three of us to spend the better part of a week fishing and enjoying this time together. Piche Lake is 3.5 miles long and covers 688 acres. It’s located a 45-minute flight north of their headquarters in Atikokan, ON, a 23-hour drive from my home.
The cabins of Kashabowie are well- designed and spacious, and offer all the amenities of home, considering that everything must be flown in to build, maintain and operate. These cabins are what I call “luxuriously rustic.” Each cabin has a propane stove, refrigerator and water heater to provide everything you need for cooking, food storage and hygiene. Solar panels power lights and outlets for these remote cabins. Cell phones are useless there, which is a wonderful reprieve. Two-way radios are provided for check-in and emergencies. Clients only need to bring their necessities—clothes, sleeping bags, food and fishing gear. Everything else is provided. The cabins even include 14-foot aluminum boats complete with four-stroke Yamaha outboards and all the gas you need for days of fishing pleasure.
We began our 23-hour drive to reach Kashabowie on a Sunday afternoon at 6 p.m. The plan was to drive to the Canadian border in International Falls, MN, spend the night, and finish the drive the next day. This would keep us out of traffic in Indianapolis and Chicago by passing through these cities in the dead of night.
Kashabowie Outposts has a fleet of float planes, mostly de Havilland Beavers from the 1940s. These classic airplanes are more than capable of flying you and all your gear to your home for the week. For the three of us, the adventure began when we started the road trip, and the added excitement of flying a float plane into the wilderness was a bonus. Alex, Ridge, and I crawled into the seats of the float plane for the taxi on Eva Lake heading for our adventure. The engine roared, and we began sliding across the lake until we lifted off and headed for Piche Lake.
Flying in a float plane across the Canadian boreal forests is something everyone should experience.
The proximity to the ground, the views, and the slow speed allow you to take it all in as you move across the landscape for your destination.
As we neared our destination, the pilot pointed to our lake in the distance, and we readied for an intentional water landing. We glided onto Piche Lake, which was as smooth as a new jar of peanut butter, and our landing was effortless.
There is an odd feeling in your soul when you unload and watch the plane fly off into the distance. Our pilot circled the lake, tilted his wings at us as he buzzed by the dock, then whirled out of sight and sound, and we were alone in the Canadian wilderness.
We could hardly contain our excitement to get on the lake. After a quick inventory of gear, we were off. With Alex and Ridge in one boat and me in the other, we made our way to explore Piche Lake.
BOULDERS AND WALLEYE
If you’ve never been to this part of Ontario you cannot picture what I describe as boulder fields that stretch for hundreds of miles. The glacial lakes of the area were formed thousands of years ago and are littered with boulders, many often bigger than a common house. We maneuvered through the flooded boulder fields of Piche Lake searching for a place to fish.
When I go to Canada to fish, I go to catch Northern Pike, without a doubt my favorite freshwater fish to catch. But these lakes are teeming with walleye that are, by most standards, trophy-sized, and they are the best- tasting fish God ever created. What the walleye lacks in appearance, he makes up for in taste. His googly eyes and toothy smile are not at all appealing, but his filets floating in a pool of grease…that is beauty at its finest.
The tactics for catching both of these fish are not difficult. On one occasion, Alex and Ridge were anchored on a ledge and catching walleye. They called me over and showed me that each time they dropped a sacrificial minnow down, they caught a fish. They sat there for two hours and caught so many fish we lost count, but conservative estimates were over 100 each. We kept three for dinner and released the rest.
While they were catching dinner, I began throwing a Live Target colored smelt jerkbait. Casting towards a small island no more than 40 yards away, I caught pike on 19 consecutive casts! Northern pike are aggressive feeders and will attack most any flashy moving lure.
“This is what I drove 23 hours for,” I yelled at the boys, who were themselves pulling in walleye after walleye. A short jaunt over, I found a large rock pile in the lake and threw the Live Target smelt over to it, and as I retrieved it, a giant pike (by my standards) exploded on the lure.
A short fight later, and as I reached the net to take him in, his razor-sharp teeth cut the 20-pound braided line. Distraught, I tied on another Live Target lure, this one in yellow perch and cast to the same area. A giant pike swallowed it. After getting that fish to the boat, I saw that I landed a 39½-inch Northern pike. Upon inspection, my first lure was stuck in its gills! I had caught the same fish on consecutive casts! The week was starting off awesomely.
HUNDREDS OF CATCHES
The next four days were filled with hundreds of walleye and pike catches, a load of laughter and memories that will last a lifetime. Kashabowie even furnished a fish cooker for deep frying the walleye and pike outside the cabin.
When we were packing for the trip, Alex asked, “What are we taking to eat for dinner?” Looking at him I said, grease.” He looked puzzled. I explained, “We are eating fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll bring some batter and some snacks, but we are eating fish…walleye and pike.”
In all honesty, we did take some other food with us. Two young men are not satisfied unless they are consuming copious amounts of food daily. But when it came to the fried fish, he was not disappointed.
TACTICS AND BAIT
Tactics for walleye and pike can be compared to other fish species we are familiar with. I compare walleye fishing tactics to crappie fishing tactics. Jigs, minnows, and grubs are the norm. Some anglers will troll slowly for walleye, and once they catch one, they circle back and anchor over the location. Walleye are schooling fish and often, when one is caught, you can stay right there and catch dozens or even hundreds, as my sons did on that first day. We employed several tactics on this trip.
Trolling picked up a few. But mostly, we learned that underwater humps and drop-off areas in about 11 feet of water held loads of walleye. Anchoring over these spots, we lowered minnows on jig heads of varying colors to the bottom. We brought the bait off the bottom with a few turns of the reel and waited. Usually, a bite came within a few seconds. If not, we moved the minnow up and down a bit to initiate a strike.
We caught walleye on minnows, earthworms, leeches, white grubs, trolling, curly tail grubs, beetle spins, and small crankbaits. The majority were caught with live minnows on white or pink ¼-ounce jig heads. The walleye we caught averaged 16 inches with a load over 20 inches and a few over 24 inches. One pushed 27 inches and weighed a shade over 4 lbs. All in all, we estimated that we caught well over 500 walleye during our stay at Piche Lake.
Northern Pike, in my estimation, are best caught using the same tactics you would use for bass by casting lures towards structure and retrieving. Pike are not picky eaters. Some common lures include flashy spoons, jerk baits, swim baits and top water lures. Every evening after dinner (the sun doesn’t set in late summer until after 10 p.m.), we would go to the shallows with Live Target soft frogs and watch the pike explode on these frogs. It was amazing! Pike from 12 to 37 inches devoured frogs over and over. Often, you would see the pike coming from 15 feet away and explode on the frog! It was about as much fun as a man can legally have.
The early mornings saw me with my Number 6 weight fly rod casting big flies into the shallows for willing pike. The wind was strong for several days and made fly fishing a chore, but I managed to land several decent pike on the fly. I vow to do this more on my next trip.
If you are someone who loves adventure and fishing, you need to make it a priority to contact Kashabowie Outposts and book a trip to one of their cabins. Some cabins can accommodate large crowds of up to 12, while others as few as 6. Fern will accommodate groups of varying sizes when he can.
A Canadian fly in fishing trip is truly one of the great adventures an outdoorsman can experience. The remote lakes, the serenity, and an abundance of fish all encompass everything we look for as outdoorsmen and women.
To this day, when the three of us get together, the conversation almost always turns to “Daddy, remember on Piche Lake when…” and we laugh and share more memories of that time on the Canadian wilderness adventure.