A Week Up North

Every fall for the last thirty years or so, my dad has organized a fishing trip to northern Ontario. I have had the fortune of tagging along on many of these trips as time and my busy life has allowed. The trip is always a bright light at the end of the long tunnel of summer and my busy season as a landscape designer. The thought of relaxing in a cabin in the north woods motivates me throughout the summer. If I can just make it to that lovely week or rest and recovery of the soul, I’ll be alright.

The trip has taken on different variations over the years. Most often we drive about eleven hours north from Chicago, crossing over into Canada at International Falls Minnesota. From there, it’s another two hours to Dryden Ontario, where we stop and buy the remainder of fresh food we need for the week, including the precious Canadian Rye bread from the local Safeway. This particular rye bread is not available in the United States and is coveted by all on the trip, so much so, that most of us place an order for the following week when we return south. My dad usually buys 15-20 loaves and freezes them so he and my mom can have the delicious rye throughout the year. From Dryden we head further north for another hour and half until we reach Dutchie’s General Store. A solitary building along the road in the middle of the Canadian forest. Here we buy our fishing licenses and Canadian jelly, available in strawberry, raspberry, and ‘Saskatoon’ which is essentially a blueberry jam. You can see a trend forming here, the trip is largely centered around food.

In previous years, we would continue on north until we hit Red Lake Ontario. From there we would travel another fifty miles or so by float plane and be dropped off on Job Lake. A huge lake all to ourselves for the week. No cell service and no contact with the outside world. Due to COVID, the Canadian government shut down travel from the US to Canada for all of 2020 and only recently opened the border to American’s in early August. Autumn weather closes in fast up north and with such a short season left most outfitters chose not to re-open for only a few weeks of service. Thus, our usual cabin on Job Lake was not available and we needed to make other plans.

Thankfully, we were able to find an opening at Peffley’s Wilderness Camp. The pick up area for the camp was only about half a mile from Dutchie’s General Store, which meant we could save ourselves roughly two hours of travel by not heading all the way up to Red Lake.

Peffley’s Wilderness Camp

Another oddity of this year’s trip was the ability to use our phones. Cell service was available and I called Dave Peffley, the owner of the camp to let him know we were ready for pickup. About half an hour later Dave pulled up in a large aluminum hulled boat and we loaded most of the gear and half the men from the group. We would need to take two trips. The water level across the region was down several feet and some areas of the narrow channel are only a foot or so deep. We couldn’t overload the boat and get stuck in the shallows.

I was part of the first group to head out. The thought being they would put the youngest guys in the first group so we could carry most of the gear. Lucky us. After a twenty minute boat ride we arrived at camp, a collection of small cabins clustered on a rocky point in the middle of Lake Wabaskang. We unloaded the boat and made our way up the hill to our cabin. With a group of eight men, we were split into two separate cabins. The main cabin slept six and the small cabin was fit for two. My dad and I took the small cabin. It was a small log cabin about 12′ x 12′ equipped with a small kitchen sink, refrigerator, running water, a small dining table, and two single beds. No bathroom, but the main cabin had a flushable toilet and shower and there was a separate shower cabin on the other side of camp. A flushable toilet was quite the luxury compared to the usual outhouse experience at other camps.

About an hour later the second half of our group arrived and we all settled in, each of us unpacking clothing and gear and rigging up fishing poles with lead jigs and rubber worm tails. We also brought about five dozen night crawlers.

Dave, the camp owner stopped by with some maps of the lake and marked out all the usual hot spots where people have the best luck catching Walleye. After such a long trip and effort to get here we were all anxious to get some lines in the water. It was late in the afternoon, but we all got out on the water and headed to ‘The Hotel’ which is a grassy point that juts out into the water on the north end of the lake. We each had some luck that evening catching a few walleye and several northern pike. None of us in the group actually enjoying catching pike. If you can actually get them to the boat without them cutting your line, they are slimy to handle and typically ill tempered. Walleye are much more enjoyable.

The next day was warm, temps in the upper 70’s and as a group we didn’t catch many fish. Granted we are spoiled by the usual Canadian fishing experience where catching thirty or more fish per person a day is commonplace. The second day on the lake and we had only caught a few fish per boat. That night around the dinner table there was a bit of worry brewing in the group.

The next morning we were chatting with another group in camp and they said they caught tons of walleye on a jig and minnow the day before. In all our years at other camps we have always used night crawlers with good success. However, we were willing to try something different. We bought a few dozen minnows and headed out for the day. The activity picked up quickly and all of us starting catching walleye. While we did not catch as many fish as usual, the fish we did catch were spectacular. We were pulling in 19-20″ walleye with regularity and a 25″ walleye took the prize for largest of the week.

Bob and his big Walleye

We settled into our typical fishing trip routine of a massive breakfast each morning, followed by several hours of fishing, a lunch break, several more hours of fishing, then happy hour, and another huge meal. We eat and drink a lot on these trips. I gained seven pounds one year over the course of the week.

Having missed the 2020 trip and not knowing if the 2021 trip would happen until the last minute we were all thankful to be there and to be together. Looking forward to next year already.