The float plane took off as I held my cup of piping hot coffee. According to Scott, an editor at Outdoor Canada, that’s the typical cliche opening for any remote fishing lodge story, so I thought I’d stick with it. Only there was no piping hot coffee, and I was rocketing a Ford F-150 at 160 km/hr across the flat Manitoban prairies. Through fate and circumstance I was invited to Eagles Nest, a fly-in fishing lodge located on the Winnipeg River. My fishing experience:
- Catching a barracuda and wahoo in the Cook Islands
- Catching bloated salmon on a river in Alaska
- Catching piranha in Venezuela and Brazil
The pursuit of trophy fish is a serious business, and much like football players, anglers judge each other by the size and weight of their tackle. The abundant waters of the Winnipeg River, cutting channels through hundreds of islands, are a world-class destination. Eagle Nest, a family-owned lodge in operation since 1966, offers 18 staff for its 30-40 guests, 30 boats, fully equipped cabins, gourmet meals, and hard-won knowledge on the best spots to catch fish. The stars of which are: smallmouth bass, northern pike, wall-eye, sauger, perch, and to a lesser extent, sturgeon. Fred Pedruchny, who took the lodge over from his parents in 1977 and has been here every summer since, tells me the largest pike caught in these waters was a 50 inch monster. But it’s not just about the harvesting and catching of fish. Escaping the city, being in the wilderness, hanging out with friends and family – this is true Canadian wilderness, where you’ll be an hour’s boat ride (or 20 minute floatplane ride) from anywhere.
Jason, one of the bronze leathered fishing guides, says there are only two things you need to pack when you go fishing: a raincoat and sunglasses. When it rains, water whips across the boat. In the sun, skin quickly sizzles. Rain or shine, mosquitoes and horse flies take their pound of flesh.
In the capable hands of fishing guides and far more experienced fishing buddies, it takes no time before I catch my first wall-eye. Sport fishing is strictly catch and release, but we keep the right size wall-eye for the shore lunch. Pike’s flesh is not as desirable, so we throw them back, even the ones that can feed a small family. I learn to jig, cast and troll. Demetri Martin is right: fishing should be called tricking and killing. Or tricking and letting go. There’s a healthy respect here for the fish: barbs are pinched to minimize damage, the biggest catch is gently handled, and always released to give future anglers a similar thrill. My trophy is a 31-inch pike, and in one session I haul all the species above save for sturgeon, including a healthy sized smallmouth bass.
We gather on an island for lunch, the guides making short work filleting the fish, which are rubbed in spice, or dunked in flour and cornflakes, served with deep-fried or fire roasted potatoes. Fish has never tasted better, or fresher. In one of the world’s largest flowing rivers (by volume), Winnipeg River boasts abundance. Abundance of water, clean enough for hardier anglers to drink, and warm enough for late afternoon dips. Eagles fly overhead, mink, bear and deer roam the shores. Casting with new friends at sunset, I share Fred’s sentiment that fishing is just an activity, something to keep you busy while you ponder life, staring over calm lapping waters under a big prairie sky.