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Walleye Fishing Trip That Wasn’t

This post was written by Dave on June 20, 2009
Posted Under: Fish Stories

It was back in 1978 when my Dad took me on my first Canadian walleye fishing trip. (My dad gave me an old truck along with the words, “Now that its yours don’t you wish you didn’t beat it so much when it was mine?” – Steve) A fly-in outpost camp around 1500 miles north of Chicago that to date, remains the best walleye and northern pike fishing I’ve ever done. We still tell the stories today. But that’s a subject for a different post.

We’ve been heading “up north” every year since then and 2009 was no exception. Our group has remained tight over the years and always a pleasure getting together for the trip. I couldn’t have been more pleased when Steve joined us 3 years ago. (Probably not as pleased as me though) He loves to fish just as much as I do (perhaps more if that’s possible). Enough rambling though.

Steve and I have decided to chronicle our trip this year. A diary of sorts if you will. We’ll be adding, editing, and “conversating” about the debacle that happened. We invite our readers to check back often as the story unfolds. I promise we’ll have you saying “HO JEEZ!” as often as we were.

The Walleye Fishing Trip That Wasn’t

Day 1 June 8th 2009

Steve, I, and my Dad, headed out from the Chicago area bright and early this morning for the first leg of our trip. Gear packed along with a whole lot of supplies and food for the group, including 1000 nightcrawlers. There were 7 of us this year. Our group meets on the first day on the north shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors MN.

While rounding the tip of Lake Superior we saw what can only be described as the ultimate definition of optimism.. We saw guys in wet suits trying to surf in 40 degree water and 4 to 5 foot waves in Lake Superior.. I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw.. It was until later that I realized that there are people, in MN, with wetsuits and surfboards, for just such occasions.. Like I said, optimism.

We take it easy driving, stopping when we need to stretch. Nothing worse than having to drive hard and be really tired at the start of the fishing trip. We met up at the hotel with the rest of the group mid afternoon. Cocktails, snacks laughing, pictures as we look forward to another year of great fishing.

Early evening 4 of us decide to walk over to Culvers for a bite to eat. My Dad stays behind because he’s not feeling particularly well so I told him I’d grab him something and bring it back to the room. When we get back, Dad is on the phone trying to arrange a flight out of Duluth back to Chicago. He’s a bladder cancer survivor (still cancer free) and had developed some problems relating to that, which needed medical attention.

After spending nearly an hour and a half convincing him that we needed to drive him back, because the earliest flight was a connecting one and didn’t leave till the following morning, we jumped back in the truck and headed back to Chicago. It was around 3:30 AM when we met my Mom at the emergency room to get him to “his” hospital and doctors. The whole time he was “urging” Steve and I to leave and get some sleep because we had a long drive ahead of us the next day. Remember, we had at least half the food and supplies with us for the entire group.

Once assured that he was fine and getting the care he needed, we headed to my house to take a nap. It was about 4:30 AM when we got there. “HO JEEZ”

bugs-bunny-holeLet me jump in here a moment to say that Joe and Dave are awesome. So awesome that I drove a total of 1,150(ish) miles just to get to “Chicago”.. I checked Google Maps and it said it should have only taken 120 miles to get from my house to Dave’s house.. Visions of Bugs Bunny, Albuquerque, and wrong turns spring to mind..

At this point we have driven about 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours just to have diner at Culver’s in Two Harbors.. I love Culver’s Butter Burgers, but that’s a bit of a stretch even for me.. Its not like is was Sonic.. I’m thinking that the fishing better rock at this point.. Oh, and that Joe is okay..

Day 2 June 9th 2009

After a couple hour nap, I started making phone calls. First to my Mom to make sure Dad was doing OK. He was and again I was told (in no uncertain terms 🙂 ) go fishing. Then to the rest of the group to let them know we’d be getting started but meeting them at the outfitters tonight was most likely not going  to happen as was originally planned. Finally to the outfitters to let them know what was going on in order to reschedule our fly-out a couple of hours later. They were most accommodating.

After having unpacked things we weren’t going to need because for the first year since 1978 Dad wasn’t going, we headed out around 9:30 AM.

Here is where things get a little foggy for me.. I seem to remember waking up and getting in the truck.. Even driving through the construction in Rockford, again, but I don’t recall taking the only garlic we had for the whole trip out of the truck..

( Yeah… that kinda sorta would have been me. I didn’t realize that the box labeled “Island Spices” didn’t have all the spices in it and the box labeled “Dinner June 9th 2009”, one that I unpacked because we weren’t going to be there, had the rest. “HO JEEZ!”… Dave)

What I do remember is that we saw Wisconsin State Troopers in a 30 mile stretch North of Eau Claire both going up and coming down, and no where else, the day before.. I’m not saying that I would use that knowledge to gain an advantage while trying to cut time off of the trip.. BTW, anyone ever try to get a hotel room or buy beer in Thunder Bay, CA?? Dave has 🙂

Ahhhhh… Wisconsin… land of cheese. Both of us were pretty tired and I decided to loudly announce “CHEEZ” everytime I saw a billboard or sign for cheese. Didn’t take long for that to evolve into “HO JEEZ!” Actually, the evolution had started the night before as we tried to keep each other awake driving back.

Once we reached Duluth MN I decided to call the outfitters (cell service gets really sparce from here on in) and let them know that that we would not be there tonight but would make Thunder Bay Ontario. Let them know that we’d be leaving there at 5:00 AM to drive the last 3 hrs. Annette said that would be fine and would let the rest of the group know what was going on since they were still right out front because they locked their keys in the truck. Another story altogther. 🙂

Next stop to stretch our legs before the border crossing was to be Grand Marais MN because it’s last place with cell phone service until Thunder Bay so we could touch base with our families. Especially important for Steve.

I guess here is where I do some backfill on my drama.. My Mother-In-Law had been in and out of ICU for just over a month when we left for Canada the first time.. I wasn’t going to go, but my whole family told me to go, so I went.. But MIL was going in to surgery on this day, late, and there is really no way to talk with family once we get to the lake..

Once we hit Grand Marais I called my wife, no news yet.. And then I called my Sister-In-Law and left instructions that no matter what happened she was to call the outfitter and I would radio them every day to see if there was any news.. At this point MIL hadn’t been to surgery yet..

It should also be noted at this point that we are getting pretty goofy.. All the driving, lack of sleep, and Ho Jeez!!, was really getting to us..

One thing to take in to account when crossing the border these days is that Border Agents aren’t paid to have a sense of humor.. They want quick, accurate, and polite answers to their questions.. They deal with hundreds or thousands of people every day trying to cross the border, the last thing they need is a comedian.. So after driving about 2,000 miles, getting almost no sleep, and discovering the joy of answering Ho Jeez to nearly evey question, you can see where we might have an issue..

Border Agent: Your reason for visiting Canada??

Tired Dude: To fishnap your fishies and smuggle them back to the United States as political prisoners! (Ho Jeez)

Tired Dude 2: Political Asylum (Ho Jeez!)

Border Agent: Do you have any live bait??

Tired Dude: Wormies!

Border Agent: What is that bait packed in??

Tired Dude: Marajuana and Magic Mushroom compost! (Ho Jeez)

Border Agent: Do you have any firearms or handguns?

Tired Dude: Nope! Just a box of grenades in case the fishing is slow. (Ho Jeez!)

You can see where this is going.. We did that for more than an hour before we got to the border.. Then we had to try to clear our heads and talk straight when we got there.. Ho Jeez.. .. ..

We finally made it to the duty free right before the Pigeon River Border Crossing at 8:40 PM local time. Fill up with gas on the US side and hit the duty free for a couple of cases of beer. Duty free closed at 8:00 PM… NO BEER FOR YOU! (ho jeez).

There are days I’m glad I don’t drink.. After watching Dave cry in the parking lot this was one of them..

No worries. We’ll cross the border then it’s only about a 20 min drive into Thunder Bay. We’ll get a hotel room so we can get a bit of rest, and I’ll buy beer there.

The Valhalla Inn is right off the highway in town and a pretty nice place so we stopped there. No Room For You! (HO JEEZ!) They sent us to another hotel a block away… a scary hotel! But as tired as we were it was clean so no matter. Depends on your definition of clean, and it only smelled a little bit after we opened the windows.. I told the clerk at the desk he could really make my day by directing me to the nearest beer store that was open (It’s now about 10:30 PM with the time change). I’m not used to getting laughed at hysterically when asking about where to buy beer…

“You’re in backwards Ontario ehh. All the beer stores close at 9:00 ehh.”


Oh well, some vodka, tonic, and a splash of Mountain Dew will work for tonight. Gotta hope the outfitter has beer on hand (they usually do) otherwise I’d be fishing beerless (HO JEEZ!).

You know, for a fishing story, we sure have said a lot without even getting to the fish yet..

Day3 June 10th 2009

The adventure picks up the next morning at 4am.. We had about 300km to go to get to the outfitter, and the plane was leaving at 9am so we had a lot of 2 lane road driving in bear and moose country to get done in a hurry.. The main reason we stopped in Thunder Bay was that we simply didn’t want to risk driving that late at night, tired, in moose country.. That would have been the perfect capper to an already less than perfect trip..

We hit Mattice Lake Outfitters around 8am.. The Iowa crew was already up and sitting around the office drinking coffee and waiting for the weather to clear so we could fly out..

(This is where the “beer” part enters the picture… again. They did indeed have plenty of beer on hand so I asked them to please grab 2 cases for me, which they were only too happy to do. While we were settling up with the outfitters and getting our fishing licenses, I told them to to add the cost of the beer to my bill. Wasn’t till I checked the receipt later that I found out it was $45 a case! Ho Jeez!)

As soon as the weather was good enough to fly, we jumped in the Otter and took off.. I love to fly.. I’m a member of the EAA and my dad owns 2 planes.. So when I opened my eyes and saw that there were trees higher than we were I just relied on the fact that Don was probably as excited to stay alive as I was and went back to sleep.. I have no idea if anyone else got nervous, but I was too tired to care..

Finally, touchdown at Short Lake and time to unload the plane and fish..

Usually unpacking is a calm, civil event, but I was so tired I just wanted to dump the gear and get in the boat.. Even if it was cold, and windy, and sort of raining.. I quickly dumped my gear in the room Dave and I were going to share, and then, in a fit of brilliance, I grabbed one of the spare mattress pads from one of the unused bunks.. The cabin we stay in sleeps 10, more if you prison bunk, but 10 is safe.. Since we were 4 guys short this year I decided to do my princess and the pea impersonation.. It was good..

Once the food was stashed, the gear in the rooms, thermals and rain gear put on, Dave and I agreed we were wasting too much time and just strung up one rod each, threw our tackle in the boat, and hit the water..

It was cold.. Not the coldest ever, but colder than I’m used to fishing in. The new thermals from Cabela’s, and the new Gor-Tex bibs worked out great for keeping everything warm but my fingers.. And that was survivable as long as I didn’t have to tie on any new leaders..

Ho Jeez!! It's a fish!!

Ho Jeez!! It's a fish!!

Dave took us out to one of the always has fish spots on the lake, and start fishing.. After a couple of missed Walleye I finally had my drag set right and my jig tail on right, and we actually started catching fish.. Really, here’s proof!!

Yeah, it was cold. The surface water temperature was less than 50 degrees so we knew the fishing  was going to be slow.

After we got back to the cabin I decided to take a short nap.. All that driving left me a wee bit tuckered out.. I missed dinner.. Slept right through it.. Woke up several hours later, ate a few cookies, went right back to bed and slept till about 6am on my princess bunk bed..

Actually, we headed back to the cabin at the right time. I needed to get  dinner started for the group and it started raining pretty steady about 15 minutes after we got in the cabin. If it wasn’t for the fact that one of my “duties” is as camp cook (which I enjoy) I’d have been in my bunk as well. I made to about 8:30 and didn’t move until the following morning.

Day 4 June 11th 2009

With the issues at home we decided to call the base camp in the morning on the radio.. This is when we found out that Dave’s dad was doing fine, but my mother-in-law had passed away the night before.. It was not a complete surprise, but still not entirely expected either.. Dave asked about getting us flown back out of the lake so I could get home ASAP to be with my wife.. The next available plane would be early, 7am, the next morning..

One of the issues with going truly remote to fish is that you simply can’t leave when you want to.. It has to be scheduled and you are also at the whims of the weather.. In my case there was nothing to be done but wait.. And since we were already there, we went fishing.. But this time with a mission, we needed our limit ASAP because there was no way I was going to do this much driving, for this little fishing, and not take home a full limit of Walleye..

The fishing really was slow this year.. Ice out was 2 weeks late and we were right at pre-spawn or post-spawn.. Whichever it was, the fishing was just really slow.. But we did limit out, and Dave even caught a nice Northern, on a jig with a pink and white tail, that was every bit of 36″ and fat.. Unfortunately the whole day is sort of fuzzy for me.. Between the lack of sleep and the drama at home, I wasn’t as in to the fishing as I would normally be.. I’m pretty sure I even fell asleep in the boat a few times with my line in the water..

It was all I could do to stay awake. Wasn’t like I had fish keeping me alert. But we made the best of it nevertheless. We did get our limits prior to lunch which was nice so we could get them fileted, packaged, and in the freezer.

I’m hoping that we get the ‘real’ fishing report finished here in the next couple of days..

When we finally called it a day we had a nice fish fry and then spent the rest of the night playing Pitch..

Day 5 June 12th 2009

Up early to get ready for fly out.. The weather was closing in fast so we needed to be ready to go the moment that the otter arrived.. That left the cooking to the guys that were staying.. That in itself might have been worth the cost of the trip.. I’m sure that they know how to cook.. Just out of practice.. I saw burnt toast, burnt ham, and something that looked like poached eggs being served in bowls.. I decided that a bottle of water and some cheese and crackers would be enough to get us on the road..

I really hope they didn’t starve after we left..

That was “interesting”. I’ve made breakfast for the group for a lot a years. Actually, took over almost all the cooking for a few years now. It’s something I enjoy and expect to do. It’s one of the things that’s so great about our group. Everyone has the things they do around camp. Noone need say anything. They just jump in and do it. Everyone contributes.

The rest of the trip was just more driving.. 14 hours of it to reach Chicago.. Then a short sleep and another 2 hours to get home.. In all I drove 2,908 miles in 5 days to get about 10 hours of boat time fishing in Canada.. Not exactly the best trade off..

I do want to thank a few people though.. First I want to thank the fine state troopers in Wisconsin and Illinois.. They stayed out of our way and let us make some great time going up, coming back, going up again, and coming back again..

I really want to thank the awesome people at Mattice Lake Outfitters.. They really made a rough trip as easy as possible and were more than generous.. I was completely prepared to pay extra for the early flyout, but they not only didn’t charge us for that, they even gave us a partial credit for the days we didn’t get to fish.. How awesome is that?? We left the money there as part of our deposit for next year.. If you are looking to do some fishing in Canada, and want to stay with a top shelf operation and do some great Walleye fishing, this is the place to go.. You won’t regret it..

I have to second this. Don, Annette, and the staff were simply amazing. I’ve fished with several outfitters over the past 30 years and they have been nothing but wonderful! They exemplified that this year indeed. We booked our trip for 2010 with them before we left.

I also need to thank Dave.. I don’t think either of us would have survived this week alone.. Between his dad and my mom we spent a lot of time locked in a truck together.. I’m not sure I could have done it with anyone else and not killed them..

I definitely need to thank Steve. Thank you Steve! There would have been no way I could have made the “trip that wasn’t” without his help. That being said, let’s not try and do the same thing again!

Finally, if you made it this far, you are insane.. And I like insane people..

I’m with Steve. So for all of you who read through the entire “adventure” I have but one thing to say…


Reader Comments

hey guys! sorry to hear about the trip. we have our own fly-in place on tamarack lake, and have been using MLO for about 20 years or so now. they are awesome. sorry the fishing trip didn’t work out as you planned, but here’s too better luck next year!! (also, for future reference, armstrong, the little town about 10 minutes from MLO has a lot of beer…and its not $45 a case…)

Written By bill on July 11th, 2009 @ 8:51 am

Thanx Bill.

Yeah, I had fished with Armstrong Outfitters for several years. Problem was that it was 8:00 AM when we got there so driving into town for beer wasn’t an option.


Written By Dave on July 13th, 2009 @ 5:57 am

At $45 a case, I think I’d have ended up in the hoosegow, Dave!
Bum trip, at a bum time.

But there’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “Even a bad day of fishin’ beats the Hell out of a good day at work!” I hope 2010 works out better for you.


Written By Sheldon on July 28th, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

Hey Doc!

So true and thank you. Coulda been worse… no beer! 🙂


Written By Dave on July 29th, 2009 @ 6:22 am

Thanks for dropping me a link, sure is a ‘different kettle of fish’ compared to the UK! But you are right you can’t beat a days fishing! Good luck for 2010!

Written By Simon Young on November 4th, 2009 @ 3:52 am

Hey Simon!

Thanx! Believe it or not, we’ve already been planning for the 2010 trip. Yeah, it’s not for 7 months but it’s always around this time, as winter gets close, we start.

Menu changes, new gear, what I’m gonna try this time, etc. Speaking of menu changes, I’d get into the ‘feasts’ we have while up there but there’s not enough room for all of you! 🙂


Written By Dave on November 4th, 2009 @ 7:33 am

I love going to Canada fishing and have been stopped at the border many times and questioned. However, when I am with my grandfather, they believe everything he says. Must be the age thing.

Written By Doug on December 1st, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

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