By Larry Dablemont
The Joplin Globe
I wrote last week’s column from Lake of the Woods in Northwest Ontario, Canada.
When I wrote it, we had caught lots of fish, but mostly smaller than I remember from ten years or so ago, when we would stop through and fish Lake of the Woods in early October for a few days on our way to northern Manitoba to hunt ducks and geese.
The same old places I fished back then were still good.
That afternoon, after sending my column, Gloria Jean landed a huge smallmouth bass.
It was about 20 inches long, but I think it would have weighed five pounds. It was the fattest, widest, thickest smallmouth I have ever seen in all my years of fishing in Canada.
She was using a light-action spinning outfit with six-pound line, trying to catch averaged-sized walleye for supper when she hooked it, and thankfully her drag was set properly.
Sure enough, as the week progressed towards October, the fishing improved. We must have caught a hundred or more walleye while we were there, and the last few days we caught several from 15 to 19 inches.
I also caught some of the biggest yellow perch I have ever seen, up to 14 inches long. They aren’t sought after much, and in most Canadian lakes they seem to overpopulate and become stunted. I have fished some lakes when you would catch a hundred of them in no time at all, and none would exceed six or seven inches. And they are often wormy, with those yellow grubs we see often in smallmouth bass here in the Ozarks.
But when you get bigger ones that aren’t wormy, they are better eating than anything else you can catch, including walleye, which is a close relative of the yellow perch.
One afternoon at Lake of the Woods I fished with a young guide who is Tinker Helseth’s son-in-law. His name is Byron Walker, and while I have fished with several guides on Lake of the Woods, I think he is the best. He has a super personality and attitude, and he is talkative and enthusiastic, full of stories.
Only 39 years old, he seems to have the experience of someone much much older. He said he lived on the east side of Lake Erie, where his father took him fishing often.
“You know, my dad never fished for anything but yellow perch,” he told me.
“They were really big over in that part of Canada, just north of Buffalo, New York. My dad fished all his life trying to catch one above two pounds, and finally, in his sixties, he caught one. They said he was so excited he was taking it to show a neighbor when he had a heart attack and collapsed and died there in the lawn.”
A few years ago, apparently some fishermen brought some yellow perch back from a northern fishing trip, and turned them loose in Bull Shoals Lake. I think they actually reproduced there in some areas of the lake, because a number of anglers have reported catching them. I haven’t verified it, but one outdoor writer says the Arkansas Fisheries Department actually stocked some.
Byron Walker was a joy to spend some time with. He really knows the east half of that giant Lake of the Woods. Every reef and cover that is so hard to find if you are new to the lake, he knows about. It is wise to fish that body of water, where you can easily get lost because of all the bays and islands, with a guide. Byron has a big safe boat which he can use to guide three or four fishermen at a time, so a party of visitors can split the cost and it winds up being very economical. If you want to fish in Canada, and you aren’t rich, you have to do it in a group, splitting the costs.
Prices are tremendously high in Canada. We bring our own gas in plastic tanks and groceries. A ten-pound bag of potatoes in the local super market was nine dollars, and we saw whole frozen chickens priced from $24 to $28. A loaf of wheat bread and a small can of beans were both four dollars, and gas was six dollars per gallon. The cost of boat or outboard labor is $100 per hour. An eight-day fishing license can be from $35 to $75, depending on how many fish you want to bring home, and if you give their bank a $100 bill, you get back 95 dollars in Canadian money. Fifteen years ago, you would get back about 140 in Canadian money for 100.
You can hunt grouse, moose and huge whitetail deer in October around Lake of the Woods, and fish too. I got out away from the civilized part of the lake, and walked up into the heavily wooded rock-topped ridges. Deer tracks were plentiful, and the deer I saw were much larger than what I am used to seeing. Byron will spend much of October and November guiding deer hunters who come to Lake of the Woods because of the giant antlers the bucks grow.
Canadian bucks have antlers like nothing we see in the Ozarks. You can contact Byron via a U.S. cell phone, 863-202-6414. If I hadn’t been so impressed with him, I would never give that number. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In our November issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, we’ll have an article with beautiful color photos about this recent fall trip to Lake of the Woods, and tell about fishing with Byron. But the gist of the story will be how you can go there and fish successfully in a group of three or four, on a budget. There’s a trick to it, and I will tell you in that story how to do it even if you are un-rich — like me.