Dokken: Return trip to northern Ontario fly-in camp on tap
It’s still more than a year off, but the dates have been set, deposits have been paid and the planning has begun for a fly-in fishing trip in July 2020 to a remote lake in northwestern Ontario.
Headwaters Lake is located near the notch where the borders of Ontario and Manitoba angle northeast toward Hudson Bay.
By floatplane, the outpost camp is about 120 miles northwest of Red Lake, Ont., a departure point for outdoor adventures about 7½ hours northeast of Grand Forks.
Fishing Headwaters Lake will be a homecoming, of sorts. I first fished the lake in June 1992, when two friends and I spent a very chilly week in the wilderness and experienced the kind of walleye action for which fly-in fishing trips are known. We didn’t spend much time targeting pike — or “ditch bass,” as we call them — but we landed several and watched an absolute monster hit a walleye mere inches from the boat.
The pike let go before we could land it, but the encounter left a shredded walleye in its wake and the three of us literally shaking from the rush of what just had happened.
If the pike wasn’t 45 inches long, it was close.
Headwaters in 1992 was under different ownership than it is today, and the owner at the time had let the cabin fall into a state of neglect.
Ditto for the outhouse with the top door panels broken out, which we quickly dubbed “The Puppet Show.”
Walleye fishing was spectacular and as simple as dropping a jig and a twister tail — any color worked as long as it was yellow — into the tannin-stained depths. Typical of walleyes in many northern lakes, the fish were strikingly dark with golden-yellow bellies.Bonehead move
The three of us were newbies to fly-in fishing trips in 1992, and our inexperience showed when we pulled a move that without question fell into the “bonehead” category.
A sign in the cleaning house had said to dispose of the fish guts in “designated areas only” but gave no mention of where those designated areas were.
Not knowing what to do, like idiots we kept the remains in a heavy-duty garbage sack in a corner of the fish cleaning house, thinking we’d freeze them in the propane freezer our last day in camp and haul them back to the floatplane base.
I don’t know what we were thinking, but imagine a week’s worth of fish guts festering in a garbage bag and you get the idea.
Bad idea; the stench was overpowering.
The last day of the trip, I remember gagging as I ran the reeking bag of biology from the fish-cleaning house to the propane freezer, which wasn’t working very well.
The morning of departure, we dragged the stinking and mostly unfrozen bag to the dock along with our gear. Needless to say, the pilot wasn’t impressed when it came time to load the plane. The floatplane base obviously wasn’t one of the “designated areas.”
“What the (heck) is that?” he said, getting a whiff of the stench. “I’m not putting that on the plane!”
I gave one of the fishermen from the incoming crew $20 and asked him to dispose of the nasty contents as we hopped in the plane and made our getaway. I have no idea who he was or where he was from, but I’ll be forever in his debt.
In hindsight, it’s amazing a bear or perhaps even a Canadian sasquatch didn’t rip the bag — and the fish cleaning house — to shreds, but the encounter still brings us to tears from laughing every time we tell the story.
I’m sure it will come up at least once in July 2020, as well.Turn for the better
The three of us, along with three others, returned to Headwaters in July 1996. The camp was under different ownership, and the cabin had been remodeled and retooled with running water, indoor plumbing and solar electricity.
The fishing was every bit as good as it had been in 1992, and we caught walleyes and pike at will.
We also had the good sense to haul the fish guts to the shore of a nearby island, where eagles and gulls made short work of them.
The Headwaters outpost is under different ownership once again today, and the cabin has been further upgraded with amenities such as satellite wi-fi and a large deck adjacent to the screen porch.
Plans also are in the works to build onto the cabin sometime later this summer, I’m told.
A lot can change in 24 years — I can’t explain why a return trip took so long — but everything I’ve seen and heard assures me the camp is in better shape than ever. We also will have access to boats on two adjacent portage-in lakes so there’ll be ample opportunity to spread out and explore.
And with a strict catch-and-release policy that only allows keeping fish for meals in camp, the walleye fishing should be just as good as ever.
Anticipation will continue to build as July 2020 approaches. A gourmet chef in the crew and another friend who’s a master at grilling already are planning five-star meals.
As long as we remember to dispose of fish remains in “designated areas only,” it should be a great trip.