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Remember Esnagami, a pike and walleye fishing lodge in Ontario, Canada? It’s a moderately priced, lowkey place that provides visiting anglers their own boat and motor and lets them roam at will on a vast lake a bit north of the U.S./Canada border. Guides are available for an extra fee, but most visitors enjoy the challenge of finding their own fish. Esnagami is technically a flyout lodge, but the flight takes, literally, only ten minutes. Once you are there, you don’t fly back out again until you are ready to leave. The lodge caters mostly to traditional tackle anglers, but it is moving more in the direction of fly fishing every year, as witness the note below.
Since our first mention of Esnagami several years ago, a handful of subscribers have tried the place and raved about it. One of those subscribers is Curtis Duffield, who made another journey up that way last May. Here is what he has to stay about the latest trip:
“When you’ve had a successful adventure and your memories are special, do you risk a return trip or settle for that once-in-a-lifetime experience? Some would not risk it, but my friend Craig Tresher and I decided to embark on a repeat trip to Esnagami Lodge for a week of spring fishing. We arrived at the Nakina Air Service seaplane base this past May 26, where we caught the short flight out to the lodge. There, we were greeted by lodge owner Eric Lund and the guides, including our old friend Steve from the previous summer, who had returned for his third year of guiding at Esnagami. As soon as our gear was stowed we went to the lodge for our orientation and guide assignment. We met our guide for the day, Neil La- Duc, a young man with previous experience guiding at Algonquin Park and a very accomplished fly fisherman.
“We departed soon enough for Brian’s Bay with our fly rods, spinning rods, and box lunches. On our way to Brian’s Bay, we passed another bay that was still partially frozen, and there was some snow on several of the islands. The weather, however, was sunny and nice, albeit a bit brisk. A week previous to our arrival would have been quite different, we were told, with 16 inches of ice on the lake. But timing is everything. The ice was disappearing daily and the fish were hungry. By 10:30 AM we were into fish.
I promptly took four pike on the fly and several walleye on crank baits. Neil lent his expertise by coaching me on my rushed back cast, thus making my casting much more productive. We arrived back at the lodge in time for dinner.
“Dinner was a special event. Last year was the 25th Anniversary of Eric Lund’s Esnagami Lodge. At our table, we dined with Brian, for whom Brian’s Bay was named; Randy (known as Mort), the craftsman and skilled carpenter who has done so many things around the lodge over the years; and Randy (known as Cheech), who has helped open the lodge many seasons over the years with Mort. We heard all the stories of the 25 years of fishing at the lodge from the guys who made it what it is today. The food was excellent, but the conversation was even better.
“The next morning we went out with Mort. We elected for a shore lunch, so that meant we had to catch some walleye to feed ourselves. We started out in Moose Bay, and each of us caught a couple of pike on the fly rod. After that, we moved on to Wildcat Bay to fish for walleye. On my previous visit, I tried to fish for walleye with a fly rod. It can be done, especially in the Esnagami River, which flows out of the lake, but in the lake itself, fishing in 15 to 30 feet of water, it is a slow process. That’s especially true when your 15-year-old grandson is loading the boat with nice walleyes. I quickly made the switch to a spinning outfit and a box of crank baits. Interestingly, the walleyes we caught felt like they had just come out of a freezer—they were really cold!
“After a great shore lunch it was back to the business of pursuing northern pike. We caught several on the fly rod until the wind made it less than fun, at which point we switched to spoons on spinning rods and had a great afternoon catching lots of pike. At dinner we ate with two fellows from Barrie, Ontario, and their sons. All were hockey fans, players or former players. Since the finals for the Stanley Cup were going on, the conversation was a lively one. After dinner, we went back to Wildcat and caught some more walleye including an eye-popping 23 7/8-incher.
“The next morning we had breakfast early so we could get an early start on a trip to the Esnagami River, which flows north out of the lake. This is a long trip that starts with a ride down the entire length of the lake and then down the river to some brook trout waters. Two portages are involved, and the motor must be carried over each one. The day started out cool, but by early afternoon we hit 74 degrees and it was an absolutely beautiful spring day.
The trees were budding, and we were treated to flights of mergansers, golden eyes, and mallards. Warblers were flying from treetop to treetop and beavers were busy gathering tree limbs to reinforce their lodges. We saw many bald eagles and golden eagles. At the first portage, we came across two fresh piles of moose poop. This area is a sanctuary, and fishing is not allowed during the spawning season for walleye.
“After the second portage, we went down the river through several rapids, at which point Neil (our guide once more) said it was time for some brook trout fishing. Craig immediately hooked up on a small spinner and brought in a nice brookie. I elected to fish my 5 wt. with a No. 8 Clouser minnow, and the trout responded positively. We caught brook trout, walleye, and northern pike for the next five hours. Neil, who had waders (as we will on the next trip), waded and showed us his expertise with the fly rod, catching several nice brook trout. I lost several flies to northern pike, although I managed to land several on 3X tippet. The walleye actually became a nuisance at one point, and we had to move. Twenty-seven brook trout later we had to quit. All were released to be caught again. On the way back, we stopped at a waterfall that we had to portage around and caught walleye and northern pike until we had to go to make it back in time for a late supper.
“The ride to the river is long but worth it. It is about 14 miles by aluminum boat powered by two 9 hp motors. We encountered a large cold front moving down the lake on our way in. The water was rough, but Neil is very accomplished at handling the boat and we never felt uncomfortable. We arrived back at the lodge at 8:30 PM and were famished. After dinner, it was a shower and bed for us.
“Wednesday at Esnagami is shorelunch day. Every group is issued a quota of walleye to bring to a designated island where everyone (clients, lodge staff, and all of the guides) meet at lunchtime for a fish fry. Eric and the staff build fires under grates and the huge frying pans are filled with fish, potatoes, beans, and fried rice. Everyone eats until they can hardly move. It is truly a great part of the Esnagami experience.
The day of the shore lunch, we headed out from the dock with firsttime guide, Dylan. He, like the rest of the young people at the lodge, are students at Fleming College, most of whom are seeking careers in fish and wildlife management or forestry. He was a very pleasant young man with a real desire to see that we caught fish and had a good time. We began our morning with Craig getting three pike hookups on spinning gear. Then we moved into another bay and started a shoreline drift with the wind pushing us. Craig landed a 38½-inch northern pike and I followed with a 32½-incher. We picked up our walleye and a few smaller pike for the shore lunch. The shore lunch was held at Brian’s Bay, and it was absolutely fabulous.
“After lunch, slightly drowsy from all the food, we went back to the bay we had fished just prior to lunch. Craig began to spin fish and I began fly casting a CF Baitfish fly. Momentarily, we saw two pike swimming side by side and both of us cast to them. One turned on his bait and one turned on my fly. What ensued was anything but pretty. Seems the wind was pretty strong at that point and it began to push us into the shoreline.
Dylan tried his best to keep us off of the shore and out of a downed tree, but the wind was unrelenting and our lines wound up getting tangled. I am sure Craig and I did nothing to help a young guide’s confidence as we barked orders about how to turn the boat and which line to try to handle. Eventually, we got it under control and both fish in the boat so we could get a photo. Both pike were exactly 32 inches long. We photographed them and then spent some time reviving them. The real bonus was seeing them swim strongly away. The rest of the day was anticlimactic after that episode.
“Our final day arrived as overcast, rainy, and cool. We donned raingear after breakfast and met our guide for the day, Steve. Off we went in search of pike. Steve knows the lake and its habits well. He was able to get us into pike in spite of the increasing wind and rain. We fished hard until lunch time and decided it was time to call it a day.
We had to catch our float plane at 2 PM. After settling up and saying our goodbyes, we were off in the Otter for Nakina and the long ride back to Thunder Bay. We stopped on the way back to photograph the Ontario road sign that lets you know where you are, geographically speaking. It says, “From here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean.” Sadly, we had to go the other way.
“If you are interested in making this trip, I would suggest reading the archived stories at the Angling Report first. Take plenty of flies, or lures if you are a spin fisherman, plus a variety of layering-type clothing and a thirst for northern adventure. You can reach owner Eric Lund via his website, www.esnagami.com . -Curtis Duffield.
Don Causey Note: I have personally been to Esnagami, and I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the place. My fondest memory is having a private shore lunch with my wife (the lodge provides all the fixings, but you need to catch your own walleyes), after which we both fell sound asleep for hours. It was one of those profound slumbers that leaves you feeling unusually connected to the universe. Esnagami is that kind of place. Don’t go there if you hate to be around traditional tackle and like to cast with one hand while munching a sandwich in order to get your fish numbers up. You’ll hate Esnagami. The one thing I didn’t particularly like was the omnipresence of spinning gear. I told Eric Lund as I left that I thought he was missing a good bet by not expanding his outreach to fly fisherman and bringing in fly fishing guides. The pike fishing with a fly at Esnagami is truly something, by the way. At any rate, whether it was my suggestion or not, Lund is indeed expanding his outreach to fly fishermen.
“We have expanded on our fly fishing business with the addition of a remote outpost camp 24 miles down the Esnagami River from the lodge,” he wrote me recently.
“This allows us to add overnight guided trips to the other packages that are available. Also, we now have excellent casting decks and knowledgeable fly fishing guides added to our services. For more info check out our new fly fishing website www.flyfishingesnagami.com .”