Manitoba magic: The day that fishing loved me back


There’s a misconception that slamming monster fish is easy once you get away from civilization at fly-in destinations. It’s not. What is easy—at least usually—is catching a lot of fish. The populations of walleye, lake trout and northern pike in northern Manitoba’s Shield lakes, for example, are astonishing. There are plenty of trophy fish, too, but unless you get lucky, you still need to put in some effort.


This was my first visit to Laurie River Lodge, which is a short float-plane flight southwest of the tiny town of Lynn Lake (see map above). Situated on McGavock Lake, with access to several portage and fly-out lakes, the lodge has a first-rate reputation. But there’s no substitute for experience, and I didn’t know the water. I was also fishing with an untested group. Our quartet included my good friend Lynn Henning, a Detroit native and veteran angler; Joel Kellman, also from Detroit; and Lynn’s son Griffin, who lives in California’s East Bay region. Lynn was the pivot. We all knew him; none of us knew each other. But as seems to happen on fishing trips, our group instantly jelled—at least on land. On the water, it took a little time to get our mojo going.

Griffin is a good fisherman, but he arrived punch-drunk thanks to a series of flight delays that had him operating on about 90 minutes of sleep. Joel hadn’t fished seriously for years and had never been to a remote lodge, so he was feeling a little out of his element. Lynn, ever the gentleman, was focused on helping everyone else. And after months of tying flies and planning, I was half-crazed with anticipation, with just one thing on my mind: targeting big pike in shallow water on my fly rod.

(left to right) Joel Kellman, Lynn Henning, Griffin Henning, the author

Joel and I headed out on McGavock, where I, the experienced one, immediately got into trouble. Practically vibrating with eagerness, my fly casting went to pieces. It looked more like rhythmic gymnastics—the one where they tumble around with a ribbon on a stick. It was then I took a lesson from Joel, who was still a little awestruck by the northern landscape, so empty of development and so full of nature. (“There was nothing in the way,” he said later. “It was like looking at the universe.”) It was a good reminder to stop and smell the boreal forest, and appreciate how privileged I was to even be in such a place, let alone go fishing there.


The author with a fly-caught walleye

A short time later, as we drifted around a broad, shallow bay ringed with wild rice stalks, I started to find my groove. I boated numerous smallish pike, interspersed with largish walleye, all on flies. And as the mid-June temperature reached almost 30°C, we basked in the unseasonable heat and humidity. There were no signs of gator pike, but it was still an unforgettable day thanks to Joel’s experience.

Joel is an adventurous and well-travelled guy, approaching retirement age and near the peak of his profession as a real estate lawyer. Yet he was also acutely aware of his less-than-polished angling skills. As a result, he arrived at the lodge with the perfect expectations for any fishing trip: none. He didn’t think he’d catch a single fish. Stinging a dozen walleye and pike with his fresh-out-of-the package Johnson Silver Minnow soon fixed that. At the same time, his angling attitude rapidly evolved from weighty resignation to surprise, then to infectious delight. On the way back to camp, we even got a long look at a bald eagle, a sight Joel had always wanted to see.


A bald eagle in flight over McGavock Lake

We capped off the day with an evening jaunt to Twin Rivers Bay, a mushy, shin-deep estuary fed by two slow-moving streams. This wondrous place held dozens, probably hundreds, of hammer-handle pike. Every second or third cast we had a fish. They attacked our lures and flies like frenzied piranhas, sometimes even knocking each other out of the way. It was, to be honest, hilarious. That loony hour was also an excellent way to work out any remaining kinks, and boost everyone’s confidence.