All of which brings us to the morning of July 1, which was also the day that summer weather finally hit northern Ontario, and hit hard. It arrived in the form of a weather anomaly known as an “upside-down pattern,” which, incredibly, made Algoma region the hottest place in Canada that day.
“Man, I thought this was supposed to be the North,” I said to guide Ethan Tupala as our 18-foot cedar-strip boat slipped into Three Rivers Bay. It was about 8:30 A.M., and already easily 25ºC and rainforest humid. Unlike the rangy Ethan, I’m not built for heat, and I’d already sweated through my lightest-weight fishing shirt. Ever affable and polite, Ethan just smiled and nodded in the way vigorous young men do around doughy 50-year-olds who already seem, to them, a little enfeebled by age.
We’d been in the same bay three days earlier, and the weeds had thickened noticeably since then. It was about eight feet deep, and we could clearly see the new growth sprouting from the bottom among taller strands left from last season. Cameron started tossing a big swimbait, while I elected to use my 9-weight fly rod rigged with a full-sinking line. Given the clear water and bright sun, I wanted my fly—a five-inch-long red-and-white Articulated Seaducer—running well below the surface. I started by making smooth, 12-inch strips, then letting the fly pause, suspend and undulate. I hit the occasional weed, but a sharp tug always pulled the fly free. Then on one of these touches, the fly stopped hard and my line began heading away from the boat. I’ve landed some solid pike on flies over the years, so I knew right away what I had.
“I’m on,” I said. “And it’s a serious fish.”
As I gradually battled the pike in, I saw it was easily the biggest fish of the trip so far. I also vaguely heard Ethan say something about borrowing a landing cradle from another boat that morning. Wrestling in a strong, slippery, toothy and unhappy fish can be tricky, but this landing was textbook—at first. As Ethan leaned over the gunwale, with Cameron behind him snapping photos, I smoothly led the pike into the cradle. Ethan lifted it, but there was some commotion I couldn’t quite see and, bizarrely, my fly line went tight and my rod bent again.
For a moment, none of us could quite grasp what had happened. Then we realized there was a hole in the netting, and somehow the huge pike had slipped right through and back into the lake. But my fly held, leaving me connected to three feet of thrashing fish, although with the line running precariously through the cradle’s netting. In a blink, Ethan thrust the empty cradle to Cameron with one hand and made a lightning grab for the fish with his other. Then, with both hands, he firmly but gently lifted 38 well-fed inches of northern Ontario pike into the boat. And it still wasn’t quite 9 A.M.