As the lake’s contour slopes sharply from 12 down to 20 feet, I see a giant mark just off the bottom at 15 feet. I have a rod rigged for just such an occasion and I lob out a 5/8th ounce Jigging Rap as I slowly drift from shallow to deep. The lure finds the bottom quickly and I get five or six pulls in before the rod is loaded heavily.
At first, I experience a momentary uncertainty and wonder if I’m into the bottom or a big fish. I quickly become sure when subtle gains are followed by a series of short and powerful runs. The fish holds deep and I savour the thumping headshakes and dogged deep protests typical of a large walleye. Eventually, she tires and I slide the net under what turns out to be a thick 31-inch greenback.
My wife Francine and I are on 27-mile-long Esnagi Lake in Algoma Country. This remote stretch of water is only accessible by train or floatplane and has a long and storied reputation as an excellent fishery for pike and walleye. I’ve been lucky to visit the lake several times over the years and this is the best the fishing has been.
The Covid Calculation
The primary reason the fishing is so good in remote fly-in destinations is because fishing pressure is relatively low compared with easily accessed lakes close to urban populations. Traditionally the clientele visiting remote destinations has been from the United States but with border closures and increased travel restrictions since 2019, there have been far fewer visitors to the remote lakes of Algoma Country. Canadian clientele did step up to fill some of the void but overall visitation was down and that means there was even less fishing pressure on world-class fisheries that have done nothing but improve over the last few years.
Debbie Johnston, owner of Esnagi Lake’s Mar Mac Lodge has watched the fishing blossom. “Esnagi has always been exceptional, but less angling pressure over the past two seasons has made it even better,” she said. Although running at half capacity or less was challenging for lodge owners, Johnston says it gave outfitters time to pause, reflect and plan for the imminent influx of guests. This combined with financial assistance many businesses received from the government, allowed lodges to carry out upgrades to their infrastructure that would have been tough to complete while operating normally.
“There really has never been a better time to visit the remote lodges of Ontario. You will find upgraded facilities, amazing angling, and re-energized hosts ready to get back to ensure you have a memorable wilderness experience,” she said.
Relaxed Fishing on Our Own Time
The lodge has a Deluxe Fishing Package where all meals are provided but Francine and I are enjoying the Classic Fishing Package where we cook our meals in our cabin’s fully-equipped kitchen. It’s hard to complain about being served gourmet meals three times a day, but on this trip, we’re enjoying keeping our own schedule. This means we can dart down to the dock and start catching pike and walleye within a 10-minute boat ride from the lodge. One day we pack a lunch and cruise up the lake, stopping to eat on a secluded sandy beach. It’s mid-afternoon by the time we get back on the water but we continue to explore, without worrying about having to make it back in time for dinner.
The angling opportunities sequestered within the steep rock shorelines of this long and narrow lake are seemingly endless. Off one point my portable Humminbird fishfinder shows a gently rolling bottom undulating from 20 up to 16 feet. We spend many hours thoroughly entertained by dragging slip sinker rigs tipped with live leeches to fool a procession of thick walleye from 18 up to 28 inches. We’ve already kept a few 16-inch fish to eat so we release all that we catch. Tangling with numbers of heavy and healthy fish is something we don’t have the opportunity to do every day, so we’re content to keep fishing and head back to our cabin for a fish dinner when the spirit moves us.
This is the first we’ve been away in a long time and it quickly becomes apparent that there has never been a better time to visit remote waters, so we’re going to savour every minute.