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Gateway to Dog Lake

Francine Dubreuil with a thick 19 inch smallmouth bass

Trophy fishing at Ernie’s Campground and Cottages

Once a bustling mining town, Northern Ontario’s Missanabie now boasts comfy accommodations, colourful characters, and a well-deserved reputation for big fish—and lots of ’em!

Navigating the narrows leading into Dog Lake’s 57 Bay is pretty gnarly. With the channel constricted by subsurface rocks, and hairpin turns delineated by iron posts sticking up out of the rock-strewn waters, I’m hoping the passage will be worthwhile.

Relaxing along a beach on Dog Lake’s 57 Bay

Francine and I arrived at Ernie’s Campground and Cottages yesterday afternoon, and spent the evening catching walleye over the abundance of structure a stone’s throw from the campground. Today we venture further, into Dog’s easternmost section. Safely through the narrows, I head toward a prominent mainland point. It’s deep close to shore but we discover an elongated hump rising up to about 12 feet just off shore. I’m pulling an inflated worm behind a slip sinker and get one of those solid bites: no nibbling, just weight. I set the hook and connect for a brief second before the hook pulls out.

We’re right where the 12-foot edge drops into deeper water, and for the next 15 minutes I work the edge until I get another solid hit. After last night’s 14 to 16-inchers, I know this is a good one—confirmed when Francine lifts the net from under a healthy 26-inch ’eye.

Francine Dubreuil with a large Dog Lake walleye

Although we would catch and release many more walleye under the warm July sunshine, this would be the largest we would catch. Although an even larger walleye would eventually rear its head.

Campground on Trophy Waters

Camper and screen tent set up at Ernie’s Campground and Cottages

Dog Lake is a series of broad bays and arms stretching out within a 20x15-km area at the height of land between the Lake Superior and Hudson’s Bay watersheds. Judging from the numerous mounts at the campground store, Dog Lake’s reputation for big fish is deserved. Walleye, smallmouth bass, lake trout, pike, and perch all seem to reach their potential for growth on this large, deep, and diverse body of water.

The Ernie in Ernie’s Campground is Ernie Martel. Ernie spends most of his time at Ernie’s Restaurant, a five-minute walk from the campground in the once-bustling town of Missanabie along the Canadian Pacific Railway. His son Kenny orchestrates the activity around the full-service campground. It’s a busy place, offering American plan cottages, housekeeping units, and seasonal and daily campsites.

Kenny Martel at the campground store.

Entrenched in History

It’s early evening and Francine and I head up to Ernie’s Restaurant, where Ernie himself invites us to sit down for a drink. We sit at a table under low ceilings surrounded by a curious mix of old photographs, burl furniture, fish mounts, antiques, and even a stuffed albino squirrel.

Seventy-one-year-old Martel has spent his entire life in Missanabie, much of it based out of the building we are sitting in. Ernie points to where he once had a barber chair, sold chainsaws, and even had a makeshift theatre.

James Smedley and Ernie Martel at Ernie’s Restaurant

From the 1950s to the 1970s, there were as many as 400 people living in Missanabie, mostly due to the Renabie Gold Mine, 11 miles away. Although there were few roads, Ernie drove a cab in the early 1960s between town and the mine. “I bought a brand-new 1963 Mercury and put on 52,000 miles in 11 months,” he says with a characteristic smile.

Angling Exploration

When Francine and I get back on the water, we explore new territory northwest of the campground. There is no lack of structure, but at a particularly sexy-looking hump we immediately connect with walleye. This is where seasonal campers Marc Gagnon and his wife Christina slow down to report catching a few small walleye in the area. “If you catch anything big, let us know,” I say.

James Smedley hoists a 26-inch Dog Lake walleye

Later in the afternoon we move into a shallow bay, where dragging jigs and leeches account for a procession of eating-sized walleye, and casting jerk baits produces a couple of 19-inch smallmouth. Back at the campground, our fishing stories pale in comparison to Marc Gagnon’s. He tangled with a big fish at an unnamed narrows. After the battle, the 32-inch walleye could not be revived and is destined for Marc and Christina’s rec room.

Marc Gagnon caught this 32 inch walleye from an unnamed narrows.

On our last morning we head southeast, where a stiffening breeze blows us over a series of productive walleye shoals. Virtually every likely-looking spot holds fish, and by noon we are pulling the boat up to a sheltered rock landing, where an ancient fire pit rests on a section of a rock that’s flat, warm, and miraculously bug-free.

Francine serves herself some walleye at a shore lunch on Dog Lake

The shore lunch that follows is accompanied by a unique hunger that only comes after an early morning on the water. Fully satiated and lounging on the flat warm rock, we are in no hurry to leave Dog Lake for home.

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