The further north I go, the further north I want to go. I’ve been hearing people say that to me for years, living through their experiences, and dreaming of the day that I myself will come face to face with a Northern Ontario brook trout over 20 inches. That dream became a reality when I had the opportunity this past summer to visit Esnagami Wilderness Lodge.
I was so excited. I immediately called friend Bill Spicer, as I knew he had previously been a guest at Esnagami Wilderness Lodge. Bill raved about the epic northern pike fishing and may in fact have been a little jealous when I shared that I would have the opportunity to head up the Esnagami River in search of trophy brook trout.
After such stellar reviews from Bill – as well as a few fishing tips and fly suggestions – I could hardly wait to start my journey. When it came time to decide the best path to get to Nakina, as always I chose the scenic route, packed up the truck and hit the road. It had many many years since I’d been on a road trip of this kind, and it brought out the inner kid in me as the scenery and open roads reminded me of a simpler time. The drive up is breathtaking, with winding roads, stunning bodies of water, and as is common up north, the chance to see wildlife such as moose and bears. After a convenient overnight stay at the motel across from the Nakina Air Service, I was ready to officially start my trip by jumping aboard the floatplane. The flight into Esnagami Wilderness Lodge from the airbase in Nakina is a quick 20-minute ride. As you fly through the air, you see nothing but lakes and trees, but then, out of nowhere, you can see the main lodge and cabins tucked cozily into the tree line.
Once the plane landed and we were offloaded I can honestly say I didn’t lift a finger for my entire stay. The service at the Esnagami Wilderness Lodge starts the second you arrive right until the final handshakes’ goodbye. The owners' Eric and Sue Lund and the entire staff wait at the docks and greet the guest as they arrive. As you’re chatting and talking to other guests, the staff are loading up your baggage and delivering the bags to the door via an RTV. Upon greeting me, Eric gave me a tour of the facilities and showed me my accommodations for the week. Esnagami Wilderness Lodge boasts numerous cabins, each one clean and cozy with heat, running water, and all the amenities you could want from home. The lodge has a meal plan, and every day we were provided with three incredible meals. The main lodge is the evening hotspot, where guests gather after supper to talk about the day on the water, and maybe even catch a game on the TV.
Once settled in, I was eager to get out on the water, and with so many options, we decided to start out the trip looking for big northern pike. I had never fished big pike in the shallows before, but I quickly found out what an adrenaline rush it could be! The guides at Esnagami Wilderness Lodge are top-notch and super dialled into the fishing, so if you simply follow instructions and do as they say the success rate for hookups can be incredibly high. We caught pike after pike after pike, with a few in the high 30-inch range. What’s more, most of them were caught by sight fishing, which as many anglers know is always a thrilling experience. The casting platforms on the boats provided by the lodge give anglers a unique view, looking down into the shallows to spot dust clouds kicking off.
After a few days of fishing for northern pike with 9 and 10 weight rods, I decided I had to get in on the walleye action that the rest of the guests had been raving about since the beginning of the trip. The walleye fishing on Esnagami Lake is about as good as it gets, with anglers often landing impossible one after another after another. For us fly anglers, this provides a rare chance to catch a species that many don’t consider attainable with a fly rod!
Esnagami Wilderness Lodge has a midweek shore lunch for all the guests, situated on a beautiful island in the middle of the lake. Once again, I didn’t lift a finger! I just handed over a couple of walleye caught in the morning, grabbed a drink from the cooler, and mingled with the other guests. The food was the perfect shore lunch of potatoes, rice, beans, and of course, fresh walleye cooked in a variety of ways. It was a perfect mid-week afternoon!
The lodge offers all sorts of day excursions for guests, a great chance to switch things up for a change of pace. From daily guided trips for walleye and pike on the lake to a floatplane day trip up the Esnagami River to explore the fabled trophy brook trout waters. After exploring the lake for a few days, I decided it was time to switch it up, grab my light rod and take a day trip adventure to the river. After a quick flight over the hills and back lakes of Northern Ontario, we reached our destination of the Esnagami River. As the plane landed, we taxied across the river, past the small outpost the lodge offers to guests as an overnight excursion. This option is ideal for any trout enthusiast or adventure and comes equipped with a boat at your disposal.
It wasn’t long before we made our way down the river with Ethan at the helm, our trusted guide for the day. Ethan maneuvered the boat like a seasoned veteran; it was clear he knew the sections of the river like the back of his hand. As we arrived at the first run, my heart was racing! This was exactly the type of water I absolutely love to fish. The Esnagami River is full of picture-perfect trout runs, from fast pocket water to slow tail outs.
The fly of choice for the day was a Bomber, and my dream of hooking a trophy Northern Ontario brook trout quickly became a reality with my very cast. I missed my first take, setting the hook way too fast, but I knew in my heart that more would be around. Ethan was quick to provide a suggestion, telling me to wait to set the hook, after the fish goes down in order to give it a chance to take. He also advised using a strip set, rather than the stander trout hook set and to strip set instead of a standard Trout hook set.
With two more casts into the back of the run, I was rewarded with a surface explosion as I skated the Bomber. It will be a hard memory to forget, as the take came out of nowhere and was an absolutely violent strike! The adrenaline that comes from surface fishing is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. We sat on this run and hooked into five more brook trout, all between 18 - 20 inches on the surface before making our way downriver, nymphing steamers and still tossing dries when the time was right. As the weather changed and the rain came down hard by midafternoon, we decided to call it a day. I didn’t mind, as I was already more than happy with our morning success.
It was time to say goodbye, and just like when we arrived the entire staff came down to the docks to wish all the guests a safe travel home. After the quick flight to Nakina it was time to head home, and of course, re-live the trip the entire drive. Lifelong memories were what I took home with me, along with new friendships and great people I met along the way. I had massive expectations on what to expect at Esnagami Wilderness Lodge and I must say, the lodge, the fishing, and the comradery more than exceeded my wildest dreams.