After 31 years of doing the Real Fishing TV Show I've never gone into a fishing lodge by train, hence the title. We started off by flying a commercial aircraft from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie then we jumped into a vehicle and drove from Sault Ste. Marie to White River. You may not know this but White River is where the children's character, Winnie-the-Pooh, originated. The town has a large statue of Winnie, complete with honey pot, and the popular children's character is celebrated every year with Winnie's Annual Hometown Festival, held in the third week of August.
Winnie the Pooh
World-famous children's character, Winnie the Pooh, was inspired by an orphaned bear cub that was purchased by Captain Harry Colebourn from a trapper at White River during WWI. Colebourn was a veterinarian and his troop train had stopped at this Northern Ontario town enroute from Winnipeg. Colebourn named Winnie for his home city (Winnipeg) and took her on to England as his troop's mascot. Before shipping on to France he left Winnie at the London Zoo, where she was discovered by author A.A. Milne's delighted son, Christopher Robin. Winnie inspired Milne to write the children's stories for his child.
We stayed at the White River Motel, right across from the Winnie the Pooh monument, and we had a great dinner at Catz Family Restaurant which is located beside the motel. The next day we boarded the Budd Car in White River at the old Via Rail Station. It was about an hour, to an hour and a half train ride to our stop at Lodge 88 on Esnagi Lake. I could not believe how much fun it was to go to the lodge by train with our group of family and friends.
This particular train route includes 32 scheduled station stops as well as numerous "flag stops" along its route between Sudbury and White River. It picks up people going to and from lodges, folks staying at their personal camps, wilderness hikers, canoeists etc. Along the way we picked up a couple who had their ATV and trailer alongside of the tracks. As we came around a corner they were standing there waiting for the train
I have to admit it was a very comfortable ride. In fact, after riding on the train I prefer it to flying in airplanes. It was so comfortable and there was a lot of room where you could get up and move around. The view was spectacular and we saw some beautiful lakes and scenery along the way.
Once we got to Lodge 88 I soon found out why it is such a popular destination. They have professional staff, super-clean accommodations and wonderful home cooked meals. It was so good I really didn't want to leave the lodge to go fishing. Okay, not really, but it definitely is a comfortable place to rest and recharge.
We were only able to fish for a day and a half because of a tight schedule so we got on the water immediately after we had lunch at the lodge. The conditions were flat calm, it was hot and there wasn't a ripple on the water, which makes for some tough fishing. The dog days of August are, traditionally, one of the tougher times of the year to fish, but the fishing did not disappoint us. We ended up catching a lot of pike and walleye.
Because of the flat, hot August conditions the key to catching walleyes was to slow down. I took a portable Lowrance unit with me and I noticed that a lot of the fish were "belly to the bottom". If you didn't put a jig and GULP or a jig and live bait presentation right in front of them, they just wouldn't hit. So the key was to hardly move your bait at all. Deadsticking a jig like this seemed to really pay off.
The biggest walleye caught on our trip was an 8 pounder that my friend, Brian Hughes, got. It was his personal biggest so it was fun to be close by when he caught it. It wasn't hard to catch enough walleyes for an incredible shore lunch. Our guide, Brent Myles, gave the four of our boats a tour around and showed us some of the known hot spots that he has found over his years of guiding on the lake.
When we went for a shore lunch all 10 of us wanted to pitch in to help but Brent insisted that we didn't. In all the years I've done fly-in fishing trips and enjoyed shore lunches, I have to say that Brent wins the award for efficiency. This guy had the fire started, the fish cleaned and cooked, made home-made potato chips, beans and had us fed in less than an hour. I have never seen anybody cook that quickly, from scratch, for 10 people in the wilderness in my life. And it was good. I'm not talking fast food here, I'm talking delicious, efficient food. We all ate too much and thought the only thing that could top it would be a siesta, but we all really wanted to get back out fishing so the naps would have to wait.
We mixed it up in our day and a half of fishing. When we wanted to target pike, Brent would take us to some of the abundant cabbage weeds. The key to catching pike on this lake is to fish the good, crisp, green cabbage weeds. The two hot baits that were catching a lot of pike were a Sebile Action First Lipless Seeker crankbait in a firetiger colour and 4 to 6 inch Berkley swimbaits. We used a variety of 4 1/2 inch Power Bait Rib Shads rigged on 1/2 to 3/4 ounce jigheads as well as a number of Berkley HollowBelly and Ripple Shad swimbaits.
One of the high points was when a couple of our guests, John Ward and his wife Linda, caught a decent eater-sized walleye at the end of the day. As they brought it up to the boat they looked down and there was a monster walleye that was about 6-inches across the back, following the hooked fish right to the surface out of 28 feet of water. This fish hovered under the surface, 3 to 4 feet under their boat, nipping at the tail of the 2 1/2 pounder they had hooked. The big walleye was easily between 10 and 12 pounds and was the biggest walleye that John had ever seen. He and his wife were freaking out, yelling at us to cast over to their boat because this big walleye wouldn't leave. Sometimes seeing the biggest fish of the trip can be more exciting than catching it. It definitely gives you a reason to come back for more.