Spring of 2021 was, in a word… weird. Weather these days is a hot topic across multimedia news platforms and though it’s been a consistent factor in the fishing world, this spring was… unusual. Generally, when we start the pre-production of The New Fly Fisher television show, we plan on sending our crews out toward the end of May in the province of Ontario. There are a variety of reasons for this but the definitive factor in our planning is ice coverage in the North. When the ice comes off the nearly countless lakes and rivers, we go. Spring of 2021, the ice was extremely early to come off the lakes meaning we were able to hit Ontario’s roads early—unusually early
We rolled into Stanley’s Resort on a sunny spring afternoon. Sunroof open, windows down, and my favorite playlist cranking in the truck. Arriving at a new resort, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like being met by a camp dog. A giant black lab seriously vibrating from excitement met us as we drove into camp! We met Rob Wisnecki and got settled into our cabin.
Stanley’s Resort is in Sunset Country along Highway 17 just west of Vermillion Bay on THE Eagle Lake in Northwestern Ontario. It is a housekeeping outfit meaning you can bring your own boat, food, and fishing gear and use the resort at your leisure. Cooking your own meals allows freedom of schedule and of course as much or as little fishing you may want.
There was one boat in the water at the dock and a few camp hands milling around in preparation for guests arriving. We were introduced to our guide John Bratland and formulated a game plan. The early ice-out had us all a little curious as to how and where the fish would be, our game plan was to target pre-spawn smallmouth bass and giant post-spawn northern pike. The focus wasn’t on technique at this point but was focussed on hunting… hunting temperature.
On our first day, John took a right turn out of the lodge and we went deep into the west arm of Eagle Lake. John knows of a tributary of Eagle Lake that should hold some warmer water allowing the pre-spawn bass to stage before building their nests. We cruised into the bay and were met by a pair of loons aggressively feeding – the baitfish was here.. GREAT call by John! I tied on a 3 inch white Clouser minnow with barbell eyes and started experimenting with retrieve speed. It wasn’t long before we came tight with a big staging female smallmouth. If this was the quality of the fish we were to experience, this was going to be an unbelievably great adventure. Water temps were low to mid 40’s. Bass are looking for high 50’s to low 60’s to get up on their nests to spawn. This female was relating to wood structure on a significant dropoff in about 7 or 8 feet of water. We searched for similar structure and had a fantastic day catching and releasing trophy smallmouth.
In keeping with our theme of hunting warmer water, we made the decision that on day 2, we’d hit a portage lake in search of massive pike. The portage lakes in Ontario’s north generally warm up faster than their main-lake contemporaries. Lake Wonange, a short hike uphill of Eagle lake is known for massive northern Pike, walleye, and others. We loaded up the tinner and headed out for what was to be an unreal pike experience. Fishing the morning, we pulled into an inflow of Wonange in search for northerns. Upon our arrival, I witnessed a 30 plus inch walleye cruising the flats (Walleye season opened the next day) and was left in awe with the amount of suckers staging getting ready to spawn. To our surprise, there wasn’t a single pike within sight of these fish. I would have bet the farm we’d see predatory northerns picking off suckers. Alas, not a single fish. We made a move to jackfish bay and were immediately rewarded. A feeding window had just opened up and we had fish after fish murdering our burbot imitation streamers! This lasted for about an hour and a half where literally almost every cast resulted in a pike, with the big one going about 12 lbs or 36 inches.
Day three found us in search of one of the legendary northern’s Eagle Lake is famous for. We searched around the shallow dark-bottomed back bays where the post-spawn fish should be but saw nothing but a giant musky. (out of season) So John made the executive decision to hunt big northern pike food sources. That meant we were going on the search for shallow (ish) water walleye. Targeting saddles and reefs that would come up to 6-8 feet adjacent to deep holes was the plan. Well, the plan paid off as we marked fish on a deep water break and cast to the high point of the reef.. 1 Strip and BANG, she was on. I knew immediately it was a big fish based on the fact that my strip set didn’t move it. It was like hook setting into a rock. A short battle ensued and John netted the big pike—good thing too, as the fly flew out of her mouth immediately. This fish wasn’t long—over 40 inches but was insanely fat. She was a true Eagle Lake trophy. Mission complete.
Stanley’s Resort, on the west arm of Eagle Lake, is considered by many to be home away from home. The fishing is fantastic, the hosts charmingly kind and the cabins immaculate! As a drive-to location with incredible amenities, I can confidently tell you we’ll be back! Did I mention they have a camp dog! A pretty awesome one too!
For a sneak peek at the highlights of this epic episode from Stanley’s, you can see it here