The old saying goes “time is relative.” But no matter whether you are young, old, or somewhere in between, 50 years is a very long time! This story is about a group of four American anglers and friends who have been coming up on an annual fishing trip to Canada for almost 50 years. Read on and learn about why these guys come to Sunset Country to fish every year and what it means to them.
So How Long Ago Was 1969?
Consider that back in 1969, America was still fighting in Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon was US President, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau was in his first term as Canadian Prime Minister. In 1969, you could buy a Pontiac GTO brand new for just $3,900, or you could pick up a Shelby Mustang GT500 that retailed for about $4,500. The times have changed since then and today, these cars have average auction values well past $30,000!
Fast Forward to 2017 and it’s like living on another planet—not only from the cost of a car perspective but for virtually everything else as well. Now, consider that since 1969, there’s been a group of four American anglers who together have visited Canada once (and sometimes more than once) every year! Not that this situation is unique since, as Executive Director at Sunset Country, I’d heard similar stories from other people before—but never for as long as this, especially the same group of four fishermen. That was until I met Neil Boyd at the Northwest Sports Show in Minneapolis in March 2017. I’d never met a group of guys who’ve done anything like this in person so it was quite intriguing, to say the least.
Before Neil left our booth at the show, I gave him my business card and requested that he ask his fishing buddies if I could write a story about the many adventures they have had fishing for almost 50 consecutive years in Canada. Neil thought it was an excellent idea and eagerly agreed to ask his buddies Roger Dietsch, Ted Fredrickson, and Ole (Ralph) Olinger if they would agree to a story. Well, they did—and here’s the story…
When It All Began…
When it came to the day of the group interview in June of 2017, the four guys were in the process of embarking on their 50th trip to Canada since it all began back in 1969. I started the group interview off by asking them who had the original idea—way back in the day—to visit Canada for a fishing trip? I was told the concept was hatched at a house party in 1969 in Ted’s basement as Ted, Neil, and Roger lived in Forest City, Iowa. Ted, Neil and Audrey (Roger's wife) all taught at Waldorf College and Roger was employed at Winnebago. The group consensus was that Neil was the chief organizer at that party, talking up Canada and saying how the fishing was better and the fish much bigger than what they could find in the States at the time.
Neil got to work quickly after that house party researching potential locations in Ontario for the first trip set to commence in the summer of 1969. I also found out that Ole was a relative late-comer to the group (he’s been a part of the group since 1975) with various “random people” taking the fourth spot the first years the group visited Canada. Ole is still called the "rookie" of the group to this day.
However, since the trip in 1975, it’s been the same four guys going to various locations across Ontario’s Sunset Country. Over that time, the four fishermen estimate they’ve tried 12 to 15 different lodge and outpost locations. Roger named the group “CF TORN” – a moniker reflecting his background in the military and appropriate to the situation since it stands for “Canadian Fishing—Tom, Ole, Roger and Neil”. The group has even had custom T-shirts made with the CF TORN moniker emblazoned on it!
Where You Stay Makes All the Difference!
The first five years they came up in a Winnebago which provided significant comfort. They progressed from there to renting something more adventurous, taking several trips to more remote boat-in and fly-in locations. In 1990 and 1991 they even flew into a remote tent camp. The trip in ’90 was okay, but 1991 was a completely different story! Mother Nature dealt them some lousy cards weather-wise, and after two nights in the tents in the snow, sleet, hail, and rain, they had to find an alternative, eventually discovering an unlocked cabin further down the lake where they stayed the following night. The boys said they left a thank-you note and some American money behind for the owner.
Trash and Trinket Night: a Longstanding Tradition
As we began to discuss all their adventures over the years, you could tell by the sound of their voices they truly loved going to Canada to fish. They all spoke about their tradition—“Trash and Trinket Night”—where they all give each other a gift (usually but not always a cheesy gift). These gifts are largely ceremonial and have become a ritual on the first night of each trip.
The Bear That Wouldn’t Leave!
Anyone who’s been to Sunset Country likely has a bear story to tell, and this was no exception. Upon arrival at an outpost on Lake St. Joseph one year, they discovered a rather large bear (pictured below) that wouldn’t leave. The trip to the outdoor biffy after dark was interesting the first night. They called the Ontario Conservation Officers, who took awhile but eventually came to dispatch the bear—but the Officer who took a shot at it missed! Even after being shot at, the bear still wouldn’t leave. Eventually, the bear was dispatched but according to Neil, the outdoor fish fryer was in considerably worse condition by that time! The Conservation Officers told the group the bear weighed over 400 pounds!
Walleye Coming Out Your Ears!
The fact these four guys have returned to Canada every year (sometimes twice or more times) is a testament to the quality of the fishing in Ontario. When we got to the subject of how the fishing has been over the years, you could tell by the sounds of their voices this was what was all about to them. All the guys noted that the remote lakes and solitude that only Canada can offer was a big part of it, but the quality of the resource was the kicker for them. Neil pointed out that with some new regulations introduced by the Ontario MNR over the years, the fishing has gotten better than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, the four anglers are big supporters of Ontario’s catch and possession limits, as well as slot size rules on certain species.
The four men had one story they all remembered vividly, and it involved a trip to a remote lake. The guys swore they could see hundreds of walleye beneath their boat. They had found a spot on the lake where the walleye fishing was so good, they literally caught one on every cast. There were so many walleye, Neil said they were “swimming like carp” at the surface of the lake. Ted said it got to the point where his arms cramped up reeling in one walleye after another. By the end of the day, Neil, Ted, Ole, and Roger had landed “several hundred” walleye. The amazing part of this story is they returned to the same spot on the same lake 10 years later and it happened all over again!
That's Gotta Hurt...
Any angler has probably had a run in with a fish hook, and you can imagine that over 47 years and 50 different trips, the guys have all suffered a few flesh wounds. Neil, who is a licensed trainer, is the group's de facto “doctor” and he has had to perform four “remote location surgeries” over the years. The worst incident was when Roger got a hook embedded in his lower jaw, and the group was pretty far out on the lake at the time. The trip back to the cabin with the hook hanging from Roger’s jaw must have been memorable—and not necessarily in an enjoyable way!
Once back at camp, the first order of business was to administer the “anaesthetic” to Roger (several shots of Dewar's Scotch) which was followed by Neil’s “surgery” to remove the hook. Ted piped in and noted (laughing) that “Roger is the least good-looking” of the bunch, so it’s good this happened to him. I’m not sure that made Roger feel any better at the time but years later, it provides a fond memory for these guys to laugh about. Neil noted jokingly, that he’s still waiting for the cheque for “services rendered” 20 years later…
Keeping Track of the Catch
When you fish together for so many years, the number of fish stories and memories grows and grows. I broached that subject with the group and found out that they had not only caught a lot of fish but some giants as well. The guys got together and these were the monster’s they could recall:
- “Numerous” 20-pound northern pike—from many different lakes over the four-plus decades
- Ole’s 26-pound Lake trout (likely close to 40 inches)
- Roger’s 25-pound northern pike from Lake St. Joseph (near the Town of Pickle Lake)
- Ted’s 23.5-pound Northern caught in 1.5 feet of water (Lake St. Joseph)
- Ted’s 7.5-pound walleye (Lake St. Joseph)
- Neil's 10.5-pound (31.5") walleye caught and released on the Rainy River
Those are some pretty big fish, and after talking to the group, it was those big critters which held the most vivid memories. If I caught a 26-pound lake trout, I would have a vivid memory as well!
CF Torn Blooper Moments
It should be no surprise that after so many trips to Canada fishing, there would be several “blooper” moments involved. When I asked the guys to remember some they pondered and came up with a couple of good stories. My favourite was the story when, on a fly-in lake for a day trip, Neil and Ted were casting for northern pike in a weed bed in very shallow water. Both men hooked a pike at the same time and, being experienced fishermen, both pulled back hard for a good hook set. Unfortunately, the fact they both pulled hard and at the exact same time caused a dramatic weight shift on one side of the boat. Well, both men continued moving in the direction of the shift and went straight back into the icy but shallow water. Good thing they were in shallow water, was what I thought!
Lewis and Clark?
Another laugher involved Ole and Ted—who, in their younger years were nicknamed “Lewis and Clark” because of their ability to run and propel a boat over beaver dams to get to other small pools to fish. One year, Neil and Roger (obviously trying to prove a point that they had similar abilities) attempted to do this and predictably, they got hung up on the beaver dam. With their pride trashed at this epic fail, Neil decided to get out of the boat and stood on top of the beaver dam to push the boat out. He accomplished the mission, but his momentum caused him to keep going and he ended up in cold water up to his neck. That was the first and last attempt by Neil and Roger to become explorers!
Walk to the Portage Lake Ends in Frustration
Here is a blooper moment we have photographic evidence to back up. Anyone who has been fishing in Canada knows that in many cases, anglers have access to what are called “portage lakes”—a lake usually a short distance away from the main lake you stay on—where you hike along a portage to get to a boat that is supposed to be ready to go for a day of fishing. Ted, Ole, Roger, and Neil thought it was time to try something different, and the portage lake seemed like the ideal choice.
On the day they chose to go, it was raining. That's never a good start to a day of fishing, but given their vast experience as anglers, the turn in the weather wasn’t going to be much of a problem—or so they thought. Getting to the lake was a little more than they bargained for as with the wet conditions, the trail was slippery (read treacherous) in spots, and it was longer than advertised. After a semi-arduous journey involving carrying their gear, tackle, and food “at least a mile” according to sources, they finally arrived at the lake.
Once the forest cover opened to reveal a lake and what looked like a boat, all the torment of the walk on the portage was just a memory. Scurrying down to the shore, they indeed found a boat with a motor on it. As they began to prepare for the launch, one glaring omission became apparent—there wasn’t any gas! It was never established whether gas was supposed to be with the boat—and if it was, what to do with it, as no gas tank was present. Or were they supposed to bring gas with them? No one could remember, but the day never turned out as planned…
21 Seconds from The Water to the Fry Pan
Sometimes the fishing is so good the boys try and figure out a way to entertain themselves. On one trip, the walleyes were biting right from shore at the cabin. So as Ole described it, they hatched a plan to see how fast they could catch a walleye, fillet, and bone it and get it into the frying pan. The “division of labor” was as follows: Neil caught the fish, Roger filleted it, Ted de-boned the fillets, and Ole oversaw the frying pan. While they did it several times, the standing record for this day was 21 seconds, incredible when you think about it, especially the filleting/deboning part. As Ole noted, “it was really fresh fish for dinner that night! - and with no fingers lost!
RAD & Associates – The Fisherman Consultant
Obviously, a lot has gone into the planning of these trips over the years and everyone in the group does some preparation for their annual consultation meeting in April, where they all sit down to discuss where they will be going that season but also what the season’s “theme” should be. Roger Dietsch obviously takes the planning seriously—so seriously, in fact, he has created a Fisherman’s Consultancy just for these trip planning meetings. While I never asked the others in the group what they thought of the “consulting” work Roger offers, I’m sure it’s all appreciated… then again, maybe it’s not.
As you can see from the scan, Roger’s “Consultants' Report” for the year 1987, is pretty well thought out and the focus on the “theme” for that year’s trip is pretty interesting. The theme that year was “Satisfaction in ’87” which, it appears, meant something different to each member of the group. Ole’s interpretation of satisfaction was simple and easy to understand (more food, boat seats and tents to pack). Ted (as quoted in the “Relaxation News”) felt that satisfaction meant more portaging, bigger fish, and more fish to fillet. Neil’s definition (as quoted in the “Vacation News”) is clear—less toilet paper on this trip and being allowed to have the last cast so he can try and catch a bigger fish than the rest of the crew. While I never did see the “attached sheet” referred to in the report below, outlining each member’s responsibilities for 1987, we can only imagine what those were. Post-trip reports were that the 1987 trip was indeed satisfying to each crew member.
What These Trips Really Mean
There was so much information and memories conveyed to me the day I interviewed these guys, it was hard to highlight everything, and I didn’t. But in the end, it was easy to detect, as each man spoke, just how much these annual trips meant to each of them. The camaraderie, the accidents, the 300+ fish days they experienced, were all very memorable to each of them. But in the end, it was very apparent this was about something much more important—friendship—and over almost 50 years of fishing, those bonds of friendship, to me anyway, appeared to be very strong. And in the end, that’s really what these trips are all about!
In closing, they mentioned that while they have suffered from cancer, knee and hip replacements and back surgeries over the years, as long as the good Lord will allow them, they would continue to go on these trips with the same enthusiasm and excitement they had on that first trip way back in 1969.
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
-Henry David Thoreau