I had been looking forward to my Spring fishing trip since the end of October. The plan was to fly into one of my favourite Pike fishing holes in early May, and then hike a few miles north for the Spring black bear hunt. As the Winter dragged on, my hopes for getting up north early May slowly diminished. The first week of May came and went, and the ice was still frozen up there. With ice out estimated to be the third weekend of May, I'd have to post-pone my trip to late May/early June.
Visiting a new fish camp
Finally, on a crisp late May morning I was able to embark on the first fishing and hunting journey of 2019. I was leaving from Cambridge, Ontario along with a friend, Ron. He would be flying his experimental PA-12 while I flew with my co-pilot, Maverick, in the C180. It was an uneventful journey up north, save for one fuel stop along the way. The plan for this trip was similar to my early May plans: fish for a couple days and then go bear hunting. For the fishing portion of the trip we decided to check out a fish camp on a very remote, fly-in only lake. It was a relatively small lake surrounded by hills, with the lake in a picturesque valley. By late afternoon as we approached the lake the winds were calm and the air was still.
Glassy water sure makes for a pretty view, but it makes for a challenging landing. If you've read about my camping trips in Quebec, you'd know that when the water is very calm and 'glassy', it looks like a perfect reflection of the sky from above. This illusion makes it impossible for a pilot to tell if he is 100 feet above the water or 1 foot above the water. There are ways to deal with this, but they involve coming in with some power and a pretty flat landing trajectory. This technique eats up a lot of lake. So given that the lake is both short and surrounded by hills - it was going to be a bit of a challenge. I would have to come in very steep over the treeline while remaining very close to the side shoreline. The trees along that shoreline can provide some depth perception if you stick close enough to them. Then, once I am no longer sure of my altitude, I would have to add power and descend quick enough to land before the end of the lake. After a careful set up to final I was able to stay low over the tree tops, hugging the shoreline. Then there is that moment where you are headed towards the end of the lake, unsure of when you are going to hit the water. After what seemed like forever, with the trees at the end of the lake getting closer and closer, I could feel the descent stop and looked out the window to see the floats gliding through the water. Success! Ron landed his PA-12 shortly after with an identical set up and technique.
While we were unpacking, Maverick was off exploring the surround area of the fish camp. He found this beautiful Inukshuk nearby and posed beautifully as the suns rays lit up his golden fur.
Beautiful evening on a remote lake
After we got Ron's plane all settled in against the brush and our gear unpacked - we were pretty hungry. The camp was all luxury with a wood burning stove and a propane oven; a step up from my usual trips!
I'm used to cooking meals over a campfire when I'm out in the bush, but I decided since we had this cabin, we might as well take advantage of the propane oven. We broiled some tenderloins and vegetables, which really hit the spot after the long flight in. After dinner you could hear a lot of noise out on the lake as if something was slapping the water. After running out there to see what all the fuss was about, I spotted two loons skimming across the water. It looked as though one was chasing the other; it lasted for hours. They were just zooming in circles around the lake, it looked as though they were flying but with their bellies skimming the water.
These loons were chasing each other night and day throughout the entire trip. Not that I am complaining, it was really neat to see, and I absolutely love the various sounds of the loon. All day long you could hear the yodels of the loons. This territorial call from several males combined with constant wails of loons all around makes for a musical night. Listening to this while sleeping gives you a fond appreciation of the northern woods.
The beautiful evening turned into a stunning display of stars on the night of the new moon. Even though at this fish camp we had a structure to sleep in, Maverick and I spent the majority of the night outside looking up at the stars watching the shooting stars and satellites move across the sky. It was a perfectly clear night - you can't ask for better conditions for landscape astrophotography during a new moon.
This shot is a single exposure taken with a Sony A7r iii mirrorless camera (which is 25% off right now) with a Rokinon 14mm lens (also on sale). It was a 15 second exposure at ISO 3200 at f2.8 with the camera sitting on a Gitzo tripod. The longer exposure time really gives the camera the ability to pick up on the colour of centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which you can see extending up and left from the tail of the aircraft. The brightest planet in this photo above the plane is Jupiter, which is currently still visible to the naked eye.
Amazing pike fishing in Ontario
The next morning was an early one as the cabin filled with light at 5am through all the large windows. It was pretty cold in the morning with the snow and ice having only recently melted. After letting Maverick out for his morning business and exploration, I got the wood stove going. Wow, did that ever warm up the cabin real quick! After boiling some water on the top of the stove it was almost too hot in there. Once the tea and coffee were poured it was time to head outside fishing anyways. Of course, Maverick didn't waste anytime and was already sitting out on the boat ready to go. He never misses an opportunity to go fishing. If he thinks that a fishing trip is in the works, he will sit in the boat and not move until we go - even if it's hours later.
Dogs are amazing creatures and their senses are amazing. I swear sometimes Maverick knows I'm going to go fishing before I do. After about 30 minutes on the water it started clouding over and raining. It wasn't heavy rain - it was more of a misty type rain, you couldn't even really feel the rain drops. Excited to explore the lake we stayed out there. A few snags later we fired up the motor close to shore and didn't turn quick enough and THUD, the motor shut off. It got banged up on a rock pretty good. After starting the motor again, we noticed we weren't moving; the engine was running but the prop wasn't spinning.
Ron took the cowling off the motor and saw that the shear pin broke, which protects the engine in situations like this. Normally, this is a pretty easy fix, so when I started to paddle back to camp, Ron stopped me saying it would only take a few minutes. Well, it's normally an easy fix when you have the correct tools, and the sheer pin isn't lodged into the motor and difficult to extract. I kept just saying that I should paddle back, but Ron was determined to do a tool-less field repair.
Luckily, there was a spare sheer pin under the cowling, but that wasn't helping us get the old pin out. My job in this repair was to find a rock in the water that I could reach that would be the perfect shape in order to get the pin out. Of course, we could just have paddled back to shore and got the tools to fix it. But we had the wherewithal and the time to find the exact rock we needed and complete the field repair.
It wasn't a great start to the adventure: we were fishing for 90 minutes in the rain at that point. Or more accurately, we were fishing for 30 minutes and repairing the motor in the rain for 60 minutes. At least the view and wildlife was pretty amazing with loons swimming around us wondering if we need any help.
It wasn't until we hit Pike Alley, or at least that's what we named it later that day, that we started hauling in big pike. We caught our limit in about an hour casting and trolling around in Pike Alley.
Hunting isn't always about the harvest, I knew Maverick would have a good time exploring, and usually, that's all that matters.
It was this shallow area between a few islands and shore in the corner of the lake that was a hot bed for pike. After getting back to shore with our catch, we noticed that a couple of pike had gotten off the stringer. Usually I favour using a stringer which is just a string, but I had forgotten it. So we used a stringer with the metal clips and 3 of the pike were able to get free. We were pretty disappointed about that but we had plenty of fish for the trip and the freezer back at home. After weighing all the fish the average pike was 5lbs; not to shabby for exploring a new spot! We also think that it was the biggest three fish that got away, of course.
Is pike too hard to clean?
There's no doubt that Pike is a more time consuming fish to clean than a trout or walleye. But I think too many people shy away from fishing for pike or eating pike because they don't want to clean them. I was pretty disappointed that 51% of people on my Instagram said no to eating pike because they don't want to clean them. If I can clean 10 pike outside on a rock with black flies all over me, then anyone can clean a pike! I'll be making a video on cleaning a pike without worrying about the bones in the future. Hopefully, after the video, those pike eating numbers turn around!
Does pike taste good?
I've also had people tell me that they don't fish or keep pike because it doesn't taste good. These people are crazy - pike tastes great! You can bake or fry pike and it can taste almost as good as walleye. In fact, when you are out in the bush and battering the fish for the fryer, both are going to be amazing!
I enjoyed the pike both during this trip and then back at home. The trip out in the bush was my second iteration of a low carb/keto fish batter I had been working on. The batter was a bit of a flop but we cooked some of the fish with just spices and lemons and it was great. A few iterations and fish fries since getting back from this trip and I believe I got a good recipe on my hands. I'll be sharing this keto fish batter in a future post!
Flying further north for the bear hunt
After our fishing adventures it was time to move onto hunting. We were planning on flying up north to find a beach to land on near some old logging roads to hunt spring black bear.
The rifle of choice was a Tikka t3x in a .308 calibre - we spent a couple hours zeroing it in and shooting. The camp was an awesome location for shooting, the valley the lake was in provided great back drops in all directions. Maverick patiently waited inside the cabin while we put some rounds into paper at 100 yards. After we were satisfied with our adjustments, we set up some steel plates out at 300 yards. Those didn't last too long in the calm winds and the accurate Tikka. The plates got huge indents from the powerful .308 rounds and were destroyed pretty quickly. Next time we may need thicker steel, or move the plates out farther.
Once we were done shooting we packed up the plane with our overnight and survival gear and took off. We had 3-4 locations that we found on Google Maps that we were going to check out. On satellite view, they looked like clear cuts prime for bear activity, but you never know how long ago these overhead images were taken.
We were surprised at the water levels upon reaching the first location. We knew they were high, but, huge beaches were now non-existent. I had camped at this location a previous year and there was 20-30 feet of beach, and now there was nothing. We checked the next few spots and same thing: flooded. It would be difficult to get the plane tied down in this areas, and then even more difficult to find a dry spot to pitch a tent.
At this point we were near Chapleau and I know of a friends place nearby so we decided to drop in there and then maybe just go for a day hike and hunt. I knew we were unlikely to just bump into a bear when walking through the woods with Maverick, but we decided to try anyways. At this point, the fishing was going so well, we weren't opposed to cut the hunting short and get back to fishing.
After we landed, we set off in the bush for the rest of the day without any real expectations. Hunting isn't always about the harvest, I knew Maverick would have a good time exploring, and usually, that's all that matters.
Finding bear and moose tracks and scat
Although we didn't end up harvesting a bear, we were not disappointed with the adventure. We saw tons and tons of bear and moose sign, they must have been all around us.
My theory is that the quadpedal gait of Maverick gave off predator (wolf) vibes to the moose and bears. As we explored nearby small lakes and beaver ponds we came across tons of parallel game trails leading down towards the pond. They looked very active and some areas even have recent moose bedding areas with scat all around.
Maverick was in heaven, he was rolling around like crazy in the moose beds letting them know what's up! We followed some of the game trails up the hills and away from the ponds back to the old logging roads. When we lost the trail, Maverick was always able to pick it back up with his nose - which was pretty helpful!
We ran into more moose tracks and sign down the road. It was made easier by the fact that it had recently rained, so the tracks were quite crisp on the muddy roads.
As we kept going, we started seeing a mix of bear and moose sign until we bumped into a grown in logging road with tons of bear scat and tracks.
Things got a little more serious at this point, even Maverick got more into the hunt. In the back of my mind, I knew that with the 3 of us just walking around, the bear was probably just in the woods laughing at us. But in the moment, it was pretty exciting.
The scat was very fresh, less than 24h old, and there was 4-5 piles of it in a 100m area on the trail. We stuck around in this area for quite some time to see if the bear was going to come back. We even put together a quick blind from brush in the area. I think if we had decided to stay there for a couple of days we would have gotten him by sitting out in the blind early morning and evening. However, it just wasn't in the cards for this trip. I know Maverick wanted to do more exploring as well, so we got out from our make shift blind and back to adventuring. As we made our way back to the plane, we even noticed more moose tracks that were tracking us! Well, they seemed to be walking over Maverick's tracks.
The trip back to the plane and to camp was uneventful, no bears would be had on this trip. For me, hunting is more about exploring the wilderness rather than the harvesting of an animal. Good, wild meat is always a nice bonus, but nothing beats the adventure and experience.
We headed home with an empty plane but a full stomach of fish and enough short stories to tell for a lifetime. Maverick had a great day getting on and off the trails for both black bear and moose, and I really enjoyed watching him in action!