Land of the Midnight Sun
Article by Patrick Nolan, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Published in the Fish'n line Magazine Spring 2008
Gods Lake - 2007
Northern Manitoba has long possessed an allure and certain air of the unknown for me, much as it has for thousands of other outdoors people. Far off and expansive, it is the Land of the Midnight Sun and home to myriad fishing opportunities that draw thousands of visitors each season. People come from all over the US, Canada and Europe to make fishing dreams into reality and most do not go home disappointed.
In August, 2007 I received and accepted a very gracious invitation to go up North for a few days as a guest of Olafson's Gods Lake Lodge. Truth be told, I couldn't believe what I was reading when I actually opened the email, as it has long been a desire of mine to see Northern Manitoba, and Gods Lake in particular. We have all heard the stories of the fishing, the endless days and the pure ruggedness of this part of Manitoba, so needless to say I jumped at the opportunity.
It was a fairly long flight across millions of hectares of bush and countless lakes. It's pretty cool flying northwards across the province and trying to figure out which body of water you're over by comparing it against the mental image we carry of viewing an actual map.
Some masses, like Lake Winnipeg and the Nelson River, are absolutely unmistakable due to their sheer size. The lake itself truly is an inland sea that seems to go on forever; its little wonder that it produces such giant walleyes and it got me thinking about the open water summer fishery that surely exists.
The plane landed in the First Nations Community of God's River, and from there one must travel by boat to reach the camp which is situated at the east end of the lake. Lee Nolden, my host during my stay, took me and two other guests across and it was during this thirty minute voyage that I was struck with the uncanny geographical similarities that the area bore to the eastern part of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario. If a person didn't actually know, you could just as easily be on Lake of the Woods or a lake in the Whiteshell. Classic Pre Cambrian shield features, with large granite cliffs and mixed stands of pine and poplar had me feeling like I had traveled two hundred kilometers down Highway 1, not hours straight north in a noisy aluminum tube. This served as an excellent reminder of just how dominant this characteristic features into Canada's geography.
Gods Lake is known as a multi species fishery, with available opportunities for lake trout, northern pike, walleye and brook trout in the God's River. With limited time to fish, it was decided that minimal hours would be dedicated to walleyes and lake trout. Because the lake has an excellent reputation for its pike fishing, I chose to spend at least two days casting for these fish.
Erin's 43.5' Pike
Without spending a lot of time boring readers with data and details, suffice it to say that Gods Lake is huge, and as such offers lots of habitat and forage for pike. As a result of this, many large fish are taken each year with the largest in Lee's camp last year being forty eight inches and dozens more over forty every season. June draws the greatest number of anglers in hot pursuit of trophy fish, and this is natural because we all know the pike can be accessed in large numbers in shallow water. However, it should be noted that many large fish remain in relatively shallow water for the entire season. This is not something that those used to fishing in the southern part of the country are accustomed to, as we accept the better fish will abandon shallow water spots as the water warms. On God's Lake, the water temperature rarely creeps over 65 Fahrenheit. As a result, we encountered some fishing patterns and applied techniques that might be considered unconventional on a more southern body of water.
Day one was spent casting clean, rock structure on points and other classic spots where we caught, literally, hundreds of pike. There were many times where it was a fish on every cast for ten minutes until it was necessary to take a break.
Steve's Lake Trout
The odd part was that we did not hook any big pike but rather hundreds between twenty and thirty two inches. This pattern seemed unusual to me, as I fully expected larger fish to be on the main lake points with quick access to deep water, with the smaller fish remaining in back bays where there was weed growth. That was when I learned my first rather surprising lesson from Lee: the fishing was typical for Gods Lake, and in fact the best fish were likely to be located in or very nearby weed growth. We learn something new everyday, I thought to myself, and the lessons differ depending on where you are.
Day two I headed out (after sleeping through breakfast) with Kurtis, one of the guides. Given that the better fish were likely to be located in structurally different locations, he took us into a very large, v- shaped bay that was at least a kilometer across at the mouth and gradually tapered down to a necked down area at the back. While not structurally featureless, I will admit that it had no special or unique characteristic that screamed "fish here". That was, of course, until Kurtis began searching out large pods of underwater weed growth that topped out just below the surface. Looking down, we started passing over healthy, green cabbage weed with broad leaves that grew as high as eight or nine feet with big gaps in between stalks that were ideal fish holding cover. These stands of growth were located over a broad expanse of open water throughout the bay entrance, and this is where we found fish.
Starting with drifting and casting spoons and inline spinners, we immediately began catching some nice fish. The average size of these pike was between thirty five and thirty eight inches, and they fought extremely hard. Using a medium weight baitcasting rod matched with a Shimano Curado spooled with fourteen pound test, the fishing provided for some excellent sport.
Of course, my choice of gear was soon to catch up to me as I hooked a fish very close to the boat and it turned and went the other way at warp speed. After a few slashing runs, the fish was gone and the culprit was a straightened hook on the # 5 Mepps Aglia bait that I had been using. I had foolishly not matched my equipment for the fish, and as a result lost a very big pike. However, that's fishing and we were still having a blast. We continued to catch several fish both casting and trolling over the weed tops, and managed to boat several that were in the forty inch range. We also watched two other boats from the camp land numerous trophy pike from different spots in the bay.
The key to this fishing just like any other was location. Where there were deep weeds, there were pike and we caught dozens over the next day and a half on a variety of offerings. The fish preferred the cover as opposed to rocky points, and it was an awesome experience catching them in shallow water all day long. The potential for giants has long been established just by looking at the photos in camp or reading the yearly Master Angler stats. Mingle that in with fish all day between thirty five and forty inches as commonplace and you have a dynamic and exciting fishery.
Brook Trout in the God's River
So much of this trip was new to me, and what really had me stoked was the possibility of a day in the God's River fishing for brook trout. As much as I love catching big fish, there was something so incredibly unique and exciting about this experience that it was at the top of my "to do" list.
Tim's Brook Trout
At the western end of the lake, the God's River finds it headwaters where it falls north towards Hudson's Bay. The waterway has a well earned reputation for its catch and release brook trout fishery, which attracts die hard fly fisherman from all over the world to catch these incredible colorful fish. Having no experience with a fly rod, I was advised that it was still worth the trip if not for the experience alone; Lee could not have given me a better piece of advice.
Getting up early (a challenge for me), my guide for the day was Ricky, an outgoing young man from the local First Nations community of God's River. Lee had told me earlier that he relies on the local community for most of his guides, especially for their knowledge and expertise on the river system. Complex and consisting of numerous rapids and drops, it requires an expert boat operator to safely navigate this river. Entering off the lake, Ricky pushed the boat up near the first set of rapids and we started casting small spoons into the fastest moving water we could find. Totally unaccustomed to this type of fishing, there was lot of coaching and instruction at the beginning, and as the first spot was to surrender no brook trout on this day, it was the perfect place to start.
As we progressed further downriver, I was actually surprised by its width in stretches; I had expected a narrow, perpetually fast moving course but there are sections where it opens and meanders along slowly. Several kilometers later, approaching the first set of significant rapids, Ricky actually turned the boat and began approaching the white water in reverse, navigating down the drop transom first; having never seen such a thing I was impressed.
Pushing the boat up against a rock amidst a set of rapids and with the noisy din of whitewater making it necessary to raise our voices to talk, Ricky proceeded to school me on catching brook trout. I watched him boat at least half a dozen fish and lose several others before actually hooking one myself; needless to say this fish escaped long before I could get a look at it. With patience and a good deal of luck, after awhile I started to hook and actually land some fish. Brilliant orange with specks of red and orange, these fish are a marvel to look at. To catch them in a wild river with such pristine natural surroundings as a backdrop is an experience that made it truly special.
And so continued our day, with stops made along the river after Ricky negotiated rapids and with fish caught at every spot. An additional benefit of fishing these cold, fast moving waters were bonus catches of pike and a twenty eight inch walleye taken out of a pool that could have been no deeper than a foot. Rapids were taken full throttle on the way home and it was cool to feel the boat shoot up and rise several feet as we ascended the drops that we had negotiated earlier. Spray showering us both, it was truly an unforgettable day of fishing.
If you go
I owe a very sincere gratitude of thanks to Lee and Lynn Nolden for their gracious invitation and exceptional hospitality when I was their guest. The camp itself was actually a Hudson Bay trading post many years passed, so there is a lot of history in the property itself. In the winter of 2006/ 2007, a brand new building was constructed offering accommodations for up to sixteen guests, in addition to the existing heritage cabins. Everything is brand new with lots of hot water, great framed pictures on the wall of camp guests with trophy fish, and it overlooks the lake only a short walk to the main lodge where everyone eats. During the season, there is a chef in camp to cook stellar meals for the guests; the guides and support staff are professional, friendly and accessible. They're easily found on the web at www.godslakelodge.com.
Gods Lake is off the beaten path. As a result it is also a piece of pristine Canadian wilderness where travelers can expect to enjoy endless summer days, close encounters with wildlife and world class fishing. For anyone who has been contemplating taking a trip north to go fishing, I cannot give the experience a more ringing endorsement.