On Lac Wetetnagami

Can’t wait to get back to Lac Wetetnagami where the fish are plentiful, you can feel freedom oozing into your pores, and the time spent there is splendid in every sense of the word but far, far too short!

Lac Wetetnagami, located in the Hudson Bay Watershed in wild Quebec, is as beautiful a place as you can ever imagine or will ever see. The lake is surrounded by tall hills that hold vast forests, lazy sinuous streams that meander their ways through boundless wetlands, and big skies that seem to know no end. It is quiet save the long laughter of loons, the sad cry of bald eagles, and moaning winds that blow hard, then soft, and then hard again. Amongst wild lands of endless lakes this 14 mile long lake is about average in size but its many arms and bays are intriguing to those who explore the furthest reaches of the water body. To the south there is a long arm that contains shallow waters, deep channels, narrows that initially appear to be difficult to navigate, and along the eastern shores steep and tall cliffs. It is the precise point where the Wetetnagami River enters the lake. The western side of the lake holds several bays, perhaps 80 acres in size, where aquatic vegetation rises to the surface and where moose dine on moon lit nights. The shores on the west side bear the scars of a fire of historic proportion that burned thousands and thousands of acres only 17 years ago. The tall silver stems of perished trees, once majestic and green, rise above the new conifer forest dominated by spruce, fir, and tamarack trees. The deep green colors reflect into the water mirroring the scenery on shore. And on a moon lit night if you are lucky you can see the great northern pikes skip across the surface of the quiet, dark waters like a dolphin cuts through a salt water cove. To the east there are almost countless little streams that amble through marshy bogs. Where the bogs meet the lake edge water fowl of every nearly persuasion use the emergent plant beds for breeding, nesting, and feeding. The north of Wetetnagami is wide and wild. Looking off the end of the lake at the enormous wetlands is awe inspiring. During the evening twilight after the sun has set the northern sky is a brilliant display of color. It starts with yellow and gold, transforms to orange, and ends in a firestorm of red. And when there are clouds to catch and hold the splashes of color it is beyond one’s imagination. I’ve witnessed this scores of times and I never tire of the beauty that washes down from the northern horizon.

There are no people except others who have signed on with our outfitter for a week of fishing, fresh air, and wonderful views of the great Canadian north. And during this week this large lake held only one other group of four; sons of Quebec who intensely searched the perimeter of Wetetnagami for walleye from dawn to dusk. During this week the weather was highly variable as it often is in the north. When we arrived it was above 90 degrees that held a wet blanket of humidity over the lake; a natural sauna by anyone’s standards. By Wednesday the high was 50 degrees during the day and 37 degrees during the darkest hours. On that cold day the winds blew hard all day whipping the lake up into a frenzy. White caps dominated the surface of these gray waters. The foul weather kept us off of the lake on that day until evening when the wind quieted down to a steady 20 MPH blow.

July fishing contrasts sharply to the angling you experience in June in these northern lakes. In June the walleye are just off of the spawning period. They are hungry and hoping to regain much of the energy supplies used during this stressful period. Their competition for food makes them careless and much easier to catch. This is when walleye fishing can be the most fun, but it also the time when the most anglers find their way to these remote areas. The last two years I have gone at times that suited the schedule of others’ schedules. This lead to making our trips in July; a time when fishing is not so good, but the lake holds even more solitude. Truth be known, I’ll take ample solitude over great fishing any day of the week and any month of the year. The breath taking quiet, the open ended views, and sharing this with those I love and care about far outweighs limitless numbers of fish.

So this year going in to our journey I knew the fishing might be slow. My goal is to really enjoy the pace of things; each cast, the splash of a lure ripping into the water, the slow retrieve and every turn of the reel handle, and most of all the sensation of the setting; wild, pure, and nothing but beautiful.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy catching some nice fish. The first few days we caught some very nice northern pike, but nothing extreme as far as size or weight is concerned. The walleye that we caught early in the morning and late in the evening were small to medium. I managed my share while the other, less experienced anglers, held their own. As we fished each cove, each underwater ledge, each rocky shore, and each aquatic weed bed I kept mental notes. The data in my head was telling me that where I normally catch one and a half to two pound walleyes I was catching three quarters to one and a half pound walleyes. And the northerns weren’t hanging in the weed beds but along rocky shores. After a couple of days I started to adjust my fishing patterns. The changes paid off. Not in unusual numbers of fish but in fish quality. Bigger pike. Bigger walleye. And better angling fights where the fish would make me earn my keep and test my fishing skills.

Each day I fished early, usually by myself, a little at mid-day for northern pike but also in some areas of dark and quiet water for walleye, and late in the evening when the sun was setting we’d go back out for walleye. The barometric pressure was bouncing up and down all week. Cold fronts attacked the area several times a day. Walleye do not like pressure changes and will often stop biting. There is no doubt that this volatile weather pattern impacted fishing. As dedicated anglers we had no choice. We just had to keep trying. I never seem to tire of fishing when I’m in a wild area. Bird songs, wildlife, clouds in the sky blowing through like freight trains, and long hours of sunset to twilight keep the eye candy interesting. I can’t imagine a better way to relax.

By Thursday I had caught about 35 walleye and more than a dozen pike. Nothing spectacular, but nothing to sneeze at either. Rick and I got a late start and arrived off the western edge of a rocky island. I had been told that some large walleye might be found during the day in these deep and dark waters that had a bottom composed of boulders and cobbles. With nothing to loose we dropped our lines as we were fishing with jigs. The water was about 20 feet deep and dark. There was a good chop on the surface. The fishing conditions were really ideal. In less than ten minutes after arriving at this location a fish grabbed my jig aggressively, dove straight down, and tried to stay on the bottom. I set the hook, loosened the drag on the spool, and began reeling in. The fish resisted but still came up with each turn of the handle. It then ripped off some line and went straight to the bottom again. I kept the tip of my pole up, reeled in slowly, and lead him about half way to the surface. Again he ripped line off the drag and took the line back to the bottom. At this time I knew I had a healthy size walleye because he dove to the bottom. Typically a northern would have run laterally ripping out line over a long distance.

On my third try I brought him close enough to the surface to see a flash of copper. Now I could be certain he was a walleye. I told Rick to get the net ready. I wanted to have both hands free to play this fish. The walleye dove again, pulling line off of the spool, but this time it did not go all the way to the bottom. I knew he was tiring. On this retrieval I reeled slowly trying not to panic the fish. I could feel that it was a bruiser but really had no clear idea of how big it was. I was guessing about five pounds. By pulling him up slowly he was a little easier to handle. I could feel that it was unusually large. Rick remained seated and dipped the net in the water. When I got the fish close to the net Rick attempted to net the fish from behind but the fish sensed there was danger and ran away from the boat but remained near the surface. I kept tension on the 8 pound test fishing line and started to reel the fish in again. This time when the walleye saw the boat he dove making the drag on my spool nearly smoke. I waited until the walleye stopped and began cranking the reel handle again. The walleye resisted. I tightened the drag on the spool just a little bit. The walleye fought and came to the surface. I asked Rick to wait until I pulled the fish along side of our boat and then quickly net him. I reeled the fish in slowly. The walleye was tired. I knew he had a little left in him so I reached over and loosened the drag on the spool in case he took one more power dive to the bottom. As the fish came along side of the boat Rick deftly surrounded him with the net and picked him out of the water. The net sagged under the walleye’s weight. Rick brought the net into the boat and I got my first good look at this fish. He was large. Very large.

Rick laid the net in the bottom of the boat so that I could unhook the fish. I immediately noticed that the hook was in his mouth but the line had broke. I was only seconds away from losing the largest walleye that I had ever caught. After untangling his fins from the netting we weighed the walleye with a portable fish weight scale. The walleye weighed in at a whopping 8 pounds and 12 ounces. High fives were exchanged between Rick and I. Without Rick’s netting skill I would have lost this fish and, in fact, nearly did.

Photo taken by my sister Cheryl Makely.

Rick also caught a nice northern off the same side of the island while flipping jigs against the rocky shoreline. The northern pike bite had been steady this week, offsetting the bouncing barometric pressure zones and the less than average walleye fishing.

That evening we were fishing off the islands near the center of Lac Wetetnagami. The thick clouds and cold front had pushed to the southeast. Stout winds blew in from the northwest as a high pressure zone chased the low that had passed over us. The lake was choppy but the air was clean and vibrant. Rick sat in the front of the boat. I was in the rear next to the quiet outboard motor. We were both silent as a beautiful boreal forest evening cleared our minds. The boat rocked back and forth as the anchor held us over a rocky bottom on the north side of an island. The sun was setting to the northwest. The colors in the sky, gold morphing to orange and then pink, quietly painted a picture of peace, tranquility, and the wild north. Two loons called back and forth in the distance.

We were suspended, for the moment, in a perfect world.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in July of 2012.

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