Rugged Dude

As I set the hook into what was probably my tenth walleye in about eight or nine minutes, my ultra-rugged fishing buddies in the other boat couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Chef Tim Matthews and Chef Ken Veneruz from the Culinary Arts Program at Confederation College were literally catching fish and after fish. I know that sounds cliche, even predictable in a story like this, but it’s true, absolutely true. I remember Tim saying over and over with his classic British accent, “RD, this is brilliant!” And, Ken’s most commonly used line was “Holy sh** RD, I can’t friggin’ believe this place!” Also, on the trip, and the ‘eye behind the lens’, was Adam Laidler, from Neebing Ontario.

Tim and Ken had been on fly-in fishing trips in the passed, but both were in agreement that the fishing at this particular fly-in, was the simply the best they’d ever seen. Another guy who was in agreement that day, was yours truly, who had previously been on somewhere around 150 fly-ins, covering most of Canada. And, the location you ask? Kearns Lake located around 90 miles north of Thunder Bay Ontario, square in the middle of northwestern Ontario’s world-famous walleye factory in the Canadian Shield.

On day one of the trip, two boats left camp together with Tim and Ken in one, and Adam and I in the other. As I am always one to do some exploring on these trips, Adam and I went a little up farther up the river and found a spot with a tight elbow and some good current.There, started catching fish, with ease, but it was raining some, so the video camera stayed in its waterproof case.After about an hour or so, we went back down river to see how Tim and Ken were doing.As we approached their boat, all we could see was fish being hauled in and all we could hear was two guys laughing and giggling like a couple high school girls talking about their latest boyfriends. Tim and Ken had found this honey-hole that I later named “Chef’s Rock”. And, that was just one of the places where we (as us rugged individuals like to say,) “just hammered ’em!”

Just as we arrived, luckily, the rain stopped. So, it was time to “go to work”. With Adam posted up on shore about twenty feet from both boats, he was able to get enough footage for the entire show in about twenty minutes.Then, we got him back into my boat for some additional video and close up shots to be edited together later on. This was my record for the least amount of time I’d ever needed to capture what I refer to as the “A Role” of a show in nine years of producing my series. It really was nuts – and as bonus, the weather was perfect for shooting a show. No wind so we’d get great audio and a nice grey sky, perfect for camera lighting.I still can’t believe how the rain stopped for me… perfect.

Thousand Lakes Outposts is owned and operated by the husband and wife tag team of Dwayne Bolen and Teri Fero, from Thunder Bay. Purchasing the operation last year, they have two camps at this time. One on Kearns and the other is on Stonehouse Lake which is basically right next door to Kearns. Back in 2005, I was at Kearns Lake with the previous owner and the fishing was just as insane then as it was on this trip in June, 2009. But, I have to say, what I saw in those four days, just a couple weeks ago… clearly was the fastest and most ridiculous walleye fishing that I’ve seen in my entire life. And, that is quite a statement to make! No hogs really, but most were surprisingly chunky compared to most lakes I’ve been on. We all caught a few walleyes in the 25 – 26 inch range, but most were between 17 and 20.

The whole trip actually ‘began’ back in January when our office received an email from Dwayne who had seen the previous show on the air as a rerun. One thing led to another and before you knew it, we were on our way back to Kearns Lake to tape another show. I had heard through the grapevine that the camp had been sold, but to whom, I didn’t know. I did after I read the email Dwayne sent us… It’s not often that I go back to the same outfitter more than once, but in this case, I was eager to return, based on what I had seen a few years earlier. If you ever see my show and you know it’s the second time I’ve taped a show at the lodge I’m at, you know it got the “Rugged Approved” stamp from this Rugged Dude!

Flying in to a remote lake is about as rugged as it gets… in fact, it’s not only “rugged”, in the context of the word as I use it, but it’s also very exciting and to many people, the anticipation can be overwhelming. I know guys who couldn’t sleep for a whole week prior to their very first fly in fishing trip. As I mentioned earlier, I have been on many fly in fishing and hunting trips over the last ten years or so, but even still, the whole fly-in thing is more exciting than Christmas morning is to a little kid. (Even if the little bugger did some snooping and found out he’s getting a brand new GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip!) After all, other than flying in, how else can you go fishing on a lake that sees only a handful of anglers each season? I have seen drive-to lakes where the fishing was pretty damn good, but no matter which way you slice it, there’s nothing like a fly-in.

Sounds good right? But, trust me, there is a problem. Not all fly in fishing trips are good ones. The outfitting business has grown a lot over the last twenty years or so, and while there some excellent operators out there, it seems to me, there are more and more “not-so-good” ones. Many people assume, especially those people who have never been on a fly-in fishing trip before, that you will catch fish after fish after fish as long as two things are involved: Canada and a float plane. This is absolutely not true. I’ve been on trips where we literally had a hard time catching enough fish for a simple shore lunch. I was on one trip five years ago, where we didn’t catch enough fish to put a show together. Seriously… and I do happen to know how to fish. Not all fly-ins are going to produce phenomenal fishing. So, I recommend you do your homework before you send in your deposit to the outfitter.

There are several reasons why Kearns and Stonehouse have such consistent fishing. The most obvious is lack of fishing pressure. There are no other camps on either lake, and that in itself makes a big difference. I have been on many trips where there are six or even seven fishing camps on one lake. This may be okay if it’s a very big lake and the camps are spread out, but I’ve seen some fly-in lakes where it seemed to be a “little busy” for my liking. Also, check references from previous anglers of the lake. The outfitter should be able to provide you with a list of people who you can contact.

When we arrived at Kearns Lake, there was a group from Minnesota who’d been there for five days, packed up and ready to head home. This bunch of rugged dudes had been going to Kearns and Stonehouse for 26 years! That’s a good sign… and one of the guys told me that he’d been on other fly in trips before he made Thousand Lakes Outposts “his” yearly trip. So, he’s been around the block a few times. The coolest thing to me about this group is that they had a few kids with them and one of them caught a 46 inch northern pike! And, that my friends, is how you get kids into fishing and away from useless, time wasting video games! Nice. Hey, I should work part time as a Rugged Teen Counsellor!

Okay, back to the action – our trip took place in mid June, just after the walleye spawn. The season usually opens around the third week of May, so anytime from then onto the end of June you’ll find walleyes hanging out in the rivers where they spawn or near the opening where it flows into the main lake basin. And, that’s where we did the majority of our fishing. And, did we ever hammer ’em! It really was nuts… People often ask me how many fish per day I caught. How the hell do I know? Let’s just say, tons. I can guess that between the three of us fishing, actually four us fishing, (Officially Rugged camera dudes get to fish too!), we easily caught 500 walleyes in the few days we fished. And, keep in mind, when you’re producing a TV show, you have to use a lot of your time doing other things for the production. Scenery shots, interview bits, still photos… Just shooting the shore lunch that Tim and I did took three hours. So, I guarantee, that if you go on a fishing trip, you’ll spend more time fishing than I would.

And, did we eat well? Uh… yes. Very well, in fact! We ate fresh fish at once a day. Then, factor in the chicken, steaks, bacon, eggs, sausages, pancakes… I should probably stop now because I’m starting to drool on my foot and that gets weird after a while, especially when it starts dripping down between your toes.

One of the things I really like about both Kearns and Stonehouse Lakes, is that they’re big enough so you can fish new water each day, but small enough that you won’t get lost. I’d say Kearns is about four miles long and Stonehouse about half that size. You don’t have to worry about super-high winds either. Any lake can get windy, but there are plenty of bays and islands to fish around if a good wind picks up. I’ve been on trips where the wind was such a problem we could hardly get out at all. Can you imagine paying for a fishing trip where you can’t go fishing because the lake is too rough? That would suck.

Another bonus is the lack of “motor-mangling-rocks-and-reefs” that I’ve seen on many lakes in Canada, especially in the Canadian Shield. There are a few spots where you need to be careful, but Dwayne tries to keep them marked with floater buoys. For the most part, it’s pretty easy cruising. Neither lakes are deep, but I did find one section of Kearns where it gets down to 50 feet or so. That’s where I caught the chunky fish you see below. Since we were catching so many fish in the river, I figured I’d try some deep water just to see what we’d catch… and there it was. I’ll bet if you fished that deeper water in July or August, you’d slay ’em, big time! Deep diving crank baits that look anything like a minnow, would be hard for suspending walleyes to pass up. And, that is precisely what I caught this one on.

The camps themselves are in excellent shape and Dwayne is a fanatic about their upkeep. If something needs repair, it’s done. Hot and cold running water, shower, well equipped kitchens, including two refrigerators (remember the food part?)… Basically speaking, the camps are well set up and there’s plenty of room for a group of eager fisher dudes and fisher chicks to spend a kick-ass holiday.

Flying in to a remote lake for a fishing trip is a great way to spend your much-deserved vacation time and I highly recommend you put this on “your things to do list”. Just make sure you do your homework and pick a good fly-in… like the one I’ve just finished writing about.

RD, “The Rugged Dude” is Host and Executive Producer of Officially Rugged with RD, see by millions of viewers across North America.

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Rugged Dude