Trip of a Lifetime
Ever since I was a little boy I have dreamt about going on an adventurous fishing trip with my father to the Canadian North for giant Lake Trout. This vision has burned in my soul since the day I hooked into my first Lake Trout with my Grandpa Louis in northern Quebec.
When two good friends of mine, Shannon Clouthier and Darryl Lance mentioned the name “Lake Athabasca”, we decided to organize a trip with our fathers hoping for the perfect experience. It was a recipe for a great holiday full of adventure, big fish battles and lots of smiles and laughter!
We contacted Ryan "Captain Bruce" Lowry who operates Lakers Unlimited on beautiful Lake Athabasca. After a few phone calls and emails we were very comfortable with his operation and booked our trip of a lifetime. With the administrative details complete, the long hard wait began as we counted down the months for the much anticipated day of departure, sending us off on our Northern journey.
Come the big day and a less then exciting flight from Ottawa into Fort McMurray, it was a struggle to fall asleep as visions of giant Lakers splashed about in my head. But as sleep always prevails, hearing the alarm sound at 5:30am was magic to my ears! Finally the time had arrived to forge deep into the Canadian wilderness……
After boarding an amphibious Cessna we were instantly blown away by the breathtaking scenery of a rich and rugged landscape veined with endless rivers and lakes as far as the eye could see. When we reached the famous Athabasca sand dunes, which looked like a miniature desert oasis in the middle of a forested landscaped, we knew we were close to our chosen destination, the 8th largest body of fresh water in Canada.
Banking left and descending gracefully, a rush of anticipation flowed throughout my body as we landed on water. Pulling up to the dock our group emerged from the small plane and was immediately greeted by "Captain Bruce" who extended a meaty hand the size of a bear's paw in welcome. Encouraged by the smile on his face, I was instantly struck with the feeling that this is going to be an awesome week of angling! Shortly there after we were introduced to our guide for the week, Kelly "Merle" Riehle, who showed us to our cabin and introduced us to the other guides, Trevor, Nevin, Bryan, Bob, and the camp cook Sue. Who, to help us orient ourselves to the lodges agenda, treated to an amazing home cooked meal and briefed us on the camps schedule. Coffee ready @ 5:30, breakfast at 7am, shore lunch @ 1pm daily, and dinner at 7pm. Too easy!
Startling us with the words we had waited months to hear, Captain Bruce bellowed from behind the scenes…
“Its time to go fishing boys"
Coming forward, he handed out ball caps and fishing equipment to our eager troop of waiting anglers. Excitingly, people pushed away from their tables, pumped and ready to get out on the water and go fishing!
Dock side we were reintroduced with our guides and directed to our respective boats. Getting in I ask our guide Kelly why the rest of the boys called him "Merle"? To which he replied with mischievous grin "Because I got a Haggard way of doing things”. Instantly I realize that I liked this genuine character. And to supplement his likable nature and personable chatter, it was simply inspiring to watch him demonstrate a crafted ability controlling an 18' aluminum boat in the big rough waters of Lake Athabasca. It was a beautiful thing to watch as he negotiated the waves with precision, keeping us dry and confidently ship shape.
After and epic boat ride we had reached a shoal chosen by “Merle” as his initial starting point. I think to myself “Finally, its time to start fishing and launch an Eppinger Husky Devil to the liquid cold depths of this pristine northern lake. Within a minute of trolling the rod bucks and I lean back with a powerful hook set, only to miss my first fish of the week! Issuing blame on the missed opportunity because I was trying to take off my jacket, I reorganize and prepare myself for more fast action. Due to the viciousness of that first strike, I’d solemnly starting believing in this lakes reputation…real quick!
Continuing trolling and not more than 30 seconds later, my Father shouts "Dere! Dere!" and leans back into the long line and begin to battle his first of many battles to come. After a tremendous fight he handily landed a beautiful 15 pound lake trout which we take a photograph of before gently releasing her back into the crystal clear water to fight another day. As the morning wore down and the fishing catching geared up, we continued to catch trout after trout until one unlucky fish met “Merle's” criteria for a classic Northern Canada shore lunch.
Loading the ultra fresh fish aboard, we slipped into a secluded bay where to my enjoyment watched multiple giant northern pike, spooked by the boats advancement swim past as we approach the shore lunch spot. Magnifying this truly incredible experience with impeccable timing, a beautiful osprey flew from its nearby nest, screeching out a warning telling us who the real boss of the island was and that we are not to get to close or else.
As it circled on crispness of the near artic breeze, I sat in the intense quietness of this immaculate environment, reflecting and amazed by this magnificent creature and the landscape that surrounded my Father and I.
Having experienced this adventure I could only hope that someday every outdoorsman experiences the magic of a properly prepared shore lunch over an open fire in the Canadian Wilderness. It is impossible to properly describe as it truly is poetry in motion. The sounds of a crackling fire, the aromas of a hot meal cooking, the tales told of morning glory, and a tasty meal of fresh fish. Relaxation follows with a sleepy sit around the warmth a nice fire. Time seems useless here...no phones ringing. No busses snoring up and down the block. No machines grumbling away in the back ground
…Just stress eroding while life long memories build.
Back on the water the fishing was the only thing that even approached the notion of work. On day 1 we caught and released 34 Lake Trout on an amazing afternoon of fishing, with four fish exceeding the twenty pound margin. Incredibly, another group in our camp caught and released a thirty six pound giant which would turn out to be the camp lunker for the week.
On day 2 my Dad and I caught 47 trout with multiple fish over twenty pounds! That particular evening we enjoyed a campfire celebrating Saturday night in the Canadian wilderness. The boys played song after song, passing around an old guitar for a memorable evening of good ole fashioned fun.
And still, as we turned in for the night under stars that burned holes in an unpolluted darkness…we were left dreaming about tomorrow…There was more fishing to come!
Flat calm conditions greeted us on the morning of Day 3 which had me drooling at the potential of sight fishing opportunities. We were astounded at the fish we’d seen in the clear water throughout the course of the week. Literally witnessing thousands of Lake Trout swim around in their natural habitat. Hitting the water refreshed from the previous night’s entertainment, we proceed to catch in excess of a hundred fish anchored by my 27 pound personal best Lake Trout. Additionally, we rounded out the day by catching at least another ten fish greater than twenty pounds!
On day 4 we prepared ourselves for the enviable. The end of our adventure was approaching sooner rather then later, and with that comes the dreaded “last day” blues. Completely satisfied by the experience had with friends and family we totaled a catch of 82 lake trout and most importantly shared another memorable day of fishing with my father.
Winding down the last hours of our trip, we continue to catch so many fish that our arms and shoulders were literally sore. The scenery of this vast beautiful landscape was breath taking to say the least. To pinpoint a snap shop of the imagery would be almost impossible to describe, and even harder to transcribe the awesomeness of my favorite place on the lake appropriately named "Indian Head". It is just another magical place in an enchanted land.
Though just a detail in the overall picture, my father and I agreed to finish off the last day and call it quits at 80 fish. But as luck would have it we struck a true double header, of which one trout was a 24 pound beauty. It was at that the moment I realized that I had died and gone to fishing heaven.
For anyone thinking about booking the trip of a lifetime, give Lakers Unlimited some serious consideration. I am so glad that I took time out of my crazy schedule to spend a full week in a boat with my dad catching giant Lake Trout one after another. Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets.
Everything happens for a reason… If you get a chance… take it! It just might change your life!!
Kerry Clouthier is a Canadian multi-species Professional Angler, Author and Outdoorsman who is a member of the "Black Ops" Militant Outdoors Tactical Team.