In 2019, I made both a spring and fall bass fishing trip to Algoma Country; that beautiful region of northern Ontario around Sault Ste. Marie and west to the Spanish River and northern shores of Lake Huron. To say I fell in love with the area and the fishing would be an understatement and the magnetic pull for a return trip early this spring was anxiously looked forward to all winter. That is until this danged pandemic hit and ruined our plans as well as all those who love this part of the province. Fortunately by mid-September 2020, with all COVID-19 precautions in place, my youngest son Izaak and I were invited to try out Melwel Lodge just west of Blind River, and we jumped at the opportunity.
This would be Izaak’s first venture to Algoma Country and I wanted him not only to experience some of its fine fishing but as a keen hiker, also the hiking opportunities it’s renowned for. So, our plan was to spend five days at Melwel Lodge where we would fish from our base camp lake – Big Basswood and also a couple of the other surrounding water bodies, then leave the boat there so that we could drive without a trailer it 1 ½ hours west on Hwy 17 to Sault Ste. Marie to explore that historic northern town and hike one of its legendary trails nearby along the majestic Lake Superior Coast. Here’s how it all went down.
Fishing on the way up
Along the Hwy 17 route to Melwel Lodge, which is about 30 minutes west of Blind River, lies one of Algoma’s top largemouth bass water bodies that my brother Marcel and I fished last spring (read article here: ). Izaak and I left our home in southern Simcoe County and reached Melwel Lodge in 6 ½ hours of carefree driving, met the amicable manager- Erik Novak and then headed to this lake for some bass and walleye. The free public boat launch was in good shape but with low water levels, I had to back the trailer way further than usual to get my bass boat off. There was a strong headwind so we headed for the opposite shore and found many patches of luscious green cabbage and some coontail that wasn’t there in the spring during my last visit.
We caught a couple small bass from these but the pending cold front must have really shut the fish down- with the exception of northern pike. We didn’t catch any giants but easily got into double figures. Little did we know this would be par for the course almost everywhere we fished that week except for Big Basswood Lake. Fortunately, we did continue to catch a few decent smallmouth bass here and there and hooked into a nice sized walleye as well that would come back with us for dinner.
The above walleye and entire meal was prepared by Melwel manager and professional cook Erik Novak. Algoma Country guide Adam Vallee joined us for the feast that included an amazing pasta dish with chanterelle mushrooms picked locally that day by Erik; a master forager who really knows his wild mushrooms. Needless to say the meal was outstanding and the comradery that evening provided a wonderful memory.
Fishing Little Basswood Lake
The next day we woke up to texts from both Erik the manager of the lodge and Adam – the area’s top guide. Due to expected high winds and rough seas they recommended Izaak and I re-evaluate our plans to fish Big Basswood and to try nearby Little Basswood instead … so we did. The free public launch was a beauty and it was no problem going in and out with my Nitro bass boat. This was a beautiful Algoma Country lake and although we caught some nice smallmouth bass the unsettled weather conditions resulted in rather slow fishing. It is a good lake for both full sized fishing boats and fishing kayaks though and we met and spoke with a kayak angler that day who was the only other boat we saw. He too was having a slow day but normally does okay here.
An Algoma pike similar in size to this one – caught with a similar Rapala X Rap, was responsible for the challenge Wil and Izaak faced below.
Jerk Baits like the X Rap and the new 13 Fishing Loco accounted for most of the pike caught on this trip. It’s surprising some of these northern Algoma water bodies have such prolific aquatic plant growth – with broad leafed cabbage most common, followed by coontail, native milfoil and eelgrass. Pike were basically found everywhere these plants grew- especially if they were still green and not dying off yet. As an added bonus smallmouth bass were often not far from the same ‘weeds’ although usually not right in them like the pike … and sometimes bonus largemouth bass if the water body we fished had them.
As expected, it didn’t take long to find the northern pike in this mini, yet still decent sized version of our ‘home lake’ that we were staying on. What we didn’t expect … was that one of these pike on the end of my line would suddenly leap into the air right near the boat as I was about to land it, impaling not only one but two sets of treble hooks deeply into my right hand.
Disclaimer: Graphic Content
A reminder to always be safe and prepared while fishing:
When the pike jumped boat side, two of the trebles became embedded into Wil’s hand while the pike was still thrashing. Immediately Izaak came to his assistance and carefully yet quickly unhooked the pike and tossed it back in – while Wil was trying hard not to curse too loudly. The next step was to cut the line, then remove the lure from the hooks. Wil carry’s a set of high end Rapala cutters for this specific purpose and Izaak masterfully snapped off one of the hooks. Immediately a great deal of the pain caused by the two sets of trebles that were initially pulled into each other, was relieved and Wil let out a huge sigh of relief. To save the nice treble hook for future use, they elected not to cut it, so Izaak removed the split ring instead.
Now, to remove the intact treble, the well proven line trick came into play. Unfortunately Wil has had to use it on several occasions – both on himself and others. Izaak double wrapped an 18” piece of 10lb line along the bend within the treble while Wil pushed that bend downward to depress the hidden barb. Then when that was fully in place and with a sharp downward tug, Izaak yanked on the line snapped hook free. Wil hardly felt it come out and even greater pain dissipated. Now for the tricky hook that was cut, and still had the barb and a tiny piece of it left in Wil’s hand. There wasn’t quite enough of it showing to get a loop around it, so Wil used a set of needle nosed pliers to gently pull it out as far as it would go before the barb stopped it. Then they tied a slip knot around the small bend that was left (a loop would just slip out). Wil pressed down on the remaining bend hoping the barb was pointing out towards his son but not entirely convinced it was. Izaak yanked downward and ‘voila’ what was left of the hook was now gone in one fell swoop without any pain!
The entire process may have taken 5-10 minutes and the father and son duo did discuss visiting a hospital to have it removed, but Wil wrongly thought Sault Ste. Marie had the closest one available. There was both one in Thessalon and Blind River – only about ½ hour away. Also, quite frankly with all the COVID-19 restrictions in place, he was even more reluctant to enter a hospital. For those not experienced or confident in this hook removal method, a hospital visit is usually in order, but Wil knew if they stayed calm, took their relative time to think and talk through their next steps before proceeding with caution; all would be fine… And after immediate disinfection and all bandaged up it only took an hour or so for the golf ball sized welt on Wil’s hand to disappear. He was fine and continued fishing unencumbered afterwards and for the remainder of the trip.
The next day, Izaak decided to take time off from fishing and to just enjoy the amenities around Melwel Lodge that included a sauna and use of canoes.
Izaak and Wil’s waterfront home away from home for the week. Besides the comforts of the usual features, fan-forced electric heat was a blessing in the evenings when temperatures dropped close to the freezing mark. During the pandemic, all the cabins undergo an even more rigorous cleaning and disinfection regime and they were immaculately clean.
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