A number of years ago I set out to find a place in Ontario where I had a legitimate chance to catch some big pike - forty inches or better - and would have to hide behind a tree to bait my hook to avoid being attacked by monster walleye.
I also wanted quality food and boats, reliable motors and comfortable accommodation - all for a price that would avoid the need to get on a first name basis with my bank manager.
Despite prowling the internet for hours on end and talking directly to more outfitters than I can remember, I was not having much luck in filling what turned out to be a rather tall order.
That is until I ran into Eric Lund one afternoon at the Toronto Spring Fishing Show.
Eric and his wife Sue own and operate a place called Esnagami Wilderness Lodge in north - western Ontario. I was impressed with the way Eric described his operation because he did not try to over sell the lodge or the fishery. He gave me what I thought was a fair and objective overview of what I could expect, but as experience has shown me, he really undersold the place.
Waters of Many Fish
Esnagami Lake - which in Ojibwa translates into "waters of many fish" - is in fact a walleye and pike factory.
The lake is about fourteen miles long, which you access via a short floatplane ride north from the town of Nakina, Ontario. It has the type of structure and ecosystem that consistently produces excellent numbers, including many trophy size fish and, given Eric's focus on conservation, through his innovative catch and release incentive program, it should remain a quality fishery for generations to come.
Guests are encouraged to release any walleye twenty-four inches or larger and pike thirty inches or more, and then fill out a small entry card. At the end of the week you will be formally welcomed into the trophy Club and presented with a T-shirt marking your achievement. Each or your entry cards are put into a draw for a free trip to the lodge - one of each week of the season.
The program has certainly caught on because in 2012 alone, over 700 trophies were released to fight again.
It is also the only lodge on the lake, so there is plenty of room to spread out and explore. In fact I make a point of looking for places that are a bit off the beaten track and are rarely disappointed. To give you an example, a couple of years ago I stopped to fish the drop off around a small unnamed island and in two days, caught over eighty walleye, with ten of them measuring between twenty four and thirty one inches.
There are countless places on the lake, not unlike this one, that most likely have never been fished.
While the walleye fishing is exceptional - seventy five to one hundred fish, per boat, per day is not uncommon - the lake also has an outstanding trophy pike fishery with fish over forty inches making a regular appearance.
The best times for big pike are usually during the month of August, in late May or early June. The Walleye continue to bite throughout the entire season, although they will move out onto the mid lake reefs as the season progresses, so you might have to fish a bit deeper, at least throughout the morning and afternoon.
Interested in some world - class speckled trout fishing?
Then you are in luck.
The optimum time is early in the season (late May early June) and the best place to find them is in the Esnagami River, which flows out of the north east end of the lake.
This is a guided trip where you run down stream through numerous patches of white water, stopping along the way to fish the pools, riffles and eddies.
You will catch your share of walleye and even the occasional pike. The "specs" can go up to five pounds and you can take them - and the walleye and pike - on a fly if you are so inclined. As an added bonus the scenery along the river is beautiful.
In 2012 Eric opened his new "River Camp" outpost, which now provides guests the opportunity to fish this amazing trout water for several days at a time.
In the event you happen to get bored catching all of those pike and walleye in the main lake, the lodge offers some pleasant distractions.
Simply put your name on the sign up sheet located in main lodge next to the tackle shop, and you will have your choice of going into three very productive and unique catch and release "out" lakes
Take the short portage into Betty Lake, which promises excellent pike fishing, and you will not be disappointed. Eric hooked one of the largest pike he has ever seen in Betty, and given the number of trophy "gators" that he has caught over the years, it must have resembled the Loch Ness monster. You will catch more than you share of pike, and the occasional three to five pound walleye will come along just to keep you on your toes.
If Betty Lake does not sound like your cup of tea, then it's just a short walk into another gem called Spotted Lake.
Good pike fishing - we caught a number of pike including one measuring thirty-three inches when we last visited - and lots of "blue" walleye. Yes I said blue.
The tail sections of most fish have a very distinct blue colour and they average between two and four pounds with bigger fish a real possibility. We fished it for two consecutive mornings and caught well over one hundred fish.
While the best fishing for Speckled Trout is the Esnagami River, don't pass up a chance to spend a morning or afternoon in what Eric calls "Wonderland."
There are no white rabbits or March Hares bounding about, but there is some beautiful scenery and a very healthy population of Speckled Trout to entertain you.
Wonderland, which is about a fifteen-minute boat ride from the lodge, is not really a lake but a series of ponds that are fed by underwater artesian springs.
The water is very clear and the colour varies from teal to emerald green. The areas around these underwater springs look more like a coral reef than the bottom of a northern Ontario lake.
To find your way through the looking glass, just pull up to the beaver dam that runs across the small stream leading into the first pond, and hop over into the boat that Eric will have waiting for you on the other side.
Because only one boat is kept in each location, you will have the place you choose all to yourself for the entire morning or afternoon.
More than Fantastic Fishing
While the fishing is fantastic, Esnagami Lake Lodge has a great deal more to offer their guests.
There is plenty of wildlife to be seen throughout the lake and river areas- Moose, Bald Eagles, Wolves, water birds of all sorts and even the occasional Woodland Caribou. Great food and lots of it, including a group shore lunch hosted by the lodge staff every Wednesday, featuring fresh walleye prepared in several delicious ways, home made onion rings etc.
Your boat is loaded with a shore lunch kit (including dry wood for your cooking fire) or a box lunch each morning depending on your preference. The cabins are well appointed and feature daily maid service, indoor plumbing, comfortable beds and the like.
Notwithstanding the great fishing and amenities, in my view the one thing that distinguishes Esnagami Lake Lodge from other lodges is outstanding management.
Eric, Sue and their entire staff have only one objective in mind and that is to ensure you have the best experience possible.
If it's not right, just bring it to their attention and they will do whatever they possibly can to fix it.
Having trouble getting on fish? It is a pretty big lake, and it takes a day or two to find your way around, even though you get a comprehensive briefing and a good lake map upon your arrival. Although they have experienced guides available, Eric will personally take new guests out on the lake for an entire morning or afternoon to show them where and how to get on fish.
Like it so far? It gets better.
In my opinion this place is an exceptional bargain. Want to drop your line into a world class fishery - have a good size lake pretty much all to yourself - eat very well and so forth- how does about $1800* sound? And that price is all in - including your flight from Nakina to the lodge.
Your only additional costs would be for a guide, should you decide you need one, the optional river trip and live bait, although an untipped jig/grub combo, marabou jig or hard bait will get the job done.
At the time I wrote this I was planning my fourteenth trip.
Eric and Sue have built up a substantial and very loyal clientele over the years, which like me, come back year after year.
So if you are in the market for a lodge that offers outstanding fishing and service, you should really check this place out, and I'm willing to bet that if you do pay a visit, it will be the first of many to come.
(* 2012 base package price - American Plan)