Canadian Fly In Fishing in Ontario - Stonedam Lake and The Bear In The Woods (was in our camp!)
Stonedam Lake, Ontario, Canada 1974
In June of 1974, we made our way back to Fort Frances, Ontario to take our free trip into the Canadian wilderness. The outfitter, Northern Wilderness Outfitter, had offered us a “make-up” trip to make amends for last year’s fiasco involving the falsehoods told to us about what fish were present in Southwest Jones Lake. The outfitter guaranteed us there were plentiful Walleye and Smallmouth Bass present in Stonedam, and the possibility of Brook Trout in the rivers flowing into and out of the lake.
We arrived around noon and spoke with the owner. He told us there was a storm over our lake and they couldn’t get in that day, but we should be able to fly in early the next morning. Disheartened, but still hopeful, we went into town and walked around for a while. This was where I saw my first Indian, now known as Native American (only we were in Canada, so I don’t know how that works. Is he a Native Canadian?). He was quite inebriated, stumbling along on the street. When we came back to the truck, I rigged up a rod with a topwater frog and walked the shoreline of Rainy Lake. Casting as I went along, I flogged the water to a froth to no avail. I finally ended up at a small reed patch and cast my lure across the reeds. Twitching the lure as I slowly worked it in, I was not really paying attention to what I was doing. As per the norm, that’s when it happened. It looked like someone flushed a giant toilet under my frog, and it disappeared in a huge swirl. Too late, I reacted and set the hook, only to dodge the lure as it flew out of the water and straight at my head. Rats!
No amount of casting could raise the giant fish again. Most likely it was a Pike, but in my mind, the possibility of my first Muskie, that legendary Fish of a Thousand Casts was the elusive One That Got Away. I trudged back to the truck and went inside the camper to relay my adventure to Steve and my father. A quick dinner and we settled in for the night.
Sometime around midnight, we heard a rattle on the door of the camper. Sitting up, we watched in disbelief as the door opened (it WAS locked) and a young Indian boy began to climb inside! Steve got over his surprise first and yelled “HEY BOY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Let me tell you, the look on that pre-teen boy’s face was priceless. His eyes bugged out and were wide open, his mouth opened wide enough to drive a truck into and he froze there on the bumper for about one lo-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-ng second. Then he was gone, flying down the darkened street and disappearing into the shadows. We sat and talked for a while, no one really sleepy at this point; but eventually the adrenaline wore off and we settled back in to an uneasy slumber. This was not to be the only night we would be rudely awakened in the middle of the night on this trip.
Early the next morning, we got up and went to visit our host. After we filled him in on our nocturnal visitor, he told us the plane was ready, the weather had cleared over our lake, and we were good to go and load up the plane. In short order, we were loaded and ready to fly out. Our plane this time was the venerable de Havilland Beaver, the workhorse of the bush pilots. Even though it ceased production in 1967, the Beaver was still the choice of bush pilots. Even today, they remain in use, and are perhaps the best bush plane ever designed. Our pilot this time was a rugged man who looked like the epitome of what a bush pilot should look like. A man of few words, he directed us into the plane and we were off.
Roughly an hour and change later, we were descending to Stonedam Lake. We were the first ones to fish the lake that year, so there was no one to load up. And unlike the previous year, I was made painfully aware that there would be no fishing until everything was settled. We made several trips back and forth from the shoreline to the tent. There was a strange setup in front of the tent, consisting of some upright poles creating an enclosure of sorts. There was a waist high area along one side to set the cooking area up on. One could imagine a tarp stretched across the top to create a dry area for the frequent rains that came across this area in the spring and early summer.
It didn’t take us too long to unload and secure our campsite and we were off, loaded into the aluminum boat and skimming across the water. We had studied the map and decided where to go first. There was a river that exited the lake, and right where it exited the lake, another small river fed into the river to create a doubly effective location that should have everything needed for Walleye and Smallmouth action. We motored up to it and cut the engine, drifting into position and quietly anchoring the boat. We were using small jigs and spinners, casting into the current and allowing it to drift down into the hole where the two rivers came together. Cast after cast, we worked the area until finally we found the hot spot. For two hours we caught Walleye on virtually every cast, with the majority of them landing in the 14 to 16 inch range; perfect eating size. We put enough on the stringer to make up our first night’s dinner, and then we just had fun.
The next day, we explored the river coming into the area. We motored upriver about a mile and found it flowed out of a small lake. Fishing in that lake for the day, we caught more walleye and some small pike the entire day. Once we reached the upper limits of the lake, we beached the boat and walked alongside the rapids entering the waterway, casting as we went in hopes of catching a Brook Trout. Alas, we never latched into one of those wondrous fish. But Steve did catch something that put a sparkle in his eye. As we walked along the river’s edge, he spied, deep in a pool next to the bank, a six pack of Moulson Beer! Using the net, he was able to work it out of a crevice in the rocks and brought it to the surface. We wandered around the area and found the remains of a Moose hunting camp. Were these cans of beer left over from the previous fall, or longer ago than that? Neither my father nor I (naturally) enjoyed a cold one, but Steve had a couple that evening to compliment his fresh Walleye fillets. One or the other left a smile across his face; I never was sure which it was.
We spent the third day at the other end of the lake and found the Smallmouth. We caught these fine fighting fish all day long, along with the ever-present Pike. I have to make a comment here: none of us have ever used wire leaders when fishing for Pike. Nor do we normally use heavy line. Most of the time we used Spinning rods loaded with 10 pound test. The heaviest rods we used were Baitcasting rods with Ambassador Reels filled with 14 pound test monofilament. And we rarely lost a fish. I know these fish are called “toothy”, and they are: but their teeth are designed for puncturing and holding, not tearing or cutting. A Great White shark’s teeth are designed for cutting, having edges like steak knives. Pike’s are pointy, and sharp on the tips, but not on the sides. For the most part, we just never had much of a problem with them cutting our line. If we lost one, it was more likely they broke our line due to our failure to allow them to take line off of our reels fast enough.
On Wednesday, we had a banner day. We were in to Walleye and Smallmouth all day long, with those Pike mixed in enough to keep you on your toes. Steve hooked a small Pike, of a size the locals called “hammer handle”, as they were just slightly longer than a good sized hammer. As he was reeling it in, a wake surged just behind it, and we watched in stunned disbelief as a larger Pike, perhaps 5 pounds or so, came up and grabbed Steve’s pike across the middle. It took off, and all of a sudden Steve was fighting a second Pike! After a few minutes, he carefully worked this Pike in to the net, and he was the proud owner of not one, but two Pike; one of which wasn’t even hooked! Gotta love fishing in the wilderness!
Late in the afternoon, we headed back. Steve and I cleaned some of our walleye, leaving some others on the stringer hanging off the back of the boat to be cleaned and eaten for breakfast the next morning. We then fried our catch, and settled in to enjoy the meal. My father enjoyed his normal ham sandwich. Remember those walleye we left on the stringer; they’ll come back into the picture in a little while.
After dinner, we enjoyed another beautiful Canadian sunset, and then went into out tent to sleep. Steve was nearest the front, as he was prone to nocturnal calls of nature. I slept in the middle, with my father at the rear of the tent. Along about 11:30 PM or so, we were awakened to a loud clatter outside the tent. Steve woke us up with a statement that would make Captain Obvious green with envy.
“There’s somethin’ out there!” Oh, to have the clarity of prognostication of that dear, departed old man!
For the next few minutes, I will ask each of you reading this to try very hard to put this picture into your heads. Trust me: it will be worth the effort.
Steve stood up out of his sleeping bag. He was clad in a white sleeveless undershirt and tightie-whities, with the t-shirt tucked into the tightie-whities. He hesitated only long enough to put on his glasses, hat and knee-high black rubber boots, then grabbed his 6V flashlight as he unzipped the tent and stepped outside. We inside heard a click as he turned on the light and we waited breathlessly as Steve surveyed the area. Then…
“Well there’s a bear out here! Come on out and look at this bear!”
Before the words had moved more than a few inches from Steve’s lips, I was up and out the door of the tent. I had slept in my cloths, so was not hampered like my father to dress before going outside to meet the bear. As I slipped between the tent flaps and stood upright, I realized Steve had neglected to say exactly WHERE the bear was.
IT WAS RIGHT THERE!!!!
I mean, like less than ten feet (that’s 1-0, as in like three steps away) away from us! Steve had the flashlight’s beam squarely in the beast’s eyes. They glowed with an eerie green color, glaring at us with malevolence. I could clearly see the lo-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g teeth gleaming as he clicked his jaws at us. The bear stood in the remnants of a small trash box we had a few odds and ends in, having been searching for food and finding our scraps. He stood slightly higher at the back than my waist, and was really fat.
Steve began hollering at the bear, “Go on, bear! Go on, git! Shoo bear, shoo!” Now remember what he was wearing, and the fact that he was like 70 years old at the time. This 5’7”, 150 pound little old man standing less than 10 feet away from a 400 pound Black Bear, clad only in underwear and knee high boots and a hat, waving his arms in the air hollering shoo bear.
The bear said, and I quote, “Woof!”
Steve handed me the light with the instructions to hold it in the bear’s eyes, and continue “shooing” the bear while he walked TOWARDS the bear! It began to back up out of the camp to halt some 30 feet away or so. Steve began picking up the trash, putting it back into the trash box.
Then, here came my father.
Hat on backwards; high top white Converse (old school, he) tennis shoes on the wrong feet (I have NO idea how he did that); holding a Polaroid camera, trying to put a flash bulb into the flash attachment because he WANTED TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THE BEAR! He said, “Mike, shine that light here on the camera so I can put this bulb in!”
“But Steve told me to keep in in the bear’s eyes!”
“Shine it down here for just a second!” So, I did. Then I brought the light back up to where the bear was, but he wasn’t! Frantically, I began shining the light all over the place, searching for the bear. He was black as night, and it was a very dark night, so it was hard to find him. When I did, he was around behind me COMING BACK INTO THE CAMP! He was almost between us and the tent and no more than five or six feet away!
“GHAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! BEAR! GETOUTTAHEREBEAR!” I began jumping up and down and shouting nonsensical words at the bear. He looked at me and said “Woof!” again, and began to leave the campsite, working his way into the woods. My father never got his picture of the bear. I felt so bad (not!).
We cleaned up the area and moved the trash box into one of the boats on the shoreline, figuring the bear would not want to clamber into a boat to get to the trash. We then went back into the tent and tried to go to sleep. Sleep was a long time coming, I can tell you!
At some point, I somehow fell back asleep. But a noise down by the shore woke us up again shortly after 2:00 AM. The bear was back! We went out and watched as he came down off of the boat and scampered back into the woods with us yelling at the top of our lungs at him. We walked over to the boats and saw he had pulled the Walleye we had on the stringer up onto the shore, getting ready to have himself a nice Walleye dinner!
Somehow, finally we slept. Dawn came early that Thursday morning. My father was up first, getting ready for his “morning constitutional”. He grabbed the roll of John Wayne toilet paper the outfitter left in camp. Do you know why we call it John Wayne toilet paper? Because it don’t take crap off of anybody! Anyway, he walked around the tent, heading for his favorite spot. He yelled at us to come here, so Steve and I walked out the door of the tent and turned to the left, immediately coming face to face with my father. He never said a word; simply pointed straight down at his feet.
Right up against the side of the tent was a big, steaming, pile of bear poo! About the size of a cow patty, it was literally against the side of the tent! I mean, that bear had to have had his butt on the side of the tent to place it so close! Then it hit me: it was right over where my head would have been while I was asleep! While I lay there blissfully dreaming of fish, that @#$%^&! Bear crapped within a foot of my head!
Saturday couldn’t come soon enough for me!