Talking Travel Destination Canada Elle Andra-Warner Fishing in Northwestern Ontario

Photo courtesy of Wilderness North


Fishing in Northwestern Ontario: the Perfect Life
by Elle Andra-Warner

“If politicians fished, it would be better for everyone,” laughed Ken Boshcoff. Ken is the former Mayor of Thunder Bay, Ontario (on the shores of Lake Superior), and now a Member of Parliament in Ottawa. “For me, fishing is a life-saver. It gives me a chance to completely relax and recharge. I love fishing. I can’t say enough about how good fishing is.”

(To find specific locations in this story, visit the Canadian Geographic Online Canadian Atlas.)


Every year, Boshcoff goes out with a group of friends on his annual fishing trip to secret fishing “holes” in Northwestern Ontario. But like many avid fishers, he isn't too forthcoming about exactly where he goes. “They are driveable destinations for pickerel fishing ... but that’s all I can tell you about where we go!”

For many non-Canadians, Northwestern Ontario is a paradise fishing country with a bonanza of wilderness lakes, rivers, and streams, all of which have a great diversity of fish: trout, salmon (coho, pink and Chinook), small mouth bass, northern pike, pickerel (Americans call them walleye), perch, whitefish, muskie, and splake (the latter a hybrid cross between speckled trout and lake trout, which tastes delicious).

And in the vast natural area of Northwestern Ontario, there’s plenty of room room for all types of fishing: catch-and-release fly-fishing, remote fly-in fishing, walk-and-wade, shoreline, and one of the most popular and exciting, fly-in charter fishing.

“In the fly-fishing world, Northwestern Ontario is one of the new frontiers. Many well-traveled fly anglers are finding a gold mine of fly-fishing opportunities in the wilderness here,” says Ontario’s Scott Earl Smith, internationally renowned fly-fishing speaker, writer, and author of the best-seller fishing book, Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide.

Fly fishing is an ancient sport dating back to the time of the Romans and classical Macedonia over 2000 years ago. The basic equipment and concept is still the same today: using a long, flexible rod and a weighted line, you catch fish with a relatively weightless artificial lure that looks like a tiny insect. Fly-fishing is a method of catching fish that is based on casting technique skills and knowledge about the fish and their habitat. You are constantly working your body trying to get that perfect cast, while at the same time your mind is busy analyzing water conditions and planning the next cast.

Did you know that it was a British woman, Dame Juliana Berners, who is generally credited with writing the first complete reference work on fly fishing? She published this very first “how to fishing manual” Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle in 1496!

Scott Earl Smith has said, “The big draw for fly anglers here in [Northwestern Ontario] is our world-class brook trout. The world record for it, at 14 pounds 8 ounces, was caught in 1915 in the famous Nipigon River, a magnificent river which is about an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay. The river and coastal streams still produce huge brook trout.” He adds, “The other draw is the solitude. There is so much room here for anglers to be on their own. I have guided parties of eight fly anglers who spend six days here without encountering other anglers.”

The ultimate Canadian fishing adventure is a fly-in holiday at a remote outpost on one of the thousands of fishing lakes scattered across Northwestern Ontario. Hundreds of excellent outfitters provide tourists with first-class service, from rustic cabins with bare essentials (clean but spartan) to exotic wilderness lodges with amenities like hot showers, fishing guides and staff to cook gourmet meals.

And these trips are no longer designed as men-only travel experiences; the biggest increase has been in families who get hooked on this kind of fishing vacation. They fly in small float planes like the Otter, Beaver or Cessna to lakes with names like Esnagami (great spring fishing), Anishanabi, Redsand Lake, Shawanabis Lake, Medicine Stone, Meta, Ogoki, Pats Lake, and Kitty Hawk — to name just a few.

So, what draws urban adventurers to fish these wild places?

When I flew with my family on a fly-in fishing vacation from Nakina in Northwestern Ontario to some remote lake with a now-forgotten name, I came to understand why people seek out these adventures. It is humbling to look out the plane’s window at the grandeur of a wilderness valhalla stretching far into the horizon, without any sign of civilization. You can feel the spirituality, the mystical pull of the boreal wild, and the raw power of the land that relaxes, rejuvenates, and re-energizes the soul.

Nakina (population 700) is a northern frontier town located about a 3 to 4-hour drive (210 miles) northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Each year, thousands of fishers (mostly Americans and Germans) drive or fly here to experience fishing in the northern untamed wilderness.

There’s no better way to kick start the adventure than bush flying over the boreal forest to an outpost fish cabin on a remote lake. We flew out on a Twin Otter with Nakina-based Leuenberger Air Services Ltd, who have been in the fishing-and-flying business for over 42 years.

After being dropped off at our remote location, we were out on the lake fishing within a half-hour, and caught our first pickerel a short while later. We had a great time at our no-frills outpost cabin with its rows of bunk beds, propane stove and fridge, and an outside “john”.

When a Beaver float plane came to pick us up a few days later, a family of four from Iowa flew in to take our place at the cabin. I chatted briefly with the mother, who told me excitedly, “We’ve been saving two years for this trip. We drove up from Iowa, got to Nakina late yesterday and slept in the car last night.” She looked around, smiled and said, “This is incredible. Beautiful. I can’t wait until we’re out fishing on the lake. Its like being in a dream.”

I told her that the fishing had been great, with lots of pickerel for a supper and a breakfast, but that the best eating had been the shore lunch.

Ah! The shore lunch; one of the great northern Canadian traditions. Nothing beats a mid-day shore lunch of fresh-caught pickerel (walleye) pan-fried over an open fire. (The cheeks are the “filet mignon” of pickerel). Add some potatoes and baked beans for the ultimate wilderness gourmet dining. It has been referred to as “a genuine slice of Canadian gastronomy.”

Back in the 15th century, Dame Berners wrote “... the sport and game of angling is the best means and cause that brings a man into a merry spirit.” The concept is echoed today by fishing enthusiasts like Smith who writes the following in his book:

To live the perfect life would be to fish every day of the northern season from April to December, plying the many streams on the north shore ... never tiring of the variety of species and places to fish.

And once you bring home the big catch of fish and are looking for some great recipes, check out The Fine Catch Seafood Cookbook by award-winning Julie Watson from Prince Edward Island. On a personal note, Jack’s Basting Sauce is awesome!



Elle Andra-Warner

Elle Andra-Warner


Fly away ... to Northwestern Ontario

Wilderness North
Box 159 Armstrong, Ontario
Canada POT 1A0
Phone Toll Free: 888.465.3474
Fax: 807.583.2541

Leuenberger Air Services Ltd.
P.O. Box 60T
Nakina ON POT 2HO
Toll-free 1-888-246-6533

North of Superior Tourism Association
Toll-free 1-800-265-3951

Moccasin Trails Fishing
Toll-free in Canada 1-866-844-0497
Within U.S. 1-800-347-4421
Fax 1-630-968-3975

Northern Ontario Tourism Outfitters (NOTO)
386 Algonquin Avenue
North Bay ON P1B 4W3
Tel. 705-472-5552

Scott Earl Smith
Author of Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide

Julie V. Watson
Author of The Fine Catch Seafood Cookbook

Lakes of Legends Tourism Association

Dame Juliana Berners

Unless otherwise indicated, photographs are courtesy of Thunder Bay Tourism