If you're a muskie angler, you know there are only two certainties. The first is that everything else is just bait. The second is that at sometime in your life, you have to fish Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods.
It is fitting, too, that the 1-million-acre body of sweet water (the 37th largest lake in the world) with its incredible maze of 14,000 spruce and pine studded islands and 64,000 miles of spellbinding shoreline, lies smack dab in the centre of the continent.
Talk about being the focus of attention.
And while the waterway hosts an amazing diversity of 47 different fish species including unparalleled opportunities for walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, lake trout, northern pike, yellow perch and black crappies ...... only muskies matter.
But, be forewarned, the big toothy critters come at a cost.
By the time your trip is over, you will be trying to figure out how to live here forever. I know because I arrived in 1976 with muskie sticks in hand. And working for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, I gained an amazing insight into what I can say with confidence is the finest muskie fishery in the world today.
Those are pretty heady words considering that Northwestern Ontario boasts the greatest concentration of quality muskie waters on earth, but consider the facts.
While most folks look at Lake of the Woods and see a single magical body of water, it actually encompasses seven quite different sectors. Why is this important? Because each giant lake-within-the-lake offers a different muskie fishing experience.
In the southern zones, for instance, around Nestor Falls, Morson and the Northwest Angle, up to Monument Bay and Big Island, the water is naturally stained and relatively shallow. Thirty-five feet is deep in these parts and you'll come across plenty of muskie attracting weeds.
Over in massive Whitefish Bay, on the other hand, you'll find many stretches where the water is over 100 feet deep and so crystal clear you can see a dime sparkling on the granite rock bottom. And, depending on the time of year, you'll find the muskies feeding on the lake trout, whitefish and ciscoes with which they share the water.
The north sector of the lake, south of the city of Kenora, the central sector below the Barrier Islands, and the area encompassing Shoal Lake offers distinctive habitats and characteristics somewhat in between these two boundaries.
Why it is so important for the muskie angler to understand the various parts of the lake is that you can match your favorite style of fishing to a particular part of the lake. So, if you like casting topwater lures, double-bladed in-line spinners or soft plastic swimbaits, you can find the perfect match. You can even venture to different sectors over the course of a day and fish a "new lake" without ever getting out of the boat.
Another reason Lake of the Woods is the cream of the muskie crop is because you can catch great numbers of big fish. Most other muskie lakes are noteworthy for churning out quantities of small- and medium-size fish, or for coughing up a few knee knocking giants. Rarely, however, are you afforded both opportunities. But at the end of a stellar day on Lake of the Woods, you will have bruises on your body, and they won't be from the fish. Instead, they'll be the marks where you pinched yourself all day to make sure you weren't dreaming. But it not an illusion.
I've had nine fish days where the smallest muskie exceeded 20-pounds and the stoutest was well over 40-pounds. I released the biggest muskie in the province of Ontario three separate years and my personal best fish, based on the length/girth conversion weighed 57 1/2 pounds.
And do you want to know something else?
The muskie fishing is even better today, thanks to the modern management and high-quality fishing regulations that have been carefully crafted by the OMNR working with Muskies Canada, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association and local anglers. The objective was to take the finest muskie fishery in the world and make it surreal. And it worked out splendidly
"If you can't catch a muskie in Lake of the Woods," chuckles renown muskie angler, Dick Pearson, "you must be doing something wrong."
Legendary guide, Doug Johnson, on the other hand, reports catching and seeing as many as 35 quality fish in a single day. And imagine being the guest of Kenora-based guide, Darcy Cox, who on almost his first cast of the season this year caught a giant 52-inch muskie.
"We spotted it on a sand flat in one foot of water," says Cox. "The Godzilla-like wake on the follow was epic. The strike on the figure-eight was epic. The fight was epic. It was a sunny day so we got to watch the whole show from start to finish."
So, it can't get any better than this, can it?
Well, it actually can when you see the diversity of options for quality accommodations and fine dining. Everything from provincial parks and private campgrounds, to drive-in resorts and boat-to lodges where your every need is looked after and you're pampered with plush accommodations, maid service, gourmet meals, hot tubs, daily shore lunches that are to die for, and guides running brand new boats and motors equipped with the latest sonar.
It is why Lake of the Woods is the place to go to make your muskie dreams come true.
[navionics zoom="7" long="-94.3" lat="49.1"]