In my ongoing effort to help people find the best Ontario fishing destination, I sought the counsel of one particular Pasha Lake Cabin guest. While all our guests are special, this guy stands out because of his 50 year tenure in visiting Ontario. Folks, that’s not a typo! Really, 50 years! In that time frame, he’s figured out how to experience each year as if it were his first. Truly, he embodies what all of us need to strive for in fishing the remote locations of Northwest Ontario.
His story brings us to a time long since passed and allows us to reminisce on how things “used to be.” Please read on as this two part series chronicles the history and, just as important, the lessons learned through Mr. Steve Lalonde’s 50 years of experience in fishing paradise surrounding the Lake Nipigon watershed.
Steve Lalonde is from Midland Michigan. He was a mere child when he first set foot on Canadian soil. The time was 1960-something and he vividly remembers the summers spent at his grandfather’s cottage on the southern shores of Lake Nipigon. Back then, fishing was second to a hard, long day’s work. Of course it was always looked forward to, but it certainly wasn’t the purpose of his being there. At that time, subsistence and survival mandated grueling hours of work, mostly toward the preparation of brutal winters that were characteristic of the time.
As I sit here and type this, I can only imagine what things would have been like back then. Absent of today’s technology and tools, life on the south shores of the big lake were likely as difficult as it gets. In fact, Steve spoke to that fact during his interview. He explained that every day was spent getting up early in the morning and prioritizing the day’s work. Life was spent cutting fire wood, gathering food for the long winters, and repairing and maintaining the primitive equipment, among many other things. Steve said the work was hard and the days were long. When he layed down at night, I’m sure his body was sore, I’m sure that the blisters on his hands made him dread the next day’s work, and I’m sure that fatigue, as we know it, was an understatement. Yet, despite the vey necessary and demanding work, his grandfather (the obviously intelligent man he was) knew how to keep the work force motivated.
How, you might ask? At exactly 4:00pm every day, the work abruptly ended and the family went into fishing preparation mode. Steve’s job was to pack the boats, while grandfather likely got all the poles, line, and lures ready. Once the preparations were done, the family would shove off and head for the brook trout honey holes his grandfather knew all too well. In my private conversations with Steve and during our interview, he spoke frequently of 5 pound brook trout as if they were 14 inch walleyes. It was nothing to catch limit after limit of–what is considered by today standards–remarkable trophy speckle trout. And while I’m sure it was as fun as it gets, back then it was also an essential way to survive.
What’s neat about fishing then is how they continually found success while lacking the tools of the trade we know today. Fishing was mainly done out of 16–18 foot sea skiffs that rode low in the water. (Heck, back then I’m sure wood boats were still popular.) Comfort consisted of a wood bench surrounded by gear and praying waves wouldn’t toss you from the boat. Rain gear, if they had it, was the “Grandfather Special.” That is, a trash bag custom-made with 3 holes–one hole for the head and the other two for arms. Electronics consisted of memories and visual reference points on the landscape. The outboard motors of that era were two-stroke. And if you’d been fortunate enough to cut through the smoke to see the power head, it surely would have been 15hp or less. With that kind of gear, it’s safe to say venturing out on the unforgiving waters of Nipigon involved some risk. Yet, with those primitive limitations, they found tremendous success in locating and catching fish. Remember too, that this wasn’t just for fun, it was out of necessity.
And on the days Nipigon was too rough for even the hardy Lalonde French-landers, they’d turn their sights inward, exploring the endless trail networks and watersheds of the area. That’s where Steve’s grandfather stumbled upon a river that was teaming with pre-spawn whitefish. They were so thick, it was possible to dip-net a few hundred pounds and not even dent the population. Add to that upland bird populations of historic proportions and spending a day off the big lake wasn’t all that bad.
But as years passed, so too did the winds of change. Soon Steve’s grandfather passed, and while they continued to use the same cabin for his annual adventures, things just weren’t the same. It wasn’t long before a decision to find different accommodations was made. He tried an area just south of Lake Nipigon, and having no luck there, moved to the east side. As luck would have it, one day while bird hunting, Steve discovered a then-little-known lodge called Pasha Lake Cabins. And no one has been the same since!
To be continued…