Fly In Trip to Brace Lake Outfitters

Caught on a jig.

Caught on a jig.

This year our group once again planned on a remote fly-in fishing adventure in northern Ontario. This was our 5th trip together and we decided to try something a bit different. After 3 years of outpost fishing trips, we decided that a bit of electricity and indoor plumbing would be a nice treat. As is the usually case, after last year’s trip I began researching options for 2015. It was my hope we’d be landing lots of big fish like the one pictured here, my first Pike of the trip caught while jigging for some lunch.

Not exactly ideal conditions...

Not exactly ideal conditions…

Here is the list of what the group identified as the key elements of this year’s trip (great fishing for Pike and Walleye was a given):

  • Electricity
  • Running water with hot shower
  • Fly In destination
  • A lodge with a good reputation
  • A price point agreeable to the core group

With that in mind, I began my research on the internet, forums, fellow anglers, magazines, tv show, radio program, etc. The one that caught my eye, and popped up on numerous locations was that of Brace Lake Outfitters. This lodge had recently been re-opened by Teri and Kyle Polesky, had hosted the New Fly Fisher and Fishin Canada, and a friend of mine had been there the previous season and had enjoyed the fishing.

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Brace Lake as we come in for approach.

With that information in hand, I contacted the lodge. Any question of where we were going was washed away simply by the interaction I had with Teri. Her promptness, professionalism, attention to detail and enthusiasm for her business caught me right away, and I promptly moved into booking mode. There are things you can control on a fishing trip, and things you can’t (more on the latter coming), and I knew that working with Teri we’d be well covered from a planning standpoint.

Great boats!

Great boats!

I should mention at this point that we departed from our normal July / August fishing trip to being on the water for opening weekend, which was May 17th 2015. This is an important part of the trip because we knew it would be prime time for big post spawn fish, but that there was an element of risk with both May weather, and the question of if the ice would be off. Well the latter was answered early, the ice was off in plenty of time due to the great weather leading up to our trip. Interestingly it was great for the days after we left as well, but for the 5 days we were there, it was some of the roughest conditions we had experienced from a fishing perspective. A full on winter storm came in dumping 15 cm, 60km gusts, sleet, freezing rain, you name it. 4 of the 5 days we had sub zero temps without the wind. Two days the lodge pipes were frozen so we couldn’t enjoy the running water and hot showers. You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you respond to it, and Kyle and Teri worked hard to make sure we made the best of it. Kyle was out first thing in the morning to shovel the boats (yes shovel), when he guided us he gave us a great shore lunch in pouring rain and sleet, and did a great job putting us in locations that we could still safely fish in.

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Departure day, of course the weather improved as well left…

Let’s look at things from a results perspective;

  • Flight service by Nakina Air Service was great.
  • Main lodge at Brace is spectacular
  • Cabins were a good size, well equipped, had private docks and great views
  • 18ft cedar strip boats are a dream to fish from, and the new 25hp mercury 4 strokes were quiet and reliable
  • Brace Lake was a good size to learn for our group, but the weather prevented us from getting to Meta and Ara lakes which adjoin it.
  • The fishing has real potential. I say this because the conditions really were extreme. We had a 20 degree temperature difference in less than 24 hours. Any lake will get shut down with that type of cold front. At one point I was using a lighter on my baitcaster because it had frozen solid, and you had to bust the ice out of the line guides after every few casts. We still managed to catch a lot of fish. Average walleye size was probably 20 inches, and we caught many fish in the 30-40 inch range, but did not crack the 40s on this trip. That being said, a group that stayed two days after us, when the weather warmed up caught more than 15 40inch pike in one afternoon, so there is no doubt it is a quality fishery.
The guys...

The guys…

All the planning in the world can’t do much to prevent extreme weather (though I’m glad we all packed the right gear for it), but at the same time the experience and memories are all the more rich because of these unique conditions. We saw enough of what Brace Lake has to offer that we’ll be back for round two, we just hope that the weather is as cooperative as the owners of Brace Lake Outfitters area.

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Toronto Boat Show 2015

Well this year I didn’t come home with a boat, but still had a nice time as the Toronto Boat Show. I went again this year with my buddy, Scott, and it was nice to catch up and dream about open water. We usually have a couple of goals for the event; to hang out, to look at some boats that we actually might be interested in, to play make-believe in some boats we would never be able to afford, and to look around at accessories.

IMG_0998I had lots of fun looking at outboard motors that were bigger than me, and whats amazing is that the same horse power motor is just getting bigger and bigger, check out this 250hp merc!

I had a great time visiting my own boat dealer Ryan, from Trailerword in Brantford Ontario. Ryan is a local Princecraft dealer, who sold me my boat last year and who also handles my service and maintenance. After spending some time looking at the new 2015 lineup, it was off to check in with the guys from Hummingbird, and Navionics.

My only purchase for the evening, other than dinner, were a couple of new life jackets for the kids. I was looking around, saw some great looking jackets from Salus Marine, and was sold once I learned they were based out of Waterloo, Ontario, just in the area I live now.  We called it a night and headed for home. Next up for me is the Toronto Sportsman show!

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Fishing Isn’t Just for Buddies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I started fishing as a young boy, it meant heading to the local creek or small pond fishing for trout, and usually catching suckers or chub. When I got into my late teens I was included in the annual Father and Son Fishing Trip. At the time I was 17, which was old enough to keep my mouth shut when I got home :). As I’ve gotten older still, the fishing experience has continued to evolve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing away on fishing trips, whether they are day trips, weekends, or full fledge fly in weeks, requires (hopefully) the support of your family. A couple of years ago I was happy that my wife (Carolyn, pictured above with the Pike) agreed to go on a “couple” fishing weekend. It included my father and step mom, and my brother and his wife. The goal of the couples weekend (if you can call them goals), is to spend time with your spouse / partner, sharing in a passion that you have and hopefully they find the same enjoyment.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we were planning for the first one, there were lots of questions. How much fishing would get done? Would the “girls” fish as much as the “guys”? Would the girls enjoy the fishing at all? Well, the answers were really positive. Do we fish as much as we would on a guys trip, no, but really it’s just because we don’t rush out the door and we don’t hang on till the bitter end. The whole group for the most part fishes the whole time, because the girls like the fishing too!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were some really interesting elements to the couple trip. First, they haven’t heard all of our old jokes! Seriously though, you could put a location to an old story, you could share the majesty of a shore lunch on the Canadian Shield, you could enjoy the restful sleep after a day on the water and an evening at the card table, being part of the funny stories now, like having to bail your boat out because you pulled it too far on shore, and the general fellowship that comes from trip itself. We ate better than we would have with out the girls, and the trade off was that we had some new competition for big fish, which for two years running is held by the ladies! If you haven’t yet been able to get your spouse / partner to fish with you, take another shot at it, as it would be worth it for both of you.

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Hilmer Lake Fly In Trip 2014

I’m embarrassed that it has been 6 month since I went on this trip, and am only now posting the video of photos and a quick review. I did post my Shore Lunch video earlier, but it’s time to give the review!

There were six of us on this trip, 4 who had been there before, and two guys on their first ever Fly In Trip! Having been to Hilmer 2 years earlier, we felt really comfortable with both the facilities and the lake. None of the lakes with Hearst Air appear to be too difficult to navigate, but the previous experience allowed us the confidence to know where to go to ensure we could at least have shore lunch. This time we when about 6 weeks earlier (we arrived last weekend in June), and after a very cold winter with a late spring. When we arrived at the lake we noticed right away that the water was probably 1-2 feet higher than when we were here previously, and it didn’t take long to notice the weed growth was way down.

You can read my review of my previous trip to Hilmer to get the full run down on Hilmer and Hearst Air. I’ll highlight the main differences on this trip.

  • The water was higher, and colder given the earlier time of year and the late spring.
  • The walleye bite was out of this world. On the fist day we caught almost as many walleye than we did in the whole trip the previous time, and that is a lot of walleye.
  • The walleye were aggressive. Last time we caught them almost exclusively jigging, this time we caught as many or more casting and trolling crank baits, and running worm harnesses just above weed tips.
  • The big walleye came out to play. We caught at 28in, 26, 24, 23.5 etc. The previous year out biggest was 21inch.
  • The average size of the walleye was up. We like to eat fish in the 16in range, and sometimes it was tough to get them that small!
  • The pike bite was way off. The previous year we each caught at least 1 fish over 30 inches, and this year I think we caught 2. We caught a tonne of pike, but mostly the little hammer handles that you hope grow up to be big one day.
  • We used the whole lake. Last time we rotated to our preferred hot spots, this year, we fished much more of the lake and had great success by adding way more hot spots!
  • The bugs were as vicious as ever.

That’s all for now, happy to answer any questions, and please enjoy this short video of some photos from the trip!

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2014 In Review

Well we are into 2015 already, and like many of you, I have some goals for 2015. One of them is related to this Blog, which I did not update nearly as often as I had planned on. Lots occurred in 2014 both on and off the water, which resulted in lots of content to post, with very little time to do so.

In 2015 I plan to post more regular updates, but before I can do that, I have to get caught up on some missing posts from last year….

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The Annual Family Fishing Trip = Big Fish

2014 Fishing-09-14-2014_233-It was time once again for the annual Mills Family Fishing trip to Bayfield Lodge in the Bayfield Inlet in 30 000 Islands area of Georgian Bay. We’ve been coming to this lodge for over 30 years as a group (only 25 for me personally), and the weekend offers so much in the way of memories, that the fishing becomes secondary (note, that’s what guys say when they don’t catch many fish).

This year was going to prove a challenge, as the day we arrived the weather dropped from low 20s, to highs of 14, and we rarely made that. Wind gusts for day one exceeded 40k, and rain was in the forecast as well. All of this assumed we’d get the the water, with my father getting lost, and then breaking his glassed, followed by one boat not starting…it was to be that kind of trip. We soldiered on though, putting some serious time of the water.

2014 Fishing-09-13-2014_004-The fishing was as challenging as we expected, with even our “go to” spots being suspect. We managed to boat several bass, perch and a few small pike over the first two days. By day 3 the rest of the group had arrived, and we said goodbye to my brother Chris, who had to attend a stag for our nephew (who books a stag during a fishing trip?). Day three we awoke to torrential rains, so we took some extra time having breakfast and played some cards before we headed out. This is where the perseverance of fishing paid off though, as I was rewarded with a nice 38 inch Northern, who came charging out of a weed back to smoke my spoon. This was my largest fish of the year, and not many people would be too upset with this fish.

2014 Fishing-09-13-2014_040-We headed in for some lunch, and then we were back at it when the line got hammered again. I knew I had another big fish on, and I knew it was bigger than the last one. I’ll keep it short, as the fight was a long one, but it ended with me landing a 47 inch Muskie, my biggest fish ever. I know the Musky fisherman out there will say “nice fish, just 3 inches shy of a trophy”, but I’ll take it. This picture doesn’t do it justice, and that’s not a grin on my face, that’s strain!

2014 Fishing-09-14-2014_154-copyThe rest of the weekend was pleasant, and included an amazing shore lunch (see first picture), but the fishing slowed down again and we enjoyed the conversation an fellowship we all look for. Compliments to Brian who got up extra early with Ed to take some sunrise shots, while the rest of us slept. I love to fish, but I equally enjoy just being on the water, and enjoying the scenery of the lakes I fish. How can you not when you see pictures like this?

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Princecraft Resorter Review

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree summers ago I acquired an old 14ft Starcraft aluminum boat with a Johnson 9.9 motor (both from about 1985), to see if I and the family would make good use of a boat. This boat required much work, so I sealed the leaks, painted it, put in a new transom, new seats etc, and had the motor serviced. It was very shallow, with say a 14 inch draft, and was only 44 inches wide, so it was a tight fit, but as a starter, it did the job. After two summers of heavy use though, it was time to upgrade to a boat that would allow for a better fishing experience, along with a safe and fun environment for the whole family. Thus, the boat search began.

IMG_0377I did a lot of online research, followed a lot of forums, and observed who was driving what. I had my list of features / benefits; 16ft, tiller, flat bottom, good reputation, good residual value, light enough to pull behind my current car etc. I narrowed it down to two brands, Princecraft and Lund. I then headed to the Toronto boat show, where both companies had booths. I was expecting to buy the Lund, because my research had the price point being a bit less money. It probably would have played out that way, if not for the fact that the Lund rep I was working with was just basically taking my order, and the guys at Princecraft really wanted my business. The questions they asked, the research they did, the feedback they provided, all led to an unexpected outcome for me, buying a made in Canada Princecraft Resorter DLX BT. Getting the right product was important, but who I dealt with and the quality of service was equally important, because I was expecting to have a long relationship with the dealer for storage and service.

IMG_0018So fast forward to today, and I’ve had the boat on the water for 3 months, and I could not be happier. Let me give you the breakdown of some of the upgrades I did to the boat. I put on the biggest motor it was rated for, a 40hp mercury. I added a bike seat and post for the casting deck, a Minn Kota Terrova 55lb bow mount with Ipilot, a Humminbird fish finder at the back with GPS and a basic finder at the front. I also added a swing tongue on the trailer to be sure I had lots of room in the garage. The last feature I ordered was the trailering cover to use both for transport and mooring when needed. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been an exceptional boat so far. The motor purrs, produces great speed (have had it at over 45km/h), and I’ve had it pulling a three person tube with 1 adult and two kids, and no drop off in speed! The casting deck has been a real joy, especially with having both the foot pedal to control the trolling motor, as well as having the remote on the Ipilot. I can have full use of the trolling motor regardless of where I’m sitting in the boat. For fishing alone, the Ipilot is ideal. If I have a fish on, or if I’m hung up, I can use the spot lock to hold the boat in place while I deal with the fish without worrying about drifting into the shore. 

IMG_0408I’ve had 3 adults in the boat fishing, plenty of room for all, and we were all standing, so the stability is great. Also, the two side storage areas are great for rods, tackle and gear, and then there is the bow storage and the live well too. The lighting was included and works great, and having the control panel for the lights, the live well and the bilge right by the ignition area is super handy. The live well is 34 inches long, so plenty of room there. It’s also been a real hit with the family. We often go out for a boat ride and it’s so nice to have the comfort that the kids can move around, and with the fabulous seats as well as the side bumpers and bow area to sit on, the options are a plenty. The vinyl floor is easy to clean, and the carpeted sides and bow are a welcome treat. The trailer cover fits like a glove, and the dealer even made an on the spot adjustment to allow for the trolling motor mount.
IMG_0406I have nothing but good things to say! Now, I’ve talked about my great experience with the dealer, so here is what you need to know. I bought the boat from Trailerworld in Brantford, who is the local Princecraft dealer, and I dealt with the owner Ryan. You will not find a better person to deal with. Honest, hard working, up front, and if you have an issue, he works through it with you. I hope you have as much enjoyment out of your boat, as we do with ours.

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A Surprise Muskie

I was recently up in Haliburton to visit family, and had an opportunity to hit the water for a couple hours on a Sunday morning. Part of me like the short outings, as the expectations are low, but another part of me feels that an hour and a half is never enough! I went out with my father and step brother, with no real targets in mind. We launched at Head Lake, where we would end up fishing, but Head is at the top of a 5 chain lake, so the options were varied.

IMG_0023 I’ve been having some luck with a  few new baits this year, and one of them is the Storm Arashi. I like it for three main reasons. First off, its a shallow runner, meaning say 5 ft which allows me to use it in a number of locations. Second, it can be cast a mile, so I like that I can position further off shore and cast into brush or weed edges. And finally, it has distinct action, so I can always tell if it is running correctly and know when to pull the weeds off. I was using this lure, casting at the shore and weed edges coming off the shore, when I was able to see (and feel) the hit from this muskie. Now, as far as muskies go, this is no giant, he was 30-32 inches (I didn’t bother measuring since is wasn’t a trophy), but it was in great shape with great markings. These lakes have great muskie in them, so I wasn’t surprised to catch one, but I was surprised to add yet another species of fish I’ve caught with this lure. I’ve caught bass, pike, walleye and now muskie, that’s a versatile bait!

Anyways, we were driven off the water after an hour by a bunch of rain, but in this case, a nice short outing landed me a nice fish!

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Hilmer Lake Shore Lunch 2014

I’m back from my annual fishing trip, this time a repeat visit to Hilmer Lake, flying with Hearst Air. I’ll have my full report out shortly, but below is a link to one of our shore lunches, a highlight for me on any trip.

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Belwood Pike Tournament 2014

ImageMy brother Chris and I participated for the second time in the Belwood Pike Tournament, hosted as a fundraiser by the Belwood Lions Club. Last year was an epic failure for us, as we fished for 17 hours and caught only one fish TOTAL, a tiny pike.

This year we had renewed hope, with better weather and a new Princecraft Boat to fish from. We had also been out on Belwood a couple weeks before and had some luck. Day 1 we were on the water just after 7:30 with beautiful weather and coffee in town. We fired up the mercury and headed to headquarters to check in.

The conditions were fine, stable weather, not too hot, a bit too sunny, but no complaint. Should have been perfect right? Day one left us with deja vu as we fished the better part of the day and were skunked. We enjoyed beautiful weather and had a great lunchOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA in Belwood, but small solace for the lack of fish! We can’t blame anything but ourselves. As we were checking in a pair of anglers were entering a 27inch fish which was at the time the largest entry. The previous year a 28 won the tourney, but we felt we could beat that. After our nice lunch in Belwood a dose of reality set in though as we learned a participant had entered a 40.25 inch fish. That’s a huge fish by any standards, and likely a lake record. We headed home discouraged by our fishing, pleased with the overall day, and knowing there was zero chance of winning the tourney we switched to just wanting to boat some fish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second day we moved to some new locations on the lake, and fished flooded brush areas, hoping the warmer water and the deep cover would be holding fish. It wasn’t long before Chris called out the key “fish on” statement and we had a small mouth bass in the boat. We kept working similar areas based on this success, and over the course of a few hours we boated 4 small pike and 3 small mouth bass. While nothing as exciting as we hoped for, that was a far better result than we had experience prior. Belwood can be a tough lake to fish. With the current, fluctuating water levels, changes in water quality, limited structure, the locals for sure have an edge. We enjoyed our day, and we may be back again next year. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ll have to let the sting of this years failure wear off. Good news though was the boat performed great, and we felt fabulous in the new rig. We were able to try out some new gear, and we did not lose a single lure! That’s a success in itself. Of course, if you look at this last picture we had to go into the deep stuff to retrieve a few of our more ambitious casts.

 

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