As most of you up north know, Walleye is prized game fish that is unequaled in the frying pan. Here is a little tale from Lake of the Woods in Canada. Enjoy:
I heard a blast from the vehicle’s horn from inside my parent’s house and rushed to the front door. “They’re here,” I told my brother, “Get your stuff and let’s go.” My brother grabbed his duffel bag and fishing gear and I gathered my belongings. “I hope you guys are ready to catch some fish,” Dale said while opening the hatch on the back of his truck, “cause we’re going to fish-out Lake of the Woods this year!”
This is the fishing trip I had been waiting for my whole life and my dream was about to come true. Lake of the Woods, located on the northern border of Minnesota and extending deep into Ontario, Canada, is one of the premier natural outdoor paradises in the world. With over 65,000 miles of shoreline (more shoreline than Lake Superior), and over 14,000 islands, the lake offers world class fishing for large and smallmouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, perch, crappie, and lake trout: The place is a fisherman’s utopia.
“Tom, this is Dale,” I said, introducing my brother to my brother-in-law as he got out of the truck to greet us.
“Nice to me you,” Tom said.
“And this here is John,” Dale said as his passenger got out of the truck and came over to greet us.
Dale appeared to be about six feet tall, while weighing what I estimated to be about three hundred and fifty pounds. John, on the other hand, stood at five feet two and weighed about the same as Dale. I quickly concluded that they had at least two outstanding commonalities: they liked to fish and eat (not necessarily in that order).
“Our destination is the Tomahawk Resort and our drive will be about seven hundred miles from Chicago,” Dale said, “so let’s get on the road.”
My brother and I had noticed a plethora of bags in the back of the Suburban when we packed our gear. By my count there were some fifteen grocery bags loaded in the truck “What is all that stuff in the back?” I asked Dale.
“Our wives packed a few goodies so that we don’t go hungry,” John said.
“There is enough food in here to stage a relief effort in Bangladesh,” I told him.
“What we don’t eat, we’ll bring back; let’s go.”
Tom and I, both in our thirties, and Dale and John, appearing to be some sixty years of age, boarded the Canadian-bound truck and the journey had begun. I had flown in from Dallas where I lived and was anxious to get on the road. Before we even hit the toll road headed north, John turned to us and thrust a super-sized bag of Doritos in our face. “Are you guys hungry?” he asked. My brother, never one to look gift horse in the mouth, especially when chips were involved, gladly accepted.
“There’s a cooler in the back with sodas in it; help yourselves,” John said.
Dale paid our first toll and we headed north from Chicago toward Duluth, Minnesota. I figured the ride would take about twelve hours, so we settled in and made small talk concerning the Chicago sport scene (an addiction for native Chicagoans). We discussed the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, and the Bulls. About the time we got to the Blackhawks, Dale said, “I’m hungry; let’s have a sandwich.”
“Good idea,” John said. “My wife made us some fresh tuna fish sandwiches.”
John distributed the tuna salad sandwiches, along with a huge community bag of Ruffles to be passed around as Dale continued driving north. We finished up lunch and there was about a half an hour of silence as we took in a local talk radio sports show. Dale yawned and turned to us. “What do you say we stop for lunch?”
“I thought we just had lunch,” I said.
“That was breakfast ─ now is lunch and I see a Chile’s up ahead.” He pulled off at the next exit and we got out to stretch our legs in the parking lot. By my account we had been driving for only three hours. “I need to hit the head,” I said.
“Me too,” my brother chimed in.
“No problema fellas; John and I will get a table,” Dale said.
As soon as we entered the bathroom my brother asked me what the deal was with the food. “Look at the size of those guys,” I said. “They didn’t get those world class guts overnight.”
“I know,” he said. This is like the friggin’ Food Olympics ─ I don’t know if I can hang with these guys,”
“Just do your best, we only have nine hours to go.”
After Dale and John both pounded a double cheeseburger (Tom and I could only manage a single), we were back on the road. John took driving detail and Dale road shotgun. Within an hour, Dale turned around and said he felt like having a snack. “Care for a Twinkie?” he asked. Although we were both stuffed, my brother and I accepted. "Let’s see who blinks first," I thought to myself.
We made our way to Duluth while gorging on cookies, soda, chips, sandwiches, and candy: a non-stop food fest, and my brother was now green to the gill. “John, do you think you can pull over?” he asked. “I feel like blowin’ chow.” Since the age of five my brother was still a champion car sickness professional, and now at the age of thirty I could see that nothing had changed.
“No problem,” John said.
Tom got out and hurled on the side of the highway while the occupants of the passing vehicles laughed, threw cans, and honked their horns at him. “Do you feel better now Tom?” Dale asked.
“Sure. After throwing up, getting shit thrown at me, and basically being overall humiliated, I feel great.”
“That’s good ─ care for a Ho-Ho?”
“Of course,” Tom said.
As we continued John indicated that we would be spending the night at an Indian casino that he had stayed at before in Duluth. “This place has a great buffet,” he said while pulling into the parking lot. My brother and I gave each other a look of silent astonishment. “I think we’re going to pass on the buffet tonight,” I said. “We’ll meet you at the blackjack tables.”
After checking in we headed down to the casino. “Where are they packing all that food?” my brother asked.
“I don’t know; it’s as if they have a hollow leg, but don’t worry about it ─ just eat what you want. Tomorrow we’ll be on Lake of the Woods catching pike.”
Arriving early the next day at the Tomahawk Resort just before noon time, an elderly lady greeted us at check in and showed us to our cabin. “Fishing Central” was located right on the water with a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding islands. “Your boats are in stalls eight and nine,” she said, “and if you need anything, let me know. Good luck!”
Anxious to fish, we immediately began to unpack. “Let’s get the food first,” Dale said. I didn’t realize how much food there was until we actually began unloading. There were steaks, burger meat, chicken, homemade soup, pizza, and even a tray of lasagna that John’s wife prepared for us. “Don’t these guys plan on catching any fish?” my brother asked me. “I thought the whole idea, was to catch some fish and eat them.”
“I’m not sure what the plan is. One thing I do know is that we won’t starve; there are enough supplies to last all winter.”
We hit the water that afternoon and caught a few small northern pike but were not disappointed. My brother and I were astounded by the deep clear water and rugged landscape of the area. We pulled into an inlet and found a huge female moose, chewing on some seaweed in the shallow water. The bull moose was not far behind, hidden behind a groove of pine trees, and bellowed, to let us know not to get too close. The burning, amber sun began to set and we headed back to camp. “Now I know why they call this ‘God’s Country,’” I said.
Back at camp, we found Dale and John cooking some steaks on the grill. “You’re just in time,” Dale said. “Dinner is served.” Once again we engaged in general gluttony and then cleaned up, played some cards, drank some beer, and enjoyed some fishing fellowship. “I’m getting tired,” Dale said. “Let’s get some sleep; I want you guys up at five so we can get some breakfast in us and get on the lake.”
“Sounds like a winner,” John said seconding the motion.
I awakened at four-thirty in the morning to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and fried bacon. “Get up, “I told my brother. “It’s time to fish!” He flew out of bed and landed square into his shoes.
We found Dale and John in the kitchen, preparing a Grand Slam-style breakfast right out of a Denny’s restaurant playbook. They had made pancakes, bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, and toast. “Chow down boys,” John said, “I’m ready to catch some fish. When we’re done eating, Dale and I will take one boat and you guys will be in the other ─ I’m going to show you a spot where we killed the walleye last year. It’s going to take about an hour to get there but it will be well worth it.”
Now we were really excited. Catching and eating walleye is about as good as it gets for a fisherman. We quickly pounded our meals and headed out. We followed Dale and John in our V-haul aluminum fishing boat, going as fast as we could with our fifty-horse Mercury motor. We zigzagged between islands while a spectacular sunrise set the sky aglow and I pointed to a black bear swimming out to one islands as we zipped by.
John had slowed down his boat and had come to a stop. “This is it fellas,” he said. “We murdered them here last time. Fish straight down about five feet off the bottom and you’ll fill the boat up.”
We fished for about forty-five minutes without a bite and I could see that Dale was waving at us from his boat. “What does he want now?” my brother asked.
“Probably a pizza ─ start the boat and pull up by them.”
Tom guided the boat next to theirs. “What’s up?” I asked.
The fish aren’t biting right now and we’re kind of getting hungry. Are you guys ready to go in?” Dale asked.
“It took us over an hour to get here and we have only fished for forty-five minutes,” I said.
“No problem ─ the fish will be here when we get back.”
“Why don’t you guys go on in; we’re going to fish a while longer,” I told him.
“Suit yourself, but don’t be too long or we’ll eat all the lasagna.”
“Bon appetite,” I said as they started their motor and sped away.
“I can see where this is going,” my brother said. “I came here to fish and these guys think they’re at “The Taste of Chicago.”
“Don’t worry about it; they can do what they want, and we can do what we want.”
We continued fishing all morning and into the early afternoon without even a tug. “Let’s get back to the cabin, get something to eat, and grab a quick nap,” I said. “Then we’ll go back out and tear-em up.”
When we returned to the cabin we found Dale and John sawing logs in their room. We made a quick sandwich and then tried to take a nap, but neither of us could sleep knowing that there were fish out there to be caught. “Let’s go back out and catch some,” Tom said ─ “I would like to have a fish fry tonight.”
“Might as well ─I don’t think the Rumplestiltskin brothers will be getting up anytime soon; they probably ate enough to knock a horse out
Heading out to a small inlet located directly across from the resort, we began throwing top waters towards the reeds in the shallow water. On my first throw, I nearly had the rod jerked out of my hand. “Fish on!” I shouted as I tried to turn the powerful fish before he hit the open water. The fish launched himself straight out of the water and shook his head, trying to shake the plug from his mouth: It was a monster northern pike. After a brief battle we netted him and threw him in the live well. “That’s what I’m talking about!” I said to Tom as we high-fived. We ended up catching five more pike before the sun began to set. “Let’s get back and clean these fish so we can have that fish fry we have been waiting for,” I said as I cracked a PBR.
Fighting off a barrage of mosquitoes at the fish cleaning station, we filleted the fish, rushed back to the cabin, and flung open the screen door. “Get ready to chow down boys ─ we’re having a fish fry!” Tom announced. Dale and John were seated at the kitchen table eating a frozen pizza. Dale took a time-out to remove the pizza from his face, and looked at us with what appeared to be a cheese induced coma. “You guys go ahead, we really don’t like fish that much; but make sure you’re up at five tomorrow morning ─ we’re going back to get those walleye.” I was floored. We had driven close to eight hundred miles to one of the best fresh water sport fishing lakes in the world and these guys didn’t even like to eat fish.
“Suit yourselves,” we said as we headed out to the grill.
The next day was a repeat of the first: Grand Slam breakfast, one hour to hot fishing spot, no fish. Once again Dale and John were on their way back to the resort to cook some burgers and take a nap before they barely wet their lines. Tom and I fished for several hours without a nibble. “Let’s go back and get a sandwich and then we’ll try again,” I said as I fired up the engine and turned the boat towards home. When we got back to the resort, Dale was firing up the grill. “You guys are back just in time; we just woke up and we’re cooking burgers.”
“Sounds good,” my brother said “Need any help?”
“Sure. Grab us a beer and we’ll ‘shoot the shit’ for a while.”
“I’m going to take a take a quick shower while you two connoisseurs do your deal,” I said. “I’ll be right out.”
Tom grabbed a couple of cold ones and went back to join Dale. “Here you go buddy,” he said as he handed Dale an ice cold bottle of Labatts.
“You know, this kind of reminds me of the time I spent running the farm in Harvard, Illinois,” Dale said. “My folks had a big spread and I was in charge of a herd of five hundred cattle out there. We would work all day and cook on the grill at night.”
“That’s awesome,” Tom acknowledged.
“Hey Tom, take a look at the burgers and let me know if they’re cooked.”
What? This guy was in charge of five hundred cattle and he doesn’t even know how to cook a burger?
After lunch, John told us that he had arranged for a fishing guide the next day that he had used before. “If this guy can’t get us on the walleye, no one can,” he said. “His name is Chief Jo Wallhanger, and he is a real Indian like you see in the movies. He kinda looks like Wes Studi, as a matter of fact.
Wallhanger met us the next morning and told us to get ready for some action. “The walleye hitt-um hard yesterday,” he grunted, “so get-um ready.”
Dale, John, and Wallhanger took off in one boat and Tom and I followed them through maze of islands until they cut the engine. “Throw your jigs directly down under the boat and you’ll get-um fish,” Wallhanger told us. Doing as instructed, we dropped the jigs down and immediately had a bite. I pulled up my first walleye, which weighed approximately one-half pound.
“Throw that fish back,” Wallhanger said. “There going to get-um bigger.”
We fished all morning and we caught several fish, none of which were larger than one pound.
“Watch this,” Tom said. “I am going to put some pressure on this guy. “Hey Chief,” he shouted, “we better quit throwing these small walleye back in if we’re going to have a shore lunch today. Do you see how big those guys are in your boat? They can eat one hundred of those things by themselves. If we don’t have enough fish, I suggest we have our shore lunch at Wendy’s.”
"The horror! Me must save-um face."
Now Wallhanger had a worried look on his face. “Keep-em all fish,” he instructed.
We had enough fish and everyone was now content, except for Jo Wallhanger, who had a hundred small walleye to clean. No matter what else happened our trip was a success. Wallhanger had earned his three hundred dollars just by cleaning the heap of small walleye we had caught which took him nearly two hours, but we had finally had our much sought after shoreline lunch on beautiful Lake of the Woods. My brother had apparently scared-um him straight with the comment about having a shoreline lunch at Wendy’s.
G.O. Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box
Available at amazon.com/books/garyocallaghan