Thu, 27 Jun 2013 16:06:48 EDT
Adventures in Algoma Country
By Tom Lounsbury
There are only two ways to get to Errington’s Wilderness Island, train or plane. We went by train, the Algoma Central Railway, and it is a nice relaxing way to travel and about as scenic as you can get. My traveling companions were fellow members of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association (MOWA) and we were all attending our summer conference being held in northern Ontario, thanks to the great assistance of the Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association.
The train took us deep into the Chapleau Game preserve, and dropped us and all of our gear off on the shore of Wabatongushi Lake (basically in the middle of nowhere), where several fishing boats were waiting to transport us to the island. Actually it is a pair of islands connected by a bridge and entailing about 10 acres that hold the lodge and an array of nicely built and uniquely secluded cabins that are equipped with wood burning stoves, flush toilets, hot showers and very quaint gas lights. It was truly in a wilderness setting yet with all the comforts of home. Both my wife Ginny and I loved everything about it.
The first thing I noticed when our boat approached the island was that there was still a small amount of snow near the shore and our guide informed us that the ice had just left the lake four days before our arrival. That all worked for me and I didn’t expect anything else that far north in the middle of May. This wasn’t a trip to the tropics and my instincts told me that with the ice just leaving, that the pike and walleyes the lake is well known for just might be in a hungry and scrappy mood. Ginny and I couldn’t wait to dig out the fishing tackle and give it all a whirl.
The wooden fishing boats used here are of cedar strip construction and are light as a feather in the water. Powered by Mercury outboards, they performed admirably in the big lake environment. The fishing turned out to be, quite frankly, phenomenal. By working lead jigs tipped with either minnows or leeches next to the bottom and you discovered right away that the fish were in a feeding frenzy. Our first day of fishing was in overcast but very comfortable weather. The second day it began to rain, which seemed to make the fish even more hungry and willing to strike. The fishing went from phenomenal to even better yet.
On the first day, our guides provided a shore lunch for us by cooking the fish we caught over an open fire. Included in the meal was bannock, the fry bread of the far north country. I savored every bit of the meal and heard nothing but compliments to our guides from my MOWA cohorts. We would have had a shore lunch the next day as well, but a heavy downpour dampened that opportunity. Our main meals were done in the lodge and when the camp cook’s title is actually “chef”, well life in the wilderness just doesn’t get any better than that (I absolutely enjoyed the seafood stuffed chicken). Listening to loons singing continually across the lake and seeing bald eagles soaring about didn’t hurt a bit either. The trilling sound of countless tree frogs (peepers) that had just come out from a long winter’s hibernation was a lullaby that caused me to have very restful nights.
The island also had a nice quantity of ruffed grouse roaming around that were about as wary as barnyard chickens. The fact is the grouse were starting their mating ritual which includes the males doing their “drumming” routine with their wings on a handy rock or stump.
To avoid bear problems around the lodge and cabins, the Errington’s have created a feeding area across the lake where they dump all their food scraps (called “Bear Point”). Of course the bears are often waiting close by for a dependable meal. This does give visitors an excellent opportunity for black bear viewing. I watched as Al Errington and his daughter Morgan landed their boat on the beach and Morgan bailed out to confront a somewhat territorial black bear with only a leaf rake in her hands. Morgan made swipes along the ground with the rake and moved steadily in on the bear that performed nervous yawns yet gave ground to Morgan’s advance, which allowed Al to safely unload the food scraps. This is all a part of knowing black bears and how to communicate with them without people or bears getting hurt. The rake obviously represents a very big “paw” the bears automatically respect. Needless to say I was very impressed with the entire matter and will probably consider having a leaf rake around on future wilderness excursions (not to mention pepper spray and a stout firearm when allowed – I’m a tad more conventional).
I had originally wanted to use my fly rod for pike and walleye fishing (Errington’s Wilderness Island is well known for promoting fishing for these two species with a fly rod) and a good friend had especially tied some pike/walleye flies for my Algoma Country adventure, but due to the ice just being out, the fish were down way too deep to use a fly rod. However, with the fish biting so well, I had absolutely no complaints at all on whatever fishing tackle I used, trust me.
All too soon our wonderful sojourn to Errington’s Wilderness Island came to a close. Saying goodbye to everyone involved there was like saying goodbye to family, which says something about the atmosphere. I know for a fact Ginny and I plan on returning.
For more information on Errington’s Wilderness Island go to www.WildernessIsland.com
For more information on what Algoma Country has to offer go to www.algomacountry.com
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