Jason Laumb knew he had a big fish at the end of his line, but he didn’t know quite how big until the form rose up from the depths about a foot below the surface of the water next to the boat.
Picture a log with fins, a massive head and razor sharp teeth, and you’ll get the idea.
This was a northern pike. No, make that a big northern pike—a real duck eater.
Jigging for walleyes with 8-pound test line and a white-and-yellow plastic paddletail for bait, Laumb, of Grand Forks, had a battle on his hands as the pike ripped drag from the spinning reel.
There’d be little room for error if he wanted to get the fish in the boat.
“I knew it was a big fish,” he said later. “You could see the whole thing, and then it came to the back of the boat and did a dive under the boat.”
The back was “that wide,” Laumb, 41, said, holding his large hands apart several inches.
“When it did that it dive, I knew it was substantial,” he said.
Somehow, his dad, Tom Laumb, 65, of Berthold, N.D., managed to get the behemoth into the landing net and onto the floor of the boat, where it measured 44 inches.
Chalk up a PB—personal best—northern pike for the younger Laumb.
“It stretched all the way across the seat,” he said.
The big pike was just one of many memorable encounters that went down during a July 21-25 fly-in fishing trip to Malette Lake in northwestern Ontario. Located in the heart of the Canadian Shield—a wilderness land of rocks, trees and water—Malette Lake is about 195 miles north of Nestor Falls, Ont., and accessible only by floatplane.
They don’t happen every time, but the potential for encounters such as Laumb’s trophy pike are why fly-in fishing trips rank so high on the bucket list of anglers everywhere.
He didn’t weigh the big pike before releasing it, but length-weight estimates put the fish in the ballpark of 25 pounds. Whether dining on ducks, 18-inch walleyes or anything else that got in the way of its toothy maw, the pike had been living well at the top of the food chain.
“I’ve caught a lot of 10-pounders, 12-pounders,” Laumb said. “But nothing like this. It was pretty fat for this time of year, too.”
Fortunately for him, a fishing partner with a camera was in a nearby boat to photograph and document the catch.
A fish tale it wasn’t.
The big pike hit on the homestretch of a four-day wilderness adventure. Besides the Laumbs, the Malette Lake crew included Pete Howard, 58, Stillwater, Minn.; son Peter Howard, 28, St. Paul; Scott Jensen, 56, and son Aaron, 15, of St. Anthony, Minn.; Ron Nies, 54, Minneapolis; and the aforementioned fishing partner with a camera, 55.
Owned and operated by Nestor Falls Fly-In Outposts, Malette Lake is one of 10 outpost camps Dave and Michelle Beaushene offer for anglers seeking their own little slice of Ontario wilderness for a few days.
The outposts are do-it-yourself camps with 14-foot boats and 9.9-horse Yamaha four-stroke outboards.
Learning a new lake takes time, and the fish didn’t jump on our lines, but Malette showed moments of brilliance, as Peter Howard discovered one afternoon when he steered the boat and his two fishing partners to walleye nirvana while drifting the edge of a dropoff in 13 to 16 feet of water near two large boulders.
Every drop of the jig produced a walleye, at times, and doubles were common. The blackish-gold beauties lived up to Malette’s reputation for larger walleyes and averaged 18 to 25 inches.
These are the moments a fisherman remembers.
“Once you got it dialed in, fishing was really good,” Howard said. “Malette is so big, and you have so much water to cover, but once we’d find them, it was pretty much gangbusters.”
Adjacent portage lakes available to Malette visitors offer faster walleye action, but there are only so many hours in a day even this far north, and the focus stayed on Malette.
Besides the standard menu of walleyes and pike, Malette offers the bonus of lake trout in the deeper portions of its coffee-colored waters. The younger Howard earned bragging rights for landing the most lake trout during a couple of hours of jigging one afternoon.
The lakers, which averaged 5 to 7 pounds, came from 50 feet of water and hit while Howard was dropping a holographic green-colored Buzz Bomb jigging lure.
As did others in the crew, he also missed a couple of lake trout.
“The trout fishing was awesome,” he said. “For lake trout on a fly-in lake that’s not specifically a lake trout lake, that’s pretty good action.”
Mention the words “outpost camp” and “fly-in fishing trip” in the same sentence, and the image that traditionally comes to mind is of a ramshackle cabin with plywood walls, gas lights, a propane fridge, a bucket for carrying water and a roof that probably leaks.
Not at Malette. Built four years ago, the three-bedroom cabin sleeps eight and has log siding, a wrap-around deck, screen porch, cathedral ceilings, tongue-and-groove pine interior, hot and cold running water and solar electricity that powers a fridge and chest freezer in addition to the lights.
One can only imagine the effort and the dozens of planeloads it took to haul the lumber and other materials for the cabin to a destination so far off the beaten path.
Many camps look better in the brochures, but this one looks just as good in person. Even the furniture is nice.
A satellite phone provided contact with the outside world in case of emergency, but it never left the storage box. The lack of wi-fi access was a welcome treat, and no one complained about getting away from the text messages, snapchats and emails for a few days.
The youngest in the crew, Aaron Jensen, might have been going into smartphone withdrawals—he probably was, truth be told—but he never would have heard the end of it if he’d said so.
Some anglers keep meticulous counts of how many fish they catch every day, but that wasn’t a priority with this crew. Fishing generally commenced about 10 a.m. after the usual morning rituals of breakfast and Tim Hortons coffee (we were in Canada, after all). That was followed by a midday break and a few more hours of fishing later in the afternoon.
Days wound down with meals fit for five-star restaurants (see sidebar), stories, music ranging from Ray Price to the Dandy Warhols and laughter.
Previous fly-in trips might have offered faster fishing, but none of the crew had experienced an outpost camp this deluxe. Everyone landed their share of fish.
We listened to loons, watched northern lights and enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives in a hectic world that borders on crazy, at times.
Just the way it’s supposed to be at an outpost camp.
Bring on next time.