Keep Canada Fun, EhBy Steve Ryan - August 1, 2005
Planning a trip to Canada takes considerable time and effort, including gathering information on lodges, talking to references, selecting the perfect week for the trip, putting together the right group of guys, and packing every piece of tackle known to man. However, upon slamming the trunk shut and pointing the vehicle north, all lists, worries and time schedules should be left behind. "Stuff happens"; the trick is learning how to deal with the stuff with a smile.
Canadian trips should be first and foremost about time spent with friends and family in the great outdoors. Enjoy the experience, whatever twists and turns are thrown your way. Many anglers believe the only measure of a successful trip is the quality of the fishing. While good fishing has a positive impact on the success of a trip, good fishing alone does not make a successful trip. After twenty years of putting together Canadian trips of all types, this realization has become more and more apparent to me. If one has done all the necessary planning ahead of time and everyone goes into the trip with the right attitude, the rest will fall into place. If no forward planning has been done or following a rigid schedule is the primary objective, things are more likely to just fall to pieces. Canada does not follow time schedules, so you might as well leave your schedule at home.
In the beginning, I had lists, charts, maps and graphs for every aspect of a trip. Driving routes were charted months in advance to most efficiently combine gas, food and rest stops. Every stop was plotted and there were no exceptions without a doctor's note. Guys began joking about packing catheters as part of their toiletries. Driving shifts were assigned at the beginning of the trip and modifications, assignments or transfers of shifts were frowned upon. Extra time was allowed for the border crossing, since no one should be so bold as to predict what mood the boarder crew is going to be in when you arrive. The most one could do for this contingency was to prep and quiz each member of the group. Beginning in Duluth, the rapid series of questions started - name, place of birth, purpose of stay, father's grandmother's maiden name, the third verse of 'O Canada'. Soon the weakest link was discovered. At the final U.S. gas stop, they were placed in the back seat and told not to make too much eye contact with the border guard. All in an effort to save time.
Upon entering Canada, the group was allowed a single combined rest, food and souvenir stop. Little did the group know that the true purpose and necessity of this stop was to get fishing licenses and any needed camping permits and bait. If it was a fly-in trip, the worst part was yet to come for someone focused more on the schedule than on the experience of the trip. The float plane, which is the wild card in any schedule. Will the float plane be there? Will it be ready? Will it be the right plane? (Meaning the right size - with a twin engine Dehavilland Otter, everything that was crammed into the vehicle makes it on the plane, with a smaller plane like a single engine Beaver, concessions would need to be made - pack the toothbrush or a third spare Silver Minnow). What shape is the plane in? What shape is the pilot in? (Translation: how many prayers to say prior to take off and how best to quickly repent for past sins while still stashing that extra Silver Minnow in your pocket)?
Upon reaching the camp, the same incessant planning continued. How to get in as much fishing time as possible? Charting what spots on the lake needed to be worked each day. Looking back, it was too much like work. I benefitted from all the planning with quality fishing but the schedule took away from enjoying the moment. Numbers of big fish are still a primary goal of current trips but it is no longer the sole focus.
With a new mind set of enjoying every aspect of the trip, the drive up to Canada becomes much more relaxed. Everyone in the party knows when we need to get to the camp and we arrive on time. Now rest stops are based upon need and not upon who has the strongest bladder. On occasion, amusing side trips are even added to the drive up, such as the pictures by the giant bluegill sign in Orr, MN or the saddled walleye at Lake Kabetogama MN. Guys smile a mile wide as they hop onto that walleye. These items were previously just a blur in the rear view mirror.
Driving shifts are no longer assigned. Everyone wants to get to Canada so there is little fear that the caravan will stop in its tracks. The float plane remains a mystery but that is part of the charm of Canadian trips. To pass time waiting for the plane or at the border, I pack a Du-Bro leader making tool and a plenty of quality Sampo snaps and swivels. Someone always forgets to pack the right leaders, so down-time is spent productively making leaders.
While at camp, make the most of your time away from the hustle of everyday life. Stay up late at least one evening around the campfire. Soak in the northern lights. Have everyone make up explanations of what causes the northern lights - I have heard my share of explanations. Sleep in late one morning if necessary. Pike do not bite until ten o'clock, or so I have been told. If you have the option to portage into a remote lake, take the time and enjoy the adventure. Stop and do shore lunch at least a couple times during the trip. Finally, keep a log of the trip. The memories will last well beyond the rush of a few big fish caught on the trip.