It was great to travel by bushplane, so low to the ground that we had fantastic views of the rugged and beautiful terrain we were crossing. I had never seen so many lakes in all my life - stretching off to the horizon as far as one could see. The combination of green vegetation and the deep blue lakes was amazing as our Beaver droned along at its slow but steady pace.
Looking down on scenes like this made me realize how difficult it must have been for European explorers to map this country over the past few hundred years. In summer the bugs would have eaten them alive (although we never had any problems at all on our trip) and how could they possibly have navigated through the countless bodies of water interspersed with islands and forests. No worry about bugs in winter when the water hazards also froze over, but what about the -40 C temperatures and food supplies? It is no wonder those early French and English explorers relied on the native population to guide them across this huge continent.
Something I learned while doing this page was that seven of the world's twelve largest lakes are in the rocky swath cut across Canada by the Ice Sheets! They are #2 Michigan-Huron, #3 Superior, #7 Great Bear, #9 Great Slave, #10 Erie, #11 Winnipeg and #12 Ontario.
We were there to fish and we certainly did plenty of that! The usual routine was to rise at about 6:30 AM, grab a few snacks and immediately head out on the water in our five outboard motorboats. Each boat headed off to whichever part of the lake they thought was best, based on our experiences this year and on previous history. This was followed by a hearty breakfast at about 10:30 AM before heading out again in the afternoon and sometimes a third stab at the fish after finishing our major evening meal.
The fish were winning most of the battles this year but I did manage to catch this nice 3-lb Lake Trout on our first day, as did almost everyone else. We fished just off the bottom using lures baited with 'sucker belly' but we released this one, along with many others, only keeping a few each day for our evening meal.
The 2nd photo shows our boat moving to a new spot while we examine our underwater sonar device to watch the depth of the water and any schools of fish we might come across. Usually, a few times each day, boats would come together as in the 3rd photo to compare notes, fool around or just quietly fish away while maybe sipping on a cold beer or two from our coolers. For actually landing the fish, a large net came in handy (4th photo) for taking the weight of the fish off the hook. We were fishing 'hook and release' so most of our catches were returned to the lake after we had admired them.
It was interesting each day to watch how the Herring Gulls kept an eye on our fishing activities. They were smart enough not to follow our boats around because, based on past experience, they knew we would be returning to Grey Owl Camp to cut-up our 'keepers' on the filleting board beside the second Cabin. With a 26-inch wing span, Herring Gulls are one of the largest gulls in eastern North America and range across Canada from the Atlantic shores to Yukon Territory, but generally don't go as far north as the islands in the Arctic Ocean.
Their base seemed to be around a large rock just off-shore from a small island (3rd photo) within sight of Grey Owl Camp, whenever they were not checking us more closely. On our 3rd day of fishing, I spotted two Bald Eagles (similar to the ones in in the 4th photo from my Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies") resting in good vantage points on forest fire-ravaged trees on another small nearby island. These eagles, with a 43-inch wingspan range all the way across Canada and they seemed to turn up not long after we had taken a load of our fish guts over to 'Herring Gull Island' to let the Gulls have a feast without worrying about us. Later, as we were returning from a morning fishing trip, we spotted the two Bald Eagles trying to get a few of those scraps for themselves, but six Herring Gulls were far more manoeverable and 'put the boots' to them with ease.
I immediately noticed that the trees in this part of northern Saskatchewan were much more slender than those I was used to back in New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast. Although the soil there had also been severely affected by the Ice Ages, the fact they were not growing on the Canadian Shield seems to have made a difference. On my walk to the rocky shoreline of a small point near Grey Owl Camp, I initially took an inland route through the forest (2nd photo). The forest floor was totally covered in moss into which my feet sank deeply with each step between the tall and narrow Black Spruce trees. It was an enjoyable walk because I grew up with trees around me in New Brunswick, Canada - the most heavily forested province or state in North America.
Worldwide, there are about 40 species of Spruce with 7 of them growing in North America. The relatively short (30-40 foot tall) and slender Black Spruce actually span Canada from coast to coast and are the shortest of the species on the continent - probably because they are trying to survive on the meagre rations the frozen north provides. Growing amongst the Spruce, although in fewer numbers, was the much taller (70-80 foot) Jack Pine. It is one of 35 species of North American pines and grows primarily in the mid-latitudes of Canada from the Atlantic coast as far as the Rocky Mountains. I enjoyed the smells of the forest and the sound of the trees swaying in the breezes - brought back great childhood memories of summer days spent at an uncle's camp on the shores of Magaguadavic Lake in New Brunswick. The last two photos of details of the two types of trees were taken from my copy of "A Guide to Field Identification - Trees of North America".
One sunny and warm afternoon, while the rest of the guys headed out on their quest for fish, I decided to stay behind and check out the surroundings of Grey Owl Camp. My short walk through the forest soon brought me back to the shoreline, one made up entirely of crystalline rocks that spewed up billions of years ago as the earth formed. The pressures of winter freezing and thawing must have broken this small pink sliver loose from the the bedrock. From observing our sonar-soundings as we cruised Oneman Lake, I also noticed that the various islands usually plunged very quickly to depths of 60-100 feet (such as in the dark water at upper-right in the 2nd photo).
The 3rd and 4th photos show some airborne views of this part of the world as we flew north in our Beaver floatplane. Northern Saskatchewan is firmly in the heart of the Canadian Shield, an ancient (4.5 billion to 540 million year old) formation of rock that covers almost all of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Its present appearance is due to the huge 2-mile thick ice sheets that flowed across North America in the period from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago - they levelled everything in their path and stripped most of the topsoil off while they were at it. What was left behind in northern Canada is a rocky landscape dotted with small lakes and little or no topsoil to support plant life. However, due to the violent effects that nature has had on forming them over the eons, these rocks (with all their overburden stripped off) are now extremely attractive for mining their resulting precious metals like gold, silver, nickel and copper - hence the few long roads to northern mining areas as shown in my 'General' tips map. And, thanks to VT-member 'Kokoryko' for his geological guidance!
The ice had gone out of Oneman Lake only 2-3 days before we arrived, so the water was still quite cold. At least that is what we blamed for our mostly failed attempts to catch huge Lake Trout or Northern Pike as on previous company fishing expeditions there. No amount of radar scanning or changing bait or fishing techniques seemed to be successful in luring the big ones into our grasp!
Nevertheless, the only guy on the trip older than me managed to haul in a beautiful 15-lb Northern Pike on our first day. Naturally everyone had to have a good look at what monsters might still be lurking out there for us in the coming days (2nd photo). As it turned out, that was one of the very few Pike we caught with almost all the remainder being Lake Trout. It was not long after the big Pike catch that Travis caught a huge 16+ pound Lake Trout that turned out to be the largest fish of the trip (3rd photo). As the trip wound up, he was very happy to receive his trophy in recognition of his achievement of pulling in the biggest fish (4th photo). Both the record Lake Trout and the Northern Pike were released back into the lake after the obligatory photos had been taken.
I have done a lot of flying in my various world travels, but not nearly enough of it in floatplanes! There is no hassle of security checks when you board one of these things and you might even get to sit up-front with the pilot as guys in our group did on each flight. It was even more fun knowing that I was dealing with three of the most legendary bushplanes in the world - DeHavilland Canada's 'Beaver', 'Otter' and 'Twin Otter'. These planes were developed in succession between 1946 and 1965 to meet the needs of a rugged and reliable airplane that could handle short take-off and landing situations in all weather conditions and they have been worldwide success stories ever since (more details in the 'Transportation' tips).
We had beautiful sunny weather for our entire 6-day trip, making the passing landscape (3rd photo) that much more impressive as we flew directly north from Missinipi to our rented fishing camps at Oneman Lake.
I always took my binoculars and bird-book with me when I went anywhere, so I was able to enjoy a few extra sightings whenever there was a lull in the fishing action. On two or three occasions, I was able to spot Common Loons (known as Northern Divers in Europe), the iconic bird of Canada's wilderness with its haunting cries echoing across the lakes. They are quite large, with a 36-inch wingspan and their wings are set far back in their bodies, making them very streamlined for 'swimming' underwater in search of their next meal. In early June they were not making much noise, but I will never forget hearing their calls on my many canoeing trips in New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast.
Closer to home, a small Red Squirrel (3rd photo) was a regular visitor along the camp shoreline when most of the guys were out on their afternoon fishing trips. I took a break on some of those occasions to just sit back or explore around Grey Owl Camp on my own. The squirrel had a great time raiding the pile of peanut scraps we had thrown out and was not the least bit shy about approaching me as I sat in the sunshine reading a book!
In truth, I'm not really a big fisherman - I just like to get away to strange places! Oneman Lake did not disappoint as the weather was great and so were the guys from work who joined me on this wilderness adventure. For me, just getting away to experience the remote northern reaches of Canada was reward enough - everything else was just a bonus. We could not have asked for better weather than sunshine and temperatures in the 20 C range every day.
With our five outboard motor boats we cruised all over the lake seeking out the 'big one' but it was also fun just to look at the surrounding landscape and interact with the guys as we joked around with each other. Any fish we caught were just a bonus as far as I was concerned.