I enjoy foul weather, especially when there’s shelter and warmth nearby. Of course, it helps when the fishing is great and at Errington’s Wilderness Island, all the ingredients for foul weather enjoyment are converging nicely.
My buddy Paul Rosso and I, heads turned away from the driving rain, work a rocky shoreline north of the lodge. It’s early season and the fish are shallow, with 16- to 20-inch walleye biting as ferociously as the wind. When my minnow-tipped slip sinker rig climbs atop a 4-ft-deep, boulder-strewn shoal, my line is engaged. No nibbling, just weight.
Although I usually pay out a little slack on the bite, this hit is so authoritative, I set right away. It’s a heavy fish and I gain a bit before it swims away to the tune of a spinning reel’s drag. When the tired fish finally surfaces, it’s enormous. I hand the big girl to Paul, who lays the beast on the ruler-adorned seat of the cedar strip boat. It’s at least 31 inches.
After she is reunited with the stained and rain-pummelled waters of Wabatongushi Lake we head towards the promise of a hot shower, cold beer, and the soul-satisfying food we’ve come to expect at Errington’s.
As we drive to the Algoma Central Railway station at Hawk Junction, ice still covers many of the inland lakes. Apparently, it left Wabatongushi Lake just days ago, with owners Al and Doris Errington and staff literally breaking ice along the shoreline to reach the island lodge and prepare for their first guests of the season — ourselves and approximately 25 members of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.
The action begins when the train rolls in and we settle in for the 1 ½ hour ride.
At mile 206, Al Errington and crew are waiting trackside with a large pontoon boat to transport guests to the island, where an amalgamation of frame and log structures grip the pine-shaded granite. Rosso and I settle into our suite, complete with living room, bathroom with flush toilet and shower, bedroom, and sliding patio door opening onto a large communal deck. In addition to suites there are log guest cabins linked by paths throughout the 10-acre island.
We head over to the main lodge — a unique two-storey log structure with a large stone fireplace, cathedral ceiling and split-level dining room that looks out over the 35-kilometre-long Wabatongushi Lake. As we tear into our dinner of ribs, I speculate on the fishing. “Ice just left, the water is super cold, fishing will be tough,” I predict with authority. Of course I’m wrong.
Wealth of Wabatongushi
Next morning Rosso and I jump into an 18-foot Giesler Brothers cedar strip boats with guide Brad Fantham. We head north, into a long bay fed by several small creeks. It’s cool, overcast, and flat calm as we drift and cast live-bait presentations over a shallow flat. Fantham is a practitioner of jerkbaits and, although I’m a believer, it’s rare the presentation works in the ultra-cold water of ice-out. But as we would learn, Wabatongushi is an exceptional lake and the first 16- to 18-inch walleye of the trip don’t seem overly fussy about what presentation they hit.
A mountain of walleye fillets is being prepared when we rendezvous at a secluded island for a shore lunch. And this is just the first morning at the family-run operation.
Errington and his wife Doris and their children Devin, 20, and Morgan, 17 run the lodge. “Both of our kids have worked at the lodge since they could walk,” said Errington.
A flick of the switch
On our last full day at Wabatongushi the weather turns ugly. Breakfast in the lodge is particularly cosy with slanting waves of rain pelting the dining room windows. “Nice walleye chop,” Rosso quips as we look out at the whitecap-licked bay. In spite of the lure of coffee, food, and shelter, we find ourselves riding the swells toward a wave-washed shoreline south of the lodge.
The inclement weather is totally eclipsed by the fishing. Jigs don’t reach bottom before they‘re assaulted and Husky Jerks drawn past rocky points are instantly attacked. After a wave-jostled morning of fat 20-inchers, we opt for an afternoon on the relatively calm waters north of the lodge.
Walleye are congregated over rocky structure and I hook the 31-incher, before we head in to dry off and warm up.
After dinner, I give a slide presentation on the tremendous outdoors opportunities of northern Ontario, with an emphasis on the remote lodge angling experience. But with my audience comfortably ensconced in the hospitality of Errington’s Wilderness Island, it’s clear that I’m preaching to the choir.
This a version of this article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Ontario OUT OF DOORS.