Looking for a Fish to Happen
Shekak Lake, White River Air, August 2016
For most of our trip songs by the Tragically Hip were running through my head as our arrival in White River coincided with the final Hip show in Kingston. We made a point to get to motel in time to watch the entire show. Was awesome and poignant – what better way to celebrate the Hip than in a small town, drinking beer about to head out on a float plane to fish
The Road Trip
Our group had decided to use White River Air again White River Air , this time there cabin on Shekak Lake Shekak Lake Overview . Our trip up started with a meet up in Newmarket to shift gear and 6 bodies into our trusty vehicles for the drive to White River Ontario – home of Winnie the Pooh (the actual Bear, named Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his owner Captain Harry Coulbourne’s hometown) and host of the Winnie the Pooh festival which just so happened to be the weekend we were there (thus making finding hotel rooms difficult)
Our home for the night was the Continental Motel - all I can say was that it was affordable and a place to lie your head down for the night
Anxiety ran high that night, the last two hours of our drive were through some torrential rain and it had us stressing our flight out the next morning. Temps were also dropping fast, sitting outside the hotel room it was downright cold, sweaters and jeans required
We awoke to grey skies, rain and fog. Ever the optimists we chose to make the 10 minute drive from the hotel to White River Air’s Tukanee Lake Airbase to check in.
Greeted by the lovely Elsie it wasn’t looking great – no planes in site and no Dan McLachlan the chief pilot and owner of WRA. Elsie told us the planes had been taken to the hangars with the rain and that Dan would arrive shortly. Don’t worry she said – forecast looks better around 10:00 AM., go have breakfast and give us a call.
We headed to Catz, a good breakfast spot in town to grab a bite. With some food in our bellies and a stop at the gas station for last minute provisions done we headed back the air base – we didn’t have anywhere else to be. We checked in paid and chatted with Dan – much to our delight he told us that when the Otter headed out to drive down and unpack our trucks
The Flight Experience
Dan and the crew got the 6 of us weighed and loaded into the Otter – one of the things I love about WRA is that they have never pushed us for weight – we were way over the allotted 125 lbs but no eyebrows were raised (until they saw the 2 16 L jugs of red wine, 14 cases of beer and miscelanous bottles of Irish Cream, Vodka and Scotch - I tend to believe that was more in respect than disappointment)
Shekak Lake is a 20 minute ride for the air base – it’s a pretty flight, with two first timers in our crew there were multiple cameras out capturing the scenery and beautiful topography of the North
Another fisherman did a great review of the Shekak cabin, facilities and boats so I won’t re hash it. Here is a link to that video: Shekak Lake Cabin Overview. Needless to say its an impressive camp. The cabin is both functional and roomy, the boats were new Lund Wc14s w 9.9 Yamaha 4 strokes that ran flawlessly. Only complaint would be that the swivel seats around camp were useless – most were missing mounts/clamps, some were cracked if you drove it wasn’t bad as you could use the seat without a clamp against the gunnel but for the guys at the front of the boat it was a drag. Shekak has a great fire pit with benches and not far from the cabin we found ample (albeit wet) wood that was easy to grab. Fire time was probably one of my favourite things about this trip – usually I am first one up and close to the first one in bed but this trip I was typically the last guy at the fire and trying to persuade someone to stay out with me.
One of the more interesting things about our arrival was chatting with the two gentlemen leaving camp. Questions were asked about fishing, jokes exchanged about the amount of booze we had brought, and fishing spots discussed (this group were pike fisherman primarily) but the surprise when they told us they were missing a boat. The storm was so bad the night before two of the camp boats had floated off the beach - they had found one, but one was missing. We kept an eye out and sure enough two days later we found the boat beached in the far end of the lake
Shekak itself was an interesting lake - one 1/3 weedy, shallow and full of reed beds, the remaining two thirds were more of a traditional shield lake – lots of ledges, a basin that dropped to 50 feet deep and (for us at least) an overwhelming amount of fishy looking structure at first glance
As mentioned previously we had 2 new comers on this trip and to be fair the other 4 of us have done 1 outpost trip together Pickle Lake Fly In and two trips to a drive in lodge Brennan Harbour Trip Report and our first real trip together to a boat in Lady E Trip Report 2008 point being that we have done a few trips but we weren't grizzled vets either
By the time we unpacked, set up coolers, got water filtering and got our fishing gear set up it was mid afternoon. Full of adrenaline and Catz breakfast we bypassed lunch and hit the lake. I had recently been on a trip to Lake Miminiska where the pattern was fishing breaks with crank baits (Flicker Shad’s, Hot n Tots) so my boat partner and I started there. Within minutes we had found some pike, one so aggressive it hit my lure out of the water, hanging over the side of the boat just as I was taking off to try a new spot – honestly if I didn’t have the rod in my hand still I am sure it would be swimming around Shekak attached to a 25 inch pike with some serious gonads…
Walleye proved to be elusive that day – a few we coined cigars (7 – 10 inch walleyes of which there was plenty) but hey it was the first few hours no reason to panic yet. We headed in for a dinner of smoked brisket on buns done in our of our groups smokers – it was amazing, honestly one of the better meals I have had period. The setting made it just perfect.
We chatted a little strategy, decided to head in different directions that evening and get on the radios if anyone found them. Well the radios weren’t working and unfortunately weren’t needed. My boat found a few more cigars, some kamikaze pike and 2 14-inch walleyes but no one really found them.
However, the night would not be completely fruitless. After spending hours reading fishing reports I picked up on one thing – most good fisherman always spend some time cruising the lake before seriously trying to fish, getting a feel, looking for spots, making mental notes. Trying to emulate this between spots I was trying to zig zag the boat across the basin to see if anything stood out. Just before dark, close to a major point north of the cabin I saw the depth jump from 32 feet to 14 feet in what seemed like a second. I turned the boat around and there it was, THE HUMP. Maybe it was a reef, maybe a sunken island – to be honest I really don’t know the difference, but it was a 50-yard-long, 30 feet wide protrusion that rose out of the basin and went from 30 feet to 14 feet and quickly dropped off the other side back to 28 feet. I quickly threw out a marker buoy on the high side and headed in for the nights camp fire.
There was a little tension that night – on Pickle we had caught fish right away the first day and the first nights fish (and those thereafter) were full of double headers, walleye big and small. We told ourselves that the weather played a big part – temps had dropped significantly; the wind had switched during the day and most likely the fish were scattered. Tomorrow’s dinner was to be a fish fry and while no one was saying anything I think mentally we were all switching it to something else as right now we had no fish in the fridge.
I can sleep with the best of them but on these trips (and most vacations) I am an early riser. At 5:30 I was out watching the sunrise while the coffee brewed. My partner and I had a rule – I would wake him when coffee and tea was ready and if he wanted to go back to sleep, no worries I would head out by myself and check back in a few hours. He was game so by 6:30 we were at the HUMP.
I love bottom bouncing with a worm harness– I learned the art on these trips (mainly from a guide at Brennan Harbour) and it’s a confidence play for me. My partner and I strung up and proceeded to probe the HUMP. It didn’t take long within a few minutes we had a 17 inch walleye on the stringer and for us the next two hours were epic. We filled out our limit, we threw back bigger fish as we had two over 18 inches, we let go a few more dinner fish. We were smart enough to mark the spot with another marker to highlight the start and finish of her. My boat partner was one of the newbies to the trip and his crap eating grin as we drove back to the camp to drop off fish and show the stringer was priceless. This spot was a bread and butter run for my boat – every day we pulled a big walleye off it, sometimes that was it, other times we could get into a bunch.
Now I would love the story to continue about how we slayed them for the rest of the week but we didn’t. We did well by our standards, but I will say it felt like a slog. Over the course of the week it felt like we were in Scotland (4 seasons in a week) – it was cold, it rained, it was hot, it was windy and rough, there was a good drift, a too fast drift and no drift. You can probably tell by looking at the pictures - rain suits, shorts, tuques, sun hats etc. The wind was from the SW, NE, SE, W and so on. Don’t get me wrong – Shekak is a good (if not great lake) lake but it was a lot of work, more than previous trips. I swear by the end of the week I had carpal tunnel from running the motor, the presentations needed to be so slow, in and out of gear, back trolling, controlled drifting you had to do it all because it just seemed like the walleye weren’t going to move far to take a bait and they moved around a spot a lot.
Dan had told us that the walleye on Shekak were schooling fish – there one minute and gone the next (Other reports we had read sounded similar). A few things stand out – it was the lightest bite I have ever witnessed. When bouncing and jigging I would swear it was a perch at my bait (tug…tug…tugtugtug) only to set the hook and find out it was a 17 inch walleye.
We did well (and I think the lake is known for this) on average size – I caught more walleye over 20 inches myself than I think the 4 of us did the entire time on Pickle – but even these fish hit soft. I happened to get the biggest of the trip – a 26 incher and I am not going to lie – I didn’t feel a hit, just a small hesitation on the bounce/spin cadence so I set the hook.
One thing that surprised us most was our lack of success at night, typically we have found you catch a few during the day and at night you catch a lot, maybe a little shallower but they are there. It never really happened on Shekak and that was probably our biggest disappointment/failure, We love the night fish but for this trip success was sporadic, a few good nights but nowhere near what we experienced on Pickle. You could catch pike to your heart’s desire, but we didn’t get anything over 30 inches and what I really wanted was walleye. The only thing I think we maybe didn’t try enough was getting shallow and right into the weeds. We tried a few times but only got cigars or pike and didn’t work it enough.
I grew up playing a lot of sports and I think because of that I tend to name everything – we had a few spots that stand out THE HUMP (I believe I could still draw it perfectly we spent that much time on the spot), Smedleys Bay (named after James Smedley and an article he wrote on Shekak), The Hole, Whiteys Jigging Bay *birthplace of the The Jigging Gnome ), The Ledge, B%$CHES Bay and Gut Bucket Bay to name a few. Each spot however seemed to turn on and off like a switch. The HUMP for example was really temperamental – one day we were there for 15 minutes and caught 7 nice sized walleye very quickly when the plane flew in for our check in flight – we headed in and even though we were back on the spot within 30 minutes they were gone (note to self, never, ever leave the bite!). We also did notice that during the day we marked a lot of bait and fish in 30+ feet but jigging wasn’t very effective, unfortunately our biggest bottom bouncers were 2 ounces and keeping them on the bottom was tough (which was surprising - on our Brennan Harbour trip we fished as deep as 50 feet with 2 ounce bottom bouncers easy enough – not sure if it was current, water density?)
We always had enough fish to eat and to keep us interested and as mentioned we got into some good sized walleye (26, 24, 2 at 23.5, many of over 20) but overall for the guys who had done a trip like this before we were a bit disappointed in the walleye. I would estimate we caught between 300 – 325 fish for the week, about 150 -175 of those were walleyes.
Best tactics for walleye was either trolling or drifting bottom bouncers and harnesses (my 5 biggest fish all came on # 4 size Colorado blades), jigging with 1/8th to 3/8-ounce jigs and a few trolling hot n tots and husky jerks
Pike hit just about anything (many caught on worm harnesses) but if I had to pick, I would say spoons, cranks (Hot n Tots, Rapala Minnow Raps/Dive tos) and jigs. We didn’t find size – we tried but we are novice pike fisherman and I wouldn’t hold that against the lake.
Overall I think Shekak is a good lake with good size potential. One thing our group will consider for new trips is size of lake (we can’t control weather). WRA’s Pickle camp isn’t that much smaller than Shekak but it has a lot of “dead” water that you can rule out for walleye, the basin area is relatively small and there are only a few key structure points that stand out. Shekak was different, larger, much bigger basin area, more bays, more structure, more places for the fish to hide.
I must say that Dan and White River are a great outfitter. Dan is straight forward and doesn’t say much but he is fair, treats his guests well and runs great camps in our experience. You pay a bit of a premium for the deluxe camps (Pickle, Shekak and now Garnham South) but IMO its worth it. Brandi and Elsie were also very helpful and always easy to connect with over the phone.
As mentioned in the Pickle Lake Trip Report Pickle Lake Fly In – White River Air is a good choice for people doing this for the first time. They have a lot of lakes to choose from, won’t make you sweat weight (at least in our experience) and the two cabins we stayed in were great.