Stick A Pin In It - Lake St Joseph Trip Report

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Root Bay Outpost, Aug 2020

Moving down the river I was trying to remember what Ryan had said “the key is to be in the deeper water”, as I watched the fish finder I noticed I was getting shallow fast, so I popped the boat into gear and turned sharply towards the channel. Just as my bouncer touched down and I felt the familiar shimmy of the harness I had a vicious hit. Being solo I was forced (okay, I wanted to) give Colin and Dave the play by play “She’s got shoulders” “Oh man, it’s a good fish” “It’s 24.5 inches and fat” “Man, what a first fish” Welcome to Root Bay and welcome to the Pin Cushion.

Build Up

I have probably over mentioned how much planning goes into our trips. I have 4 posts to prove it! Trip Plan Part 1 Trip Plan Part 2 Trip Plan Part 3 Trip Plan Part 4 Out big trips (Fly ins) happen every two years and we do a lot of work to make them special. This year was always going to be different. We were going further North, we would fly commercially to Thunder Bay to cut down on travel time (post to come on that experience soon) and we were working a new outfitter, Slate Falls Outposts Slate Falls Interview . Then Covid 19 hit. For a while we didn’t think it would happen. Then it was determined that instead of Miniss Lake we would be going to the Root Bay Outpost on Lake St Joseph. This wasn’t a big deal as we had debated hard between the two lakes but we did need to scramble a bit to re research Lake St Joseph. Ryan was super helpful and Mike Borger of Canada Fishing Guide had fished at this outpost and had done a thorough report (and also graciously chatted with my brother providing even more intel). Then our flights got changed and changed again. Our initial rental car company closed its two outlets in Thunder Bay. You get the point. This year was just different and in the end that was alright.

Walleye caught on a fly in fishing trip in Northern Ontario, Canada
Colin with a nice walleye caught trolling between two islands

Sunrise photo from a fly in fishing trip in Northern Ontario, Canada
Take off on our flight out - love my new Iphone for photos!

Travel Day

Our flight was scheduled to leave Toronto at 8:50 AM so that meant getting to Pearson airport early, checking baggage, arguing with various airport staff about whether or not a rod holder and a tackle bag was two pieces of luggage or 1 (tip its 1 and is clearly stated on Air Canada’s website!). We got to our gate with enough time to chat, grab a coffee and wait to board. Just as we were boarding the Air Canada rep announced that there was bad fog over the airport in Thunder Bay and while the plane would depart on time there was a chance we may get turned back. Great. Well sure enough we flew all the way to Thunder Bay only to have turn around and head back to Toronto. Muted panic ensued. Did we have to scramble to find a new flight? Rent a car? We were scheduled to be on a float plane at 7 AM the next day! For the record it’s an 18-hour drive from Toronto to Sioux Lookout. After a gut wrenching 30 minutes the pilot announced that we would refuel in Toronto and basically turn back around and try again. We sat on the tarmac for an eternity (about an hour) and sure enough we were back in the air and successfully landed at around 4:00 PM (instead of 11 AM). A long ride, especially in masks and no food service on the flight. We grabbed our gear and headed to the rental counter and we were in luck our van was ready. As we packed up our gear it became apparent. We were not going to fit. Well maybe we would have fit but we would have to spend 4 hours in the van covered head to toe in groceries and other various items. New plan required. We headed back in, rented another small car and were on our way to pick up groceries and beverages. After all that the drive to Sioux Lookout was beautiful and uneventful. One interesting fact - we did change time zones. We were confused why our GPS said 4-hour drive but has us arriving in 3 hours, then we passed a sign saying we had entered Central Time – who knew! We pulled into Slate Falls bunkhouse at 9:30 PM and pulled out our sleeping gear and had a few well-earned cold ones. The setup there is great, plenty of room and we were right at the airbase. I honestly meant to take some photo’s but we were bagged and I have one shot of us outside it – oops, my bad.

Slate Falls Outposts Bunkhouse in Sioux Lookout Ontario
The crew outside of the Bunkhouse - an awesome option if its available


Ryan Runge, owner of Slate Falls Outposts had let us know he would meet us at 6:00 AM to chat with us, go over some spots and settle our bills. After an epic day of travel that should have been early enough but Dave and I were up and jittery at 5:00 AM. A quick map search let us know that there was a Tim Hortons around the corner so we took down the coffee and sandwich orders and picked them up. We checked in with Ryan, got a sense of the lake and where he thought we should focus our fishing. Sure, enough at 7 AM the pilot from Slate Falls Air pulled into the lot, we weighed our gear and were on our way! I was nominated to sit in the front seat and I captured lots of video and photos. It was a 30-minute flight and soon enough we make the sharp bank (I can’t lie I thought we stalled and I was filming my own death) and taxied up to our home for the week. The set up was impressive, I have done a walk-through video and will get it posted soon. We quickly unpacked our gear, made up our rooms, strung up our rods and had some sandwiches for breakfast. With all that we were on the water and fishing by 10:30 AM, much earlier than previous trips. Similar to our Ogoki Lake trip report 2018 Ogoki Lake Trip I am going to break down each days fishing for the rest of the report followed by some keen observational science…

Getting ready to board a flight for a fly in fishing trip in Northern Ontario
Getting ready to jump in the Otter at Slate Falls Airways

Day 1 - Poking the Pin Cushion

During our research one spot kept popping up “the pin cushion”. Basically, it’s where the root river exits lake St Joseph towards the Root Bay dam. At the entrance it gets quite narrow, generates a ton of current but also has good depth. It also happens to be a 5ish minute boat ride from the cabin (depending on the boat configuration, the 14 foot boats with 15 HP move well but better if you were the solo fisherman that day) The week before we headed into the camp Ryan had been in fishing with some guests for a few days and he told us it was on fire, first spot found! We were all super keen to wet a line and we started off getting a lay of the land trolling/drifting worm harnesses on bottom bouncers. Within 5 minutes I landed my first fish which would also happen to be my biggest – a fat 24.5-inch walleye. Over the next few hours, it was epic, we caught lots of walleyes on bouncers and jigs. It was all about getting a controlled cast or drift or troll through the river channel. More specifically it was about maintaining consistent bottom contact through the deeper stretch and waiting for the telltale tiggle of a walleye. The average size was impressive as well. Over the course of the week we caught loads of fish over 20 inches in the pin cushion including 8 between 24 and 26 inches. After a few hours we headed in for a bite to eat and refresh our beverages. We looked again at our maps as well as the one Ryan provided and decided to fish a few more spots close to the cabin. We did okay, it was no pin cushion and with higher winds boat control was tough but we started to get a sense of the lake – NOT, we started to realize how different Lake St Joseph and the area around Root Bay was. When fishing new spots, I like to take a few passes over the area while looking at my depth finder to understand the structure. In most cases I am trying to visualize the low part (basin) and the high part (shoreline, top of hump or reef). Then I typically turn around, move out to the deep side, drop down a bottom bouncer or crank or jig and slowly troll my way up the structure looking to get a sense of where the fish are. This rarely worked. Sometimes there was another reef within 15 feet of the other spot or there was a roller coaster where you went up and down 3 times before you hit shore. Honestly it took us a while to get used to it. We spent a few hours doing this, picked off more walleye and a few pike and then headed back to the Pin Cushion prior to heading back to camp for some celebratory beers and a campfire.

Total Fish Count – 105

Nice walleye caught on a fly in fishing trip in Ontario, Canada
The author with a Pin Cushion Beauty

Day 2 - Highly Irregular

It was an early morning for me, up at 4:00 AM, then 4:30 and finally at 5:15 I just decided to get out of bed. I headed down to the dock to see if I could get a good time lapse video of sunrise. In the end it was hard to do off the dock so I took a bunch of pictures, re tied my rods and even caught a few walleyes off the dock – a nice way to kick start the day. At 6:30 I put some coffee on to percolate and the other guys started to stir. We decided to fish a new section of the lake that Ryan had marked up. I am terrible with direction but its where the Cat River starts to connect to Blackstone Lake. The wind had picked up again and while we did well, we hadn’t quite got a handle on boat control in the current and the wind. In certain area’s it was easy to get stuck in neutral between the current and the wind. A few boats did however catch some nice walleye this day. My brother caught a 25.5 that looked part boa constrictor with the size of its gut and Mark got a beautiful 25 inch. Colin and I found a few spots and after a few passes we started to get a handle on the structure – highly irregular! After a beauty lunch on an island we headed back out for a few more hours when someone made the call “Pin Cushion” We made the run down and needed to put some fish on a stringer for tomorrow’s shore lunch. Again, it was on – lots of fish and a few real beauties. My brother caught what was to be our largest fish, a nice 26-inch walleye on a jig. At this stage we were starting to get more confident in our jigging abilities, a big goal of ours as a group. Most of us had started with heavy 3/8 to ½ ounce jigs but were already starting to downsize (except for Mark The Jigging Gnome who was always using a 1/16 ounce or less) Overall another great day and we were confident we were getting a handle on Lake St Joe! No fire that night as a massive thunderstorm moved in. The show from the covered porch was incredible the sky seems like it was being lit up from all sides

Total Fish Count – 158

Walleye fishing in Northern Ontario with Slate Falls Outposts