Guide to Northern Pike Fishing
By Bill Rivers
Imagine planning a fly-in fishing trip for walleyes and northern pike then discovering that not one, but two of this province’s premiere fishing lodges are situated on that very lake.
Furthermore, indulge in the fantasy that both of those full-services lodges have made a commitment to providing your fishing party with a memorable, relaxing, trouble-free angling vacation on a little-known, top-rated wilderness lake. Yeah, right. Can’t be, you say. Verify this data at Nagagami Lake.
Big Nagagami Lake first drew my attention several years ago as we drove north of White River on highway #631 toward Nagagamisis Provincial Park. Considering its sheer size, relative isolation and proximity to Hornepayne’s many air services I thought it might have some potential for fishing.
But, it wasn’t until March ’90 at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show that two very reputable fishing lodges – Nagagami Lodge and Timberwolf Lodge – were associated with the lake.
Thereupon, like an arrangement of dominoes, everything systematically fell into place and before the show ended, an August booking was mine. And, in order to get a broad view of Liddle’s 2-lodge Nagagami Lake operation, the trip would see us split our time and fishing between the two camps. Dave Sauve, Ontario Fisherman field editor and a regular fishing sidekick, eagerly agreed to accompany me on this rather unique angling adventure.
Nagagami Lake, located approximately 15 air miles northwest of Hornepayne, is a medium-sized, kidney-shaped lake measuring 8 miles in length and 2 to 4 miles in width.
The lake shows three distinct areas – the eastern basin, a shallow (20 to 40 ft. ), smooth-bottomed area; the western basin, a deeper (10 to 90 ft. ), irregularly contoured area with islands, rocky shoreline, shoals; a long, narrow, deep (10 to 70 ft. ) northerly arm.
Unlike many large, diverse lakes, Nagagami Lake has excellent angling in all three regions:particularly for walleyes and northern pike (although there is a healthy whitefish population and some perch in the lake).
The lake is most unusual in that, in the large eastern basin, a very narrow but productive weedline can be found far offshore where the lake bottom falls from 8 to 12 feet. Because it is well out in the lake and not continuous, finding it becomes on of the keys to the lake’s great pike fishing. More on that later!The water is stained from the ever present tannins leaching into the lake from surrounding timber and soils.
The lake warms up early for this part of the North and because of its size, can get very rough when the wind blows. There are few boating hazards in the main lake, except along the rugged north-arm shoreline and among the island clusters. Isolated hazards are marked by the lodge staff and have been carefully pinpointed on a very detailed, hydro-contour map of Nagagami Lake produced by the lodges for their guests. Key fishing areas are highlighted.
Also accessible (via short, easy portages) are two small lakes: Hiawatha and Pody. Both offer excellent walleye and pike fishing. At Pody Lake, a catch & release lake, monster northerns and bigger than average walleyes are caught regularly.
With lots of water, diverse structural elements and several incoming & outflowing major rivers, Nagagami is a walleye factory. And, because several lodges and camps operate on the big lake, a river mouth sanctuary policy is in effect on the Foch and Obakamiga (“Buck”) Rivers until mid-June.
Walleyes are found throughout the lake:in current flows at river sites, along weedlines and in the larger weedbeds, off islands and pointes over gravel bottoms, and on mid-lake structures including several classic shoals, humps, sunken islands, drop-offs and bars.
As suggested earlier, the spring walleye fishery focuses on post-spawn (male) fish, near river outflows. It is not unusual to see a pack of boats in a small area with all anglers catching limits of walleyes and releasing many fish.
Springtime is minnow time and Nagagami is a “minnow lake” all season long. To protect the lake, minnows are carefully collected and sorted before being flown into the camps for fishing.
Rigged on small snelled hooks, live-bait rigs or tiny jigs, minnows are fished at the mouths of rivers where deeper areas have been created by the current or along current breaks/eddies. Other productive springtime/early summer walleye locations include the island group out from Pody Creek, an area designated “The Flats” and the upper portion of the out-flowing Nagagami River (as far downstream as Moose Lake).
Summer walleyes are widely scattered and predictable, low-light feeders. Three approaches are commonly used by Nagagami & Timberwolf Lodge guests:stillfishing minnows, backtrolling with live-bait rigs, and jigging. Standard, forward trolling with wobbling plugs or body baits is almost unheard of here.
For both experienced anglers and vacationing families with kids at Nagagami Lodge, stillfishing minnows was a popular and effective technique. Whether anglers positioned themselves out from a weedline or weedbed, along a dropoff that fell to 20 or 30 foot depths or atop the sunken islands and shoals, limits of great-eating walleyes in the 1 to 3 pound range were the rule-day after day.
Best times included the early morning hours, but the twilight times were tops. Daytime fishing was given over to pike. Dave and I took a lot of kidding about our fishing off the dock at night with floats/bobbers. That’s OK. Each night without fail (about 10:30) we’d slip down to the camp dock and catch 3 or 4 good walleye for breakfast.
By 1:00 or so we’d caught our fish and were enjoying no-less-than-spectacular displays of shimmering Northern Lights. Those evenings may have been the most enjoyable I spent all summer; they certainly were unforgettable!Get a second opinion – ask Dave!
Both Mike Bauer and Ron Dunn, managers of the two lodges, effective fished walleyes the same way:back-trolling across mid-lake shoals with live-bait rigs dressed with minnows. For this approach a depthfinder/flasher/graph is a must for locating the structure and then systematically working the bait rig up and down it until fish are contacted.
Favourite spots included a large, marked shoal northeast of the Twin Islands, the “Banana Shoal” beyond that, and isolated humps in the main-lake basin including one off Chuck’s Point and another in the midst of the lake’s eastern basin. The latter spot is tough to locate. Mike put us onto it in a driving rain one morning.
Sure that he was “testing our resolve and mettle”, we dutifully backtrolled this spot in the middle of nowhere. Bingo-several larger walleyes! Touche, Mike, but couldn’t it have waited?
Although live-bait fishing is the norm at Nagagami, jigging accounts for excellent catches of “yellows”. Location is the key to successful jigging:over shoals/humps/sunken islands or along weedlines and dropoffs. Any significant change in depth, bottom content or cover will attract and hold walleyes, especially during feeding periods.
For Nagagami Lake walleyes, pink, white and yellow jigs in the 1/8 to 1/4 ounce sizes are recommended with pink getting the nod most times. Tipped with a small piece of worm or a lively minnow, jigs should be cast and worked down ledges and humps, jigged in short hops off deeper bottoms or cast and retrieved steadily over shallow (6 to 10 feet) bars.
On our sidetrip to Hiawatha Lake, drifting a jig & worm combo proved the undoing of scores of walleyes. Our best catches (biggest fish) came off the head of the Banana Shoal where we carefully located and marked a “bite” out of an otherwise regular edge. Everytime we drifted to that spot we picked up fish, including the three largest fish of our stay and the largest caught at camp that week. A tiny “something special” spot.
Don’t overlook weedbeds and weedlines as good spots for walleyes. One party at camp ceremoniously located, marked and fished a weedline at The Meadows and consistently caught limits of better-than-average walleyes.
Fish were right in there, at the base of the weeds in the only cover in that part of the lake. To get these fish, baits had to get right in, amidst the stems and stalks; sometimes only to be grabbed first by Nagagami’s opportunistic pike. Hey, that’s OK, too!
While at Nagagami, don’t pass up the incredible shore lunch fish fries put on at midweek by Nagagami Lodge and daily (weather permitting) by Timberwolf Lodge staff at the Twin Islands. The great outdoors, good friends and a hot shore lunch – “It doesn’t get any better than this”!
During our stay at Nagagami, one thing became abundantly clear:pike fishing was given high priority by visiting anglers, especially “repeaters” who were not only familiar with the lake’s pike hotspots, but also very much aware of the potential for a mammoth northern pike-fish in the 20 to 30 pound range.
In fact, while having dinner at Timberwolf Lodge one evening, one of the “regulars” made a point of coming over to us and showing us pictures of past catches of huge Nagagami pike. This was prompted, no doubt, by her excitement over having just caught a magnificent 44-inch, 20-plus pound pike at The Meadows, an extensive weedy area off the Nagagami River outlet. Not an uncommon fish out of Nagagami Lake; uncommon just about everywhere else.
Because pike, like walleyes, are predatory fish, their seasonal movements and feeding habits often parallel those of walleye. Very often, where walleyes are caught, big pike are caught, even on the same baits. Resultantly, Nagagami northerns are fished with live baits early and late in the season and with artificial baits or lures through the warm-water months.
Come spring, pike are the lake’s first spawners and most aggressive fish. Immediately after the spawn, pike will begin taking live-bait offerings at typical springtime sites:weedy back bays and creek/river outflows. Top spots at Nagagami Lake include the Pody Creek area and a channel nearby appropriately dubbed “Pike Alley”. Large live baitfish, especially suckers, regularly produce the biggest pike in the early season, although occasional monsters will be caught by walleye fishermen, too.
Once the water warms, pike will scatter widely throughout the lake-to weedbeds/weedlines, shoals, current flows and deep-water basins – wherever their forage, oxygen and temperature requirements are met.
It is at this time that fish start chasing down larger, faster-moving baits – e. g. spinners, spoons, bass spinnerbaits, bucktails and jerkbaits. At Nagagami, this period puts fish in the weeds and anglers looking for the lake’s strange offshore weedlines. Once found, these weedlines consistently produce lots of healthy northerns:fish averaging 5 to 8 pounds.
Both our hosts knew these weedlines well and unerringly kept us near them and “on pike”. Ron is a diehard pike fanatic and spoke constantly of the lake’s bigger northerns:historic catches, fish hooked and lost, the season’s best, the lake’s potential for a 50-inch, 30-pound gator!
The 44-inch fish mentioned earlier was caught on a bass spinnerbait, yet we took our best pike on spoons and spinners. However, Ron insisted that, if you were to fish strictly for a trophy, a jerkbait worked over and near the weeds would be the most productive lure. To be sure, he had a collection of these wooden freaks – baits in the 7 to 9-inch range worked best.
Oh sure, he had a couple of “baseball bats” in there, too. Proven choices at Nagagami Lake include Suicks, Teddy Baits, Reef Hawgs and Hi-Fin Foolers. Casting and working these baits is hard work, so if you troll try a Believer, Swimm Whizz, Magnum Rapala or huge, jointed Kwikfish. Make sure that your equipment can handle this kind of tackle and strain before experiencing a day of frustration or worse, losing the fish of a lifetime.
As stated a moment ago, Dave and I successfully pitched #4 or 5 Mepps Agilia Long/Giant Killer spinners and large spoons (Daredevle, Five Diamonds) to the lake’s weed-oriented pike.
By simply moving around the perimeter of the eastern basin, fishing the intermittent weedline, we enjoyed fast-paced pike action throughout the afternoon. When fishing pike like this, please equip yourself with proper tools for extracting deeply taken baites from cavernous, toothy mouths – a “gag” to hold the fish’s mouth open, long-reach hookouts, pliers or cutters.
The careful and quick removal of hooks and immediate boatside resuscitation will insure a successful release of fish not intended for the dinner table. Sensible catch and release is an art form as much as it is a science.
Two other areas deserve special recognition when it comes to Nagagami pike fishing: The Meadows and Pike Alley. With current flows and plenty of weed cover, these areas consistently produce lots of pike as well as trophy-status fish. Bass spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, spinners, spoons and bucktails will get plenty of attention from big, aggressive northerns. Hang on!
Although many northern lakes have very healthy whitefish populations, they are pretty much underfished. At Nagagami Lake during late August through mid-September, whitefish action is outstanding and the lodges offer a continuous smokehouse service to their clientele. Smoked whitefish makes for great eating, keeps well and increases each angler’s legal “keep”. With generous limits and regulated dip netting practices to supplement angling, “whitefish-ing” should be added to the itinerary for late-season guests at Nagagami and Timberwolf Lodges.
Located on the northern arm of Nagagami Lake, this 2-star housekeeping resort features superb facilities:spacious, modern log cottages, generated hydro, sturdy 19-foot Powassan cedar-strip boats, reliable OMC motors, a central recreation lodge/meeting area with VCR/movies/TV and a pool table, guide service, bait, fish-cleaning station, smokehouse, etc. Cabins feature 2 or 3 bedrooms, bedding & liner service, modern full-size appliances, wood-burning heaters, 3-piece bath (shower, flush toilet, sink), running hot and cold water, electrical lighting, complete kitchens.
Air Service to Nagagami Lake is provided by Horne-Air (Hornepayne, Ont.) via Beaver aircraft.
This article was written after a visit to Nagagami Lodge where I did some Northern Pike Fishing as well as fishing for Walleye and Whitefish.
Online since 1998 by long-time OFM field editor, Bill Rivers, the Ontario Fisherman is now taking on a new look, but remains committed to showcasing “the best of Ontario sportfishing”.
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