IGNACE, Ontario – Our boat strained on its anchor line as a nearby torrent of whitewater poured into Lake Seseganaga.
A few hundred yards away, a common loon called.
And at your fingertips a “click-click-click” of our coils broadcasts a connection to a wild dweller in the water below.
“Another,” said Mike Bartz of Grand Marais, Minnesota, as he lifted his rod to heavy resistance and a fish pulled in his line. “Now I’ve officially lost count.”
The roar, the yodeling, the click of the drag provided as perfect an angling soundtrack as I have ever experienced.
Bartz and I each worked in a 20 inch walleye, our fourth consecutive “double”, then leaned over the gunwales to get the hooks out and watched the fish swim in the clear, colorful water tea.
“Incredible,” said Bartz, sitting in the back of the 14-foot aluminum boat to contemplate the moment. “Just amazing.”
The sentiment was shared by everyone in our 10 member party who traveled to the remote lake for a fishing trip from May 28th to June 3rd.
The caveat, however, is this: it was as real and substantial as the granite that lines the shores of Seseganaga. And it happened several times during the week.
It’s the kind of “fishing almost any cast in a pristine setting” experience that most anglers dream of.
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It certainly described those in our group, all with Wisconsin ties, including seven retired conservation rangers from the Department of Natural Resources.
In addition to Bartz and I, the party included: John Glennon of Oregon; Rollie Lee of Black River Falls; Bob Stark of Little Falls, Minnesota; Randy Stark of Oregon; Doug Thoresen of St. Paul, Minnesota; Tom Thoresen of Fitchburg; Tom Wrasse of Arbor Vitae; and Dave Zeug of Shell Lake. Our group was between 29 and 80 years old.
It took some travel, of course, and such amazing angling is getting harder to find every year. Ignatius is a 720 mile drive from Milwaukee.
“It’s a must trip for sure,” Zeug said. “And some of us have been lucky enough to do it more than once.”
Zeug was on his fourth trip to Seseganaga. I was among the four “rookies” of the class of 2022.
The tradition of the Wisconsin group was formed about 25 years ago when Aaron Smith of Marathon traveled to the Ignace area and discovered Ten Mile Lake Camp run by Richard and Michelle Carpenter of Tomah.
The couple own and operate Ten Mile Lake Camp in Ignace as well as Seseganaga Outpost Camp from May to September.
Aaron told his father, Bill Smith of Shell Lake, about the quality of lodging and fishing, and the Smiths began an annual trip to Ten Mile Lake Camp.
Bill Smith said he had inquired for years about the Seseganaga outpost – which has two cabins and is only accessible by seaplanes – but returning guests had always booked it.
Then in 2013 an opening came up and Bill and his family immediately made a reservation.
“It was just a wonderful, peaceful, rustic experience, fantastic fishing, hard to beat,” Smith said. “Then I came back and talked to Dave (Zeug) and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bigger group and rent both cabins? “”
This plan has been put into action. An expanded group of family members, former colleagues and friends have filled both cabins every year since.
The site includes a four-person unit named Caribou and the adjacent six-person Lynx.
This year, Bill Smith missed out for the first time due to a granddaughter’s graduation. A few other regulars, including Kyle Zeug (Dave’s son) had other family obligations that kept them from traveling.
So Bartz, Lee, Bob Stark and I filled in.
It was what you usually didn’t dare to imagine.
Seseganaga covers 26,855 acres, larger than any lake in Wisconsin except Lake Winnebago. There are walleye, northern pike, monkfish and lake trout.
But there are no roads leading there and only a handful of remote camps. The shores are undeveloped and probably look like they did 300 years ago.
We only saw one other boat from another camp all week. Besides our group, our companions were bald eagles, common loons, mergansers, herring gulls and red squirrels.
During the 20 minute seaplane flight, I also saw two woodland caribou along a shoreline.
The outpost includes gas and appliances for cooking and refrigeration as well as wood-burning stoves for heating, but has no running water or electricity. We packed plenty of food and drink to supplement our daily meals of fresh pickerel.
We fished on 14 foot aluminum boats with 9.9 horsepower outboard motors. We slept on bunks and met for meals in the kitchen of the big cabin.
A fire ring on the lawn to the east hosted campfires.
A solar shower was also available.
“Heaven” is how Tom Thoresen described it.
We settled into camp on the first day and headed out to learn about – or reconnect with – the water.
One of the first things that showed up was the volume – the north is going really high this spring. The lake was about 2 feet above normal.
Zeug and Lee led Bartz and me on a quick tour, including the “falls”, one of the entrances to the lake.
He was roaring. The area was also teeming with fish, mostly walleye that had come there to spawn.
Although the spawning season was technically over, many males continued to milk.
The spring of 2022 had been wet and also late.
Regardless, all the fish were hungry.
We had minnows with us, but all it took to catch a walleye was a jig with a plastic tail.
Many large pike were also present.
The first day I landed and released a 42 inch pike on a small jig. And Bartz and I caught and released a steady stream of 13-23 inch walleyes.
The daily catch and possession limit on Seseganaga is four walleye per person. Each boat brought back two to four fish for the big meal of the day at the end of the afternoon.
According to the tradition of the group, we alternated cooking and cleaning tasks each day.
Tom Wrasse whipped up a delicious baked walleye dish on the first day that set a very high standard. Next, Glennon produced a peach and a berry pie.
It was soon siesta time before another fishing trip offered by the long hours of late spring sunshine at this northern latitude.
A new daily rhythm has become the norm: getting up around 6 or 7 a.m., having a leisurely breakfast and socializing, then leaving mid-morning for a fishing trip, returning at 2 p.m. to clean the fish and prepare the big meal of the day at about 3, followed by a siesta and a second fishing trip of 5 at sunset or later, then a campfire and more stories until the eyelids start to fall.
Then sleep and repeat.
All this was done without electricity or electronics. No TV, no internet, no smartphone.
Our only link to the outside world was a pair of transponders worn by Bartz and Glennon that could be used to signal an emergency.
For 2022, it was a major departure from modern technology.
After a few days of adjusting, it was glorious.
There was no shortage of entertainment and enrichment through stories and conversation.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was coming up with different fish recipes. The week’s menu included baked, almond, fried and taco roasts.
At least two days I ate leftover pickerel for breakfast.
Over the campfires we reflected on what was happening in the world. Could the war have ended in Ukraine?
We couldn’t do anything about it, of course. We could only face what was right in front of us in the most beautiful and peaceful part of the world.
The fishing was exceptional. The biggest fish of the week were a 44 inch Northern caught by Glennon and a 24.5 inch walleye caught by Wrasse.
Bartz, who has fished for many decades in the best waters of Wisconsin and Ontario, caught the biggest walleye and northern walleye of his life on Seseganaga. The same day.
After a week the seaplanes appeared and the next groups came down the jetty to take our place.
Among them were Bryce and Maxine Luchterhand of Unity, Wisconsin. The couple were back for their 23rd date with Ten Mile Lake Camp.
“I live for this trip,” Bryce said as we formed a chain gang to unload the gear. “The best thing is the absence of the internet and the news, the second is the scenery and the solitude, and the third is the fishing, which is unbeatable.”
We flew under blue skies and minutes later were at our vehicles at Rusty Meyer’s Flying Service depot.
And then it was back to reality. But the memories of Seseganaga were engraved in our memories.
“You go out there and fish all day and see no one else,” Zeug said. “And no other building, exactly as it has been for hundreds of years. It’s priceless. Every year I leave and just hope I can do it again.”