Gone Fishing at Lodge 88
My fellow So Fly Podcast hosts and I were gearing up to head back to one of our favourite locations: Northern Ontario. This time we had plans to head to Lodge 88, a wicked train or fly-in lodge in Ontario’s Algoma Country. We had read about Lodge 88 and saw the giant pike, beautiful brookies, and vast wilderness to explore. I got a ping in our mailbox. It’s Terry, Lodge 88’s director of operations, asking if we’d still like to come up in three weeks' time. I couldn’t believe it. From there, it was a mad scramble to pull together a crew and plan. I hit up So Fly trip regulars and fantastic anglers and photographers, Joel Clifton, Aidas Rygelis and Nick Kuchmak. After a few Zoom meetings, we coordinated what was to be a wicked adventure to the Northern reaches of the province.
When it comes to getting to Lodge 88 you have a few options. It’s a unique lodge in the sense that you can take a train into the lodge or fly in via float plane. Either way, you’ll have to get yourself to White River, Ontario, which is exactly what we did. We left Toronto in the wee hours of the morning and made our way North. After Sudbury, Ontario, we headed west along the Trans-Canada Highway. I’ve been to the Algoma region a few times before but never as far as Sault Ste. Marie and certainly not further. This time I’d be headed past Wawa and to White River where I’d meet the shores of Lake Superior for the first time.
From the Canyons of Utah to the tropics of the Bahamas and even the Alps in northern Italy, I've had the privilege of doing some fantastic drives over the years. The drive north from Sault Ste. Marie to White River is right up there with them. The Trans-Canada follows the shores of Lake Superior as it winds north through the forest. At every turn, we were met with dramatic cliffs and vistas as the road rose and fell with the land. As the drive went on we passed over streams and rivers that emptied into the giant lake. More than once we stopped to just look out and dream about what might be swimming in those dark, deep, angry waters.
We arrived in White River at about four o’clock—more than enough time to check in to the White River Motel and check out the quaint little town. Getting there a bit early meant we could visit the Winnie the Pooh monument. Did you know that the loveable honey eater’s story began in White River? Me either. The bear that inspired the book was purchased in White River before making its way to England during WWI and finding a home at the zoo. What a small, strange world.
After visiting Winnie’s statue we had some dinner at the White River bar and grill, which was full of anglers much like us, spending the night in White River before catching the train. After a pizza and “a few” pints, we hit the hay.
The train station is about a minute drive from the hotel so waking up an hour before departure time may have been overkill. Either way, we were too excited to sleep. We headed to the train station half an hour early, which we thought would leave a ton of time to take photos. We thought wrong.
“We need ALL of you on the train in four minutes!” The conductor yelled as we opened our car doors. Not exactly the calm scenario we'd envisioned.
We started loading our bags and snapping pics as quickly as we could. The moment that I had built up in my head for months was flying by at the speed of a zooming train. Either way, it was a wicked feeling getting on a train to head into the woods for a fishing trip. After we were all on board and our bags made it, we were able to let the moment sink in. As the train pulled out of the station and into the bush, we felt the connected world slip away with every bar that disappeared from our cell phone connectivity icons. The train is operated by Via Rail, and the cabin was very comfortable. I even enjoyed a little nap as we were whisked into the wild.
The ride into the lodge was roughly an hour. We spoke with some of the other guests on board and learned that the train drops people off at Lodge 88 as well as their sister operation, Mar Mac Lodge. Both lodges are located on Lake Esnagi, a long and impressive body of water featuring 27 miles, roughly 44 kilometres, of open water to explore. Fitting then, we would meet at the lake before the lodge.
It’s a surreal feeling having a giant locomotive stop in the middle of the forest to let you off at your “stop.” The train stopped, the doors opened, and there was Terry and his crew ready and waiting with smiles on their faces to greet us. The black flies were part of the welcome party too. I took a deep breath in and smelled the northern air. I was filled with a relaxed feeling of relief. I thought to myself, Thank goodness, I'm back up north. Terry’s team promptly took our bags away in an ATV, and we headed to a nearby dock where we met our guide, John. John got us into a boat, and we took off toward the lodge. Arriving at the dock at the lodge by boat was a great way to be introduced to the lodge. We saw the whole property and the boats we’d be fishing in right off the bat. We hopped off the boat and up to our cabin where our bags were waiting. After all that commuting, we were finally there.
Lodge 88 has a main lodge where you’ll enjoy your meals if you opt for the American plan. The main lodge has a dining room, cozy couches, a gaming area with a pool table and WiFi if you need to check in with loved ones. From there, the lodge has several cabins to fit groups of any size, big or small. The four of us were in two separate, two-bedroom rooms. The property slopes to the lake where the docks sit, housing all the boats. The boats are aluminum Lunds with 25 hp outboards perfect for exploring the lake. Each boat was in mint condition, cleaned and serviced daily by the staff at the docks—a smiling staff member is always there ready to help you dock.
Our guide John met us on the dock. We were at the lodge for 3 days but only had one day with John, so we need to get as much info as possible in a short amount of time. John has been fishing the lake since 1985 and calls White River home. We started by taking a 45-minute run up the lake to the northernmost arm. It was a great way to see the whole lake and be immersed in the wilderness right off the bat. We were hunting Northern Pike, and it didn’t take long to find them. At this time of year, they’re in shallow water, so we were fishing shoals and shorelines. We caught a ton of pike and saw a lot of the lake thanks to John. We felt prepared for the next two days fishing solo and armed with the right info to get-er-done.
The following days were a fish-filled blur. We enjoyed unseasonably warm and sunny temps which made for long and great days on the water. On our second morning we took the hike into Rock Lake which is a “mini” day trip you can do to fish for brook trout. It’s a short walk up a moss-covered trail into Rock Lake. This location realllllllly makes you feel like you’re in the middle of absolute nowhere. Rock Lake is a small and aptly named lake with tons of big bouldery shoals and zippy brookies. We fished the morning here and caught a few trout and even interrupted a moose taking a swim.
Lunch is packed daily by the staff at the lodge. We enjoyed ours on Rock Lake before making the walk back down the trail to fish the main lake again. The brook trout are great, but we were all pretty excited to be chasing the feisty pike.
We fished tree-lined feeder creeks, sandy bays, and deep dark tea-stained water. We enjoyed each other’s company and the fantastic hospitality of all the staff at Lodge 88. Before we knew it our time at Esnagi Lake was finished. We were a bit sunburnt and a little bug bitten, but we were all elated. We woke up on our last morning to clouds for the first time but the rain was holding off long enough for our flight back to White River. Although we loved the train, few things beat a float plane ride in Northern Ontario, so we were glad we got to experience the other way to commute to the lodge.
And just like that, we were on the plane on our way back to White River. We flew over the lakes and forest that we fished over the previous 3 days, reflecting on the laughs, fish and fun times had on the water, from high up above. Fishing trips are rarely long enough, but this is one that just flew by. Hopefully, soon enough we’ll return to fish Esnagi Lake—a truly beautiful place in Algoma.