What family tradition will you start this year?

From the GTA to Northern Ontario by plane, train, and boat—getting to this remote fishing lodge is half the fun.

The sun begins to set as a small crowd strolls into the dining hall of Mar Mac Lodge, a remote fishing lodge tucked onto the rocky shores of Esnagi Lake, somewhere between White River and Sudbury. 

The lodge is situated in the middle of nowhere. There is no road within 100 miles, and the crowd gathering for the evening dinner all arrived by train. Unfortunately, they didn’t make a stop at a historic train station; instead, they were dropped off by their VIA train on a lonely stretch of track, deep in the woods nearly 100-kilometres south of White River.

Thus began the shuffle of moving gear, beer, and luggage into a collection of wooden fishing boats for a short jaunt across the lake the lodge itself.

The small crowd is made up of three generations of one extended family. And each year, Mike “Uncle” Dunkle and his sons, along with the ever-expanding clan, make their way up to northern Ontario from homes spread out across Canada and the United States for a week of family fun and fishing in one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds on earth.

The family has been visiting MarMac Lodge annually for over 15-years. The crowd gets a little larger as new family members join the experience, and the family expands with each new partnership and birth.

The Search For Walter

The Dunkle family is on a mission when they arrive at Mar Mac Lodge. Each year they compete to reel in “the largest fish of the visit.” They’ve playfully named the beast “Walter” after the elusive fish from the Henry Fonda classic “On Golden Pond.”

Each family member comes dressed for the occasion wearing matching baseball caps with the custom “Walter logo,” a stylized ‘W’ with razor-sharp teeth at the base. And the winner of each year’s “Walter” receives a carved wooden trophy in the shape of a fish that they can hang on to until the following year’s gathering.

But in truth, this northern Ontario fishing get-together isn’t really about fishing at all. Instead, this event, and countless like them that take place at fishing lodges across Ontario’s north, is about bringing family together.

The bragging rights of bagging each year’s “Walter” gives the family members the chance to rib and joke with each other throughout the year. It also helps keep the interest in the yearly escape to northern Ontario alight in the hearts of the entire family.

Northern Ontario Fishing - A Family Affair

More and more families like that of “Uncle Dunkle” have found the intimate atmosphere and remote setting to be the perfect environment to reconnect and bond as a family.

Ontario fishing lodges’

Days at these fishing lodges are spent cruising up and down the 27-kilometre Esngagi Lake jigging and reeling in countless pike and walleye that can be fried up shoreside either by professional guides or those who want to take on the challenge themselves.

Evenings are spent enjoying family-style dinners crafted by the lodge’s on-site chef. The meals are always boisterous and full of wild stories, some true, many ridiculously exaggerated, but all bright, fun, and engaging enough to get the entire dining room laughing.

Ken Johnston, the owner of Mar Mac Lodge, regularly welcomes guests; most are American and gives them the lay of the land. Touring the sprawling lodge property, we were introduced to the cottages, which can all sleep six people or more. 

The natural setting and treed frontage are done with careful consideration. “Unlike most wilderness resorts, we have not removed the forest to make space for our cottages. As a result, you will not see clear-cut land and manicured lawns here. Instead, Mar Mac Lodge Wilderness Resort offers a true immersion into nature. Enjoy the wilderness through the large picture windows and from your private deck.” Each cottage has a kitchen and an outdoor firepit so guests can help keep costs down or enjoy some social time by the fire.

The property has a large dock where guests can hop in one of the many supplied fishing boats gassed up and ready for a day on the water. There is also a well-stocked fish-cleaning hut where guests can gut and clean their fish to take home with them or relax and let the skilled guides do it for them.

Mar Mac Lodge is constantly improving, and newer additions include a big screen TV in the main lodge (popular for Sunday night football games) and new, updated cabins to meet the increased demand for family-style and group accommodations.

Family Traditions Begin In Northern Ontario

As I was set to catch the floatplane that would take me back to White River at the end of my weekend of fishing on Esnagi Lake, Uncle Dunkle was set to be crowned this year’s winner of the family’s “Walter” trophy. His mammoth pike had been the talk of the camp when he showed the photos at a celebratory dinner the previous night.

As the festivities went on through the night, much family chatter was based around planning the following year’s family visit to Mar Mac Lodge. But, again, there were no “ifs,” only “when” in the conversation.

About Kevin Wagar

Kevin Wagar is a family travel expert and award-winning travel writer and photographer. He explores the world with his wife and children seeking out adventurous experiences, cultural immersion, and opportunities to learn from the local people that he visits, and shares his stories on his website Wandering Wagars - Adventure Family Travel. Kevin is also a co-founder of Ultimate Ontario, a digital publication with a passion for sharing the stories of Ontario's travel, food, and beverage experiences.

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