A Fool for Lac Seul

Lac Seul has been known to humble even the most experienced muskie anglers, and sometimes that is a hard lesson.

I’ve fished enough to know that not everything goes according to plan. Yet, I still torture myself with expectations. In this case, they were of Lac Seul. The Lac Seul, years upon years of dreams finally materializing.

However, these frame grabs of our conscience hardly ever pan out the way we imagine.

Lac Seul has been known to humble even the most experienced muskie anglers, but it downright rattled me. With five days total in Sioux Lookout and only four evenings to fish, if lack of time wasn’t already a hindrance, I managed to get myself sick for one evening. A burden I later blamed a bad macaroni salad for.

Down to three nights, every minute counted, and every figure eight was crucial.

My good friend and impressive muskie angler Aaron Jolicoeur was kind enough to lend his time and boat to my cause. My first muskie on the fly.

I had new flies I was dying to throw, and even though they were heavy and definitely a “flight risk,” I had to give them a chuck.

The first few casts with a white and teal fly on steroids, I had a huge pull. One large head shake later, it dove for the weeds, and my heart sank. Aaron looked at me with anticipation, we both knew it was a muskie, and we both knew she was long gone.

Call me a hopeless romantic; I knew I stung her, but a part of me hoped she was a glutton for punishment.

While I fly-fished, Aaron used an assortment of tubes, blades and beaver baits in an attempt to use our time as strategically as possible.

It was one of those double-edged swords, I was relieved it wasn’t just me not catching anything. But then you remind yourself: if they aren’t eating, that's not good for anyone.

A few spots later, I landed a small pike; it kept our morale up to carry into the next few days.

With only a total of eight hours left to fish, evening number two was grind time. Throughout that entire night, I would be driven crazy by these swiping follows. Like wisps striking my fly, they would hit so fast, completely missing it, but come back three or four times more before I’d even get into the eight.

I had a hunch they were pike, but out of curiosity, I had to ask, “What is a telltale Lac Seul muskie follow? Are they fast and anxious, or slow and reserved?” Completely wrapped up in overthinking my strategy as I usually do, I was surprised by Aaron’s answer. “They glow.”

I’m sorry, what?

You see, another curveball Lac Seul threw at me was just how dark its water was. My home waters are central Ontario; to say I know dark water is an understatement, but Lac Seul was something I’d never experienced before. Its red ochre-stained water required you to feel for your fly instead of watching it. It brought a whole new meaning to the term blind casting for me.

So, naturally, when Aaron claimed they glowed, I chuckled in disbelief – until I got my first follow.

Here we go, I thought my first Lac Seul muskie sighting. By my count of over 40 inches with shoulders as wide as my thigh, this fish was a worthy opponent. Though possibly the same age as me, she was certainly wiser. As she seemingly sniffed my fly, she gave her tail one slow and steady paddle into the boat and was gone.

I had grand plans, shot lists, storyboards, and entire visions of how and what would play out. I was just forgetting one thing: the fish don’t care. My confidence was shaken.

On the final evening of the trip, we decide to head back to a spot where Aaron’s seen and caught multiple muskies. It felt like a good idea to spend our remaining time wisely.

Cast, strip, eight. Cast, strip, eight. This pattern has burnt a hole in my muscle memory, and forever it shall stay. I often catch myself doing figure eights while I’m bass fishing, which as a side note, has proved effective.

I watch my fly the best I can, its bright white feathers get lost in the tea-stained water, invisible even just a few feet from the boat. My leader grazes through the guides on my rod; now I know my fly is six feet away.

Strip, strip, strip.

At the boat I see it now, it kicks to the side as I strip my line in once more before the eight. It's gone. I saw her take it, gapping white mouth wide open for a split second before her run.

My line burns out of my hand, why had I not taped my fingers?

"My God, this is my muskie," I thought.

Her wide back appears, goodness she’s dark, but her side; it flashes brightly. "You still haven’t seen her tail, don’t get too excited," I breathe to myself.

Aaron and I are both silent. Not a word escapes our mouths; why is he so quiet, has he seen her tail?

She darts back to the side of the boat she lunged my fly on, and Aaron dips the net down, she’s not ready. Before I can see her tail she races out and down. I get her back.

Aaron slides the net under her, she’s in.

In my mind I’ve already fast-forwarded to taking photos with her, allowing myself to shake with my water wolf sickness, measuring her on the bumper, and giving Aaron a high five after releasing her into the tetley waters of Lac Seul.

Another pike.

Both our shoulders sank. She fought so well, even Aaron was fooled by her.

Any fish in a lake is worth catching, and that pike gave me the best fight of my season, so why was I upset? Expectations. Preconceived notions I’d built up in myself.

I’ve been muskie fishing for over five years, I know this is exactly how it goes, hell I haven’t even broken my personal best of 36”.

Of all the things I anticipated for this trip, there was one unexpected event I couldn’t be shook up about.

In the evening I was sick, and feeling defeated, we decided to just have a campfire at Moosehorn Lodge, so I was "close" to a bathroom if need be. As we sat by the dim campfire with a few anglers from the United States, we started to see a haze cover the sky. I thought to myself, "It can’t be, the sun hasn’t even completely set yet."  Sure enough, as we continued to look up at the twilight horizon, the Northern Lights erupted directly above us.

The fishing may have been less than ideal, but the Northern Lights were the final spike in everything I had expected from that trip, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Lac Seul taught me that being humble isn’t humble enough. My confidence eluded me while on the water. My thoughts shaken, I left with my tail tucked between my legs, feeling like I knew less than ever before, but my heart was full of wonder and I’ll be back to have my modesty realigned once again.

About Alyssa Lloyd

Alyssa Lloyd is a photojournalist based out of Kenora working with Ontario's Sunset Country. The outdoors has been the center of her work and personal life for as long as she can remember. As an angler, Alyssa spends most of her time time chasing multiple species on both conventional and fly gear. 

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