Kicking It Old School

Every now and then it’s fun to return to the simplicity of our fishing roots.

I’m a pretty well-equipped angler and so are most of my fishing friends. We have large and powerful boats loaded with technology that we couldn’t even have imagined back in the day. It’s a great time to be an angler, and although I wouldn’t want to turn back the clock permanently, every now and then it’s fun to return to the simplicity of our fishing roots.


Angling Trajectory

I spent my youth bombing around in a 12-foot aluminum boat. The mid-70s 9.8hp Mercury propelled my wiry frame at a good clip, and when the angling bug hit, it would idle down for hours of trolling and casting. Throughout my twenties, I discovered that a similar craft could be loaded into the back of a truck to access Northern Ontario’s countless inland lakes, accessible by bush road and trail. The lightweight portability of an aluminum boat and small outboard would make it the default angling combination for decades.


In the push for bigger and better, I would eventually acquire a 18-foot Lund Impact 1775, propelled by a powerful Mercury motor. This strong and seaworthy craft provides a tremendously user-friendly fishing platform. With the requisite fish finders, trolling motors, live wells, rod lockers, and generous storage, she is an angling dream come true. It follows that we spend a lot of time in the Lund, catching fish in comfort and style. The only disadvantage of a substantial fishing boat is it is transported by trailer, requiring good roads and decent launch ramps. The result is that many of the remote destinations I used to fish are off-limits to this larger craft. It’s not like we ran out of options for the big boat, but lately, I’ve been curious about some of the less accessible waters I used to fish.


Change of Pace

My buddy Petar has also been daydreaming about an island-filled walleye lake we used to fish and we decide to pay her a visit. The lake lies at the end of a brush-choked bush road and getting back on those waters means loading a 12-foot boat, motor and fishing gear into a side-by-side ATV. We try to pare down what we bring because it’s all got to fit into the small boat. We still end up with an armload of rods each, a portable Humminbird fishfinder, GPS, several tackle boxes, cooler with bait and food, life jackets, clothing, paddles, a bailing can, throw rope, and removable seats. We stuff it all into the side-by-side and tear down the narrow bush road.

Once at the landing, we stow everything into the boat and remarkably there’s enough room for two middle-aged men. It feels comfortable and familiar to be gripping the tiller of the small outboard and chugging into a widening of the small lake.


Cooperative Fish

I was last here about 15 years ago and I still have some GPS waypoints marking a handful of offshore humps that we hope still hold fish. Northern Ontario’s harder-to-access lakes tend to get less fishing pressure than those with launch ramps at the end of paved roads. This often translates into great fishing and we’re hoping for as much as we approach the first waypoint. I slow the boat and we watch the fishfinder as the bottom rises from 45 feet through a series of flats and edges to top off at eight feet before plunging down again. Petar starts rigging one of his rods but I have a quarter-ounce jig and soft plastic grub set to go. I lob out a cast. I don’t think the jig even hits bottom before I feel the lightness and set the hook into an 18-inch walleye. The next three casts are answered with as many fish. Petar is visibly distraught, fearing that I’m going to catch all the fish on the spot, but once rigged up he joins in the fun, including hooking a fat 24-incher.


The late-summer morning is warm and sunny with a light breeze and the walleye and occasional smallmouth are holding on to virtually every edge and offshore structure we fish. Although we brought a large variety of lures, live bait, and tackle for a variety of presentations, we find ourselves going back to the ease and simplicity of a jig and soft plastic.


Amongst our boatload of gear, are all the ingredients for a shore lunch. After pulling up on a smooth rock shoreline, I wield the filet knife while Petar heats the oil and prepares a spice mixture. Soon we are munching on crispy chunks of fish and looking out with gratitude on the small lake that we haven’t visited in more than a decade.


Kicking it old school takes a bit more legwork than sliding the big boat off the trailer into familiar waters, but sitting at the helm of a 12-foot aluminum boat, becoming reacquainted with the eager fish of rarely visited waters, is well worth the effort. We both reach for another chunk of fish and agree that it may not be so long between visits.


About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at

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