Imagine fishing Canada for half a century!

That's exactly what Michael Fries has been doing for over 50 years.

Fishing for 50 Consecutive Years

I still remember my first fishing trip to Sioux Narrows, Ontario like it was yesterday. It was June 11, 1969, my birthday. My dad brought me to what was at the time called Skyers Lodge. The place seemed magical to me; the country was so beautiful with many lakes and the wildlife was second to none.

When I got out of the vehicle I can still remember the smell of the pines and the clean air. We had a local guide named Frank; not only did he keep us on fish the entire trip, but he also informed us of very interesting information about the lake and the entire area, and we even got to see Indigenous paintings on the rocks. In the time we were there, I caught more walleye and northern pike than I could count. I had so much fun; I still remember when my dad said, “OK, it’s time to head back and go home.” It was the longest boat ride of my life because I did not want to leave.

Michael Fries and his dad on Michael's birthday in 1969.

As I write this and the memories come flooding back, I remember that on one of our first trips my dad had the great idea to portage off Lake of the Woods to a seldom-fished lake. I said, “Dad, how can we catch any more fish than the lake we are on?” He just laughed and we pulled our boat up on shore and they loaded it onto a boat trailer pulled by an old International Super H tractor (not sure why I remember the tractor). We did catch beautiful walleye and northern pike all day. I am not sure which lake had more or bigger fish; however, as I look back, what was appealing to my dad was the adventure and pursuit of something unknown. 

The author is with his dad on a fishing trip to Canada.

My dad and I went back the following year, just him and me, and after a few years, my brother was old enough and would also join us on our trips as well. The lodge changed its name to White Birch, and at that time we started going as a family which included my mom and sister. I wasn’t sure if my sister and mom would enjoy it as much as the guys, but I was wrong: they really enjoyed the fishing and the exceptional food. Not to mention, they also enjoyed that the accommodations were so clean and fresh that they would just relax and read a book while my brother and I would hang around the docks waiting to fish. We would watch the people come and go, all the while anticipating our next trip out on the water.

Before we knew it, we kids were all grown up and married with children of our own. We would look forward to going back every year to experience the beautiful scenery, fishing, and great Canadian hospitality. We did this with the entire family getting three or four cabins, which started another generation. 

We have so many fond memories over the years and frequently converse about them. It always interested me that everyone seems to remember something different. I remember I would take any dead minnows at the end of the day and feed them to the “pet” northern pike by the dock which seemed huge to me at the time, although they were roughly 34- to 38-inch fish, not small even by grown-up standards. My family’s favorite activities would include mini-golf, ping pong, and shuffleboard; in no time, we were back out on the water catching fish.

Keeping the Canadian fishing vacation tradition alive through the generations.

After many years my dad’s health was beginning to fail, so I wanted to take him to Lake of the Woods one last time as he brought me so many years before. This was our first trip to Totem Resorts and we stayed at Yellowbird Lodge. While I was a proficient fisherman at the time and did not require a guide, we did get one so that my dad and I could just focus on visiting and catching fish without any other worries. We had a tremendous time and I have been going back to Totem Resorts properties ever since.

After a few more years went by a good fishing buddy of mine (Bill) and I started going to Wiley Point Lodge and bringing our own boat. The experience out at Wiley is second to none, and more what I think my dad was looking for the portage lake. A beautiful wilderness experience with no evidence of other people, but once you arrive at Wiley Point, the friendly dock staff runs out before you can make it to the dock. The service is excellent; you have beautiful air-conditioned cabins and a five-star resort in the middle of nowhere. The food preparation rivals a meal you could only get from a fine dining restaurant in a large metropolitan city—what’s not to like about that?

Wiley Point Lodge on Lake of the Woods. Photo: Totem Resorts

I have made many trips back to Wiley with my son and fishing buddies, who now bring their own families. One of the memorable moments for me was just a few years back when Bill (a fishing buddy of over 35 years) and I were fishing, we placed a gentlemen’s wager on the first fish, biggest fish, and most fish (we tend to get more than a little competitive).

Well, I was doing pretty good; however, he was doing better than me on this trip, and he was letting me know it. I was on the ropes—he had the first fish, the most fish, and the biggest fish. He had just caught and released a 30” walleye minutes before we were ready to leave, I suddenly had a bite, and set the hook… It felt like I was snagged on the bottom. Then it started to move, it was extremely heavy and I could not pull it off the bottom. The drag was screaming and I could make no ground on pulling it in, so I would lift the rod up and reel down quickly to keep the line tight, and finally, I would get the fish up to where I could almost see her, and back to the bottom, she went. This proceeded for 15-20 minutes until finally, I pulled up the largest walleye I have ever seen in the water ( it was 34.5” 16.5 lbs)—Bill said it could have eaten his 30” walleye. ;-)

Michael's 34.5", 16.5 walleye that he caught and released!

I took a few pictures and let the fish go. It is very clear to me now that I want my children and grandchildren to share the same fishing experience that I have had, and the only way to achieve that is to let the big fish go and implement good fish handling, accompanied by catch and release practices.

Releasing a muskie back into Lake of the Woods. 

This summer Bill and I went to Wiley Point on June 11, making this my 50th year fishing Lake of the Woods, and I am thankful for every minute. The day before my birthday, I caught and released the walleye shown at the top of this article. The next day when we came into the dock for lunch the staff was on the deck above shouting “Happy Birthday.” When I made it to our reserved dining table, there was a nice birthday card that the entire staff signed and they all stopped over to wish me well. I have had so many good memories and look forward to many more with my children and grandchildren. We look forward to enjoying the beautiful scenery, fishing, and wonderful Canadian hospitality.

The author's son now ventures north as well. He's shown here with a nice Lake of the Woods Muskie!

Here are a few more catch-and-release photos from over the years.

About Michael Fries

Michael Fries has lived in Minnesota his entire life. He is married with 3 children and 8 grandchildren and is a Systems Engineer for Cisco Systems. A long-time angler, Michael primarily fishes in Minnesota and Ontario including many summer and winter Canadian fishing trips and more fly-in trips than he can count. He has competed in many tournaments over the years with a number of first-place finishes. Every fish for Michael is catch-and-release except for smaller panfish and small walleye for the occasional fish fry.

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