Stray North

A year's worth of visual reflections that show how this photographer ended up in Northwestern Ontario to stay

If you aren't familiar with Sunset Country, these photos should at the very least give you a taste of what it can be like up here. The North is an incredible gateway to all things wild and adventure. Yes, this place is super remote, sparsely populated and rugged—that's why I love it so much.

The Back Story

In the fall of 2017, I was a freelance photojournalist who lived in a 16X20 cabin that didn’t have hydro or water. You could say the simple life suits me well. 

One crisp morning, on the way out the door for a camping trip, a job alert for a position in my beloved North flashed across my phone screen. Without much thought, I dropped my pack, told my friend to make some more coffee while she waited, and brushed up my resume to make myself sound like the obvious candidate. 

Taken on Eagle Lake swinging flies for muskie. Photo by Sam Thompson

After all, it was raining, and who really enjoys setting up camp with wet gear? 

Rewind to spring 2015. I received my diploma in Photojournalism after completing two internships, one abroad in Iceland and one right here in Ontario with the magazine Ontario OUT of DOORS

By June, my internships had wrapped up and I was ready to get on the road, celebrate my official graduation––and fish. My first-choice destination? Eagle Lake, Ontario to target my first muskie on the fly. Joined by good friend and fellow photographer, Sam Thompson, we started 24-hour drive north into Sunset Country on Highway 17. Our road trip aptly took on the hashtag, #stuckinatruck. 

The first day on the water would be one of my most action-packed muskie experiences, and that was without hooking a single one. The following day, when I landed my personal best pike on the fly, I decided that someday, I will live here

Fast-forward back to September 2017. I was on a shoot in Thunder Bay when I received a phone call from Sunset Country staff wanting to set up an interview. When they realized I was originally from so far away, they reiterated, once more, that the job was in Kenora, Ontario, you know––close to the Manitoba border. Which I gleefully responded to with, “Yup! I know!” 

A close-up of one of the many beautiful fish species here in Sunset Country, brook trout. 

By September 19, I was Sunset Country’s newest writer and I had a whole lot of planning to do before I began my new life on November 1. 

From here on out, I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. 

November 2017 

A welcome visitor in my yard shortly after I arrived in Kenora. Moments like watching this large buck saunter across my yard with a few does made me realize I had officially moved to my outdoor Nirvana.

My first official outing on Lake of the Woods was an impromptu trip with Al and Mac Smith of Smith Camps. Our goal was big pike and seeing if we could luck into a large fall muskie. Read more about that day here

Al's giant bowrider broke ice along the shore line as we spun around to get lines set. Mac landed a nice pike, but afterwards we stopped for walleye and I caught my very first fish on Lake of the Woods

On November 29, 2017 I experienced one of the purest, prettiest sunrises I'd ever seen. The skiff of ice enhancing the reflection of purples and corals tenfold. 

December 2017 

In December I had the great pleasure of meeting Melissa of Melissa Jean Art. I had followed Melissa on her Instagram for quite sometime, and when I knew I was moving to Kenora, I instantly reached out to do a story on her and her incredible pieces. 

January 2018

A new year was upon us and after the holidays it really started to drive home the realness of my decision to move so far. Christmas was spent with loved ones at my old home base, but something about coming back to the North, even during the cold, made me feel relief. 

(Photo by Tracey Chartrand, one of my many new fishing buddies) 

My first fish of 2018 was a fiesty little stocked splake on a backcountry lake here in Sunset Country. There is something freeing about walking out on a frozen lake, armed with only a few rods and a hand auger—you certainly appreciate the fish more, no matter what they are. 

Then there are days you watch your friend land a 30" lake trout moments after you just lost two. It is good, however, to know they exist. 

February 2018 

When I moved to Kenora, I was lucky enough to know a handful of people already living here. Thankfully with some luck, those mutual friends introduced Christina and me. Joining me for pretty well every ice fishing trip I made this winter, she was determind to catch her first hardwater fish. After several failed attempts, somehow I convinced her we should hike into a backcountry brook trout lake. Lo and behold, this is where she caught her first ice fish. 

Katie Ball, above, is the owner of Silver Cedar Studio. We had the pleasure of meeting on the shoot I found out I'd be Sunset Country's newest employee, and we immediately hit it off. As a trapper, hunter, furrier, and overall accomplished outdoorswoman, Katie was one of the first women I invited to my BushWoman Workshops. Thanks to the North connecting us, I now consider Katie a very dear friend. 

March 2018 

On a trip to Lac Seul back in 2016, I witnessed some of the most spectacular Northern Light shows that concreted my decision to move north. Fast forward to 2018, I'm standing on a frozen lake north of Kenora, listening to the ice thunder beneath my feet watching the green stripes dance above. I couldn't help but dig my hands through the snow to feel the ice tremble and get lost in the light show through my fogged breath. 

If you want to add true magic to your life, witness these for yourselves someday. 

April 2018 

There was still four feet of ice on all of the major lakes in Sunset Country. Ice roads were still very much in operation and people were starting to get antsy. Our snow, however, left quickly. Islanders were pushing their last trips into town before marooning themselves for ice out at their lake oases, and fishing lodges were doing their final supply runs into outposts using snowmobiles. It did appear that winter was here to stay, unless you paid attention to the wildlife behaviour. 

This grouse was drumming constantly a short distance from my house, and he wasn't shy about it. If there was a female nearby, he was going to grab her attention.

Wolves had made a kill the evening before this photo was taken. It was a harsh winter out there in more ways than one. 

May 2018 

I started my open water season off with a bang this spring. I was fortunate enough to join Lake of the Woods guide Dean Howard on the water sight casting flies to pike and jigging for lake trout. We were more than successful with fish, but I was also successful in gaining one more friend here in the North country. 

Continuing my spring fortune, we had a staff fishing day (I told you I really wanted this job, now you know why) with none other than Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson

June 2018

In June I took part in my first tournament, on the first day I'd ever launched my boat on Lake of the Woods, with boat partner Solana Cain. Our Lloyd and Cain duo took 8th place out of 41 teams at the Lake of the Woods Women's Walleye Tournament. Not too shabby for Solana's first time fishing and my first ever tournament. 

July 2018 

I witnessed my good friend, Aaron, catch an absolute tank on Lac Seul. 48.5" and by far the largest muskie I've ever had the pleasure to net. 

July also brought about the chance to film and fish with two of my new favourite people together on Lake of the Woods: Desmonde Bennet, and of course Katie Ball once again.  You can watch their fishing action in a trailer below! 

August 2018 

August was definitely one for the books this year. From catching my personal best muskie at 46" on Lake of the Woods to chasing muskies on the fly with some incredible ladies on Lac Seul, I can't say enough about how much August solidfied my plans to stay in the North. 

The ladies rigging their lines up for an afternoon of muskie fishing once shore lunch was done! 

We wet waded our way into Lake of the Woods before we headed further north to Lac Seul. Getting casting practice was key, but it also just felt nice to cool off. 

September 2018 

If I had to measure my last year in Sunset Country by anything, I'd probably choose personal best fish. Each one was more exceptional than the last, and this lake trout sure made a lasting impression on me. It was released to swim another day. 

October 2018 

Northern Ontario has challenged my every thought and preconceived notion of what I believed to be the way of life in the north. It's taught me simplicity is everything, and moments alone in its immense presence will continue to teach you more than any lecture hall. 

Its people, its landscapes, all rugged and honest in their everlasting glory. Stories aren't just told here, they are lived and shared. 

I look forward to my next year here, and the one after that, because I don't think I'll ever be done learning from the North. 

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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