This summer, I got a chance to unwind with what has now become a traditional fishing trip to Esnagi Lake in the northern part of the Algoma District of Ontario, Canada.
The large, V-shaped lake is almost 28 miles long and 3 miles wide, with a surface elevation of 1,129 feet. It houses walleye, northern pike, perch, and whitefish, but most importantly, it serves as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the world and showcases true, unadulterated nature and the beauty it contains.
In order to get to this majestic playground, you must drive eight and a half hours north to White River, Ontario, Canada. From there, you take a one-hour train ride to the southern end of Lake Esnagi, where you will be greeted as you step off the train by an employee of whichever lodge you plan to stay at.
For us, that choice was simple — Lodge Eighty-Eight.
Built in 1958, the lodge, which is named after mile marker 88 on the railroad, was originally a hot spot for all lake-goers and visitors.
“In the 1960s, this was the place to be,” said lodge manager Terry Politz. “It was licensed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the Liquor Licensing Board of Ontario, so it had a fully functioning bar out front. Everyone across the lake would come to the bar here. It was like a local watering hole on the water.”
“The original guides that worked here were Native Indians who had lived on this land for hundreds of years. So the origins of this area go way back, and there’s a lot of history to this lodge in particular.”
The original owner of the lodge, Ivan MacLachlan, bought the land as part of the government's attempt to increase the population ‘Up North.’
“Ivan was the original founder, and he owned an Oldsmobile dealership before this,” Politz added. “Apparently, the government at the time was trying to get outfitters to come up this way and build up the North. There wasn’t much out here at the time.
“You couldn’t buy more than five acres of land, so he bought 4.95 and started building in this area.”
The lodge thrived for decades, but over time, the maintenance and upkeep waned and the lodge closed in 1988 and wasn’t reopened until 2003.
The lodge was in such terrible shape after the closure, that they were forced to build new cabins in 2003.
“It was a disaster when we took it over. There was a huge bat population living in the lodge since it had been closed, and there was bat feces everywhere,” said Politz, who started off as a maintenance worker during the rebuilding process.
Politz, who is now in his third year as the lodge’s manager, enjoys the simplicity of life on the lodge during his six-month stint on the lake each year.
“I just love fishing and hunting,” he said. “On top of that, we have a cook here, so I don’t have to cook for six months out of the year. It’s just a great environment, and I enjoy what I do out here.”
While we were only there for five days, it was easy to see why Politz loved the place so much.
The cabins were state-of-the-art, with a private bathroom that included a shower, carpeted bedroom, tiled kitchen floor, a fridge, a microwave, and even a Keurig coffee maker.
It was hardly an episode of “Man vs. Wild,” but we still felt disconnected from the world back home, which was the goal of the trip.
Instead of having our eyes glued to our phones or televisions, we scanned the horizon out on the open water, as eagles soared overhead, wood ducks waddle by, and loons sang out in song across the way.
As we fished from island point to grassy bay, we exchanged inside jokes and stories instead of text messages and emails. Our only worries were whether we were going to make it back to the dock in time for dinner, which was always one of the highlights of our day.
Maureen, the lodge’s cook, would spoil us with an assortment of fine dining. From bacon-wrapped walleye, to ribs, to mashed potatoes and gravy, we never left the table hungry or unsatisfied.
The fishing itself was quite the challenge, as 85-degree weather forced all the walleye into deeper water and rendered anything short of bottom divers fruitless. Fortunately, northern pike aren’t as picky and would probably attack a large jig hook if it was shiny enough.
To counter the curveball Mother Nature threw us, we devoted our early morning fishing sessions into walleye hunts and switched over to a northern pike adventure in the afternoon. Sandwiched between those two excursions was a wonderful thing called Shore Lunch.
Around noon, we would all meet upon a shoreline that looked welcoming and big enough for a group of nine anglers to anchor their boats. After that, we would prepare a self-made luncheon by cleaning our morning’s catch, deep frying those fillets and potato wedges and enjoying the spoils of our labor.
After that, we would return to our boats, check out all the “hot spots” we circled on our maps, and carried on with our day. We didn’t have to ask Siri how to get there, we just choose our own adventure. Sometimes we zigged when we should have zagged, but that’s how North America was discovered, after all.
By the time we set sail back to the United States, we had all gotten a chance to hit the refresh button on our lives, decompress from the stress and see the world with fresh eyes.
We didn’t set any world records for fish caught in a day, but that was never the point of the trip. The mission was to get lost outside our comfort zones, try something new and enjoy a week of uninterrupted peacefulness, while surrounded by family, friends and nature.
We’ve already begun discussions on a return trip in a year or two, after life takes another revolution around the merry-go-round.
The most difficult task now will be keeping my mind tethered to my office desk, as it occasionally wanders Up North to the shoreline with my toes in the water and a reel in my hand.