Living

RV opens the way to camping and casting in Canada

This village on the eastern shore of Lake of the Woods was the second stop last week on an on-again, off-again summerlong tour I'm making in a hardscrabble recreational vehicle, or RV, that I purchased last fall and reconditioned, sort of.

My intent from the outset has been to make the RV, a pickup camper, a means to an end: to allow more convenience in traveling to places where canoes can be paddled, hikes undertaken, bikes ridden, fish caught and birds hunted.

All of which can be accomplished on and near Lake of the Woods.

Fundamentally, however, on this trip I have come north to fish for walleyes and bass on a lake long known for possessing multitudes of each.

Part of my stay was passed at a private campground - Tomahawk Resort and RV Park - in Sioux Narrows.

My RV experience to date, albeit limited, is that wide variation exists in the quality of these stops, and that in some cases campers are better off pulling alongside a highway to spend a night, or even slumping over a steering wheel, than paying to park in what can resemble an RV dump rather than an RV campground.

Tomahawk was just the opposite: Expansive, clean and well-maintained, it offered numerous tent and RV sites, many of the latter with electricity, water and sewer hookups.

Additionally, there was a swimming beach, concrete boat launching ramp and marina with boat slips for campers.

Small wonder a good share of the license plates I saw at the campground were from Minnesota.

WALLEYES PLENTIFUL

Chris Bell came to Ontario from Ohio, and never left.

Part of the reason he stayed was the fishing and hunting he found in the north country - opportunities afield that far exceeded any he had experienced in Ohio.

But Ontario is also where Chris met his wife, Shirley, and given her abilities to cook and generally organize his life, her presence alone would have been reason enough for him to remain north of the border.

The other morning, Chris, who with Shirley manages a friend's private fishing camp on Lake of the Woods, was at the controls of a craft that skimmed atop the water at what fairly could be described as breakneck speeds.

Or at least high speeds.

An experienced tournament angler, Chris thinks nothing of running up to 30 miles to find Lake of the Woods walleyes, muskies, bass or crappies.

"For walleyes, I want to find water that is a little darker than it is around Sioux Narrows," Chris said. "It's not that you can't catch walleyes near Sioux Narrows, you can. It's just that there are more of them where the water is a little darker."

Among others in the boat with Chris and me were Jeannine Anderson, who lives in southern California, and John Bass of Rochester, Minn.

Though bearing the same last names, Jeannine and I aren't related, a fact made most obvious by her highly developed angling skills, relative to mine.

Among waters she regularly fishes in California is Lake Dixon, which occasionally gives up largemouth bass that bump the 20-pound range.

"My brother caught one that weighed 17 pounds," she said. "He took it home and ate it."

John is also good with a fishing rod, and together we hoped to catch enough walleyes to bolster Chris' long-suffering argument that, as a fishing guide, he knows what he's doing.

Once the boat stopped, only a brief time was needed to support his assertion.

John landed our first walleye. Then I caught one. On and on it went, pretty much one walleye after another.

Nonresidents in the Sioux Narrows area holding regular fishing licenses (as opposed to conservation licenses, with which fewer fish can be kept) are allowed two walleyes per day from Lake of the Woods, with four in possession. One trophy fish is allowed. But generally speaking, provincial fisheries authorities want anglers to keep only those Lake of the Woods walleyes 18 inches long and less.

Which was not a problem.

"I think that's 30 we've caught," Chris said after little more than an hour of fishing. "Jeannine always wants me to keep track of the number of fish we've caught. That's 30."

Minnesota has a lot of great fishing lakes, particularly this year. Walleyes have been hot on Mille Lacs, Winnibigoshish, Upper Red and Rainy, among other lakes.

But it's difficult to argue that Lake of the Woods, which Minnesota, Ontario and (to a lesser degree) Manitoba share, is not the most bountiful of all.

Not only does it offer excellent walleye fishing, its muskie, lake trout, crappie, smallmouth bass and northern pike angling can be some of the best available anywhere - certainly in the lower 48 states.

Navigation on the big lake can be tricky, however.

With its thousands of islands, rock piles, inlets, bays and points, Lake of the Woods traditionally has been best-and most safely-plied by locals. Over the years, horror stories have abounded about late runs on dark nights that ended with outboard-motor lower units sheered off by unseen reefs, and about huge waves whipping up without warning.

The advent of marine global positioning systems has changed all that.

The Lowrance units Chris has on his camp boats, for example, feature split screens: One side has a lake map showing not only land masses and water depths but the boat's real-time position relative to them.

The other screen shows water depth and what's on the lake bottom - fish or no fish - once the boat stops.

One place we fished, for instance, according to Chris' fish locator, was stacked with walleyes on the lake bottom-a fact borne out when we lowered our jigs and baits into the water.

RV HAS ITS ADVANTAGES

One night last week I closed the door on my camper and walked among a dozen or so other RVs - some fancy behemoths; others plainer, and smaller - to the Tomahawk Resort and RV Campground marina.

Many people staying at the campground were cooking dinner. But for me, that could wait. The lake surface was like glass, and somewhere not far away, I figured, smallmouth bass would be working the shallows, looking to munch my top-water baits.

Finding my boat, I soon was away.

As it turned out, a handful of bass were where I thought they might be. But most weren't. Blame it on a cold front that moved through. Or the fact that most smallies by then had moved to deeper water.

Either way, it was a evening well spent.

When I returned to shore, I fired up a small charcoal grill in the near-dark and checked the camper's refrigerator for a cold beverage.

Tents are nice, have their place, and I own a couple.

But this, I figured, turning on a reading light and opening a book, wasn't bad.

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