Oh Kesagami! How I dream of thee! This holy grail of Northern Pike and Walleye fishing has not been crossed off my bucket list yet. That is not the case for Tighe McLaughlin and his father Dave. They crossed off Lake Kesagami in 2016 and were not disappointed in the results of their trip. In fact, they loved it so much that they have another trip scheduled for 2018. Tighe recounts the trip for us and lets us experience Kesagami through his stories. Tighe also provides a lot of great information for anyone considering a trip. So read on and start dreaming about Lake Kesagami.
You recently went to the fishing heaven Lake Kesagami in Northeastern Ontario. First time there?
First time there. Certainly not the first time I’ve thought about going but it was our first time.
When did you go? And how did you decide the best time to make the trip?
My father retired a few years ago, and I’m fortunate to work for a great company that allows for very flexible vacation. As a result we were able to connect with Kesagami Wilderness Lodge Manager Charlie and basically asked him to poll the guides and come up with a week that they believed would offer the best opportunity to catch fish. They landed on the first week of June and we were happy to oblige.
Why did you pick Kesagami?
To us it was more like Kesagami picked us. I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else for our 1st fly in fishing trip. Growing up in Southern Ontario we would make the pilgrimage every year to the Toronto Sportsmen Show. As kids we’d visit every single booth and collect all the flyers, posters, loot bags etc. It was like Halloween in March.
I can recall sitting down when I got home with my father, grandfather, brother and sister and going through everything meticulously and coming across Kesagami. It was the Giant Pike and the allure of being that far north…fish every cast.
Ever since then we’d always talked about going someday. Moreover, my father worked for the MOE and loves the outdoors and had spent a lot of time in Northern Ontario working. The geography, biology, and the allure of the Canadian north is hardcoded into his DNA……plus he loves catching Pike.
You went with your dad. What did it mean to you to do a bucketlist trip like Kesagami with your dad?
Everything. I’m very lucky to have such a loving and close family to begin with but even more fortunate to have a father who is still very young, active and wants to spend time with me. As you get older it seems to me that everything comes full circle and spending time with my father, sharing a passion, and realizing a lifelong dream together is perhaps the greatest gifts we can give each other. He’s the best man I’ve ever known and an incredible human being. I wouldn’t have gone without him. Even with the snoring…
Let’s start with the Pike fishing. You took your Personal Best Pike on a fly on the trip. What is the fish story behind catching that fish?
It’s important to set the stage a little. I mentioned earlier we decided on the first week of June as our date to arrive, and we always book 7 day trips to accommodate for poor weather. Well, we managed to fly into the lodge just ahead of a storm front and even fished a little that evening when we arrived. However, the next 2 days we experienced THE worst rain/snow/wind storm we both have ever witnessed and even had Charlie and the Guides validate that by saying it was indeed the worst storm they had ever seen in their time at Kesgami.
Ridiculous wind up to 90-100K, 5-6 foot rollers and only a few degrees above zero with snow actually coming down on occasion. As a result we were stuck in our Cabin & the Lodge for those days. Couldn’t fish.
However, as we entered day 3 with the same conditions the both of us were going a little loopy, and just dying as I’m sure you could imagine to get on the water. We had quality rain gear and decided that we were going to make a move. Our plan was simple, get in the 21 foot freighter canoe and point ourselves downwind and let the rollers take us about 1.5km down the bay into what looked to be a more sheltered area to fish, “The Narrows”.
This particular area of the lake is used on occasion by the float planes when the main lake is too windy to land. There is also a trail…barely a trail, not maintained…that runs parallel to the shoreline from the camp to “The Narrows” for those wanting to hike and potentially see wildlife etc. Our plan was to be at the mercy of the weather and navigate our way to the narrows. Worst case scenario, we would beach the boat and take the trail back.
Needless to say it was a very unnerving 20 minutes and definitely risky given the 46 degree water. However, we made sure we had a plan should we end up dumping and stayed as close to shore as we could. All the while under the watchful eye in between swells of the dockhands, and a few guides.
When we arrived, I don’t think we really cared if we’d catch anything so much as we’re just excited to be fishing. Water was super cold, colder than anything we had fished for Pike or Pickeral. We found a small weedbed, 40×40 feet, on the inside bend of the narrows and decided to fish this thoroughly, slow, and tight to cover.
Over the course of the next 30 minutes we managed to hook 7 Northerns, all of them 35+ inches. We landed a 43 inch which became my new personal best on the fly and two other twins at 40 inches. It was without question the most exciting 30 minutes of fishing we’ve ever experienced. High Fives, Hugs, and Hell Ya’s everywhere. It was an incredible experience, and we made sure to savour it.
It’s important to mention that the Pike here fight incredibly hard, on the fly or otherwise. They are extremely thick bodied fish. When they decide to eat, it’s violent. We watched these fish come across to chase our baits evidenced by the V-Wakes and parting of weed edges. Big big predator fish with bad intentions.
Nobody else went out that day and we couldn’t wait to get back and share our results!
When fishing Kesagami Pike with a fly rod, what do you recommend as must have gear and flies to take with to the lake?
Well. I am a passionate Musky fisherman who recently switched entirely to chasing these predators exclusively on the fly. As such, I brought with me the Sage Pike 10WT and Sage Musky 11WT as well as my Echo Saltwater 8 WT.
I ran Nautilus & Loop large arbor reels and intermediate sinking 350-400 grain line on both the 11WT & 8WT with floating line on the 10WT. If I’m being honest, I found the Echo rod to be the most versatile. I fished it almost exclusively.
Given the conditions and super late spring there was virtually no weeds to fish. I found the most effective flies to be small. The 8WT mitigated fatigue and handled the large fish very well and even put some flex in the odd pickerel. As for tippet I was running 5 feet of 60LB Fluorocarbon in most situations for Northern’s except when I rigged up the heavier outfits for larger flies I would run 80lB and Mono with Wire for Topwater poppers.
The most effective flies I found for Pike were single red/white buford patterns tied by Dave from Urban Fly Company. He’s one of the best. Also, the perch pattern by Enrico Puglisi in 4 inches was really effective and a incredibly durable bait as it’s tied with synthetics that can withstand all those teeth.
How about the Walleye fishing?
The Walleye fishing is absurd. As a fisherman, if you fish Walleye you will really have no reference for the Walleye experience at Kesagami. On one day my father and I decided that we wanted to see if we could catch 100 Walleye before dinner. We ended up at a spot our guide from earlier in the week had showed us…no big secret as everyone fishes it…and arrived around 9am after a 70 minute boat ride across the lake. Boats only have 20 HP and the waves were still 3 to 4 feet. In giant swells, sleet and freezing rain, we landed 145 between 1 to 4 pounds and easily lost another 50 by 5pm. Throw in the 10 Pike as well, and it’s hard to believe.
I had to abandon the fly rod early as it was a challenge in the wind. So we were catching them on gear with swimbait paddle tail soft plastics between 3-4 inches in virtually every color. Twister tails worked as well. Given how shallow Kesagami is…average 6 feet…you could get away with 1/8 to 1/4 oz jig heads, and you’d move heavier if necessary.
Everything you hear about Walleye fishing at Kesagami is true. These fish hold on the slightest depth contour, and we often found them in 4 to 5 feet of water. We caught them at every point, shoal, island. We caught them at anytime of day and in any condition. You literally can decide at any time to go catch Pickerel and you will. It’s impossible for me to imagine a better Walleye fishery exists.
How would you describe the overall accommodations at Kesagami Lodge to someone who has never been?
Terrific. We stayed in the main lodge area as having our own washroom was important to us and found the rooms spacious, and clean. The beds were extremely comfortable. Our rooms were made up every day and the room staff eager to please. That said, you really don’t do anything in your room except sleep. All the eating and socializing is done in the main lodge which is awesome. The vaulted ceilings and alpine windows give clear line of sight to the lake while you eat, tie flies, or read a book. There is historical information on the Lake and region shared in a small library and hung in displays around the lodge. They have a large flat panel TV with tons of surprisingly recent movies, a full bar in the back corner staffed every evening as well as table shuffleboard, and a small tackle shop. The tackle shop includes rods, barbless hooks, soft plastics, buzzbaits, basically everything you would need to have success on the lake. All of this is centered around the fireplace which completes the wilderness lodge motif.
Equally as important to the experience is the way in which the camp is laid out. You can walk the “campus” on raised wooden trails cut through the trees enroute to the dock. They also offer shared accommodations in “cabins” that offer a more traditional fishing camp experience which are scattered around and placed further back into the woods.
Clearly they have made an extra effort to make you feel comfortable and enjoy the natural beauty of the North when not out on the lake or in the lodge.
I always leave a fishing trip with a few “I wish I would’ve…” Do you have any from your Kesagami trip?
I wish I would have brought my 6WT. For me going to Kesagami was about chasing trophy Pike and less about the Pickeral. However, that perspective changed almost immediately when they were so eager to take a fly. I placated myself with my 8WT but really missed a proper set up to enjoy them more.
Also, I neglected to mention earlier that as soon as it looked like we would be locked in because of the epic weather I extended our trip by 3 days to try and catch the Pike bite as the water warmed and the weather stabilized. However, we ran out of time. By the time we had to leave, the Pike fishing was really picking up there was nothing we could do save for us both getting divorces. That said I would still categorize the Pike fishing we had as very good, the consensus from the guides and other guests was we hadn’t even scratched the surface.
As a result we have some unfinished business with those trophy Northern’s and will be returning in June 2018.
What would you tell someone who was considering whether a trip like Kesagami is worth the price?
I would encourage them to spend some time and do research on the other premier fly in fishing lodges available in Canada. You will inevitably find that almost all of them accommodate to the affluent angler, charge in American dollars, and in almost every case airfare needs to be included in your travel. From a strictly monetary assessment against these lodges, Kesagami is actually an incredible value.
Kesagami is accessible by car to Cochrane where you catch your 30 minute flight to the lodge and is billed in Canadian currency. I would also highly recommend you book for a minimum of 5 days. Although we were told the weather we experienced was a once every 50 years, it’s not at all uncommon to have poor/extreme weather move through quickly. There were a few very disappointed people who booked 3 day trips who never even made it to the lodge because they were grounded and couldn’t fly, and equally as disappointed individuals at the lodge who never got on the water.
I would also suggest considering extending your trip if accommodations allow and you can while you’re there. What a lot of people don’t realize is the most expensive part is getting you to the lodge. Once you are there you can extend your trip for very close to the same amount you would pay for an evening at a nice hotel.
It’s important to mention that over and above the amazing fishing, food, and incredibly accommodating and sincere staff, you are surrounded by other fisherman. Many of the guests return year after year, some of them celebrities, some Executive’s and some who save all year to spend their entire allowable vacation at Kesagami.
My father and I ended up making some great relationships and hearing/sharing some amazing stories over a few premium glasses of whisky at the end of the day. There is a very real, tangible, and lasting culture unique to your Kesagami experience that you end up taking with you when you leave. The raw “frontier” feeling of a lodge cut into the wild of the James Bay Lowlands. The sincere hospitality and almost secret handshake like connection to the staff and other fishermen whom you share it with.
And of course the pickerel caught in such abundance you’re reminded of the simple joy of just catching fish…right up until the biggest Northern you’ve ever seen slaps you back to the moment. Is it worth the price? You tell me…