Christmas Came Early
It would be tough to imagine a more picturesque setting than what greeted us when we parked in front of Crystal Beach Lodge. It had it all—palm trees, sand beach, vivid blue water, the atoll’s reef creating pure white surf: it was the whole package, but no one ogled the scene too long. There was gear to unpack and rig. Within an hour the scene in front of the cabins was a forest of rods and reels. With four to six rods each (you need a 7- or 8- weight for bones, an 11- or 12-weight for giant trevally, a surf-sized spinning or casting rig for blue water plus plenty of spares) we could have stocked a decent fishing shop, and those rods got plenty of use. These guys came to fish: we were all on the trucks for the short drive to the harbor at 6:00 or 7:00 AM every morning. Like fishing at Scott, the decision about fishing at Christmas is binary. At Scott, it’s trout or pike. At Christmas, it’s flats or blue water. We all mixed it up over the week.
Unlike flats fishing in the Bahamas, the shallow water wading here brought lots of unexpected encounters; there are more than bonefish hiding out on the miles and miles of flats. Nothing is more surprising than meeting your first triggerfish, a multicolored oddity that tails like a bonefish but is much more finicky eater. While they will sometimes take a well-presented crab fly, everything must be perfect with the cast and strip. When hooked they are a tough customer. Over the course of the week, many nice ones were landed. There were also bluefin and golden trevally to be found, all spooky and challenging. Of course there were lots of bonefish—it’s what Christmas is famous for. We got our share. Some had more luck (or skill) than others. Cory Craig, the Scott Head Guide, was the bone whisperer of the trip. He just could not keep them off his hook. At one stop I was fishing with a Christmas Island guide just a couple hundred feet from Cory who preferred to guide himself. With his fish-spotting eyes why not? Every time I glanced his direction that damn rod was bent. Over and over. Before I had my first bone to hand (with a guide calling the shots no less ), Cory had landed a dozen or more. It’s why his nickname is WCA, as in World Class Angler. He was the master of the flats on this trip.
The biggest fish from shallow water belonged to Graham Coulombe who found himself and his 12- weight fly rod attached to a massive giant trevally. Ripping out about 300 yards of backing, that fish clearly wanted nothing to do with Graham. With an audience of five other Scott guides, Graham kept his cool and kept the fish in check, finally stopping the run by really putting a nasty bend in his rod. These fish are incredibly strong. In an epic battle it was a long “pump and gain” game to bring the fish back but Graham was up to it. He brought the 50 pound plus beast close enough to shore for a tail grab. What a fish! What an experience! Most of the gang landed smaller versions of GTs on the flats as well as a bluefin trevally or two. Wading the flats at Christmas was like cruising around a supermarket, just picking treats off the shelf.
Another treat for many of our group was the abundance of seabirds, especially in some inner lagoons that were fished on two days of our trip. There were nesting frigates and boobies that allowed us to walk up within feet of their nests—the new chicks hanging on the most precarious of nests. It was just like being in the Galapagos Islands. The absence of any predators creates a unique opportunity to see bird up close and very personal, just a wonderful grace note to the week.
The blue water teams had some real rocking and rolling over the week. It was blowing for many of the days and, after all, this is the Pacific Ocean. There were some guys green around the gills on the blue water days but the action trolling or jigging made everyone forget about the waves. There was no problem getting into tuna, GTs, wahoo or a wide variety of bottom fish, most unknown species for Canadian freshwater guides. Every day the blue water crews provided the raw material for our evening dinners and probably fed the families of many of the staff at Crystal Beach Lodge. On one day when the wind was down, a single boat brought back around 500 pounds of fish, mainly tuna which were in the 20-40 pound range—all fighting machines. Jan Phoenix and Ron Spork were the ring leaders of the blue water group, going out nearly every day. Jan, who fishes salt water for most of the winter, was looking for a big wahoo. That species eluded Jan but not Steve Lindner, aka Biff Piston, who on the last day nailed a huge wahoo of close to 50 pounds. Another big wahoo was taken early in the trip by Jordan Baker. On the trevally front, Jan Phoenix landed a very nice bluefin and Matt Cornell got a 50 pound plus GT while trolling off the reef not far from the lodge.
There was a wonderful rhythm to the week: up early, fish hard all day, come back for cocktails, conversations with the Christmas guides, some very fresh tuna sushi, more cocktails, lots more beer, fish stories, more beer, and then dinner of fresh fish and rice (with the occasional lobster dinner thrown in) served under the stars, then more beer—a very tough routine. It was not unlike the summer pattern at a lodge 59 degrees further north. Like at Scott the vibe here was quite comfortable.
While fishing was center stage all week, the real payoff for Scott Lake Lodge and its guests was the team building process that played out. It was a beautiful thing to watch. On the water and at the lodge the Scott guides demonstrated the mutual trust and respect that makes the Scott Lake Lodge fishing experience so rich and productive. These guys really like each other. Maybe the roughly 900 beers the guys put down was an element but I don’t think it was a big part of the chemistry that developed. This is a brotherhood, a remarkable group of men who have a passion for fishing and a solid capacity for working together. Not content with just a week together, about half the group went to Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands, to chase the monster bonefish that inhabit those flats. It’s never enough. For the other half of the group the fishing trip ended sitting in the crowded waiting area at the airport listening to the anglers from the other lodges tell their stories–stories about bonefish landed, GTs lost and casts missed. Just change the species to pike and trout and you have the Day 5 experience sitting in the Last Cast waiting for the Twin Otter. Fish stories are an echo of primal instincts; our species really hasn’t changed that much since the time when hunting and fishing were survival skills not sports. The fish stories from the Christmas Island expedition will bounce around the lodge and in the boats all summer. Just another chapter in the Scott Lake Lodge story.
At the 60th parallel late August isn’t late summer—it’s fall. That means fall fishing at Scott Lake Lodge, one of our guide’s favorite times. The changing of the season with the heavy migration of geese, the gathering of common loons, and the subtle shift in the color of the birch trees brings out the best in Scott Lake and our network of eighteen fly out lakes. The final fifteen days of the 2016 season were no exception. The fishing was good, even great at times. The last three five-day groups of the season averaged 19 trophies per day, just under the full season average. But there was nothing average about the fish. These are the hard fighting or, if you will bear the alliteration, the fat, feisty fish of fall. As typically happens in mid-to-late August, the big fish go on the prowl. They are putting on the feedbag, putting on some pounds to cope with the long, quiet winter ahead. At any depth the burbot, whitefish, lake cisco and even other pike are not safe from the relentless hunting of these voracious predators. Just the kind of fish we like.
SOME BIG FISH STORIES
The biggest pike caught during these final groups became our best story of the year, maybe ever. Peter and Kay Myhre have been coming to Scott Lake Lodge for a few years now, at first mainly to escape the Texas heat. They would trade 65 degrees for 105 any day of the week. They took a liking to the place. Being first rate anglers, they started to get some big fish. In 2015 Kay topped the 100+Club leaderboard: she can set a mean hook. That was the year that she and Peter had a memorable day on one of Scott’s fly out lakes on the last day of the season. It was also their 47th year of marriage (watch the numbers here). On that crisp fall day, they both caught 47” pike, two casts apart. So this year would, of course, be their 48th year of marriage. (You’re getting ahead of me.) So they did another fly out and yes each caught massive 48” pike—two casts apart. We think it’s an interesting way of renewing one’s marriage vows. We look forward to their 49th summer together. Maybe.
They weren’t the only anglers who went the distance with some of our angry pike. Another good story here. Joe Novicki, who is the 2016 100+Club champ, decided to introduce his good friend, Subhash Desai, to the sport of fishing. Subhash had never, not once, fished before arriving at Scott Lake for our final five days of the season. What do you think happened? Of course, on his first day here, he catches, with considerable and unnecessary coaching, a 47.5” pike, quite a girthy one. Many serious pike anglers have spent a lifetime trying to catch a fish like that. All in a day’s work for Subhash. Joe, on his second trip of the season, had to keep up appearances: he got a 47 incher to complement the 48.5” and 51” pike he caught in June. Joe is a man for all seasons. Ron Spork and Taylor Lajoie also brought in 47s. Pike of 46” were taken by Carol Freking, Patrick Spork, Kay Myrhe, Julie Heinmiller and Sue Ellen Readinger. Those last three names prompt yet another story. On August 22nd, one of five consecutive sunny, calm days, Kay, Julie and Sue Ellen all got their 46s. On the same day, husbands Peter, John and Mark also got trophies, 42,41 and 40 respectively. I guess wives listen better to their guides than husbands, but we’ve known that for twenty years around here. There were still more big pike. Fish of 45” were landed by Patrick Spork (again), Rebecca Graf, Mark Readinger, Suzanne Billing, Ronnie Williams and Judy Schmidt. Some big trout also made the Tundra Times. Not happy with just a big pike, Ron Spork got a very fat 41-inch lake trout on Premier Lake, an adjacent lake to Scott, about an hour’s boat ride away. Keith Huss got a 40” laker on Scott. Two big arctic grayling were taken by the Myrhe’s—really big 19.5 inchers. Grayling of 18” were landed by John Heinmiller and Bill Russell.
THE “MORE” IN WORLD CLASS FISHING AND MORE
Our final fifteen days offered more than just big fish. There were outlandish shore lunches, featuring stir fries, gumbos and elaborate bakes, lots of moose and bear sightings, and northern light viewing. It takes the dark to see the light and by mid-to-late August it finally got dark enough to view this spectacular phenomena of the far north. They didn’t disappoint. It was during the wee hours some nights but the lights were there. Sitting around the big bonfire at the lodge is a late season ritual here. With drinks served to people sitting on wooden stumps in a totally bug-free atmosphere, no one wanted the nights or the lights to end. To sleep or perchance to watch the northern lights: that is the Scott Lake Lodge dilemma. Some guests did both at the same time in the hot tub—that’s living large. Conversations around the fire, in the sauna and at the dinner tables were animated and far ranging. This is a place, first and foremost, for people to relax and enjoy themselves. That they did, making it a great year.
As the last floatplane pulled away from the dock, the thirty strong team of guides, pilots, chefs, housekeepers, servers, maintenance men and managers (what do they do anyway?) gave out a big cheer. Then they realized that it’s over. It’s a strong, bittersweet feeling. Their lives back home are calling everyone, but the pull of this little island in the north is strong. It’s a great place to stay and a hard place to leave. But the season was over and now it’s shut down time. It was a season of big fish, big laughs and big friendships. It will be remembered as one of the best. Thanks to our staff and to our loyal customers who made all of the above possible. See you all in 2017.
Farewell to Summer
In most years the seasons at Scott Lake Lodge morph into each other seamlessly: you really don’t notice the divide between summer and fall. Not so this year. There was no ambiguity on August 18th when a vicious north wind brought 50 degree temperatures and spawned huge waves that kept most guests on the island for the day. There were warnings. On August 17th, with still balmy temps, giant Vs of geese were honking their way south, leaving their summer homes on the countless thousands of tundra lakes and ponds, heading to the grain fields of southern Saskatchewan. They knew that something was cooking. They beat fall by one day. Their friends continued flying through the night and into the next day by the thousands—it was the Grand Passage with all those geese getting a free ride south. There were, of course, other signs of the change of season. Many. We have a small reef within a few hundred yards of our island home. It is home every season to a flock of 40-50 common terns. Every year they all leave on the same day. They left, every last one, a few days before the big blow. The signals were everywhere: the ground cover was slowly taking on the reddish hue of fall; loons were flocking and calling wildly for about a week, feeding heavily and preparing for their long flight to the Florida coast; a few splashes of yellow popped out as the birch leaves start their annual transformation, and the tamaracks began adding some color to the lakeshores as they shifted from nondescript green to the haunting smoky gold of fall. But summer didn’t slip away. It just ended on a single day.
WHAT A SUMMER IT WAS
Summer is short here but so sweet. And what a summer this one was. We had our share of cool, cloudy day and rainy days but we had many of those perfect sunny days that bring our pike into the shallows where sight fishing—the purest form of angling—can be experienced. Many of our big pike were spotted by guides and targeted by our guests. We never have enough of those days but we had enough to run the table on virtually all of our fishing statistics. In our last newsletter, covering the season through July 20, we reported some fantastic fishing success. In this newsletter we can report that indeed the beat did go on. The fantastic fishing did not stop; in fact, it picked up a beat or two. From July 21 to August 14 our anglers landed a total of 603 trophy fish—394 pike, 79 lake trout and 130 arctic grayling. While that’s a ton (more like four or five tons) of big fish, it doesn’t tell the whole story. We’ve always brought a lot of 40” pike, 35” lake trout and 15” arctic grayling (our trophy standards) to hand but we have never seen so many really huge pike like we have seen this year. In the past three weeks we added five pike of 47” or better to push the season’s number of 25 of these mega-pike. Last season we had 13 in that size range and last year was our best ever. We’re not breaking records. We’re blowing them away. And we’re not even mentioning all the tens of thousands of “regular” nice fish that are caught and released every season without anyone taking note except the angler at the other end of the line. It’s been an impressive season by any measurement, including the most important one—customer satisfaction.
THE ANGLERS BEHIND THE NUMBERS
These big numbers don’t create themselves. Our anglers earn them, one at a time. Anglers like Rick Spork who had a day he will never forget: he got the biggest pike of this reporting period, a 49 incher, but on the same day added a 45”,44.5”, 44” and 41.5” pike. That’s a day. Other anglers had days at the same adrenaline level. Chris Miller got five huge pike on a single day—a 47”, 45”, 44”, 43.5” and 41”. David Jansema was a guest at Scott 20 years ago, at the beginning of the current ownership’s tenure. He discovered that, other than the quality infrastructure and better food, nothing much had changed. He had a huge day with pike, getting his five pack of pike at 47”, 45”, 44”, 42.5” and 40” and upped the ante by adding a 37.5” lake trout. Then on the next day he landed a 46” pike. Yes Dave, the fishing is still good up here as it was twenty years ago, maybe better. On her first trip to Scott Lake Lodge, on a very memorable day, Beatrice Emens got a six pack of trophy pike with the biggest at 47”.
Monster pike don’t always come in packs like that. Typically, you get one fish-of-a lifetime in a lifetime. Or up here maybe once a trip. Chip Webster got his lifetime fish, a massive pike of 48.5” with a huge girth. Eleven-year-old (yes, really only eleven) Griffin Kristo landed a 48-inch monster and then added a 45 incher on his last day. He also talked his way into the guides’ weekly poker game and took the pot in Texas hold ‘em. (This kid has a future but the guides may not allow him to either fish or play poker next season. He’s making everyone look bad.) Pike of 47 inches were also taken by Jeff Ryan and Tom Jones. Many anglers hit the 46 mark: Bill Sandbrook, Sonya Boone, Jackie Fields, Betty Chadwell, Jim Borden, Ron Spork and Joe Sauger.
Pike are only part of the fishing story at Scott. There were 79 big lake trout taken in this 25 day slice of the Scott Lake Lodge season with 14 of those trout of 40” or better. These super-sized lakers were taken by eleven lucky anglers. Trout of 42” were caught by Mark Harangody, Dennis Hanggi, Jackie Fields and Arnold Alfert. Trout of 41” were taken by Joe Sauger, Beatrice Emens and Dean Jensen. Forty inchers were caught by Priscilla O’Donnell and Bob Lorber. But the clear King of Trout for this season was long time guest Mike Scheidt. He wasn’t happy with just one fish-of-a-lifetime. He needed four: a 43”, a 42”, a 40.5” and a 40” trout. Any trout near 40” is impressive. Our lake trout here are really, really fat, living the good life scooping up lake cisco and whitefish to become the equivalent of aquatic pigs, only stronger and faster.
Arctic grayling are in this game too. We had 130 over 15 inches. Wayne and Clay Parmley put on a grayling clinic, getting way too many and each getting a personal best of 19”. Alaine Emens and Ramon Clark also landed 19s. Bill Ehmann, Beatrice Emens and Dan Clark got 18s.
100+CLUB NOT SO EXCLUSIVE ANYMORE
With so many trophy grayling, it’s not surprising that the 100+Club has a lot of new members this season. Our mid to late summer period added a dozen: Jim Borden, Priscilla O’Donnell, Amy Towers, Beatrice Emens, Alaine Emens, Jackie Fields, Joe Parker, Arnold Alfret, Ramon Clark, David Jansema, Sonya Boone and Darrel Massie (who by the way had never fished before in his entire life). Getting into the Club is not easy. An angler has to catch a trophy of all three of Scott’s gamefish and the total inches of their three biggest trophies has to reach or exceed 100 inches. The math is easy (just get a 45” pike, a 40” trout and a 15” grayling for but the catching isn’t. At this juncture of the season the top gun in the Club is Joe Novicki with 108 total inches (helped a lot by his 51” pike). Rhys Reese landed at 107 inches and Bob Noble is close behind at 106.5. But there are still three groups to go and lots of big fish out there.
IS THE BEST YET TO COME?
Over the past nineteen seasons our biggest fish, especially pike and grayling, are caught during the second half of August. Will history repeat? With so many big fish already in the book: we have a total of 1,532 trophy fish, only ten under last season’s record total with fifteen fishing days to go. Can we keep the beat going? We’ll let you know in a couple of weeks. In the meantime think about your own 2017 fishing calendar. We now have a clear picture of availability for next season. We have had a record number of rebookings (guests who booked their same week, guide and cabin for the next season before they leave our island) but there are still plenty of openings throughout the season. Give our guide/sales manager Jon Wimpney an email today to lock in your fishing adventure. Be part of the 2017 story. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org The first step to your fish-of-a-lifetime is just an email away.