A Northern Manitoba Cast and Blast Adventure

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Moose and Walleye in the Middle of Nowhere
The drone of the floatplane had just faded off into the distance and my buddy Jason and I were contemplating setting up our moose camp for the week on our own private island on a remote northern lake. We were finally here after a year of anticipation and were ready for a hard week of hunting to try and bag our first moose together.

Standing over our large pile of gear on the shore, I let out a long cow call just to see if I could remember how to do it – “Awwwwwwwwwwwwugh!”. It’d been many years since my last moose hunt, and it felt good to be back in the bush for a full week, far away from cell phones and task lists.

Jay and I busied ourselves with unpacking and finding the chainsaw, rope and tarps when I cast a glance out over the lake. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Jay, you see that”, I said with a big, widening grin on my face.

“That’s a moose, a bull!”, confirmed Jason. Less than an hour into our trip and we were scrambling for our shells and gear as the big fella climbed up on an island right in front of us, just out of gun range. As it would turn out, this was only the first of many surprises in what would be an exciting reintroduction to moose hunting.

The Plan
My buddy Jason and I had been planning a fly-in combo moose hunt and fishing trip for some time. We were thinking fly-in for a few reasons. With our beleaguered moose populations in much of road-accessible Manitoba, a fly-in lake gives you have a better chance of seeing a moose, and you can feel good about harvesting a moose in wilderness where their numbers aren’t declining. And almost as importantly, we wanted total solitude and a completely relaxing recharge of our batteries, far away from people.

After a lot of research, we went with Gogal Air in Snow Lake (www.burtnwood.com). Jason had a trailer on nearby Wekusko so this made a lot of sense. We went for a do-it-yourself, no frills fly out moose hunt to the middle of nowhere. Along with being affordable, the fishing in these undeveloped lakes is often right off the charts. And it makes for a Robinson Crusoe kind of adventure that is good for the soul.

Brad Gogal flew us two rookies, our gear and our small aluminum boat in to a little lake northwest of Snow Lake on two flights. For a total cost of $1,850 each, all costs included, we had found paradise for a week: a horizon full of stars and northern lights, all you can eat fish and as it turns out, a camp full of prime moose meat.

IMG_1406_1Back To The Hunt
Jason and I were frantically trying to tear apart our packs to find a bullet. I had been on enough moose trips in the past, with unfilled tags as my only souvenir, to know that you don’t look a gift moose in the mouth.

Luckily, Jason found two stray shells in a pocket of his hunting jacket so we hopped in our small tin boat and putted over to where we last saw the bull. We idled in near shore and cut the motor and let things quiet down a bit. We started calling with a long cow call and then waited. Sure enough, a young bull came slowly out of the bush, head swinging side to side. We were vibrating with excitement and couldn’t believe this was really happening. “Should I take him, he’s a young moose?”, Jay whispered quietly.

Not being much of a trophy hunter, to me the best bull is a young one. Tender meat is my favorite kind of trophy. “I think you better Jason, we don’t know what’s here and this could be the only one we see. Plus, it’ll give us more time to fish!”IMG_1419_1

Boom. One shot and the Bull lurched forward into the water and expired. We were able to tow him right up to shore at our campsite. But even a young bull is huge. I’d forgotten how massive these animals are.

We’d brought a come-along and ropes to deal with these huge beasts. As the animal slowly inched his way up out of the water, we were surprised to see wolf bite marks on his hindquarters. Maybe it wasn’t my marginal moose calling that encouraged him out towards this island after all.

In something close to under an hour of being in our new middle-of-nowhere paradise, we had a field-dressed bull pulled up on shore and cooling in the chilly September air and a fry pan full of tenderloins simmering in butter. By nightfall we’d made camp and had completely boned out our beautiful moose. What a first day.

IMG_1456_1Walleye Everywhere
We slept like dogs in the fresh air of our tent, after a long day of travel, camp preparation and moose processing. We had a leisurely breakfast, proud and satisfied to look over at our meat hanging from a pole we ate our eggs by the fire. To me, the best part about moose hunting is you tend to go for a whole week. I believe that is about how long it takes to totally unwind and heal up from all the nicks and cuts that life puts on us.

With our camp in order, we rigged up our rods and started to explore this near-virgin fishing ground. We are rabid fishermen and get as excited about fishing as hunting. Jason rigged up a bottom bouncer and spinner while I clipped on a deep diving Shad Rap. We both like to use search lures on a new lake to cover water and find the fish. We had only trolled a hundred meters or so when my rod bounced hard and I was the beneficiary of that beautiful feeling of tension on my line and a big bend in my rod. A big, golden walleye came into view below the boat. What a sight for city eyes.

As it would turn out, I think you could have put a marshmallow on a hook and caught fish. We caught dozens and dozens of chunky and spunky wallies in most parts of the lake. Once we hit a bunch of fish, we’d do our favorite thing which is stop and get on the fish with jigs. We never tired of catching beautiful walleyes and some decent pike as well.

The beautiful thing about fly-in moose hunts, is that there is nearly always good fishing too. Whichever float plane operator you go with, they normally have some idea of what fishing most of the larger lakes in their region will offer. For walleyes, plan on taking a bunch of deep diving crankbaits, bottom bouncers with spinners and jigs with Powerbait. A few spoons and big plastics for the pike and you are set for fishing a remote lake. Our second night had us frying fresh fish by the fire and wondering how this could get better. Well it didn’t, but it certainly got more exciting.

Here Cometh the Wolf
We figured we’d better scout the rest of the lake for future moose hunts. I dropped Jay at a great looking spot to call for moose and I slipped south down the lake a mile or so to call at different spot to see if we could locate another bull. I pulled up on the shore near a high rocky, treed ridge and hiked up to the top so I could see a broad expanse of brushy meadows. Moose heaven.

I nestled into a cozy patch of brush and started cow calling. I dozed off for a while and suddenly woke up. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I had the immediate feeling that something was right behind me. It was the craziest, strangest feeling that I can’t totally explain. I slowly turned my head and right behind me, crouched and slowly coming over the rocky ridge 50 feet behind me were a pack of wolves. Looking for a cow moose I suppose.

I turned my head a bit more and made eye contact with one of the wolves. I’ll never forget how it looked or how it felt to lock eyes with that animal. They look right through you. It was an electric moment. I fired my gun and they ran off to the north. What a moment and what a trip.

If you love fishing and hunting and want to do a trip that makes you feel totally and completely alive, consider a northern Manitoba cast and blast.

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