For the most part, Supper Lake was off-limits to guests. It used to be the main lake for the lodge where my parents worked. But, as happens, it was fished a little too hard over the years, and, at the owner’s insistence, the lake was closed to all guests.
We could fish it because my folks were the caretakers and made the rules. Outside of that, I’d only ever known two guests who got permission to fish the lake and I’d been there each time. The first time was with Hoppy, who’d been going to the camp for so long he didn’t so much ask for permission as he told you what his plans were.
The other time, I went with the guest, acting as a guide, the closest I’ve ever come to actually guiding.
“I heard you were interested in trying Supper Lake,” I said to him. For the life of me, I can’t remember this guy’s name. It’s entirely possible we never traded names, but more likely, I’ve just forgotten what it was. For the sake of the story, we’ll call him Steve.
Steve hadn’t been a part of the original group that planned the trip. He was a couple of steps removed from them, the husband of a sister or something like that. One of the original group had dropped out and Steve had filled the space, as more of a tagalong than someone who was meant to be there.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ve been doing okay, so far, but haven’t gotten into any really big fish, like we’d hoped.”
“I think it can be tough to get into the bigger ones around here,” I said. I got it, too. I’d been chasing the legendary 40+ inch pike around these waters for a few years. They’re out there, but you gotta fish hard to find them. “How big have the fish been, so far?”
“Well,” Steve said, thinking about it. “We’ve gotten into some 30-inch pike, but I sorta thought we’d see bigger fish here.”
That was my first clue that Steve took fishing more seriously than the rest of his crew. And not in a good way. First, a 30-inch pike isn’t huge, but that’s a personal best for a lot of people, especially those who’ve never done a trip like this before. Is it the biggest fish you can catch in these waters? Not by a long shot, but it’s a respectable fish nonetheless.
Second, Mom had told me they’d hit one of the portage lakes that day and had had a blast. Steve, it seemed, was the only one not having a good time.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s meet back here after dinner. I can’t guarantee a huge fish on Supper, but I know a few spots.”
I didn’t want to fish with this guy, or anyone besides family, really. But I didn’t want to miss a chance to fish Supper Lake. I had taken to spending an hour or two on the lake in the evenings as my daughter was falling asleep. Not every night. I’m a very involved parent and my wife and I often split the task, but every couple of nights I’d go out to Supper Lake to harass a few fish.
Supper was kind of a funny lake to fish. There were great numbers of walleye, but they tended to huddle up in very specific spots. You could be a half meter away from the fish and catch nothing. You needed to be in the exact spot they were.
More than that, I had my doubts about big fish living there. I had worked the lake pretty hard a few times, covering all the obvious spots and a bunch of the less obvious ones. When I fished the lake with Hoppy, we were out there for probably 5 hours and I don’t recall seeing a single pike.
On some days, however, the fishing was outstanding. My dad, brother, and I had a moment where we each caught 15 fish walleye in about 20 minutes. It was incredible the bite turned off almost as suddenly as it turned on and we went from a fish a cast to nothing. It remains one of my favourite fishing memories.
When Steve and I connected again later that day, I had my fly rod with a small-ish streamer and he had a bait caster with a very large lure on the end of his line.
If we hadn’t been fishing together, Steve and I probably would have gotten along great. He was a scientist of some kind. I want to say a biologist, possibly even a mycologist, but I don’t quite remember at this point. Whatever he was, it was the kind of thing I love talking about. But we were fishing. And Steve wasn’t satisfied with just being on the water. He wanted results. Nothing ruins a day on the water faster than that kind of attitude.
We fished and the hammer handles were out in full force, as they often are around dusk. Every few casts one of us would hook into one. I’m happy catching anything. I rarely care about the kind of fish or the size. Every time Steve felt the tap of a small pike, though, he’d furiously start reeling in, hoping to lose the fish before it bit.
“No, no,” he’d say. “Go away. We’re looking for your bigger brother.”
We covered the lake pretty well. I avoided all the spots that I knew had walleye in favour of looking for the big pike. Even though I’d never seen one (and doubt they were in there), I hoped I was wrong. I could hear them flopping around at night, sometimes (though this turned out to be beavers).
We chatted mostly about fishing. Steve was curious about the fact that I fly fished. But, it was a passing curiosity. Steve was there to catch fish. Big fish. And, he wanted to make sure he was doing it in the most efficient way possible. His casting technique was like something out of a textbook, the classic fan pattern that let him cover as much water as possible. It was more methodical than intuitive and probably why they hadn’t quite found the big fish, yet.
Big pike aren’t where you’d expect them to be, ever. They show up in those moments when you’re hoping for something else. When you’re trolling into a small river mouth or fishing a shallow water bay. They don’t get that big by being easy to find. The one crew that came up to the camp looking for big fish made that their only mission. Each year they went for 40 fish over 40 inches and each year they fished hard to make it happen.
Steve wasn’t thinking like a big fish. He was following an article he’d read somewhere about fishing. Like so many things, that advice falls into the category of fishing advice where 60% of the time, it works every time.
This was not one of those times.
We fished for a couple of hours and did alright landing the little guys. But Steve wasn’t going to find the big fish on this outing.
Amusingly enough, a little while later I was back out on Supper Lake with my brother. We hadn’t even had time to get out of the weedy first bay before I hooked into a wonderful 36-inch pike that took me into my backing.
It felt good to be wrong about the size of the fish on Supper Lake. And even better to get confirmation with my brother and not Steve.