Our 2021 season has come to a close this week. We had fewer anglers in camp and we averaged less than 4 boats on the water per day – but for those boats overall production was good. Our daily guide sheets averaged 35 walleye over 18 inches per day, and we caught and released 15 Walleye over 27 inches, including three 29’s and a 30.25 incher.
Our guide crew shifted over to live bait this week. Whether we were moving fast or slow, the walleye preferred live bait and we caught almost no fish ‘Gulping’. Having just 3 or 4 boats on the water means not as many experiments are tried out there each day, so there is less information gathered than would be on a regular week in the summer with a full crew. But the daily reports we did have all agreed the walleye were trending strongly to live bait. Sand structures were the high-volume producing spots, especially on warm weather days. Though most of our big fish came from rock structures, at mid-range depths this week, not the widely variable depths from weeks past.
Looking back through our guide sheets this week there were no guided days spent pike fishing, that’s pretty unusual for us in the fall. We did boat 4 over 37 inches and a 39 incher, all caught while walleye fishing.
On a personal note, every year when I look back the season has seemed to fly by. Far more so with the abbreviated season this year – heck, it still feels like we just got started! Even with a season so short, I’m just very glad we got a chance to open up and see so many familiar faces back in the boats and fishing with us again. Until we managed to open back up again in August, I did not realize just how much I missed being on the water and hunting for fish with our guests each and every day. Already looking forward to next year and a brand-new season at ‘the Wheel’, hope you all are too!
There were no drastic changes in the weather this week, but fall continued to progress. Air temperatures dropped, we had multiple cold nights, and enough winds to cause mixing of water levels – what is significant about this is that lake surface temps seemed unaffected. They remained in the low 60-degree range they’ve been in for the last 2 or 3 weeks. Normally we would expect a change in surface temps to follow the succession of cold nights, but this didn’t happen. We interpret this to mean our surface temps are not that different from water temperatures throughout the water column, and have been for the last few weeks. This makes sense with the trend that’s been continuing for the last few weeks – walleye of all sizes at widely varying depths. The same trend continued – once again this week some of our biggest fish were caught at the extremes: some from 35+ feet and some from less than 10 feet.
We tallied a total of 32 guided days on the water this week, pretty evenly divided between piking days and walleye hunting days. For the boats fishing walleye volume remained high, guide sheets averaged 30-35 walleye over 18 inches per day. We caught and released 12 ‘eyes over 27 inches, including two 29 inchers. The bite shifted away from speed and plastic this week and our guide crew ended up using live bait and moving slower for most of our time on the water. Both sand and rock produced fish, with the majority of the big fish coming off rock.
Approximately half our anglers were focused on hunting pike this week – for a total of 13 guided days and the daily guide sheets recorded 15 fish over 37 inches, including a 39 and a 40 incher. The big fish favoured spoons and spinners in the weeds, and plastic baits when they were deeper on rock. A common pattern for us in the fall.
When we looked back at the trends over the past week, one thing stood out to our guide crew: the high volume of Northerns in the mid 30-inch range. So out of curiosity I went back and tallied the numbers, and beyond the 15 fish above 37 inches there were another 19 pike between 35 and 37 inches caught. A total of 34 northern over 35 inches in 12 guided days – turns out it was pike week; it was just hard to recognize it until the week was over.
As I started thinking about this fishing report, I asked our guide crew what they thought the trends of this week were. The consensus was that this week seemed a lot like a repeat of last week.
Winds and weather remained changeable throughout the week, and walleye stayed spread out on structures. There were few concentrations that could be targeted with vertical jigging, and we continued to use Gulp and speed to cover water and get to the spread-out fish. And big fish were once again caught at varying depths – our two biggest Walleye of the week were caught in 17 and 37 feet respectively.
There were still a few things that changed from last week. Some locations did not answer to fast moving plastics this week, and our guides found success by compromising – still moving quickly along the structures, but with live bait instead of plastic. Key depths were less random, and more tightly tied to conditions – wind moved fish shallower and calm moved them deeper. Our big fish production also shifted in presentation – at least half of our big walleye came from moving fast instead of slow finesse presentations.
There were a couple of last-minute cancellations in our schedule that left some boats off the water, so we averaged just 3 guided boats on the water each day this week. Volume remained strong, guide sheets averaged more than 35 walleye over 18 inches each day, and we caught and released 15 walleye over 27 inches, including 2 – 28’s, a 29 incher, and a 30.5.
There were just three guided days targeting big pike this week, and we boated six Northern over 37 inches, including 2 – 38’s, 1 – 39, and a 40.25 incher.
Compared to most Fall seasons here at SWWL there’s been almost no piking done yet. I don’t think we have enough information to confidently say what the big pike are doing right now. However, the time of year is right, weather forecast looks right, and our boats will have anglers that want to pike – I’m hoping this week will be “the week” for big Northern at SWWL. I know from past experience how risky fishing predictions can be, but I’m throwing caution to the winds and looking forward to seeing if my guess is right this time!
Fall weather continued this week, with weather and the wind changes every few hours being the norm. As a result, the Walleyes stayed scattered between depths for the whole week – our boats caught big fish in 13 feet and in 38 feet and everything in between. The fish were also often spread out on many of the structures we were fishing, not concentrated. That meant our guides and anglers usually had to choose; pulling plastics at speed produced volume – often with good “mediums”, but the biggest fish came from putting in time using subtler presentations. A common theme at our nightly guide round table report was using speed and gulp to find the fish and get the rods bent. Then use live bait, light jigs, and patience on key spots to target size.
We had just 5 boats on the water this week, and overall numbers were good. We averaged over 30 walleye over 18 inches on our daily guide sheets and we caught and released 11 walleye over 27 inches, including 2- 28 inchers and a 29 incher.
With the weather changing to fall patterns we also experienced a surge in big pike numbers – a week or two earlier than usual this year. Our guide crew were just talking tonight about how many of our tried and true big fish areas had very few and scattered weeds this year – and few big fish as a result. Our best guess is the extremely low water led to poor weed growth, and lots of high wind days in the last few weeks sped up the loss of what did grow. Combine fewer weeds with constantly shifting weather, and that meant when boats went after big pike this week they were in constant search mode. Our guide reports showed success came from constantly shifting gears – moving back and forth multiple times each day from summer weed locations and presentations to fall rock structures and lures. Spoons and in-line spinners were our guides’ baits of choice this week for moving fast and covering lots of water in a day.
For the week we devoted just 4 guided days to ‘gator hunting’, and we boated 10 Northern over 37 inches, including a 40, 41, and a 42 incher.
There are a few things that make me feel like it’s truly fall each year – writing my first fishing report of the season is one, but guide reports about big pike and a surge like we saw this week is one of my favourite things about fall. I’m already looking forward to my next chance to go hunting for a ‘gator!
It was another instant season change on Lac Seul this week. It was scorching hot summer for the first half of the week and then Bam, instant fall. The wind blew, the showers arrived, and the temperature dropped. As you would expect, it affected the fish and the fishing.
At the start of the week, we fished classic summer patterns, locations, and depths. Main lake sand and rock in 25 – 35 ft. of water is where almost all of the walleyes were caught. Jigs (1/4 oz.) and minnows or big jigs and Gulp pulled at speed were equally effective.
After the weather turned, there were still some walleyes in summer spots, but many more were scattered and found shallower. By the end of the week, you could catch walleyes anywhere from 12 – 35 ft. of water. Daily catch rates were very high at the beginning of the week, but tapered off a bit as the weather changed. Jigs and minnows became more productive after the front.
Walleye volume was good with daily guide sheets averaging 25 – 30 walleyes over 18 in. per boat. For the week, we caught and released 21 walleyes over 27 in., including 5 – 28s, 2 – 29s, and 1 – 31. Those numbers were good, but when you consider that there were only 7 guide boats on the water, they sound even better.
Oh, and I almost forgot, it is still Covid times. We have yet to have any guests turned away or hassled at the border. We do our part to make sure they have all of the required documents on hand and that they use the ArriveCan app. The only issue has been finding or scheduling PCR tests and getting the results in a timely fashion. If you are coming up and need help, please call.
I always find myself surprised as I write my last fishing report of the year. This year, I am still in shock that we were allowed to open. What is even more surprising is how quickly most things have returned to normal at the lodge. I often talk to my guide crew about Precedent setting issues or events and this is for sure one of the most important. I am now more confident than ever that we are likely to have a “more normal” season in 2022.
My final comment of the year – Please get vaccinated.
Right or Wrong, I do not believe that Canada is going to let you across the border anytime in the near future unless you have been fully vaccinated. More than anything, we want all of our guests to have the opportunity to come back up to the lodge and enjoy the excellent fishing that we have experienced this summer.
MW – Out.
Camp is alive again. All of our old friends are back and everyone is catching fish. They say you don’t know what you miss until it is gone, but believe me, we knew and we missed it. I was very anxious and concerned for the first groups coming across the border. Now I am not.
We have not had a single group or guest denied entry at the border. As a matter of fact, most of our groups have made a point to tell me that they were surprised at how easy it was to cross. Yes, these are motivated SWWL anglers that were willing to jump through any number of hoops to come up, but at the same time, everyone is here and fishing. If anyone is concerned about the process or documents required to cross, please call us. We will walk you through it and make sure that you can drive up without the anxiety that our first groups had.
I can’t believe I get to talk about the weather. Now I know that we are back to regular fishing reports. It was blazing hot at the Wheel this week. There was always a wind from the south, but daytime highs were at or above 90 for most of the week. It was a little uncomfortable at times, but it was easier to tolerate when the fishing was just as hot. There were one or two average volume days, but most were faster than average by a long shot.
The walleyes were found on classic Lac Seul summertime spots. The prime depth range for both main lake rock and sand was 25 – 35 ft. Gulp was better at producing size at times. Minnows were better at producing numbers. Main lake rock was good and then main lake sand was good. The key was to find a pattern and duplicate it. It helped that I had top guides on staff to put the pieces of the puzzle together every day.
For the week, walleye volume was strong with daily guide sheets averaging over 40 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day. It was fast. Top end size was also very good. Keep in mind, we had half of the normal guide staff on the water. For the week we caught and released 97 walleyes over 25 in. Included in that number were 32 – 26s, 12 – 27s, 1 – 28, 1 – 29, and 1 – 30. We caught and released a ton of big walleyes.
We only had one or two boats chasing big pike this week. Weed growth was weird for the entire lake this year, but the hot weather with wind is already breaking down many weedbeds. Finding good weeds close to deep water was the absolute bottom line requirement to find big pike. For the week, we caught and released 1 – 37, 1 – 38, 1 – 39, and 1 – 40. The Williams whitefish spoon is a guide favorite, but double 8 in-line spinners also produced.
The Take Away:
The shared experience of every angler that has been to the Wheel this summer is that they were worried about what they would have to deal with at the border. After they crossed, they could not wait to tell others that it was easy. This year we have hosted guests in their mid to late 80s and we have had dads bring up their unvaccinated sons that were under 12. We have this down.
August is fully booked and so is most all of September. I do have 2 cancellations currently open in September. If anyone is interested, please free to call.
It has only been a few days since our opening fishing report, but we are pretty excited to be back at it and wanted to share the information. The weather did not make it easy this past week. With several days of strong winds, we focused most of our efforts away from the main lake. The large weather system did bring some much-needed rain to the region and made the mornings feel like fall. Last night’s lows fell into the 40s.
Despite the tougher conditions, the Roach group had an excellent fishing trip. Their overall volume was high with guide boats averaging 40 – 50 walleyes over 18 in. each day. Along with really good numbers of fish, the guys landed multiple 25s and 26s along with 4 – 27s, 1 – 28, and Bill Roach caught a monster 31.25 in. walleye.
The weather did scatter walleyes into a wider variety of depths. By the end of the week, we caught walleyes anywhere between 12 – 35 ft. of water. Most were still in that 18 – 25 ft. zone, but it did pay to check out a little deeper for bigger fish. With the waves, we bumped up to 3/8 oz. jigs with minnows, but we were still catching at least 1/3 of our walleyes on 6.5 in. Gulp Nemesis on ¾ oz. jigs pulled at speed.
After the day one delays at the border, we are seeing very short wait times to get across the border. Our groups report that the only difference in crossing from previous years, were questions about your health, documentation of your negative PCR test, and your ArrivCan app receipt. There has been some discussion on websites concerning the random PCR test that may be handed out at the border. Do not be concerned about this issue. We have logged on to the Switch Health website and conducted these tests multiple times as part of our border crossing process. If you get a random test, then we will have everything set up for you and will make arrangements to have your sample shipped. You just go fishing.
All guide boats are currently scheduled on the water for the next few weeks, but we have had some cancellations for September. If you are interested in squeezing in a fishing trip this fall, do not hesitate to call or email.
We do know that the preparation to cross the border is a bit of a pain. Specifically, we have heard that PCR tests are difficult to schedule in some areas. For those that are willing to put up with the hassle required to get across the border, we promise that the Silver Water Wheel experience will be as good or better than ever.
We are officially back open to US anglers. It took some time and there were some challenges along the way, but the road to normal is back in sight. We have a new cook and guest services team, guides are here or are on their way, and tonight there will be 7 boats tied up in the bay.
The first anglers to return to the Wheel were members of the Bill Roach group. They had to work at it but they were back to catching walleyes on Lac Seul and they just about had the lake to themselves. There were the normal new challenges of navigating the pretravel PCR test, documenting their vaccination status, and downloading the ArriveCan app. Then there were the unexpected travel surprises, like a deer collision, switching vehicles, and an unusually long first day wait to cross the border at International Falls. It appears that the long border wait was just an opening day issue.
I am sure that there will be other surprises along the way but the most significant news is that the border is officially back open and in use. We do have a fairly full reservation book for the remainder of the summer and fall. There were a few groups that had issues or concerns about the recent border opening that chose not to come up. For those still interested in fishing in 2021, I would encourage you to contact us at the lodge and let us see if we can find you a spot.
After a very warm winter with little snow we have also had an extremely dry July. The fire danger has gone down dramatically with recent rains but the lake level is as low as I have seen it this time of year; Lac Seul is down 4 ft. from the typical high water mark.
The walleye fishing has been good. Traditional summer patterns on both main lake rock and sand have been very productive. Key depths have ranged between 20 – 30ft. Aggressive tactics with big Gulp have been shown results as good as smaller jigs and minnows. It may be due to lack of fishing pressure but it feels like the catch rate has been faster than what we normally expect for this time of year. Both guide boats on the water today reported 50 – 60 walleyes over 18 in. per boat. Bill’s group topped out with several 25s and 1 – 27 for their first day back on the water.
We have not spent much time chasing pike or smallmouth bass. I anticipate having more to add to the pike fishing story as the lodge fills up and the surface temps begin to cool as the summer winds down.
For groups that are planning to come up, we have a good idea of what is needed to cross the border. If you have any questions, please contact us.
The Take Away: Take nothing for granted. It is harder to get to Canada than it was 3 years ago, but it is worth it. For those of you that have been here, you know what I am talking about. For those that have not, we hope you get the chance.
I have been waiting for months for any information from either government that I could forward to our guests. We have all been hoping for a re-opening of the border and now we finally have the good news, that it will be open on August 9.
For lodge owners, not all the news is good. Now the scramble begins. After being closed for almost 2 full seasons, most of my staff have been forced to find employment elsewhere. Even those staff members that will return for a full season in 2022 are not going to feel comfortable leaving their current positions for a 5- or 6-week season. That decision becomes even more difficult with the extremely short notice. Another compounding factor the very limited labor market in Canada at this time. Local restaurants are closed on Monday and/or Tuesday because they can’t find enough cook staff or wait staff. Some of my guides have made the decision not to leave their current positions in part because they are earning $20 – $30 or more per hour. Today, I have lined up 6 – 8 guides, but I am short a cook and lodge staff. I expect that we will solve our staffing issues, but that leads me to my next set of complications. I will not have a full guide staff for the fall.
Engines are another issue. I have 3 guide boats on the property now and have calls into my marine dealer to add more as quickly as possible. He is working on it and will get back to me as soon as he can. This is just one of many issues that could easily have been averted if the government had given us some reasonable lead time and a clue as to what they were planning.
The book has been full for quite some time, but in the last several months, I have had some guests decide to make other summer vacation plans. Some will want to come up, but figuring out a workable schedule is going to be a task. Compounding the issue is that some anglers will not have been vaccinated. Others won’t want the risk of being around other people. And some group leaders are going to have some of their members wanting to come up and fish and others not able to make it with such short notice. It is going to be extremely difficult to keep everyone happy. After I secure staff, my plan is to work with each group to try to come up with the best plan for their fisherman.
My intention is to be as fair as possible with all of our current guests. Deposits are all safe. If a group has made other plans for this summer/fall and cannot make their dates for this summer, then I will transfer deposits to the same dates for next year. I will treat the members of my larger groups as individual deposits. If part of the group comes up to fish this fall, then the remaining deposits can be transferred to next season or returned. If and when there are openings in the reservation book, then those groups that had their earlier season bookings cancelled will have the first opportunity to fill in. My concern is there will be more demand than there will be available dates. I plan to make decisions based on the numbers of years of seniority each group has with SWWL.
Considerations for 2021 decision making process for August and September booking dates:
First priority will be given to currently booked guests for August and September with fully paid deposits.
Next level will be for guests with fully paid deposits that had earlier season dates cancelled.
Previous guests that are currently on the waiting list get next consideration.
The fourth tier of priority will be the rest of the groups on the waiting list.
I cannot promise that I will make everyone happy, but I will do my very best to come up with a fair solution.
With limited staff, we are not going to be able to provide bear hunts for this fall. We will transfer deposits and dates for those hunts to the 2022 season.
In other less important news, we were forced to cancel our construction project. We had planned to build a new pole barn to replace the old storage shed, but materials pricing nearly doubled from our original price quote. I could not make the money work, so we postponed the build for a year or two.
It will not be back to normal just yet. We still have new Covid protocols to work with, but I feel like this is the first big step to getting back to our normal way of life. We cannot wait to have guests back to the lodge this fall, but even more importantly to having a fully operational year for 2022.
If you have questions or concerns, please call (I apologize up front for our terrible internet phone service) or email and we will respond quickly.
I cannot describe how happy we are to have our guests return to the lodge.
The Rumors have begun. Unfortunately, the reality has changed very little since our last update. Several articles were published last week citing unnamed sources predicting a unilateral opening of the US side of the US/Canada border. The predicted opening was June 22, but several of the articles went on to state that the Canadian side would likely continue to be closed to US anglers. Further reporting has poured more cold water on this story, but that has not stopped the hopeful emails and phone calls coming into my office. After several days of answering these queries, I decided it was time for me to post a comprehensive update.
I am writing this in my office at the lodge, but the process of crossing the border felt like stepping back in time. I have been fully vaccinated for some time but that did not matter. I was required to apply to a Canadian government travel app called ArriveCan, which is a screening tool and a way to prove that you know the rules and have a quarantine plan. I had to have a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival at the border. I was required to video conference and self-administer another Covid test on Day 1. I am required to check in with the Canadian government each day of my 14-day quarantine. Yesterday I completed my 3rd Covid test, which was day 8 of quarantine.
The entire Province of Ontario is in lockdown. School kids are back home with on-line classes. All retail stores are closed. Aisles with non-grocery items in Wal-mart are roped off to prevent non-essential shopping. The Manitoba / Ontario and the Ontario / Quebec borders are also closed to non-essential travel. It feels like a different planet from the basically open world I left in Iowa.
I give these details to let you have a better understanding of the mood North of the border. There are more and more Canadians getting frustrated with the never-ending lock downs, but the Provincial and Federal governments have been consistent in their stated commitment to a slow and careful reopening. Trudeau has stated specifically that he wants to see a vaccination rate of 75% before regulations are relaxed.
The vaccination rates today in the US as reported by The New York times state that 50% of Americans have had one dose and 40% of Americans are fully vaccinated. At the same time, 55% of Canadians have received one dose, but only 5% have been fully vaccinated. When Federal officials are pressed as to when they think the border will reopen, the only cautious responses have been “The Fall.” Even though the vaccination rates have increased in Canada, September is still the predicted time frame when most Canadians will have been fully vaccinated.
Premiere Doug Ford gave a news conference this week that outlined an extremely cautious 3 step process for opening Ontario. With stringent vaccination and health benchmarks, the earliest the Province could possibly be mostly open would be the end of July. Progression to step 3 with indoor dining would require 70 – 80% of adults to have one dose and 25% of the population to be fully vaccinated.
Like everyone else, all I want to know is when the border will be open to US anglers and right now, no one is going to tell us. I immerse myself in every piece of news that I can find to give my guests the most informed decision that I can so that they can better make plans for their summer vacations. There has been no sudden good news to change my opinion – the US/Canada border will likely NOT be open to US anglers in time for us to put together a viable 2021 season. Even the most optimistic view of the current situation would see the border itself being open in September at the earliest.
How late is too late? Any decision has to make economic sense. I have just 2 Kingfisher boats in the water at the lodge right now. I chose to wait and see what was going to happen before I entered into the lease of the remaining 13 engines. The decision to bring all of the boats back out to the lodge would cost well over $100,000.00. It would be impossible to cover the costs of entering into those leases with only a 3 – 4 week season in the Fall. Further complicating the possibility of a late opening would be the logistics for rehiring, relocating, and training staff for a weeks long season.
It would take dramatic changes in policy to envision the border opening anytime soon. Combined with the economic and practical difficulties of operating an extremely abbreviated summer, I just can’t picture a way to make the fishing season work for American anglers at Silver Water Wheel in 2021.
Again, I wish I had better news.
All deposits are safe and I expect almost all guests will transfer them to lock in their dates for next year. With so much up in the air I am committed to working with all of my groups as we transition back to more normal times.
As part of the process of securing loans to bridge our finances from now until next year, we did set aside some additional funds to proceed with a construction project for this summer. We are planning to demo the current storage shed and to replace it with a new and larger pole barn on top of the hill. We expect construction to begin around late July.
The Wheel without guests is very quiet. The lodge without guests and staff feels empty. All of our thoughts and efforts this summer will be focused on a return to better times when we open up the lodge to US anglers in 2022. We can’t wait to have you back.