MAKOOP LAKE, Ontario — Esox Lucius. The Water Wolf of Makoop.
The names conjure up images of a mystical creature. Make-believe, almost.
And for that, the pike have this place, this lake, to thank.
Makoop Lake is about 300 miles north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and the nearest hint of civilization is the remote village of Bearskin Lake, about 40 miles north of Makoop. A float-plane ride — and a fairly long one by float-plane standards — from Sioux Lookout is the only way to get here. And while a fairly-large 28,000 acres, the lake is mostly uncharted.
And unfished. It’s only been in the last decade that a few small groups of anglers have started to make an annual trek here. So even today, with only a few dozen anglers fishing the lake each year, many of these fish probably have never seen a lure or hook, and a good number likely have never been caught (and, in turn, released, which is practiced religiously here to protect this resource).
While they exist in large numbers, to find Makoop water wolves, anglers still must navigate the shallows that make up a good part of the lake and occasional rocks that lurk just below the water surface — a barrier of sorts protecting the pike’s weedy fortress. But the adventurous types who have been coming here in recent years — Makoop Lodge was built by the Bearskin Lake native community about eight years ago so as to accommodate such trips — are slowly getting a better handle on these fish and their haunts.
Angeconeb, part of that Bearskin Lake native community, is the camp manager. O’Connor, from Sioux Lookout, is the camp chef, preparing three hearty meals a day, many of the gourmet variety, as well as popular shore lunches. Both keep busy with their do-it-all jobs for more than a month straight each season, but fish the lake as much as they can — it’s their passion, too.
Angeconeb pointed out a number of places around some of the many islands that he said hold especially large pike and O’Connor shared an evening hot spot for big pike. All were among the more popular fishing spots on my week-long trip there the second week of August. (It was one of four such trips scheduled this year, from late July to late August, with the camp accommodating up to 12 anglers per trip).
While the camp offers four comfortable log cabins, each with three bedrooms, and electricity, running water and a bathroom/shower, and a lodge that features a spacious dining area and a full kitchen where O’Connor creates all those savory meals (bacon-wrapped filet mignon, bacon-wrapped walleye appetizers, stuffed pork chops, blueberry pancakes, French toast …), and even Wifi, the Makoop Lake fishing experience is indeed a rugged one.
As it should be.
While Angeconeb guided a boat at least one day, the 10 of us — in boats of two — were pretty much on our own. Most of the anglers at Makoop that week had been there before — our boat was the only one with two first-timers (myself and a longtime buddy from the Twin Cities) — and those veterans were good at offering guidance for the few rookies.
And Makoop Lake is what you might expect from an off-the-grid, near-virgin fishery — beautiful, yet wild; obstacles such as unmarked rocks near the stained-water surface are a part of the landscape at the lake. Makoop veterans again shared what they know, but boaters were urged to tread carefully.
Still, props hit rocks, sometimes numerous times, which can take a toll on those boat motors. So, as the week goes on, boat travel could become as rough as that terrain. Throw in the inevitable windy, rainy weather of far-northwestern Ontario in early August, and navigating the lake can be challenging, period. And then there’s those toothy, aggressive water wolves — a week of fishing Makoop pike can take a toll on your tackle box as well as your body.
Besides pike, there’s a large walleye population in Makoop, too, although no trophy-sized walleyes have been reported through the years — pike were the reason most all of the 10 anglers were here that second week in August. If a shore lunch was scheduled, most would catch a few walleyes for the cause. But after that, it was all about the pike.
And for good reason.
Besides walleyes, there’s reportedly a huge whitefish/baitfish presence in Makoop, giving the walleyes and pike almost endless feasting opportunities. One fishing twosomes, from the Brainerd, Minn., area, boated a 33-inch pike that they said weighed 22 pounds; the average weight of a 33-inch pike is around 10.5 pounds. That boat also landed the largest pike of the week — 45-and-a-half inches, estimated at 35 pounds or more. According to Angeconeb, it’s the largest fish caught since these trips started.
A handful of pike 40 inches or longer were caught during the week, with dozens just under that magic number (the largest walleye was around 27 inches.). In all, the 10 anglers boated more than 1,500 fish in the week, releasing all but a few dozen walleyes, which made for several memorable shore lunches during the week.
Yes, there were lost lures, banged-up boat motors and bloodied fingers in the pursuit of Makoop water wolves. But if you sign up for a remote wilderness fishing experience, no matter if it offers, say, Wifi, you have to expect a whole lot of ruggedness and adventure.
For the most part, I did, and it delivered — like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
(For more on Makoop fishing trips, go to the Makoop Lake Lodge Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/search/779478865465555/local_search?surface=tyah or email Richard Moskotaywenene, Makoop Lake Lodge general manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)