Trips To Lac Seul
by Michael Billsbarrow of the Patricia Region Tourist Council
Where can you travel in a reasonable amount of time, at a reasonable cost and still experience excellent walleye fishing in a true wilderness setting without the additional expense of "flying in"?
Now that's a tall order to fill, but it is still possible to find such a place in many areas of Northwestern Ontario. My personal favorite body of water is Lac Seul. In the French language, Lac Seul means "Lake Alone" and this is a lake alone, both in size and quality of the fishery. More than 95 per cent of this monstrous reservoir (it is more than 100 miles in length) is still in its natural wilderness state. Lac Seul always provides me with that ever so important break from the seemingly endless grind of the work-a-day world. And the fishing... let me tell you about the fishing. To say fantastic does not do justice -- perhaps phenomenal would be a better word.
Like all things that seem too good to be true, there are always a few drawbacks or at least some things that appear on the first sight to be disadvantageous. So it is with this wonderful natural resource. Regulations? You bet. But wait a minute, those constraints are what makes and keeps this road accessible lake a first class fishery as well as a true wilderness experience.
The things that you can't do on the magnificent body of water are: camp (other than at a commercial campground); keep a walleye in the 18 to 21 inch slot size (which means releasing a lot of fish because this is the average size of Lac Seul walleye); and you can only keep one northern over 36 inches (and none between 27 and 36 inches). These may seem like pretty stiff rules but if you want to keep a road accessible lake as a first class fishery you need some pretty stiff rules. Those same rules are your guarantee that your children will be able to experience it as it is today.
Lac Seul has been targeted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a lake to be preserved as a wilderness lake with a first-class fishery. Unlike many remote, fly-in lakes which frequently offer an extraordinary fishery for smaller walleye (say one to three pound fish), Lac Seul offers larger fish in good quantities. This is due to the installation of sanctuaries for spawning areas and now the addition of a slot size restriction before depletion of the fishery occurs.
Novel idea? Yes. Good resource management? I think so.
I live in Dryden, about 40 miles due south of this lake and I fish all over Northwestern Ontario. But my favorite spot is Lac Seul. Why? Well, it is not uncommon to catch a dozen walleye a day in the four to five pound range, along with lots of smaller fish for eating and a sprinkling of six to eight pounders for excitement. Sounds too good to be true? No fishery is perfect every day, but I have, over the years, had a heck of a lot more days like that than days I couldn't get the skunk out of the box. Personally, I would rather catch and release a dozen four pound fish with the chance of a trophy than catch a zillion small ones -- except, of course, when it comes to eating. We all know you can't beat those little guys for good taste.
Local knowledge is no doubt a great asset when it comes to fishing a big lake like this one and most fish camps and resorts on the lake offer guide services. On your first trip to Lac Seul you would be well-advised to engage in the services of one for at least a day or two. This will allow you to get your bearings and give you the opportunity of observing the locations and type of structure that the walleye are currently relating to. As with most large reservoirs, the walleye are almost constantly on the move from spring when they are still close to their spawning ground to late summer when they can be scattered all over the lake. However, it is the responsibility of any reputable guide to stay on top of the fish. That is not to say a guide will guarantee you fish but it will certainly up your odds of making contact with them. Spend your time with the guide not just blindly fishing but ask questions about depths, types of structure they have been having the most success with, etc. In other words, pick his or her brain for every tiny little bit of information you will be able to use when you become your own guide.
Some general hints may help you:
- Early spring, right after openers, fish close to spawning areas and don't overlook rubble shorelines because a large portion of the walleye here are shoal spawners not river spawners.
- Work very shallow waters as it warms up, especially any mud lines from shores adjacent to likely spawning areas. (I find that black or purple 1/4 ounce jigs with the same colored twister tails tipped with a minnow is the number one producer for me in spring conditions here.) In the mud lines fish shallow, one to six feet.
- For most the entire month of June, I like to look for an area where the perch are either spawning or have just finished. Walleye, who like we humans, delight in nice fresh perch dinner, are often found in these areas after they recover from their spawn. Minnows on a chartreuse spinners are a good producer and floating worm harnesses with the same color spinner are also excellent. Casting quickly diving body baits works nicely and there is no doubt about the hook-up with these.
- In July and August you will find me working weed lines during the day with worms or leeches on various spinner rigs, or fishing just before sunset for suspended fish with huge rapalas (S-18s) on long lines (100 yards), over deep waters which are 60 feet plus, near but not over, open area reefs. This method does not produce a great quantity of fish but the ones you catch are granddaddies. You'll pick up nice bonus northern this way, too. If you are confident about finding your way home after dark, try those same open water reef tops after dark.
One wild card and one word of caution in closing and they are both contained in two words: "lake level".
Lac Seul does not change level rapidly so it is not likely that where you finished today there will be no water tomorrow. But the pool does vary some six to eight feet over the season. You want to be aware of the water level each time you go out. The spot you went last month or last year might not be where you want to go this trip. Good navigation, a good map and good sense all go hand in hand on the big lake.