First of all, there is the issue of access and fishing pressure. The woodlands of Ontario are divided up into large areas and logging rights are allocated to various commercial operations therein. These divisions, or forest units, are managed somewhat independently of each other through a mixture of government and user input with the ability to address specific local concerns or issues while being required to address public and third party concerns. About 30 miles northeast and 45 miles north of Red Lake is the watershed, which divides the waters that flow either eventually north to the Arctic or south to the border. This is also what has been used as the boundary for forest management with no logging on our side of the watershed! As you fly in to our camp, you'll notice that about half way between Red Lake and Upper Goose all signs of logging and the related roads and trails come to an abrupt and complete end. Without any logging roads within 30 miles, we are free from the effects of snowmobile and ATV access and that makes the first big factor in a really great fishing lake!
Next there is the color of the water. With our location at the beginning of the Berens River System, we have an area of about 30 by 50 miles that all drains into Upper Goose and the connected lake, Mamakwash and finally exiting our plane or level at only one location. This is a huge piece of countryside that is mostly just rock, swamp and water. As this water steeps (just like a tea bag in your cup) in the swamps it picks up an ever-increasing amount of tannin. Tannin is just the perfectly harmless and natural color in the water and should not be confused with turbidity which is the suspension of materials in water that will settle out once it is calm. Specifically to walleye, they do not like light at all! Because of this, in clear waters, they will normally only feed in the shallows in late day at dusk or in the very deep waters the remainder of the day. This is not optimal to maximizing your vacation time! In lakes with muddy shores, there is significant improvement in daytime fishing on windy days because of the solids (turbidity) that get stirred up by the waves and also introduce a whole host of goodies for the fish to feed on. Unfortunately, that’s not much help during spells of calm weather if it’s otherwise a clear lake! Optimally, the combination of color and turbidity create the very best conditions for all day walleye feeding during low light conditions, windy days and even sunny and clear high noon fishing! This is what we've got at Bull Moose Camp on Upper Goose Lake.
Additional benefit comes from the combination of structure and depth. Firstly, all lakes in the northern latitudes have a number of non-game species that work to keep the ecosystem in balance. These non-game cleanup fish include whitefish, suckers and the ling or eelpout, as it’s also known. Basically, these fish along with perch and the bait fish population all have their place in the lake and depending on the existing structure and related depths, they may or may not be somewhat limited in the places they can live and hide. In our specific case, the generally flat 1500 square mile plateau that we're on also has offered up some very optimal structure and depth combinations on Upper Goose and about half of Mamakwash! We describe Upper Goose as being similar in shape to a three nutted peanut. The camp is on the south shore of the southwestern section which we call “our end of the lake”. From here you go through the narrows to the center or what we refer to as “the big part of the lake” and beyond that is the third section or what we refer to as “the northeast section of the lake”. As you fish the shores of these waters, you'll notice bedrock, boulders, very fine sand, and clay along with much marshy and silted shore. There are virtually no stones, gravel or coarse sand to be found here and we're at a loss to explain why the last retreating glacier chose to leave it that way but the combination seems to serve the fish very well! Water over 35 feet deep is limited to a few holes at some river bends, the center of the big part of the lake, and a very few other holes. As well, the furthest half of Mamakwash starts to change in structure with more defined shoreline height and the corresponding increase in deeper water. For the most part, the cleaning crew of suckers, whitefish and ling all tend to hog the deep holes and specifically in the case of Upper Goose Lake, the limited amount of over 35 foot water forces the walleye and pike to stay in shallower. As the glacier left many thousands of years ago, a great amount of clay was left behind in this area and much of Upper Goose has a more or less flat clay bottom with a depth of 20 to 30 feet. This area then has many outcroppings of islands and reefs, not to mention the entire shoreline with many well-defined points.
The lack of excess amounts of +35 foot water that virtually forces the walleye and northern to stay reasonably shallow is indeed partly key to being able to easily find the fish relating to the structure regardless of whether it’s June, July or August!
A very limited mortality on catch & release and more tackle time in the strike zone maximizes your odds for both fish numbers into the boat and chance for a trophy. With the fish staying relatively shallow all summer we have a very limited number of fish die from pressure and temperature changes. In clear, deep lakes the summer fishing often results in high mortality rates from these factors!
Not to be forgotten is the size of the lake and the river access. With both lakes being about 5 to 7 miles long (depending on how you measure them) and with multitudes of islands and bays along with about 8 miles of slow moving river, regardless of weather and wind conditions, you can almost always find a great spot to fish. The area is small enough that you have no risk of getting lost for long and yet is large enough to offer many options to find seclusion.
As have many other outfitters, Shara & I have made a commitment to the future by ensuring that our fishing is as close to “zero impact” as possible. Since 1990 the Ontario fishing regulations already make a huge step in this direction by limiting the harvest of sport fish in such a way as to protect the breeding and trophy stocks. By doing this, not only does a 5 pound walleye have an excellent chance to become a 12 pound fish, but with a life expectancy of up to about 20 years, this fish can have its “trophy photo” taken many times over again by bunches of anglers who will have an ever evolving fish story that will be shared over and over again with friends and family! As well, mature breeding fish are able to annually add to the fish population and the gene pool of those big hogs continues to proliferate. The healthy and natural spawn cycle through this management system ensures huge multitudes of one, two, three, four and five year old fish provide for the not only the natural predators, but also those few that our guests take each year.
No commercial fishing, no local access to these lakes and we're harvesting less than one fish per acre per year… how much closer to zero impact can we be?
Well, as it stands, the government regulations allow every angler to take one oversized fish on their license so as to allow the option of taking one to be mounted. Unfortunately, some people see this as a way to take one bigger fish as part of their limit in order to have some extra meat to take home. This continuing harvest of trophies and breeding size fish, though only a very small number, seems counterproductive to the general theme of protecting these fish. We do however understand the need of some folks to still have the option to do a traditional skin mount of their trophies and fully support that since we know from many years experience that we're only talking about a dozen fish each season. Back in 1998 we addressed this situation by making it camp policy to only allow oversized fish to be removed if there was a firm commitment to have it mounted. All other oversized fish must be released. Guest response to this has been overwhelmingly positive and this certainly puts us in a great position to indefinitely maintain an exceptional level of catching, not just fishing! Some jurisdictions have what seem to be quite insane fish management programs that limit the harvest to larger fish thus tapping into the breeders and possibly streamlining the gene pool as well. To us, it makes so much more sense the way it’s been done in Ontario! The proof as the saying goes is indeed in the pudding. When Shara and I first arrived at camp in 1990, it was normal to see a few 27 to 32 inch walleye caught each week as well as a similar number of 35 to 46 inch northern pike. Since 1990, we are seeing substantial improvement in those numbers each year and before even 10 years had passed, we were getting about 400 of each per summer!!! Granted, our occupancy has increased over the years but factoring that into the equation, it’s about a 400% increase!
The really fantastic thing with Upper Goose Lake is the combination of all the factors mentioned here. They have allowed the fish population to grow to an exceptional level and offer better odds for maximizing your fishing vacation time!
Come see us soon… you won't be disappointed!