2017
Dave Schabell / Bill Hagedorn
Bill and Dave Week One, Two, Three, and Four
Ryan Anderson Week One
Mark Schabell and Andy Schabell - Week Four
Spanish River Fishing Trip
May 11th  -  June  9th
2017
One of my pet peeves is when my friends refer to our fishing trips as "vacations".  Fishing trips have their own identity and if they would be with us daily
when the alarm goes off at 7am, or when I'm cleaning fish at 10:30pm, they might not consider what we do on fishing trips a vacation.  It was certainly not a
vacation when I was soaked to the skin twice within three days, nor when we got caught in a storm squall and were crossing the river in three-footers,
getting doused with 50 degree water, three hundred feet from camp.  We probably tolerate a lot more bugs (understatement) than most encounter on their
routine vacations.  You get the picture.  If I'm going on a "vacation," it will be on a cruise ship with waiters bringing me foo-foo drinks.  Fishing trips are
more like quests.
With that being said, we wouldn't trade places with anyone on a vacation because we are privy to what we consider some of the finest fresh-water fishing in
North America.  There are days (many) when I will look at Bill and say, "we just had a better day fishing than anyone fishing in Kentucky, Tennessee,
Georgia, Mississippi or Alabama did today" and I am right.  There are days when we catch enough quality fish to have won multiple bass boats and trucks,
along with a fat check in major fishing tournaments.  One of my friends who I have encouraged to make the trip with us, has stated that there must be
somewhere closer to home where we can go fishing.  Yes, there is, except for each hundred miles traveling north, the fishing gets better, better, and then we
arrive at our destination where we have the best of all worlds - Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and Muskies, while living in a top-shelf camp,
managed by professionals who take pride in their guests maximizing their experience with them, regardless of how "out of their element" they might be.

We were once again permitted to arrive a week before the camp formally opened, while the river was still closed to fishing.  This requires us to commute by
truck a few miles (about 7) downtown to where we keep our boat at a camp on the North Channel, providing us easy access to the Frenchman's Bay area,
which is open to fishing and the walleye are in-season.  You roll the dice when coming up this early in the season, but this year, what we call "Week One"
turned out to be our best week overall, weather-wise, and fish catching-wise.  Ryan Anderson, who is no stranger to the Blue Heron flew up to join us for
that week from Charleston, South Carolina, where he presently resides.  Outside of having to travel two hours each way to pick him up and take him back
to the Sudbury airport, which seems to be halfway to North Bay, we really enjoyed having Ryan who taught we two old timers a thing or two about using
long rods and braid line.  This was reinforced two weeks later, when Owen, a recent high school grad, and grandson of the Mathesons' used similar
techniques while joining us for a day of sportfishing.  

Overall fishing for this trip gets extremely passing grades, as we only experienced a day or two when we caught less than ten fish a day, and sometimes
tripled that number.  The Northern Pike, whose populations we have suspected have been dwindling due to being over-harvested by overzealous tourist
fishermen and the Indian Gill-netters, showed back up in force this season.  While we were hoping to catch a 40-plus inch Northern this trip, our largest was
32 inches, but we caught a plethora of 22 to 27 inch fish, with a few bordering the 30 inch mark.  They were clean (no marks, cuts, or sores) and
aggressive.  Hopefully, this trend will continue and the pike populations will return to their former prominence.  Perhaps a major factor for the re-vitalization
of the pike is that for the second year in a row the water has been back to its former levels that we had enjoyed about ten years ago.  The water has
stabilized so high now, that the willow (or whatever) trees that had grown to the former low water edge are now standing in water and dying.  This has made
fishing the river itself much more "challenging" (Former owner Wayne Janzen's favorite word) since there is no defined shore line and you cannot reach the
new shoreline with your plugs.  The smallmouth bass fishery is incredible.  Although pre-season they are pretty much everywhere and willing to take a plug.  
Back in 1995 when I spent six weeks here, our largest bass was 18 inches.  The size of the present residents are up to a top level of 21 inches, with us even
catching a five-pound class 20 incher while trolling.  Walleye are in abundance, with fishermen regularly ascending the steps between the docks and the
camp with a few in the net heading to the cleaning house.  It would be interesting to know just how many walleye are taken from the river and the bay a
year.  Our group, Bill and I, Ryan Anderson for one week and my brother Mark and nephew Andy caught, cleaned and ate, or brought home 33 "keepers"
and threw back about half that number.  I strongly suspect that the locals fill their own freezers with fillets, and we know that the Indians pillage the fishery
with no restriction by numbers or size prior to the formal opening of "fishing season,"  yet  the Walleye seem to bounce back stronger than ever the
following year.  During our three weeks in camp, three deep freezer loads of fish guts were accumulated.  I remember telling Cal, the owner, when he had
just taken over the camp and had remodeled the fish cleaning house, replacing the old pressboard cleaning table with a small 3' x 3' porcelain table, that it
wouldn't be big enough.  I was right.  Cal had come from running a camp on the French River where catching a limit of walleye was the exception rather
than the rule.  Walleye fishing is the national pastime in this section of Canada, 99 44/100% are caught on worms.  We only use artifical bait and troll for
them before dark, quite successfully, when the majority of dew-worm dippers are having cocktails or have retired for the night.  I am always the last one in
the fish cleaning house.  With that being said, in the early weeks the worm guys catch them and we don't until they come into shallow water (10 feet).
Muskies in my personal opinion are eventually going to become a problem, or somewhat change the complexion of the camp.  They started stocking muskie
fry back in the early 2000's and they didn't take hold.  Later on in the decade they began stocking muskie fingerlings and they have taken hold big time.  
         
Muskie are presently
protected in the Spanish
River, with a 52 incher caught
up-river this spring.  
My nephew Andy caught one
51 inches back in 2014 and  
Bill caught a 50 incher many
years ago, so we are not
surprised by the size these fish
are attaining.
The muskie on the cooler is a
young one, now native to the
Spanish River and the one on
the right is Bill's 48 incher
caught this trip
The Ministry of Natural Resources has been doing net-surveys here for the past two years at great expense.  They could save a lot of labor and money by
just asking us and we would tell them - Walleye are thriving - Drop the slot limit in District 10 and establish a number of fish limit - preferably six, and then
enforce it.   The Smallmouth bass populations are also thriving - move the season up a week to the second Saturday in June.  Establish a 45 inch size limit
on Muskie in both the Spanish River and Frenchmen Bay in order to keep them from becoming a nuisance or throwing the ecosystem off balance.  Do
something to enhance the size and numbers of Northern Pike, and strike an agreement with the Indians (First Nation/Sagumuck) to refrain from gill-netting
north of the south shore of Green Island - ever.  We caught four largemouth bass this trip, but no crappie, which is somewhat unusual for us.  However,
we do know that crappie are plentiful, because the MNR reported netting "hundreds of them."  Wildlife is abundant.  We see Eagles on a regular basis and
many porcupines.  Geese are moving north in huge V-Formations while we are here, but the Loons were never in evidence this trip.

The Blue Heron Resort has become perhaps the premiere drive-in camp in the Algoma/Rainbow Districts.  It is meticulously maintained, manicured and
cleaned.  The cabins are comfy, with all of the amenities of home, electric heat with a propane grill outside your door at your disposal.  The rental boats are
upgraded on a regular basis.  The docks are wide and sturdy.  I could blindfold you and have dinner in the fish-cleaning building and you would not suspect
its location.  The owners are pros at running a business, constantly adding-on and developing.  It is a first-class place and a first class operation.  They are
only limited to what is available to them.  There is central TV and Internet.  It has a gazebo for socializing, and they will fry your fish in industrial strength
deep-fryers.   We have been coming since 1991 so the modernization has taken place around us.  It is no longer cheap, but you get what you pay for, and
if you want the security and peace of mind in knowing that it and your equipment is safe, and if something goes wrong they will go to all ends to assist you
in repairing it, or replacing it.   There are many "gypsy camps" in the area where things are not as nice.  This is not one of them.  
The Elements (Weather and Bugs) Made Fishing "Challenging" This Trip,
But The Results Were Amazing, With Good Numbers and Size For All Species
48 and 43 Inch Muskies, A 32 Inch Northern Pike, A 26 Inch Walleye and A 21 Inch Smallmouth (5 lb, 8 oz) Topped The Charts
Call us crazy, but being primarily Northern Pike fishermen, and taking advantage of the cold
early-spring water temperatures hoping to catch a trophy pike, we arrived in camp on May
11th, a week prior to the formal opener, despite the Spanish River being closed for fishing.  
This requires us to dock our boat at a camp "downtown" and commuting by truck twice a
day to do our fishing out in the Lake Huron North Channel, which is open for fishing where
walleye season opens on May 1st and Pike are in-season year round.

As you can see by the picture at right, the trees are just beginning to bud out and everything
except the grass is still brown.  The docks are not in yet and the cabins are being prepared
for the formal opening of camp on the 20th.  It is quite enjoyable, because things are so quiet
as opposed to in-season when a carnival atmosphere sometimes prevails.

Overall, winter hung around longer than hoped for this year, and only permitted me a
handful of days to wear white pants.  We were dumped on by unexpected rain and soaked to
the skin several times. The Black Flies enjoyed the conditions much longer than normal this
year, followed closely by the Mosquito hatch.
For the second year in a row the water levels were high, with the shoreline now established at the foot of the supply shack and along the walkway to the
campers' dock.  The water elevations in the river have created a situation where the shrubbery and trees are now standing in re-claimed water and dying.  The
weeds and pencil grass didn't come up until Week Three but was fun to fish through with spinner baits when it did.  Water temps were 49 when we arrived and
60 when we left, and all over the charts in-between due to cold fronts and unstable weather.  
Here are pictures of three of our better Northern Pike on the trip.
Me with a 29 incher at left, Andy with a 32 incher, in the center, and me with a 29incher at right.
We literally caught a gazillion in the 22 to 27 inch sized range, practically every day
The pictures below are of our two "trophy-sized" muskies, my 43 incher on the left and Bill's 48 incher at right.
All Northern Pike, Muskies and Smallmouth Bass are caught, quickly photoed, and released
Smallmouth Bass are out-of-season while we are at the Blue Heron, but they are so plentiful that we encounter a large number of them on a daily basis, spicing
up our Nothern Pike fishing.   The picture below-left clearly shows how aggressive these fish are.  This is a 16 inch Smallmouth that hit a big 7 1/2 inch swimbait
while fishing for Pike.  Below center, Owen, the owners' grandson fished with us one day, and he too was astonished at the size of tbe bass we encounter.
The Bald Eagle populations are alive
and well on the North Channel.
We fished a stretch where the Eagles
nest above was clearly defined.  Every
day that we fished there a pair would
vacate the nest until we passed and
then return.
Unfortunately, Ryan wasn't there
for a fish dinner, but Bill and I
had two fish dinners of Walleye
filets and Onion Rings, and we
had a third when Mark and Andy
arrived.

Even with eating three dinners we
had enough to each take home a
limit.
I'll admit, we sit in our cabin that
overlooks the river, and chuckle at
the armada of "dew-worm dippers"
descending the steps with their
worm boxes, doomed to another day
of inactivity sitting in their boats
dangling their worms over the side
for hours on end, waiting for a bite.
We caught 33 "keeper" sized
walleye, with Bill's 26 incher on the
left and mine on the right that we
caught trolling with Shad Raps just
before dark. Ryan's at far right was
the first one caught on a plug, out in
the bay, where he fell into the "slot".
The worm guys do outfish us on
Week One when the fish are a bit
deeper than our plugs run.
A North Channel 15% Chance of Rain Day
While at camp this year, on June 3rd, I turned 70 years old.  My brother Mark brought up four delicious steaks
along with cake and candles (pictured at left) to celebrate (or mourn) the occasion.
At left, my brother Mark
displays a pair of Nothern
Pike that he and his son,
Andy caught simultaneously.

At right, Ryan and Bill are
holding a pair of Largemouth
Bass, caught in Gagen Bay.  
In the past we would
occasionally catch one, but
never more than one a trip.  
This year we caught four and
the two pictured are in the 4
to 5 pound range.  
Additional Editorial Comment
Our 2017 trip came to a conclusion, just as
spring/summer began to chase out old man
winter.  Temperatures had stabilized into the 60s
and 70s daily and I no longer needed a full facial
hood to make the boat trip out to the bay each
morning, and I safely retired my long underwear.

There are prices to be paid for anything
worthwhile and a spring fishing trip to Northern
Ontario is no exception.  Things don't really
occur as shown on the brochure.  There are
times that there is not a fish out there worth
pursuing.  The air is always crisp (cold) and a
north wind "could make a huskie shiver."  West
winds spring up daily around noon and we've
come to expect them.  Rain is unpredictable.  It
can be sunny at 8am and dousing you by 11.

You roll the dice on the conditions.  Early spring
is not for the faint hearted, but the rewards at the
end of your line and on your table makes it all
worthwhile and there is no hesitation in booking
again for the next year.     
We did not make a trip to the Blue Heron in 2012, opting out for a fly-in trip to Pine Portage instead.