The dad abides
How the old man stole the show on this father-son fishing adventure at Northern Saskatchewan's Milton Lake Lodge
It’s late June 1961, at a shoreline motel on Houghton Lake, a decent fishery serving up bass, bluegills, crappies, perch, pike and walleye at the northern end of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Two newlyweds are enjoying their honeymoon, an epic road trip taking them from their nuptials in northern Ontario’s Levack, through Michigan by way of the Mackinac Bridge just south of Sault Ste. Marie, back into Ontario via Detroit, and on to their first home together in Simcoe.
Well, at least one of them is enjoying the honeymoon, and that person is my father, Lawrence Thomas Joseph Walsh, or to those who know him, Bud. And here I’m referring to the Houghton Lake pit stop, part of what he refers to as the “honeymoon journey.” Says Dad, years later: “Of course, I had to test the lake for fish.”
And so it was he purchased a Michigan fishing licence, got some bait, rented a boat and took his bride out on the water. In no time at all, he caught a “fair-sized” fish. As Dad remembers the incident, it was either a pike or a walleye (or a “pickerel,” in deference to his northern Ontario vocabulary). Whichever the case, he claims to not know. And for that, the blame apparently rests with my mother. “I really didn’t get a look at it after I told her to get it with the fishing net,” says Dad. “She got it—clubbed it right off the hook with two good hits to the head.”
I only tell this story now for two reasons. First, it helps establish my own piscatorial pedigree—I came along just two years later. The way I see it, if you have a father who had the stones to drag his poor bride out fishing on their honeymoon, the odds are high you’ll be baiting a hook as soon as you’re old enough to be left alone with sharp things. In short, it was all but inevitable I would become an angler.
The second reason is to show that when it comes to fishing, storytelling and good old-fashioned ribbing, Dad takes no prisoners. More than 50 years have passed since Mom allegedly lost that fish, and he continues to tease her about it. “I think I still have that bent net frame,” he says, “for hysterical purposes.”
And on and on go Dad’s famous, ever-evolving tales. Another one of my favourites is the story of the giant muskie that mysteriously escaped his clutches, despite being chained to an oarlock. Dad was living in Elliot Lake at the time, and that yarn earned him a headline in the local paper: Muskie Makes Like Houdini.
No, the only thing missing from his repertoire—garnered from a lifetime of fishing practically every place worth fishing in Ontario—was a remote fly-in adventure, something he’d long been itching to scratch off his to-do wish list. Then last June came the invitation for the two of us to go fishing at northern Saskatchewan’s Milton Lake Lodge. In his 77th year on the planet, Dad was finally going to fulfill his fly-in fantasy.
And secure an entirely new treasure trove of tall tales in the process.
I’m not particularly keen on backtracking, returning to far-flung destinations I’ve already written about—there are just too many great places to go fishing across Canada, and not near enough time to visit them all as it is. But for remote Milton Lake, lying just 44 kilometres south of the N.W.T. border, I was happy to make an exception.
For one thing, the lodge had been closed for two seasons, and this after only being opened for four seasons before that. I visited during the first summer of operation, in 2005, with only the second group of guests to have ever fished the lake’s pristine waters. The catching was phenomenal. Even though I spent a good chunk of my four days pursuing a monster of a pike I’d dubbed “Old Milty,” I still handily caught some 70 fish, including quite a few northern pike surpassing the 40-inch trophy threshold and one beast of a lake trout, my personal best, weighing in at almost 38 pounds.
So, yes, I was happy to make an exception—especially since the fish had been resting for a good two years and had surely forgotten what a lure looked like. I also knew what to expect in terms of the lodge’s top-drawer amenities, from the comfortable private bedrooms to the tastefully appointed main lodge to the spacious Lund Outfitters and their peppy 40-horse Yamahas. As well, I was assured the meals would be right up Dad’s alley: lots of steak and fresh fish, and plenty of fancy desserts. I wanted everything to be perfect for his first-ever fly-in, and Milton fit the bill, right down to the dramatic subarctic landscape of stunted black spruce and ancient Precambrian bedrock. And, as serendipity would have it, our time on the water would coincide with Father’s Day.