Outfitter Tough, Guide Tough at Air-Dale Hunting and Fishing
By Mark Melnyk, host and producer for the New Fly Fisher
We pulled in late; it was getting to be summer dark as we wove through the old growth forest to the lodge, washboard roads interrupted by the odd well-deepened pothole. The sun had already dipped below the horizon, and the sky spanned from brilliant orange to deep blue—bordering on black. Stepping out of the truck, we both stretched out the eight hours of knots in our backs and excitedly walked into the main lodge. We were at Air-Dale Fishing and Hunting in Algoma Country to flyfish for wild eastern brook trout.
Michael was behind the bar and offered us a refreshment, which was not turned down as we bellied up to introduce ourselves. He explained the game plan for the next couple of days, as the plan was to meet up in the morning and drive to our first brook trout tributary after a fine breakfast.
We woke to a magnificent sunrise over Whitefish Lake and headed into the lodge to eat. This is where we met Jenn, Michael’s mother and the matriarch of the massive outfit that is Air-Dale. Jenn and her husband Martin run the lodge, with son Michael supporting everywhere and stepping in as guide when required. Jenn’s husband is a commercial airline pilot and is often offsite. So, Jenn is the head of the operation and manages the fishing program, the fly-out program, guides, 18 outpost camps, staff, runs the lodge, and handles maintenance needs, as well as overall sales and marketing for the company. She runs it all and is a master juggler of all things service. She’s the face of the company, on site and on-line! She introduced us to our guide for the trip, and we headed out in search of brook trout.
The river winds and twists through cavernous walls, plugged by old growth logs claimed by ever-changing riverbanks and the rushing water. Log jams, falls, outflows, runs, and riffles screamed perfect habitat for brook trout. We began fishing the log jam, and were ecstatic to be able to sight cast to fish in a large slow running pool. Anytime you can sight cast to fish is a true treat. The stealth required, the downsizing of your tippet, the placement of the fly, and the choice of fly all play key indicators for an eat or a refusal. Today we were lucky enough to play with a few fish, wonderfully coloured up and easily fooled to eat our offerings.
As the sun got higher in the sky, we adapted our presentation to a low and slow stripping of an olive woolly bugger on an intermediate line presenting deeper and much slower. With the sun high, lack of shadows and threats from birds of prey, the trout went deep but weren’t untouchable. To say we had a fantastic first day would be an understatement.
The next day, we were treated to an unbelievable experience. If you like adventure, this day was all about it. We met Dean and his wife Guylaine in the early morning and began our 45-minute boat ride to an unknown access point on a nearby lake. Fly rods in hand, backpacks loaded up, we set forth to find a high mountain lake that is apparently teeming with brook trout.
Now what added to this trip was getting the chance to be guided by and speak with Guylaine at length about her life in the North. She is a trapper, guide, angler, mom, and all-round outdoors person. Locals don’t bat an eye when she disappears in the bush for weeks at a time, tending her traplines or searching out new adventures and places to fly fish. Strong, determined, and seemingly fearless, Guylaine was our co-guide heading into brook trout paradise. And what paradise it was.
Casting from shoreline structure to untouched brook trout made the healthy hike-in well worth it! Getting down at a canoe’s level and silently slipping through the water brings an awareness of your surroundings—that is, until the inevitable thud of a 3-pound brook trout pulling you and your canoe around the bay. Guylaine and Dean smiled as we released fish most of the day, laughing and listening to fantastic Northern Ontario trapping adventures (ask her about the lynx and the newborn…. seriously) in our own little part of this vast waterway. We fished the day away and made our way out to the boat—hot, sweaty, and very happy.
The area around Air-Dale Fishing & Hunting is wonderful for those interested in targeting wild brook trout on a fly. There are ample opportunities for exploration and discovery. If you’re on a time budget, and don’t necessarily want to do it yourself, local knowledge is the key to unlocking the brook trout puzzle and maximizing your fishing time on productive water vs. searching in unknown spaces. Air-Dale Fishing & Hunting is your home hub, well-versed with local guides keen to travel, explore, and share that oh-so-vital local knowledge of the area.
The brook trout fishing out of Air-Dale Fishing & Hunting was nothing short of fantastic. The diversity of the fishery was equally engaging for those who might want an easy approach via vehicle, a short hike to a tributary, or a full out day’s adventure in search of pristine higher-elevation lakes and rivers.
There is something to be said for a group of like-minded people with common interests and goals working together to realize a fly fishing opportunity: to find fly fishing success!
There is no gender in adventure, there is no male/female in fly fishing; all there is are wild places, wonderful faces, and a sense of group accomplishment in the release of Air-Dale’s jewels of the north, backcountry brook trout.
This article was previously posted on NorthernOntarioTravel, January 2020