Perils of rocky lakesWhen the vast ice sheets that covered the Laurentian Shield melted in Canada 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, they left an incredible system of rivers and natural lakes. Examine a provincial map of Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and you will see the striations that look as if a giant hand rubbed the land and caused the patterns of lakes to lay out the way they are.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
When the vast ice sheets that covered the Laurentian Shield melted in Canada 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, they left an incredible system of rivers and natural lakes. Examine a provincial map of Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and you will see the striations that look as if a giant hand rubbed the land and caused the patterns of lakes to lay out the way they are.
What the maps don’t show is the millions of rocks and shoals — limestone in the southern reaches — and granite in the Shield itself — a real danger for visiting anglers. Once you travel north of the off-the-Shield lakes in Canada, boating is an entirely different business than dashing around on a prairie reservoir.
Only a tiny amount of reefs and shoals on Canadian lakes are marked with buoys. I presented this fact to a friend, Larry, from Fargo who has fished many years in Canada. He replied, “If every reef and shoal were marked, you’d have buoys so numerous you could almost walk upon them.”
Larry went on to tell me a story: “I was cruising along out in the middle of a Saskatchewan lake, and noticed a seagull off to the starboard … didn’t pay much attention to it until I realized the seagull was standing and not swimming! I cut the motor and narrowly missed running onto rocks that I hadn’t known existed!”
Hidden reefs and rocks are the nemesis of anyone who fishes the lakes of the Canadian Shield. I remember my brother Jim running Jake’s old boat on Cormorant Lake, Manitoba many years ago. When we heard the “clunk, clunk, clunk” of rocks, Jim cut the engine. The propeller was damaged, putting us out-of-action, but mercifully, it was the last day of our trip.
About 20 years ago I rented a cabin and rented a boat from a small operator on Deschambault Lake, Saskatchewan, planning to fish one day before I joined my parents at Amisk Lake. I caught numerous small pike, some very good yellow perch, and several walleyes. The part I remember best, though, is the insidious rock formations on just a tiny part of that lake. I was trolling 25 yards off a vertical limestone cliff when I noticed an underwater wall coming off the cliff … it was as if someone had built it 15 inches beneath the surface of the water! (During the single day I was in camp, two visiting anglers wrecked the lower units on two different motors, which cost them hundreds of dollars.)
The lakes’ names speak for themselves: Rocky Lake and Athapapuskow — both lakes I have fished in Manitoba. Athapapuskow means “big water with rocks all around” in Cree.
If you fish a Canadian lake, it is imperative that you have a map of the lake, and also listen to the owner of the camps where you are staying. Dean Tait, former owner of T & D Cabins on Amisk Lake, Sask. told me decades ago to swing wide between the fourth and fifth points, if I chose to travel up the west side of the huge lake. “There’s a rock pillar out there, and you want to miss it,” he said.
I almost ran onto it on a trip in 1998. The lake was calm, I was motoring along when suddenly, my partner Dave Pac waved frantically; I cut the motor just in time to avoid the rock. The insidious limestone column rises out of about 35 feet of water, and the top is the size of a small room.
Rocks can be anywhere on these lakes. Last year, Pac and I were trolling 30 yards off a small island, I was watching some birds, smoking a cigar and not paying attention. The old Lund ground to a halt on a sloping slab of granite rock, just under the surface of the water. Luckily, we were just putting along so there was no boat or motor damage.
Another angler, a guy from Wisconsin who I have known for years, was not so lucky. He was fishing just inside the corner of a bay I have fished many hundreds of times. In that corner is a rock the size of a small car. “I knew the damned rock was there,” he said to me, “But I forgot about it.” He ran his $42,000 Lund over the rock and took out the lower unit of his outboard motor.
Rocks are lurking in those otherwise wonderful lakes, and I try not to forget that.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974