Rainy Lake is a “Giant Goldmine” for Bass, Pike and Walleye!
Ross Camps on Canadian Shield Lakes offer Comfort, Hot Food, Peace, Quiet and Hot Fishing.
They call it Sunset Country. Northwest Ontario. The geological formation known as the Canadian Shield runs through it, dotted with lakes surrounded by rocky, hilly country populated with deer, moose, bear, grouse, and a wide variety of plentiful fish.
“I can look out the office window and see the sunset over miles and miles of water,” says Wayne Howard, who together with partner Pat Howard, owns two fish camps set up with a focus on fishing. One camp is called the Ross Camp on Clearwater Lake and the other is called Campfire Island on Rainy Lake. “I get on the snow machine in the winter, go 200 yards and start catching some walleyes for dinner.”
The Ross Camp is on 30-plus acres and is open year ‘round. Campfire Island is closed in the winter, but is open in the warm weather season.
At the Ross Camp, we have a big parking lot for people with boats and trailers that want to explore the area, we have boats, motors, canoes, little boats for kids to use, a swimming beach, kayaks—all kinds of activities. It’s very hilly and heavily forested here. To the east it’s all rock. We’re on the edge of rock country where the lakes are filled with reefs, rock piles and great structure for fishing.”
Howard says, “The primary fish species in the lakes surrounding our Ross Camp include walleyes, pike, smallmouth bass, and lake trout. Last summer lake trout fishing was very good too. It’s not difficult to catch 15 to 30 lake trout per day in the 8 to 12-pound range. We get a few that are bigger. In both winter and summer, we catch them fishing vertically with white, green or smoke color Zoom and Berkley flukes and tubes, all set up on 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs.”
“The winter season is great for ice fishermen at Ross Camp, though our Campfire Island facility is closed because you just can’t get to it,” Howard said. “Winter fishing at Ross Camp is for lake trout and walleyes. Walleyes will be around 30 feet deep, and the trout are typically in 45 to 55 feet of water. We use flukes and white tubes, like we do in summer, and it’s a lot of fun. People bring their own snowmobiles and it’s an adventure running snow machines through this country in winter, with a lot of lakes to visit.”
Some people come to hunt whitetails in the fall. “We keep it down to 4 to 6 groups per year,” Howard said. “We want to provide a high-quality experience in a wild setting where you don’t see other hunters. We don’t bait the deer. It’s all fair chase from tree stands and ground blinds.”
The Ross camp has 12 cabins while Campfire Island has three. Campfire Island is right on the U.S. border on Rainy Lake. “Boating out to an island cabin in their own craft is an adventure that a lot of fishermen enjoy,” Howard said. “We bought Campfire Island strictly to provide top end fishing the smallmouth and northern pike. The fishing is great and we want to keep it that way, so Campfire is catch-and-release only. There are huge numbers of big pike close to the causeway near Fort Francis. We love jigging for big pike on the rock piles.”
But Howard admits his favorite quarry is smallmouth bass, and bass fishing at Rainy from the base camp on Campfire Island is world class. “I love fishing smallmouths,” he said. “We catch a lot of fish 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 pounds with the occasional fish over 5-pounds. They’re aggressive, they jump, and they’re a lot of fun,” Howard said. “In May, smallmouths are pre-spawn and they gather in the bays on shallow flats. Late May into June they gather again in post-spawn mode, piling up on the first main points leading out of big spawning bays. Jerk baits are always hot, but tubes and 5-inch Kalin grub jigs in special colors such as cotton candy, sand, or off-green, are fish-catching staples. I use 1/16- or 1/8-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom and Northland Mimic Minnow jig heads most of the time.
In summer you have to hunt for the right pattern and we search with spinner baits over the weeds and rock piles, but I prefer tube jigs or black marabou jigs once we’re zeroed in. Fall fishing is stupid. Only one time of year is better and it’s within two days of the ice leaving in spring. The fall binge lasts for weeks, right up to ice-up. From September through October, it’s really good.”
Try as he might to ignore it, walleye fishing is on fire at Rainy Lake these days. “The action is insane,” Howard said. “In the north arm, you can catch 80 walleyes before lunch. Some remain shallow through early June in 5 to 8 feet of water and those are the big ones. That’s where we find the 30 to 34-inch fish, running 10 to 12 pounds. We caught 5 or more that size last year, running only two trips out of Campfire Island. They stay mostly back in the bays on little rocky points. Once walleyes move out to the rock piles at the end of June, we use a jig-minnow or jig-twister tail and pitch to them. They stay out there right through fall.”
Howard has lived the life of a fisherman and insists he’s not in the business to get rich. “We bought the Ross Camp when I was in my 20s,” he said. “I thought we couldn’t afford it, but Pat made me think twice about that. The place was very well maintained and we keep it that way. The water system is all purified, the septic system is highest quality and brand new. Little things like that keep us and our guests away from unseen problems. We own it as a lifestyle, not as a means to make money.
“This was the lifestyle we wanted,” Howard added. “We like people, we like the outdoors, love the country, like the challenge—we just enjoy doing it. Mostly people come here for fishing vacations and that’s the way we like it too. We’ve been here 30 years. We fish smallmouths, walleyes, northern pike and lake trout, primarily, and some muskies too. We have great musky fishing up here, we just don’t do it that often, and there is some great largemouth fishing that gets very little attention too. We wanted to see if catch-and-release would work at Campfire Island and it did. People embrace it.”
Those “hills” in Sunset Country were mountains a hundred million years ago, worn down by ice ages and glaciers over 2 miles high. Clearwater Lake is situated in unique terrain. “The surrounding lakes are incredible,” Howard said. “Clearwater is about 10 miles long, Pipestone Lake is over 20 miles long, with other lakes connected or right next door so you have 80 to 90 miles of lightly-fished water.”
Miles of largely uninhabited, pristine waterways. Gorgeous scenery in an ancient mountain range. Trout, walleyes, bass, pike, and muskies, and you can drive there. Excuse me while I start packing.