I’ve been privileged, even blessed, to be able to fish in some pretty incredible places for some pretty incredible gamefish: brook trout in Labrador, silver salmon in Alaska, bonefish in the Bahamas, permit in Belize, Arctic char in the Northwest Territories. Amazing experiences, all….but for pure, unfiltered enjoyment, I’d tell anybody who asks that fly-fishing the “back lakes” of Crow Rock Lodge for smallmouth bass is absolutely as good as it gets.
When a big smallie crushes a topwater bug, you don’t say “Fish on.” You whoop and hoot and holler like a sailor on shore leave. And when this encounter plays out to a background score of loon music on a jewel-like lake hidden in the Ontario wilderness—a lake that by all appearances is untouched by human hands—you may find yourself wondering if you’ve passed through some secret portal and landed in smallmouth paradise.
Which, in fact, you have. The fishing is that good, the setting is that pristine.
I have so many wonderful memories of Crow Rock that it’s hard to pick out just a few for the highlight reel. There was the morning on Hatmaker Lake when my fishing partner Ed Houston landed so many big smallies that Kurt Dafcik, who was guiding us, dubbed him “The Hogmeister”; there was the evening on Fox Lake when Bob Kuhn, the legendary wildlife artist, and my dad, Harlan, seemed to catch a fish on every cast and, in the process, had about as much legal fun as it’s possible for two men to have.
It was on a Fox Lake evening, too, that my great friend Andy “Bwana” Cook landed a four-pounder on a classic Messinger-style deerhair frog—and I hooked and landed its twin on my very next cast. (Andy’s and my trips to Crow Rock spawned our continuing debate over which tastes better: an ice-cold Labatt’s
Blue after a day of smallmouth fishing in Ontario or an ice-cold Kalik after a day of bonefishing in the Bahamas. The closest we’ve come to a definitive answer is that both are unimprovable in their respective situations.)
Still, if there’s one Crow Rock memory that stands out above the rest, it’s the evening Wendel Dafcik took Dad and me into Emerald Lake. Of all the “back lakes,” Emerald has the reputation for holding the biggest bass. That’s the good news; the bad news is that they tend to be uncommonly moody, meaning that fishing Emerald is always a roll of the dice.
On this particular evening, though, all the stars, planets, and assorted celestial objects were clearly in perfect alignment—and the result was magic. The “big boys,” as Wendel calls them, were on the prowl, and they responded to the chartreuse popping bug I was throwing the way ravenous wolves respond to fresh venison. The strikes were explosive; the fights, punctuated by the twisting, torquing leaps that are the smallmouth bass’s stock-in-trade, were epic. Most of the fish were in the 3- to 4-pound class—the smallmouth “sweet spot,” as far as I’m concerned—and on a 7-weight flyrod they plain wore me out.
Even now, when I recall that evening, I find myself reflexively reaching with my left hand to massage the remembered ache in my right wrist and forearm.
Smallmouth paradise, indeed.
— Acclaimed outdoor writer Tom Davis’s work has appeared in Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Sporting Classics, and many other publications. His books include The Little Book of Fly-Fishing, The Tattered Autumn Sky, and Lynn Bogue Hunt: Angler, Hunter, Artist. Tom lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.