In northern Ontario, a Belgian family discovers fishing

Harry Demey can easily sum up his family’s philosophy for travel.

“We try to be out of our comfort zone,” he says. “We look for places where no one we know has gone before. Then we just do it. We like new experiences…and good food!”

That sort of explains how Harry, his wife Lieve and her daughter, Luka, of Antwerp, Belgium wound up at Wilderness North’s Miminiska Lodge, a northern Ontario fly-in resort on the Albany River about 40 miles upriver from the Ojibwe community of Fort Hope. Harry had discovered the place on a blog and booked a stay after a Facetime chat with lodge manager Kate Tabb. However, Lieve and Luka were a bit surprised to discover a fishing trip was scheduled into their Canadian tour of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.

“When we arrived here, we were asking, ‘Why did Harry not tell us we were going to the wilderness?'” Luka said. “We don’t have the right clothes with us. Our rain clothes are at home.”

Miminiska Lodge is the kind of place where you become acquainted with the other guests. In conversation on the day of arrival, Harry said the trio were the “citiest of city people.” The Belgian family has traveled the world. China, Croatia, Alaska, Iceland, Lapland, Banff, Brooklyn and the Grand Canyon are but a partial list of the places they’ve been. At Miminiska, they planned to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, hopefully seeing a moose. As for fishing, they were satisfied to eat fresh walleyes caught by someone else.

“We are not fishing people,” Harry said. “We don’t know how to do it.”

“It’s boring,” added Luka.

The promise of fresh walleyes brought the family to Shore Lunch Island the next day, joining the lodge anglers and their Ojibwe guides for a traditional lunch featuring fish, fried potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw and homemade cookies. Everyone contributes some fish for the meal. When our guide, Andrew Missewace and my companion Mike Furtman fileted our contributions on a weathered fish-cleaning table, some folks sauntered over to observe them, including Lieve and Luka. Lieve winced as the walleyes were killed with a knock to the head, then watched the rest of the process.

When Andrew and Mike were done, Luka stepped up to examine the remains. I gave her a brief introduction to fish guts. We looked at the walleye’s large eye for seeing in dim light, the sharp spines on the dorsal fin and examined stomach contents. She wasn’t squeamish. Since she was clearly curious about fishing, I made an offer.

“Would you like to learn how to cast?” I asked.

Luka nodded. We walked over to where our boat was pulled up on the rocks. I took out a spinning rod and explained how it worked. A very quick learner, she made a 25-foot cast on her first try. On her second cast, a yellow perch followed the twister tail on the end of the line as she reeled in. I don’t know if it was the perch or the realization that fishing isn’t rocket science that caused her to exclaim, “MaMa! MaMa!” Lieve, who was nearby, came over. Luka said something long and somewhat animated in Flemish. Soon I was giving her mother a casting lesson, too.

Harry, Lieve and Luka fishing with guide Isaac Nate. | MICHAEL FURTMAN

Like her daughter, Lieve grasped the basics within three casts, then handed the rod back to me. Both women saw the perch follow the twister tail each time. I asked Luka if she wanted to try another cast. She did. This time the perch struck the twister tail and was hooked. Everyone on the island watched Luka pull the seven-inch perch from the water. Her smile said it all.

On Day 3, the “citiest of city people” went fishing for the first time. Miminiska Lodge is a great place for beginners. The walleyes and pike are abundant and hungry, with the added benefit of the watchful tutelage of an experienced guide. Luka gave me the report that evening. She had caught seven walleyes and a 21-inch northern pike. Harry and Lieve caught fish, too. In the lodge, they had stories to tell, just like everyone else.

“Now we understand fishing,” Harry said. “You talk about it at dinner, and in the morning you wish each other good luck. It’s a social thing.”

Luka described how they discovered that fishing wasn’t boring.

“First we thought, only five more minutes,” she said. “Then we had to catch one more fish and then we had to see who could catch the most fish.”

On Day 4, the Belgians went with guide Isaac Nate up to Snake Falls on the Albany River to take in the scenery. Andrew brought Mike and I to a secluded cemetery that contained members of an Ojibwe family who once lived nearby. Afterward, we had fast fishing for walleyes where the Albany River runs into Miminiska Lake. The lodge refers to the spot as The Walleye Mine. 

We were among the few who showed up for shore lunch, because many folks, including the Belgians, had taken sandwiches from the lodge so they could explore other parts of the lake and river system. After lunch, we returned to the Walley Mine. The Belgians were there. In the midday sun, the bite slowed, at least for us. However, our afternoon conversation was often punctuated with, “Luka’s got another one.” The girl was putting on a fishing clinic.

Harry, displaying the bravado that comes from catching more fish than you deserve (like more than your wife), declared Lieve had caught but one walleye.

“We hooked it on her line,” he said.

I was awestruck. On his second day of fishing, Harry was already telling fish stories.

During dinner that evening, Mike nodded toward Harry, who was seated across the dining room. “Look at him. He’s completely relaxed, talking to everyone and having fun. He’s a changed man.”

After dinner, Luka told me about her day. She had taken a short walk with Nate through the bush to see Snake Falls. I heard all about the steep hill she climbed, the carpet of moss on the boreal forest floor, the moose tracks and the bear poop.

“It was the first time I have been in the wilderness where there is no path,” she said. “It was so beautiful.”

The next morning, it was time to fly out. The Belgians, headed for Toronto and Niagara Falls, were on the first flight. Mike and I said goodbye to our new friends. I don’t know where their future travels will take them. It seems unlikely they’ll wet a line again. But I’m pretty sure that Luka won’t forget catching her first fish. And the next time Harry encounters someone fishing, I suspect he’ll strike up a conversation. Because now that “citiest of city people” has become a fisherman.

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By Shawn Perich