In the violet light of dawn, Ted Putnam, owner of Hawk Lake Lodge, greets his guests who come down from the main cabin. With coffee thermoses in hand, they climb into their respective boats and prepare to head off across the lake’s chrome-like surface.
The weather offers no threat today, but certainly the built-tough aluminum Crestliner Kodiak boats the guests use will take a beating nonetheless on the rock-strewn shores. Lichen-covered outcroppings and the taiga forest of the Canadian Shield—an area of thin soil and joined bedrock formed by glacial movement—make up Hawk Lake’s perimeters. Amidst the spruce, pine, birch and aspen, anglers can find a plethora of secluded fishing holes to call their own for the day. Of course, a nearby black bear might be taking notes.
“Rustic luxury” may sound like an oxymoron. But hidden away on a private lake system in Ontario, Canada, Hawk Lake Lodge features amenities that beg for this contradictory term: a log-cabin setting, world-class cuisine and trophy fish. The amenity-filled resort basically has everything an angler wants—and yet nothing he doesn’t—when looking for an idyllic escape. And most importantly, the lodge boasts all those ready-for-action Crestliners.
First off, a fishing lodge can’t be much of a fishing lodge if its correlating fishery isn’t up to snuff. “It is, without question, the best smallmouth bass fishery on the planet,” says Steve Yearout, a lodge guest. Yet the lakes also produce some of the largest trophy walleye in Canada. In fact, Hawk Lake holds the world record for catch-andrelease walleye. “We’re talking 30-plus-inch walleye that will blow your mind,” Ted says proudly. He holds up his hands to demonstrate the monstrous size. Feisty pike roam the clear waters, too, giving anglers a variety of options.
In order to get to those big ones, anglers need the best warriors on the water. Hawk Lake’s fleet of Crestliner boats, bought from K-Sports Marine in nearby Kenora, are always at the ready. “We’re really impressed with the quality of the boats, very sturdy,” Ted says of the lodge’s brand-new 2012 18-foot Kodiaks. “If the weather gets rough out here, I want my guests to be safe.” He pats the sturdy frame of one of the Kodiaks tied to the dock.
The all-aluminum, all-welded construction allows guides and guests to focus on catching fish, rather than worry about whether they might damage the boat on a surprise rock jetty camouflaged by the shimmering surface of the lake. A Crestliner can beach right on top of such a spot and be no worse for the wear. “They’re really durable,” adds Ryan Tyler, a guide at the lodge. “We’ll take ’em out and they’ll take a pounding for sure, sometimes with 4-foot waves.” The Crestliner Kodiaks feature a deluxe console, a rod locker, an aerated livewell and abundant bow storage, but the layout offers guests an added benefit on the lodge’s system of 19 private lakes. “We’re also a fly-fishing lodge,” Ted explains. “The sturdy casting decks are a big deal to our fly fishermen.”
“The boats are awesome for that,” Ryan adds while loading a set of fly rods on to one of the Kodiaks. “They’re so wide. There’s a lot of room around your feet to lay the fly line. And you can cast in all directions with nothing to get caught on.” Plus, the Kodiaks can hold up to four guests and still have plenty of room for a guide. Hawk Lake Lodge is the lone Orvis-endorsed lodge in Ontario. Only eight exist in all of Canada. As Orvis puts it, “Orvis-endorsed lodges are researched, vetted and selected by experts who bring their vast expertise in fly-fishing to choose the finest operations in the world on your behalf.”
Ted, who was a Hawk Lake customer before becoming owner two years ago, describes his lodge much more succinctly: “It doesn’t suck,” he says with a smile. Guests have the option of heading out alone on those mighty Crestliners or with the help of the top of the top of guides from all over the world. “We had over 200 resumés for the guide positions this year,” Ted says. “We really have our pick of the best.” As for visitors, “it’s the fish that brings ’em, and it’s the staff that brings ’em back.”
Clearly, nature reigns at Hawk Lake Lodge, but anglers and their families don’t have to kiss conveniences goodbye to enjoy it. The main cabin, a Lincoln-log-style lodge, hosts mealtime, with three squares a day made by world-class, French-trained chef Janet Cowan. Dinner—after a long day out on the water—might include barbecue pork ribs, chicken Panang curry or Mediterranean lamb shanks, plus plenty of organic vegetables and sides of regional wild rice.
Those who go fishing before meal number one have a package of fresh sweet rolls onboard to indulge in while getting at that earliest of bites. “Yeah, you can’t really go hungry here,” Ted says, patting his stomach and laughing. A shore lunch with panfried walleye over an open fire will bridge the gap between the guests’ breakfast of omelets and waffles and the evening feast. Shore lunch isn’t mandatory, but it should be; munching amid a pine-screened cove puts the average park picnic to shame. And thanks to the Crestliners’ heavy-gauge aluminum construction, fishermen can pull up on the bedrock just about anywhere there’s room. With plenty of storage onboard, bringing along all the sides, like beans, corn, onions and potatoes—in addition to the rods, reels and tackle—is no sweat. “You can fit everything you need on here,” Ryan says.
Hawk Lake Lodge strives to offer a cozy getaway, not just for the avid angler, but also for anyone he or she wants to bring along. “A lot of men bring their wives,” Ted says pointing to the beach, where a woman readies her children, eager for an early morning swim. “The husband approves of the fishing, and the wife approves of the lodge,” he says. Back onshore, the private cabins feature decks and large living rooms with lake views. At night, bathrobes and down comforters provide the added luxury accommodations often lacking at other northern outposts. Hiking trails abound, and kayaks and canoes await for anyone needing some extra adventure. Those looking to soothe aching muscles—tired from reeling in fish or rowing up streams—can take a dip in the screened-in hot tub or hit the sauna. “See?” Ted says. “Something for everyone.”
Actually, there’s practically a personal lake available for every guest to canvass on his or her own. Hawk Lake Lodge bars any public access to its precious fishery, leaving its customers with 2,600 acres and more than 35 square miles of pristine lake waters to ply. Hanging off the back of each Kodiak is a 40-hp Mercury FourStroke outboard engine—a fitting workhorse to pair with the rugged Crestliner. “They’ll get you all over these lakes,” Ryan says, his hand sweeping across the evergreen landscape before him. “They’re great for trolling because they can get down low, and they’re real quiet.”
Hawk Lake Lodge accommodates just 24 guests, so a fisherman very well may have a lake to himself for the day—well, apart from the competition of ducks and Canada geese, and the company of a lone moose on the shoreline. The lodge’s protection ensures the lakes are never over-fished. No wonder the area produces those “blow-your-mind” record catches.
By early evening, anglers in both ones and twos head back to shore, sun coloring their noses. They tie up and leisurely stroll up to their own cabins to clean up. Then slowly they gather on the main lodge’s front porch for drinks and cigars and to brag about the day’s successes and snags. “Make really sure that a snag is a snag,” says lodge guest David Mohler, laughing. “You never know when it will shake its head and you’ll have the fish of a lifetime.”
Yearly guest Tom Lakin grabs a spot among the small crowd. “In a world of impersonalization,” he says, “it is so refreshing to be with my sons here where everything is done with a very personal touch.” He kicks back and talks to the others about the honey hole his family found that afternoon. Eventually, all of the lodge’s Kodiaks line the docks—the durable boats having ensured that each and every guest has arrived back home with plenty of time to join the festivities before dinner. Because, at the end of the day at Hawk Lake Lodge, when the sun starts to dip below the tips of the pines, the camaraderie on deck proves as memorable as the world-record fishing.