Destination: Bowman Island Lodge
Updated: Jun 22
City, State/Province: Nipigon, Ontario
Main Activity: Fly Fishing
Other Activities: Spin Fishing, Boating, Bird/Nature Watching
Tucked among the Nipigon Bay islands off the North shore of Lake Superior, Bowman Island Lodge offers remote (the only way to and from the island is by water), world-class, low-pressure fishing for trophy Coaster brook trout, lake trout, and rainbows (steelhead) in the center of the new Lake Superior Marine Conservation Area from May 15 through October 30th.
The Nipigon area is steeped in history, deriving its name from a word heard by European explorers when interacting with the native peoples thought to mean “deep and clear water," which it has in abundance.
The first permanent fur trade post was established near Lake Helen on the left bank of the Nipigon River in1680 and was the center of fur trade until 1775. During that time the Nipigon District became one of the greatest sources of revenue for fur traders and produced some of the finest furs on the continent. The last fur trade post, located at what would soon be the Nipigon waterfront, was Red Rock House. It was built in 1859 by the Hudson’s Bay Company and burned down in 1891.
Even more importantly, Nipigon is the site of the world-record brook trout – 14 pounds, 8 ounces – caught in the river below Rabbit Falls in 1915 by a Dr. Cook from Port Arthur.
In the late 1800s the Nipigon River and nearshore areas were considered the greatest trout fishery in North America, hosting many Americans, Canadians, and even European royalty who came to chase the famous brook trout. Due to many factors including over harvesting, impeded stream spawning access due to railroad construction, and water level fluctuations from hydro dams that affected trout redds, the population sharply decreased to the point that in the late 1980s you would be lucky to catch two to three Coasters over the course of an entire weekend, and rarely one over 12 inches.
But the population is well on the rebound, thanks in large part to the efforts of Rob Swainson who became the District Biologist for the area in 1988 and made it his mission to restore this important native fishery.
And the fishing here has gotten really, really, good. In fact, Gary Lange, the lodge owner, landed a 26-incher right off the lodge dock the week before my trip last year.
Let's be honest, you come to Bowman Island for the world-class fishing, and it delivers. If, however, you get bored from catching so many fish or your casting arm needs a little recovery time, take a couple hours to motor around the various islands and watch for wildlife. It's possible to spot bear, moose, and even wolves. Eagles and grouse are also common.
Back at the lodge you can lounge around the campfire, or take to the deck and enjoy the panoramic view with a cocktail and cigar while listening to loons. For something different, a nearby walk-in lake offers opportunities at large northern pike.
In inclement weather take a sauna, warm up by the cozy wood stove, grab a snack, watch TV, play games, explore maps of the area, quiz Gary for fishing intel, or take a quick siesta – you're going to need that energy later.
At night, if you hit it just right, you might even get a glimpse of the northern lights on full display. And when you do, it's nothing short of spectacular.
The unguided fishing packages through Bowman Lake Lodge include water transportation to and from the Lodge (leaving from the Nipigon Marina), all meals (full breakfasts and dinners with light lunches), a 16-foot boat (for 2-3 people) with forty-horse, rear-till, four-stroke motor and gas, seats, net, depth finder, safety gear, and PFD's.
The entire lodge operation is off grid, powered by solar panels with propane appliances, a wood stove, and running, but not potable, cold water. There are three large bedrooms in the main lodge each with multiple beds (there are linens but I recommend bringing your own sleeping bag and pillow), a bathroom with indoor sink and toilet (bring your own personal hygiene items and towel), and a large common room that is open to the kitchen and dining area offering panoramic views of the surrounding islands. There are also a couple small cabins and a sauna that doubles as the camp “shower.” Cell service in the area is extremely spotty, but the main lodge does offer Wi-Fi.
The accommodations are comfy and the meals are homemade and hearty. Guests should plan to bring their own snacks and favorite beverages. Good beer and chips can fetch a hefty premium from fellow anglers who have run out before the end of the week.
In terms of fly gear, the following is recommended for Coasters and Rainbows: 7-8-wt. outfit with intermediate and fast-sink lines (15’ Type 5/6 tips, 200-250 gr. streamer lines), and 10-12 lb. leader and tippet. For flies choose streamers that imitate smelt and sculpin in sizes #2 and #4. All white, white/barred black, olive and white rabbit strip patterns work extremely well. As do Deep Minnows and Half & Halfs in all white, gray/white, olive/white, chartreuse/white. Olive & Tan Zoo Cougars, Swingin’ D, and Muddler Minnow variants can also produce.
For Lake Trout you'll want an 8-10-wt. outfit with 300-400 gr. fast-sink streamer line with 12-15 lb. leader and tippet. Use fly patterns that imitate smelt in size #1 and #1/0. Deep Minnows, Half & Half in all white, gray/white, chartreuse/white work well as do Bush Pigs in white back, chartreuse back, and purple back. These patterns can be both cast and stripped and trolled for lake trout.
Trophy fish can also be pursued with conventional gear using a M to M/H rod with 12-15 pound line. Little Cleos, crank baits, William Wobblers, Johnson Silver Minnows, and plastics in white, chartreuse, and smelt color schemes all work well.
Beyond your rods and tackle, pack a variety of clothing options, especially warm clothes (the lake can be windy and cool even on warm days), rain gear, camera, binoculars, sunblock, headlamp, polarized sunglasses, and cards/games if desired. Surprisingly, bug spray should not be needed, the bugs (Mosquitos, Black flies, Ticks, etc) are virtually non-existent here (at least the time of year we went). Make sure you bring everything you'll need plus backups because you won't be leaving the island – if you don't have it, you don't have it.
For essentials or grocery basics you may have forgotten, stop by Zechner's Food Mart in Nipigon before boarding the boat. If you want to grab a bite in town before departing (or when you get back) Ducky's Diner and The Edgeview offer decent options.
I had the opportunity to join a trip hosted by Jerry Darkes, along with my buddy Joe from Scientific Anglers, last year (late may/early June). My 12-hour drive from Grand Rapids, Michigan took me over the Mackinac Bridge through the state's upper peninsula, across the Canadian border through Sault Ste Marie, and up to the Nipigon Marina, followed by a 30-mile, four-hour boat ride on Gary's 45-foot, blue and white trawler, the Annica Lee.
We barely unpacked before we hit the water in search of trout. Joe motored to a cove within sight of the lodge and I took the front, attempting to gain my balance while zipping streamers into the shoreline while Joe did his best to keep me in position and out of the rocks while dueling the lake-blown wind and waves. About ten or fifteen casts in I had my first follow. I gave a quick pause and twitch, the line went tight, and then started peeling.
The strike was more violent than anticipated, and the relatively small brookie, at least by Coaster standards, worked me over like a tomato can. He circled the boat, dove deep, and made a long run before I managed to get him on the reel and work him back close.
We managed a half-dozen more between us that afternoon, all in the 15 to 20-inch category, before heading in for dinner, a hearty moose-spaghetti, and comparing notes with the rest of the crew. Everyone had similar outings and there were even a couple takers that pushed past the 20-inch mark in the other boats. I wouldn’t call the fishing easy, especially managing the motor in the wind and waves and making long casts from a constantly shifting platform, but the trout certainly seemed willing, when we could find them.
Over the next several days, Joe and I explored different areas X’d on various camp maps and eventually took to calling them by the shorthand of locals – The Falls, River Rock, Shoal Breaks, Canadian Camp, The Narrows. We worked our way around the thickly timbered islands, coves, and inlets looking for the tell-tale drop-offs and structure of the shoal edges, peninsulas, and boulder fields in search of fish, and found them.
Unlike their cousins, Coasters seemed to prefer sunny forecasts paired with bright, flashy flies, and collectively we landed them in impressive numbers and impressive sizes – the best taping two foot – when the water hit the 45-degree mark, and the clouds pushed out of the system.
Between fish, we watched moose and bear, eagles and loons and the days ran together with the fluidity of waves rippling over rock; each starting with breakfast together and each ending with wild-game dinners, sauna "showers," and hockey on television. Before I knew it, the week had passed – like a good hunting dog, well before its time.
Pricing: The fishing packages for 5 days and 6 nights run $1,895 plus taxes (Canadian) and include transportation from Nipigon Marina to the island, lodging, meals, and use of the fleet of 16-foot boats (including gas).
Getting there: For this trip, getting there is half the adventure. The lodge is located 30 water miles from the Nipigon Marina (a four hour ride in the Annica Lee).
To get to Nipigon you'll take King's Highway 17 (Trans Canada Highway). Coming from the south the drive out of Sault Ste. Marie is breathtaking following, for many miles, along the beautiful Eastern shores of Lake Superior and through the towns of Wawa, White River, and Marathon. From the West you'll take King's highway through Thunder Bay and on to Nipigon.
If traveling from a distance it is possible to fly into Thunder Bay and arrange a pick up at the airport.
While Highway 17 is a major travel corridor, long stretches are two-lane with the occasional passing lane. Cell service along the route can be spotty and gas (and snack/restroom) stops can be pretty spread out, so be sure to plan ahead. My advice is to get gas when you can. Coming from the South there are plenty of options in Sault Ste Marie, a stop in the Agawa Bay area, and a few options in Wawa, White River, and Marathon.
Address: RR #1, Nipigon Ontario CANADA P0T2J0
For hosted trip details contact: Jerry Darkes: firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 781-3906