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"Osbourne Bay"

Eagle Lake, Ontario

Opening Scene Of Osbourne Story

That's what one of the guests at Century Lodge wrote in the Guest book, July of '98: "A Muskie in Every Bay!" But the gentleman was demonstrably wrong. There are many muskies in every bay. Osbourne Bay of Eagle Lake, Ontario just might have the highest population density of catchable muskies anywhere in the world.

It certainly has the highest numbers of TV muskies, if you go by the shows produced by Bob Mehsikomer, Television Angler and Fishing Guru extraordinaire. More muskies have been filmed by Bob in Osbourne Bay and shown on TV than in any other muskie waters, by far.

The muskies are there, and they can be caught. Fishing during the peak of the summer season can be spectacular, and big fish are caught all the way into late fall.

As an example of the action on Osbourne, my fishing buddy Jerry Peters and I went out one hot and sunny day last July with Randy Tyran, the 23 year–old college student son of the owner of Century Lodge. Randy has been fishing Osbourne for muskies since the age of twelve, and has probably caught more of its muskies than anybody else, ever. He took us around the lake that day, fishing the bays and weedbeds, and then later on that evening Jerry and I went out by ourselves.

We had seven follows with two fish hooked and lost in the morning, a great shore lunch, and then we raised four more fish in the afternoon, with two of those also hooked and lost. That evening after dinner Jerry and I fished "Rock Bay" just up from Century Island, and had a spectacular surface strike.

Jerry Peters Watching Master Muskieman Randy
Tyran Demonstrate Casting Technique

The fish ranged in size from mid–30–inchers up to one that was a "wobbler/shaker" – that's the kind of fish that when you see it your knees wobble and your hands shake.

The score for the day: Twelve fish raised, four hooked and lost, and maybe some fifty northerns caught, ranging in size up to the low 30's.

A quick note on my own afternoon fish. We were drifting the middle of a weedy bay just after finishing shore lunch. The July heat and sun had done their work and my mind was also drifting, somewhere off in dreamland.

As I glanced down in the water at the end of a retrieve, my eyes came to rest on a mid–40's muskie hanging along the side of the boat a foot down in the water. Panic! Now what?

Well, I started a clumsy Figure 8, and in doing so struck the fish with my rod just in front of its tail ("I whacked it in the ass!" is the way I like to tell the story.) And it slithered off into the weeds, leaving me bent over, rod in the water, mouth open, dumbfounded. Such are muskie wars.

On a more positive note, as an example of the fishing, I still have the stats from our 1993 trip to Osbourne by a group of six of us. That year, in a week of fishing muskies and walleyes, we caught:

Muskies:      46" – 39" – 39" – 37" – 37" – 36" – 30" – 23"
Northerns:    35" – 35" – 33" – 33" – 32" – 29" – 28" plus 32 others under 28"
Walleyes:     77 fish (actually we quit counting)
Smallmouth:   One 19"

All the fish were released except for ten shore lunch walleyes.

I've been coming to Osbourne Bay with my crowd of muskie fishing friends for eight years now, staying at Century Lodge on the island, and it's my all time favorite fishing hole. It has superb muskie fishing, to be sure, but it also has more. Its got that spectacular isolation, scenery, wild animals, woods, waterfalls and general atmosphere that you get in Canada and just don't get any place in the U.S. short of Alaska.

I've enjoyed some of my finest fishing there, and have also taken some of my best scenery and sunset photos to hang on the wall. Those pictures and the memories that go with them have given me many hours of wintertime Muskie Dreamin' pleasure, when the Minnesota storms blow strong and summer is far away.

I commend Osbourne Bay for your serious consideration when you next plan a Muskie trip up north. I'll tell you here about muskie fishing on Osbourne, the mechanics of getting there, where to stay, all that. And I'll report a few words from an interview with Bob Mehsikomer himself. He was there filming a show last July, I had a chance to talk to him, and I have to admit it opened my eyes to things I hadn't thought about.

Getting There

Eagle Lake is some two and a half hours north of the U.S. border on Highway 502. International Falls and its sister city across in Canada, Fort Frances, are the gateway to Eagle Lake. We normally drive up from the Twin Cities to International Falls, stay overnight at the Holiday Inn there, and then go across into Canada and drive up to Osbourne the next morning.

There are lots of other places to stay in International Falls, or you can drive up to Dryden and overnight there too. I would recommend reservations would for weekends, but there isn't much of a problem getting a room on weekday nights.

The bridge across the border costs $4.95 US, and you have to stop on the Canadian side and answer a few questions from the customs folks. Be careful to know what you can and can't bring. An excellent way to mess up a trip is to run afoul of the border laws. We've never been asked for passports, but they are formally required and it doesn't hurt if you have one along just in case, either.

Immediately on the other side of the border is an Ontario Tourist Information Center, with a ton of info and free brochures and maps and all that. Stop there to pick up some of their literature and ask whatever questions you may have of the friendly staff. They're open all year, seven days a week.

They also do currency exchange, if you want to get Canadian money, but it isn't absolutely necessary. Business establishments in Fort Frances generally take U.S. money, although the exchange rate may be fluid and not the best. American credit cards are fully usable and always give good rates. Century operates on U.S. money.

Canadian fishing licenses are sold in filling stations in Fort Frances. We normally stop at "Can-Op" which is a couple of miles up Highway 11 from the border, on the left. There are both regular 7–day licenses ($ 35 Canadian, about $24 US) and "Conservation" fishing 7–day licenses licenses ($ 21 Canadian, about $14 US). The conservation license is catch and release only for muskies, and a limit of two walleyes a day.

The Ontario Fishing Regulations book, incidentally, is one of the most bizarre pieces of literature ever created by man, and worthy of some study. It's 75 pages of minutiae, punctuated by inscrutable enigmas. Why is the Lake Trout season on a number of lakes open all year except December 24? And so on. But read it for yourself. In any case, make sure you're up on the latest rules, which change from year to year. I personally think the Canadians are more serious about enforcing regulations than what we may be used to in the U.S.

From Fort Frances go east on Highway 11 for about 20 miles and then turn north on Highway 502 toward Dryden. The turnoff to Century, to the left , is about 100 miles up, and Dryden is about 15 miles further. It's a good idea to start out with a full tank of gas as there is only one station en route – the "Mallard's Nest" – about 50 miles up.

I promise you'll enjoy the wilderness drive up Highway 502 as it winds around the lakes and pine forests of the Canadian shield. You often see deer, bear, even moose, and other smaller critters along the way. You will also see dozens of little "rock cairns" on the granite outcrops by the roadside. I've never seen anything like that elsewhere. Who builds them and why is a mystery to me – if you know, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

Juris Hunched At A Cairn

Where To Stay?

Well, this one's easy. There is exactly one place on Osbourne Bay, and that's Rich and Kay Tyran's Century Lodge on Century Island. We've been staying there for years. It's accessible only by boat, some six miles from the landing at Bear Narrows.

They have a dozen comfortable cabins scattered around the shore of the island, each sleeping from four to eight people, and a lodge house with the kitchen and dining room. Century offers absolutely everything you need in the way of food, comforts, and amenities for a muskie trip, but it also has certain extra–added attractions.

For one thing, staying on an island gives you a sense of remoteness and isolation that you just don't get at places that are connected to civilization by roads. It's a nice feeling, hard to find in today's world. For another, you're right in the dead center of all that great muskie fishing, without having to go on miles–long boat rides. (A bit later I'll tell you about a couple of hotspots that are close – very close! – to the island.)

Holly Cheering Up At Breakfast

But the crowning touch, is the hospitality and care that Rich and Kay, and their kids Randy and Holly give you. Randy I've told you about. His sister Holly, a schoolteacher in real life, serves you in the dining room. The smile on her face is day–brightener that greets you at breakfast and sets you off for a day's fishing in the right mood. It also greets you at dinner–time, when you return after a hard day's work when the muskies have proven to be too slippery to cooperate with you.

Check out the picture of Holly and my friend Jerry taken one evening last July. On that day Peters didn't catch anything, and the Time on the Water and Failure were weighing heavy on his mind. But just tell me if that smile on Holly's face doesn't make it all seem much less vexing?

Incidentally, you get excellent breakfasts and dinners at the Lodge, and then either bag lunches, or better yet, the makings for a shore lunch. I really recommend that. Osbourne Bay has any number of great shore lunch spots hidden among pine trees on the islands, and walleyes are plentiful. If you don't do at least a couple of shore lunches during the week, well, you're missing out on one of the great experiences of muskie fishing.

As I write this, at my Macintosh computer in my town house in Apple Valley, Minnesota, some 400 miles south of Osbourne Bay, it is raining and cold. But I can close my eyes, tilt back my head, and see and feel... The wind rustling through the pines, warm on my face, the sounds of waves and seagulls, the sounds and smells of walleyes and potatoes and onions frying over the open fire, the coffee boiling... There's muskie fishing and muskie catching. The catching can be tough, at times, but so what? The fishing is always wonderful, and Shore Lunch is one of the very best parts of fishing. Do it, whenever and as often as you have the chance. Just do it.

Summer Muskie Fishing on Osbourne Bay

Okay, to the serious business: How do you fish Osbourne Bay in summer?

First, recognize that like on all lakes, fishing on Osbourne Bay varies greatly depending on the time of year. In particular, when fall comes and the weeds are down then it's an entirely different lake than in the summer time. Then it's rock fishing, the subject of another article.

But during July and August Osbourne is "The 'finest slop lake' in all of North America," as Bob Mehsikomer remarked to me when I interviewed him. It has all the classic weeds that muskies like: cabbage, coontail, rice, and bullrushes, even lily pads. The muskies hang out in those weeds, shallow and accessible and predictable.

Typical Weedy Pocket Bay

Osbourne also has untold numbers of "pocket bays," always with weedbeds, the muskies are there, and certainly more than one per bay despite what that fellow wrote in the Century guest book. It's not a matter of finding them, like on other classic muskie lakes (Leech comes to mind). It's a matter of catching them.

You have to fish the weeds, and I mean in them. As an example let me describe Randy Tyran's technique on the day that we fished with him, (and recall that he's caught more muskies on Osbourne than even Bob M.) Randy is classic "spot" fisherman, given his knowledge of the lake. He jumps around from bay to bay, spot to spot, never staying at any one place only a few minutes at a time before moving on.

Typically he drives up to within a hundred feet or so of the mouth of a small bay and cuts the motor. He then either drifts in or trolls with his electric motor to first fish outside and then across the cabbage bed that he specifically knows is there. He next goes farther on into the bay, fishing successively deeper into the other bullrush and rice weed beds. Randy ends up fishing against the edges and very back of the bay, casting up to within a foot or so of shore if at all possible. In doing so he's fishing water that is only inches deep, retrieving back out through the weeds toward deeper water.

During our day with him he used two lures exclusively: a blue and silver Jackpot and a yellow "bass" buzzbait. With that buzzbait, on at least two occasions, he raised a muskie out from the very back of a weed–choked bay. Looking at it, I would have bet a small fortune that not even a shiner minnow could be in those weeds, much less a three–foot muskie. But there they were and I saw them – long green shapes snaking around and through the weeds, following his sputtering buzzbait right up to the boat.

Another classic location technique used by Randy is to fish cabbage weeds extending out from a sharp point, with a dropoff to deep water nearby. One such spot in particular (it has a dead tree leaning out over the water – wish I could remember where it was!) he said had consistently produced more and bigger muskies for him than any place on the lake. But again, weeds were the key.

We fished the northern part of Osbourne in the morning, around Sand Beach and Bald Eagle islands. In the afternoon we fished Wilson's bay using the same techniques. On other days of the trip we also fished the southern part of Osbourne, behind Big Island, which has more rice weed beds. Some pretty streams enter this part of the lake, and are worth exploring.

We also spent one day on Niven Bay, the long, snaking channel that runs down to the south of Osbourne. That too is worth a trip. The weed beds of Niven are so loaded with Northerns that it's the classic tale of walking on their backs and not getting wet. I'd estimate that in one particular weed bed we got a hit or caught a northern on every other cast. The size was another matter, but if you want to bring a kid fishing and show the youngster "action," then Niven is a sure bet.

In all the places we fished, in order to be able to do "slop" fishing in the weeds the only real lure choices were topwaters or weedless spinnerbaits. Even with those, you have to fish carefully and position casts in just the right places to reduce weed hangups, which will happen anyway. In particular, with the windblown rice weeds that lie on the surface in "rows," casting upwind and retrieving through the weed rows is about the only way you can work that situation without hopeless weed hangups in every cast.

Lure colors? You're guaranteed to have exactly the right color lures in your tackle box right now, for all that the muskies care. I don't think it makes any difference at all.

Let me comment that it was a true pleasure to fish with a Master Muskieman like Randy Tyran. I learned a lot from him, even though the young man is less than half my age.

Speaking of Master Muskiemen, one day after dinner I had a chance to talk to Bob Mehsikomer, also staying at Century Island as he always does when filming a show. Bob graciously gave me an hour of his time, and that was also a learning experience.

Earlier, I had asked Randy how was it that Bob caught so many and so big muskies. Randy smiled and said, "Bob's lucky... And he's also really good and has the right equipment."

Yep – I can understand it. Somehow, all of that goes together. But in talking to Bob something else came out. The man has a keenly analytical, probing mind and he pays attention. His life's work is fishing, and he uses his head in pursuit of that work. Given that, it's easy to see where the "luck" part comes from.

One small example. Before Bob showed up, we had been fishing Osbourne for several days, and had noted that the water temperature was generally in the 70's. Then, in talking about water temperatures with Bob, he related that on their way into Century from the landing they had stopped at five bays. He told me the temperature in each bay, to within a tenth of a degree.

One of the bays was 3/4° warmer than the other four, and he told me the characteristics of that particular bay in terms of size, shape, depth, and sun orientation. He said that based on this, he would be looking for and fishing similar bays, as those would also be warmer and thus hold more active fish.

Quite a difference from the technique employed by my crowd of fishermen! We were vaguely aware that the water was warm, but didn't have a clue as to the differing temperatures in various bays. Bob did. And that's an example – Bob's attention to detail – of the kind of thing that makes for muskie fishing "luck."

In general, Bob noted that the warmer the water, up to perhaps a peak of 80°, the more active the fish. On the bright, sunny days of Osbourne Bay the fish gravitate to the bays, and particularly the warmest water in the backs of the bays. That's what Bob fishes in Osbourne in the summer, and of course that was what we had also seen Randy fish.

And Bob is also a strong advocate of topwater lures for Osbourne. Later that evening I went down to the dock to inspect his boat, and observed that there was a variety of "wood" baits: Sloppee Pigs, Odyssey Pigtails, Giant Jackpots, Strike King crankbaits, and the like. It's interesting to note that I didn't see any black bucktails in Bob's arsenal, although there were one or two spinnerbaits.

There were about eight rods, all six–foot heavy action Shimano's in the boat, rigged up with the various topwater lures. When I was talking to him, Bob remarked that with 6 1/2 – 7 foot medium action rod there was no way to bury a hook in a muskies mouth. Stiff rods and line without stretch were absolutely critical. "Don't fight muskies on bass tackle," he said.

The Sloppy Pig Lure
The Sloppy Pig

That one made me think, too. It's going to change the way I get new equipment. I fish almost all the time with a seven–foot "bucktail rod," and I don't know how many times I've had a strike or had a fish hooked momentarily, and then lost it. (And yes, I sharpen my hooks carefully!)

Interestingly enough, as it turns out, earlier last summer I caught my "Fish of a Lifetime" on Lake Waconia in the Twin Cities. I caught i t on my ancient 6–foot yellow Eagle Claw, a pool cue fiberglass rod. And it's one of the few times that I've used that rod in recent times. It does make me think.

I appreciated the chance to interview Bob Mehsikomer. I can't go into all the things that we talked about, but it's clear that the man knows muskies and muskie fishing. He made me realize that if a person wants to do well at muskies, or anything for that matter, a questioning, probing mind is far more important than a box of multi–color lures.

Casual fishing, which is what I think many of us really do whether we would admit it or not, produces casual results. Bob comes at it differently, and his results are different too. For him the bays are full of muskies.

Final Remarks

Osbourne Bay is one of the finest muskie waters in the world. Your career as a muskie fisherman can't be considered complete unless you fish it. I heartily recommend it. And to motivate you to try it, I'm going to tempt retribution from the muskie gods by breaking a cardinal rule of fishing articles: I herewith identify two specific hotspots for you on Osbourne Bay.

Spot # 1:

The dock at the southwest corner of Century Island, where we always park our boat. On the evening of the last day of our trip in July, as the new crowd of guests was coming in, the twelve year old kid from the cabin next to ours decided to make a few casts with his Red Eye spoon off that dock. He caught a fifty–inch muskie. We witnessed it, and helped him land it. We cried.

Spot # 2:

I don't know if anybody has ever caught a fifty inch muskie in Spot # 2, or even if any muskies have ever been caught there at all, but this is my favorite place on the lake. After dinner at Century, get in your boat and go a 1/2–mile due west to "Back Channel" between Big Island and the mainland. Turn immediately right at the end of the channel up into the small, sheltered, quarter mile long bay that angles up to the north.

Red Sunset on Osborne Bay

Turn your motor off, sit back, and drift. Fishing is optional. The wind and water will be flat calm, fish will be rising and swirling, and the sun may just give you a colored display worthy of a Turner painting as it sets behind the pine trees of the bay. Peace will be with you.

I don't believe there is a more restful place for your soul, in the whole world, than that little inlet in the evening, on Osbourne Bay of Eagle Lake.

Juris Ozols

The following resources you may find helpful, if you're planning a trip to fish muskies in Canada.

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Date Created: August 29, 1999
Last Modified: July 8, 2000
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