“Oh, we sailed away at the break of day ta pull traps in oil skin trousers!” And so began our trip to Hawk Lake Lodge in the Fish’n Canada Ram. Joining me in the rear were Mike and Jordan: Two of the best TV show crewmen on the face of the planet and of course, Three of my heroes: Angelo Viola and Pete Bowman in the front seat with Stompin’ Tom Conners on the radio!
Our load of gear for the 10-day North Western Ontario adventure was epic and the 22 hours of traveling spread over 2 days flew by like we were in a time warp. There is something about great music, stories about crazy past adventures and the outstanding company that passes time in a vehicle. As far as I was concerned the trip for me was already a success!
We arrived at Hawk Lake Lodge late in the day on Tuesday, June 11th and I was surprisingly buzzing with excitement but for good reason. First and foremost, the high probability of catching 30” Walleye! Something I had done only a handful of times in the last decade and that never gets old! The other, although I owned and operated an American plan Lodge for 10 years; believe it or not I have never experienced one as a guest before! That may be why Chaudière turned into such a successful venture for me. I had no preconceived notions of how these businesses should run, just my own vision. Now I get to compare what I built and passed on with one of the most successful operations in Ontario – Hawk Lake Lodge owned and operated by Ted Putnam.
A (FORMER) LODGE OWNER’S REVIEW
At first glance, it reminded me of Chaudière, very clean and well-manicured which in my opinion is extremely important because, at this level, one of your key target markets is couples. If the women feel at home in a beautiful and very clean environment, you have more than half the battle won!
We were greeted by one of the dockhands once we parked the truck. He knew who we were and where we were going and very helpfully, he loaded up all our gear and delivered it to our cottage. Again, a service I always provided for my guests. We had traveled for two days to get to Hawk Lake Lodge and having a friendly face to take my gear and show me to my cottage was just awesome! Until that moment in time, I didn’t realize just how important that service was! It was something that my guests always mentioned in the Chaudière reviews and I coached my staff to ensure it was done, but after experiencing it; boy now I get it! Our cottage and bathroom were very clean which is paramount in this business and, it was equipped with a hot tub! I later found every cottage has one, a great perk especially on a cool night after a long day of casting.
Once unpacked, it was basically time to go for dinner and man, I was hungry! The main lodge and dining room was stunning. It had everything that you could imagine for a perfect dining room and lounge in a northern setting. Beautiful wood finishings, high ceilings and a fireplace that has survived a hundred years almost begging to tell its stories to whoever will listen! The food was most impressive, at Chaudière I insisted that our food be excellent, but Ted’s food was over the top in every respect, it was a wow moment every time the plate was set in front of me and that is hard to do!
HAWK LAKE LODGE HAPPY HOUR
The one thing in my business that I prided myself on and one of the key reasons I believe the business was a success was my people skills. I walked my dining room almost every night getting to know my guests socializing and connecting them to each other, simply creating relationships between everyone in the room. I loved that part of my job and if I might say, I was good at it! Truly, I miss that most about Chaudière.
Ted has the same passion but executes it in a slightly different manner. The dining room was my stage, Ted’s stage is his bar and outdoor patio where every day he hosts happy hour!
This special event starts at 5 pm, where Ted works his magic just like I did. This is the time that every guest gets “Ted Putnam” and his undivided attention! This is where information and fish tales are shared by all! Appetizers served along with any kind of drink your heart desires! All the while Ted is doing what is important “building relationships between everyone there”.
Here-here brother! Great minds think alike.
So far, our philosophy in business aligns perfectly but the area that Ted blows the competition out of the water with is his equipment! At Chaudière I had upgraded boats for rent that came in a variety of types and price ranges along with a basic or included rental. That said, I still encouraged anglers to bring their own boat. Ted, on the other hand, doesn’t allow guests to bring boats. But for good reason “you don’t need it!” Every boat he has in his fleet on the main lake is an upgrade in every sense of the word! 18’ with 50hp engines and 10” sonar units! Amazing boats to fish out of and everyone gets one, a brilliant strategy.
All in all as far as Ted’s operation goes his service and attention to detail is amazing, his food was outstanding and could be compared to any fine restaurant in the country, not just lodges. As for his equipment, it too blew my mind. Ted is like every other lodge owner on the outside looks like a “regular Joe good guy” but don’t let that fool you, I know what it takes to orchestrate and execute at such a high level. Great guy “yes”, but more than that he is smart, very organized and is providing an experience for his guests that they will never forget. Thank you, Ted you are truly awesome, and you should be very proud of what you have done with your business and what you continue to do for your guests.
NOT JUST ABOUT THE WALLEYE
Now to the fishery! The plan was, Ang and Pete were going to shoot part 2 of a walleye show to accompany one they shot 2 years prior. This left Jordan and myself shooting on our own, we needed to put material for the website in the can! Breakfast found me nervous but far more excited than anything. With Ang and Pete shooting walleye, Jordo and I decided to tangle with Hawk Lake’s legendary Smallmouth Bass; fits right into my wheelhouse!
Easy right? Not!
Jordan and I headed out and quickly turned into the first good looking bay we found. We had a wonderful time together, shot a ton of awesome footage and I even got a little emotional talking about the old days at the lodge, but no fish, so back to the lodge for lunch and a re-group.
We needed to catch some smallies and being a former lodge owner, I understand how things work. The 2 best resources available for guests to find fish are the owner, which in this case is Ted Putnam or the guides. A good owner should always know the spots and typically how to fish them (they rarely get to fish though!). So, I asked Ted about the bass fishing and he offered to take us out! I was honoured and quickly accepted.
A GUIDE IS AN ANGLER’S BEST FRIEND
With lunch firmly planted, Jordan and I were off to the dock to wait for Ted. On the dock luckily enough, we ran into a guide and in my opinion the most important resource available any guest that wants to catch fish and really experience what the area has to offer. Owners get their intel from their guides who are on the water almost every day. These guides are the “when, where and how” specialists when it comes to catching fish. No one at the lodge knows more about the day to day fishing than the guides! So, like any honest man I began to pick his brain regarding the smallmouth fishing. I didn’t tell him who I was, I wanted to see how he reacted with me as just a guy and he was awesome. He told me everything that Ted later showed us to a tee!
Shortly after my chat with the guide, Ted pulled up to the dock with his boat and Jordan and I jumped in with the big man himself. What do ya’ know, Ted was on the same page as his guide (go figure!). We hit shallow water 1.5 to 3.5 feet with plastic baits. I put on my Senko and Ted put on a Ned rig and we lit it up! We caught a ton of smallies to the tune of 20-25 with our biggest about 3.5 lbs. All the bigger fish were at the mouth of the bays in deeper 5-7 feet of water.
After an outstanding 3 hours of fishing with lots of laughs and great conversation centering on the joys, trials, and tribulations of being a lodge owner our fishing excursion came to an end at 4:50 pm giving us enough time to make happy hour!
The next couple of days were fantastic. Ang and Pete were doing great with the episode they were working on, other than Ang being extremely sensitive to the sun due to a batterie of courses of antibiotic, to prevent Lyme disease (he was bitten by a tick on the carp cup shoot) which had him in ridiculous pain; he was burnt up man! Aside from that mishap, all was going as planned.
THE NIGHT BITE
But the highlight of the Hawk Lake Lodge trip for me happened on our last night when Ted took Pete and I out to fish for the fabled Hawk Lake Walleye. It was my chance to really test the fishery. I knew the bass was awesome but had not fished for walleye yet and this was my chance. After another outstanding dinner Pete, Ted and myself hit the water with one thing in mind; “big walleye”! Not just walleye but BIG walleye. Ted had been talking with extreme confidence all week about them, Ang and Pete got them, and now I wanted one!
Well, the night went like clockwork. It was as epic as Ted said. We fished from about 8 pm until 10:30 pm that evening and it was lights out the entire time! We must have caught 10 big ones between us, all 25inches plus with two or three pushing 29 inches and to top it off, I ended the night with a 30” monster! Now that is world-class walleye! And honestly, after all of that, I still have one memory that tops them all!
It was on our way back to the lodge while hitting our last spot called “the narrows”, that we noticed a family (they were guests at Hawk Lake Lodge) anchored and fishing into the darkness of the evening. They were bobber fishing with minnows and both boys who were maybe 6-7 years old caught massive walleye in front of us, one was 29 1/2” that they measured right in front of us! Those boys were over the moon!
After a few trolling passes, Ted hooked into a nice Walleye. As we trolled by the family, one of the wee fellas told Ted “if you wanted to catch the big ones, you better use a bobber like me!”
Ted quickly rebutted “Well I want to leave the big guys for you!”
Talk about a funny moment! Again, building relationships and giving memories to people across the land. It is what lodge owners do, and the good ones do well. I truly believe that a fishing vacation should be judged by the experience as a whole and not just by one aspect of that experience.
Hawk Lake Lodge is a 10 out of 10. When you get up there say hi to Ted for me!