The resort owner is a Canadian from Iran, the guides hail from Quebec, the guest are Minnesotans. The fish don’t care.
OAK LAKE, ONTARIO — Maybe walleyes are our best shot at world peace.
Or at least as a way to bring people together.
Such was my thinking last week after fishing with three American friends at an Ontario resort owned by an Iranian refugee turned Canadian citizen who employs guides from the far northern reaches of Quebec.
“In winter I trap and play hockey,” guide Isador “Izzy” Belvin of St. Augustine, Quebec, said as my boat mate, Bill Young of Wayzata, and I hooked one walleye after another on this lake located a couple hundred miles north of International Falls, Minn.
“Our hockey games might be 90 miles away. There are no roads. We get there by snowmobile.”
A week ago, Bill, along with his brother, Brian Young of Lake Elmo, Mike Murphy of Woodbury and me, arrived at Oak Lake aboard a De Havilland Otter, the North Woods’ workhorse floatplane, following a half-hour hop from Vermilion Bay, Ontario.
Awaiting us when we touched down was Oak Lake Lodge (oaklakelodge.com), the only outpost on this 20-mile-long lake, private or commercial. The resort is owned by John Naimian, who fled his native Iran about the time his father was executed by the Ayatollah Khomeini regime.
His father’s “crime” was adherence to the Bahai Faith, whose peaceful and unifying beliefs — equality of men and women are among its core principles — even today result in persecution of its followers in various parts of the world.
Brian, Bill and Mike were on their first trip to Oak Lake. But this was a return outing for me.
Some years ago, I had a floatplane-pilot friend who enjoyed few things more than touching down on Canadian lakes that were flush with fish. On a couple of occasions, we landed on Oak Lake, finding it rich with walleyes that bit baits indiscriminately, whether those of good anglers or bad, experienced or novice.
As a bonus, Oak Lake, a part of Ontario’s famed English River system, was, and remains, the essence of scenic North Woods tranquillity.
So much so that at day’s end on our recent trip — during which Brian, Mike, Bill and I caught and released hundreds of walleyes — teasing up just a few more fish from the lodge’s dock amid such serenity seemed almost the reason for coming, as did sipping coffee in the morning in a cabin that overlooked a veritable masterpiece of green trees and blue water.
But not quite.
Walleyes were the reason we came, and lots of them.
“This lake has always been a good walleye producer,” said John, who was 18 years old when he escaped from Iran. Eventually he landed in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Superior, and in time bought Oak Lake Lodge.
All of which has improved his life abundantly — thanks in no small part to the lake’s plentiful walleyes.
“Let’s try it here,” Izzy said shortly after our floatplane landed on Oak Lake.
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