“Have I just died and gone to Heaven?”
When I heard Bob Izumi say that during a Real Fishing episode, while on one of his fishing trips up to Northern Ontario’s Algoma Country, I knew I had to check out the Spanish River’s Blue Heron Resort for myself. I tried to arrange a quick trip but their early-season bookings were almost full and any opening didn’t mesh with my schedule. Determined though, we agreed to visit later in September, but would visit Birchland Cottages on Clear Lake, further west in Algoma Country, in early June for bass. This article reflects our experiences during both of those epic fishing adventures - with a special thank you to Bob for sparking the flame to make it happen.
For many years now I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the early catch and release bass fishing season that New York State has to offer. Trips to lakes like Chautauqua or Oneida at the end of May or early June were a great way to get a head start on the late opener we have throughout southern and central Ontario, where I live and usually fish. However, I recently became aware of a fully legit, year ‘round open bass season in an area of my home province that I haven’t spent a great deal of time in. So, in early June my brother Marcel (aka Red) and I pulled my bass boat up to Northern Ontario’s Algoma Country in Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) 10.
Driving on Highway 17, west of Sudbury, I had forgotten how the topography changes from hilly and rugged Canadian Shield primarily moose country - to flatter, tamer agricultural lands preferred by whitetail deer. As we approached the Town of Blind River we knew we were only about half an hour from our first destination.
For the first night of our journey we would stay with local fishing guide Adam Valee, of www.anglingalgoma.com. Adam connected us with a largemouth lake which also had decent walleye, both of which were not available at the lake we were staying at for the remainder of our trip. Fishing there on Saturday afternoon, and for the better part of Sunday, allowed us to catch plenty of pike, a few walleye, a Simcoe-sized jumbo perch, an obscenely obese brown bullhead and, of course, some largemouth bass. That, and watching an eagle soar overhead, was the prelude to what Algoma Country had to offer before we settled into catching smallmouth bass and pike at our main destination; Birchland Cottages on Clear Lake.
Fishing Without an Electric Motor
The newly installed hydraulic steering on my 175 Mercury Pro XS worked beautifully as I pulled away from the launch (after our six-hour drive) and into our first spot. It looked like it would hold some nice largemouth and I am pumped! I lower the bow mount electric trolling motor and put my foot on the pedal. Nothing! I flick switches and still, nothing! I check my breakers, inline fuses, all my connections, my batteries everything I could think of but I’m still dead in the water! I call my buddy Gerry, who runs Heels Electronics, to see if there’s anything else I could check, but there really isn’t. A visit to a shop in Blind River later confirmed that the bushings went and it was time for new ones, which I bought after our trip.
Even before I bought my first bass boat in 1986 (an aluminum with a bow mount electric) I have relied on an electric ‘positioning motor’ to move along in the various boats I’ve owned, while quietly and efficiently casting away. Despite the term, ‘trolling motor’, for bass anglers it’s very seldom used to actually troll, but is considered perhaps the most important accessory on our boats. Notwithstanding that a defunct troll motor is admittedly a First World problem as far as hindrances go, there is not a greater handicap to start a fishing trip six-hours from home than trying to fish effectively from a big, heavy bass boat without a nice, quite electric motor to move you along. But that’s exactly what we were facing and what we had to do. There was no alternative than to get over it, and quickly, because we had some serious fishing ahead of us!
One trick that I always take advantage of is using the wind to help move me along, with or without a working electric motor. Oddly enough, I’ve noticed many other boat anglers don’t think of putting their big motor down all the way and turning the steering wheel/motor in the appropriate direction to help drift straight. Basically, it acts as a very effective rudder and, on this trip especially, it minimized the grief factor tremendously. In addition to the big rudder, we made the best of our situation by utilizing the wind whenever we could, slowly drifting along while using the big motor sparingly to maintain our course. We even pulled out the seldom-used paddle to help make that happen. Best of all, this trick will work just as well with smaller outboards on aluminum boats, like the rentals available from most resorts across the province.
On To Birchland and Clear Lake
Clear Lake has very limited public access and, unless you stay at Birchland Cottages or have one of the few cottages there, the chances of getting in to fish for the trophy-sized smallmouth are few and far between. In order to retain this exceptional fishery the owner of Birchland Cottages, Mark Graves, wisely instills a catch and release code for his visitors, knowing full well that harvesting the extra-large bass there, at any time of year, would deplete the quality experience for his guests in short order. With plenty of decent, good-eating sized northern pike, visitors wishing a meal or two of these delicious fish are more than welcome to bring some back to a well-laid out fish cleaning station.
For first-time visitors bringing their own boat, knowing these unchartered waters are hazard-free, with no hidden shoals or dangerous rocks to run into, is good peace of mind. With the deepest spot only in the 30-foot range, much of the lake becomes very fishable - especially after the early spring season.
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ONTARIO FISHING ADVENTURES
Last winter we did a special feature profiling several fantastic fishing resorts in various regions of Ontario. The article was so well received that we decided to do it again, with a new group of lodges. All of this year’s destinations provide top notch fishing for multiple species, they’re relatively unpressured and they are easily accessible by car. From high-end, full service resorts to more laid-back fishing camps, each of these locations offer a unique fishing experience. If you’re thinking about where to go for your next fishing getaway the following pages feature Bob Izumi's profiles of some the trips he made last year. Hopefully they will give you some ideas on where to look for a fishing trip that is sure to meet all of your expectations.
FISHING ALGOMA COUNTRY
Wil Wegman is an award-winning outdoor writer, seminar host and tournament angler from Bradford Ontario. In 2017 Wil was recognized for his dedication to the sport by being inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. www.wilwegman.com
Tales from the Road
As you may know I like driving, so jumping in a vehicle and doing a road trip is appealing to me. For years I would routinely do 100,000 km per year or more on the road. So this Tales starts with me heading out again, back to Brennan Harbour Resort in Spanish, Ontario. Located in Algoma Country, this friendly resort is operated by James and Casey, who are a wonderful couple.
CHAIN PICKEREL ON STRIKE
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Tales From The Road
Since my last Tales article I’ve been averaging at least six days a week, sometimes seven, on the road. Road trips are, and have always been, a big part of my life. There’s just something about being on the go that I love. In fact, as I wrap up this column I’ll be hitting the road again and I can’t wait, even though I just got back a day ago. I think it’s ingrained in me so much that I don’t mind living out of a suitcase. I know it’s not for everybody, but I like it.
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On the first Saturday of June 2020, a group of 20 extended family members will celebrate an amazing milestone. They will be participating in the 50th consecutive year of a family fishing trip begun by four founding members way back in 1971.
Every now and again we anglers are lucky enough to find lakes, ponds or creeks that feel so isolated from civilization that believing they are a reality is sometimes more difficult than finding them in the first place. Stumbling across, or being introduced to, a body of water with such enormous potential for catching fish is what any fishing enthusiast dreams of. Fortunately for myself, I have lucked out three times in one shot.
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