What are you going to do next year when the UK Rivers show their bones and the reservoirs
turn into Turkish baths?
I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, you’re going to treat the wife and kids (wait
for it) to a fantastic holiday in Canada. You are selflessly going to give them hours
of fun canoeing, kayaking, camping and swimming. And while you’re at it, toss in
a travel rod just in case the odd moment crops up where you can wet a line. If you
want a water-activity based holiday in the Sun, this is the ultimate family destination
that has it all. If you can picture a completely unspoilt lake district with affordable
accommodation, thousands of lakes in every direction and as remote or busy as you
chose, you would be in Ontario, Canada.
From the UK it takes about 7 hours directly to Toronto.
The check in and entry is nothing like the nightmare queue’s of the USA and when
you land it doesn’t take a C.I.A. photo-fingerprint scan and complete political alliance
history or criminal activity declaration to be allowed into the asylum. Canadians
are absolutely the most helpful and friendliest people I have yet to meet (outside
the Complete Fisher Forum Socials.)
When are you going?
Well, if you do have the kids in tow, I guess you’re going to make plans for the
school holidays and you’ll want to make it a 2 or 3 week trip late in July or any
time in August. If you are more flexible, why not try September when the flights
are cheaper. The Climate is a warm 25-30 degrees in August, though the odd thunder
storm can happen so be ready for it.
Where are you going?
You are aiming for Toronto Airport and then making it up as you go along.
What will you need?
As one aging rocker said “No Jacket Required”. If this country were any more laid
back it would fall over. Depending on your sense of adventure and budget you can
basically fly without baggage and do it all when you land, everything is so cheap
at Wal-Mart and Canadian Tyre supermarkets that you can take cash and credit cards
and just have a blast. Otherwise pack at least these items; Shorts, T-shirts, Water-Shoes,
Bug-Spray, Sun-Cream, Drivers Licence, Sun Glasses, Light weight water-proof Jacket,
maybe a fleece/tracksuit for the evenings around the fire pits. Oh yes, before I
forget, Fishing stuff.
Canadian Affair/Air Canada are two airlines we have used, see what deals you can
get, we have found Charter flights from approx 100 quid each way per person to 400
quid per person round trip in high season with the scheduled flights. YOU WILL NEED
A RENTAL CAR which depending on category can be had for about 100-150 quid a week
pick up and drop off at Toronto.
This is the easy part. Decide on how much “solitude” you need, how far down the “RayMears Survival Experience” the wife can go before cracking, and how much dough you
want to spend. Starting at the “full-nutter” level, I would have to recommend the
Algonquin National Park less than 4 hours drive north of Toronto. It will need some
forward planning and you will have to rent Canoes directly at the entrance to the
park where you can Park and leave the car. “Portage” is the way to go, with pre-reserved
camping spots at the edge of the lakes which are very private and have a fire pit
and a wooden hut loo in most cases. You will need to buy or rent camping equipment.
If you are comfortable with things that WILL go bump in the night, such as Moose/Deer/Racoons/Foxes
and the remote chance of a bear, the Algonquin is the place to be. Hundreds of Miles
of pristine Lakes, (some link together, some need you to carry the Canoe a few hundred
yards) await you and they all have great fishing. Don’t worry too much about the
“Bears”, the Canadians take them with a pinch of salt, and as long as you don’t leave
a ton of smelly food in your tent, you will not be having a Yogi in your sleeping
bag. If it makes you feel better, take a can of Pepper Spray, a loud whistle or an
Air Horn with you, in the unlikely event that your picnic-basket becomes too tempting,
make as much noise as possible, NEVER RUN, and make sure you back away upwind slowly
(leaving the food behind of course) so that if you need to use the spray it doesn’t
blow in your face.
When I questioned my P*ss-Taking Brother in Law (P.T.BIL) about Bears, he explained
that Ontario has mostly Black Bears, not Grizzly Bears. With Black Bears (they can
look Brown) you need to wave Branches, Scream/Yell etc to scare them off. With Grizzly
Bears, try Pepper Spray and Blowing a whistle or “Playing Dead” as a last-resort.
“Great” says I, how do I know if it’s a Grizzly or a Black Bear?.
P.T.BIL advised me to look around the area for Bear Crap to familiarise myself with
the species, apparently Black-Bear Crap is full of nuts and berries, and grizzly
poo smells of pepper and has the odd whistle in it….
In reality, there are very few Bear Attacks and there are lots of ways to avoid seeing
them. The Parks all have lists of do’s and don’ts to help you.
The “Slightly” Adventurous among you may prefer a cross between a Tent and a Hut,
called “Yurts”, these are in more populated areas of the Algonquin and are already
set up so no tent stuff is needed.
If the thought of all that wild-life puts you off, and like me you end up having
to get up 5 times in the night to “check the kids” or “hold the torch while I go
for a pit-stop”, it’s probably worth going B&B or renting a “Cottage” if you have
a group of you to split the cost. Huntsville is the Main town in the North of Muskoka,
and provides the most “civilisation” in the Muskoka’s, there are lots of place to
eat, nice “touristy” shops and supermarkets. Many Lakes are all around Huntsville
and the Algonquin Park is 45 minutes away if you do want to go into the wilderness
for a few days.
At the expense of being quoted around the Forums and Fishing world, “Canadians Love
to Cottage at the week-ends!” There it’s out, said and in the open. As a Caravan
is to a Dutchman, the weekend Cottage in Muskoka is the Eastern Canadian dream.
In fact, you can buy a T-Shirts that say “Welcome to Cottage Country!” or “Week-End
We have one, I admit it. It’s not really a “Cottage” but it’s a house on a Lake and
in “Cottage Country”, so all efforts to rename it “The Lake House” have thus far
My P.T.BIL on our first meeting decided I looked like a Cross between Elmer Fudd
and Kevin-The-Gerbil, so as soon as the “Cottage” was purchased he had the kids make
a sign and name the place “Squirrel Cheeks Cove”, our neighbours still think this
has to do with nut-eating-vermin, sigh.
If you really don’t want to have the wilderness and the Family would prefer to HQ
at a “seaside” resort, there are a couple of places within a couple of hours driving
distance from Toronto which have loads of attractions for the family, Wasaga Beach
on Georgian Bay, or Sauble Beach on Lake Huron. The Sauble Falls Park/Camping ground
is fantastic, the river which runs from the Camp to the Lake has a good amount of
Small Mouth Bass and in the Spring and Fall has a huge run of Steelhead (Last Sat
in April is Open Season) I watched them last year and saw fish up to 15lbs being
caught on roe bags trotted down the river.
The Great Lakes are HUGE, you would not know they are Lakes; the Waves can be crashing
in to the Beach and great fun for everyone, added bonus NO SALT water.
The “seaside” resorts have water parks and theme parks, hot dogs, ice-cream and lots
more people than Muskoka Lakes. You could do a Week of each and make the best of
Number one on the list has to be a Float Tube and Fins/Flippers, there are thousands
of lakes you can’t drive for half an hour without passing a sign for “Insert animal-or-fish-name
Lake” If the Wife and Kids want to go out exploring, throw the tube in the boot.
The Kids can play on it and you get to fish in peace later on.
I would recommend stopping at the Toronto “BASS PRO” shop in Vaughan, 30 mins north
of the Airport on the side of the Motorway. Buy all your camping/fishing/tube/snorkel/mask/fins/toys/bulky
stuff at very low prices to save the packing at home and to make the most of your
trip. Chuck the lot in the car and buy a cheap suitcase at “Wal-Mart” to haul it
home later. Another good source of Camping Stuff can be Second-Hand charity shops;
we have bought great stuff for next to nothing for camping trips.
If you do wish to drive around with a Canoe/Kayak on board, make sure your rental
car is suitable for putting stuff on the roof and strapping down with ties, one car
we rented had a full plastic front cover/bumpers with no suitable tow point or Chassis
access to hook the straps on to secure the Canoe. Petrol is half the price of the
UK, so you don’t need to scrimp on a group “A” match-box car (I’m showing my age
FINALLY.. THE FISHING.
OK, you’ve cracked it, you’re here, you’ve got a yearly non-resident fishing licence
for 20 quid from the local fishing tackle shop/Wal-Mart or Canadian Tyre, float tube,
a 7/8 weight tip action rod, one floating and one intermediate or sink-tip line and
lots of flies (see Flies), the misses and the kids are still asleep. DO NOT MISS
THE EARLY HOURS.
From 6.am to 8.00am on a warm summer dawn with hardly a ripple on the water, it’s
time to use the “Poppers”. The water will be warm, so forget the Waders, the added
bonus of not having to leave the water for a pit-stop is soon evident when the water
hits the “OH”- zone.
When fishing “Poppers”, cut off “too much” tail or “too long” rubber legs, it slows
down the casting, opens the loops and makes the leader twist. Slowly and quietly
paddle round the margins, weed beds, docks, sunken trees and rocks, then cast, POP
and STOP. You POP to get their attention and you STOP to trigger the Strike. Land
it within a foot of a good Bass and they will hit it within a second, get it near
enough to the cover and they will have it big time. With Large Mouth and Small Mouth
Bass, it’s all about the “odds” and the energy used: food gained ratio. If they are
hungry, the odds of catching it are high and the size of it is worth it, they’ll
take it every time. Unlike in the USA, in Canada you can not fish for Bass in spring
during the Spawning season (thank goodness) so you are not relying on a “defensive”
strike from a nesting Bass. It’s all about the food and how easy it looks to catch
and eat. If the cover is dense or the Branches too risky, use poppers with “Snag”
or “Weed” guards, they are made of 20/30lb mono and are stiff enough to cover the
hook gape but supple enough to move when a Bass nails them (to allow hooking but
Bass will stay near cover because it shades them from the light and allows them to
ambush passing food without being in the open. They will readily look up to the sky
to take frogs/mice/wasps/daddies/wounded fish in lower-light conditions such as dawn
or dusk. I have lost count of the times where I have started a retrieve, got a knot
in the line, and while picking out the knots and having the fly sitting still for
20 seconds a big Bass has engulfed my stationary popper. Mix it up, pop 5 times then
count to 10 pop twice leave for 2 seconds and so on. When you work out how hungry
and how aggressive they are, you can keep going at that speed. When the sun comes
up and they stop hitting on the top, it’s time for the worm/leech/frog/baitfish/crayfish
patterns fished slower, the odd twitch/strip if needed. Remember to match the retrieve
with the food type. Leeches (Rabbit or Mink Strips) do not move like a bait fish,
they are taken on the drop or twitched very slowly.
There are some great books around on Bass/Warm Water flies, one of the better US
Bass-Fly creators is a guy called Dave Whitlock, a “Google” on him will turn up a
wholeselection of books and videos to help you learn/tie and fish your Bass flies.
Some trout flies work very well, Woolly Buggers in all colours and GB Orange Fritz
Lures are standard flies in my box. Big Wasps and foam Hoppers work well in summer.
Rock Bass and other “Pan-Fish” just cannot leave floating wasps alone; you may even
get tired of unhooking these fish which only grow to about 1lb max. I tied some onto
some 15 foot whips with 10 ft of backing and 5ft of 4lb tippet for the kids, they
caught hundreds. Good mixes of Poppers from troutpoppers.com or from Bass Pro Shops
are fine but some Deer Hair “Messenger Frogs” will catch some bigger Bass. Don’t
forget the Huge Pike and Musky Pike in the Lakes, Pike Flies and wire leaders would
come in handy.
To catch the biggest Bass, use bigger flies and Poppers, to catch tons of smaller
fish Bass/Perch/Bluegill/Sunfish/Pumpkinseed, use smaller streamers and nymphs or
rubber-legged spiders/wasps/foam flies.
Remember the bigger fish have got where the are today because they are smarter, so
to catch specimen Small Mouth Bass from 5lb up to 10lb (record) on a fly, you will
need to be as cunning as fox, watch your shadow as the sun rises and sets, move slowly
in the float tube and cast a big fly a good 15 to 20 yards. Don’t try casting a huge
popper on a 3 weight rod; it will not have the power.
Stay as far away from the good structures (either wading or float tube) as you can
and try to cast a popper a good distance, floating lines are a must for Popper Fishing.
Tippet size not critical, I tend to go no lower than 8lb to turn the Popper over,
keep the leader and tippet no longer than the rod length to help with casting.
Large Mouth Bass grow bigger in the Southern USA but the Small Mouth bass in Ontario
are bigger than in the US.
Bass have hard mouths so keep your hooks SHARP and when they take and dive down STRIKE,
they will go acrobatic at least for the first few seconds before they try to head
down deep. Small Mouth Bass seem to fight the hardest and have powerful runs so keep
as much line as possible on the reel to avoid tangles. You WILL lose fish in the
air so accept and move on, don’t beat yourself up. Keep your rod up and use the bend
to play the fish, keeping the tip low will result in more dropped fish and snapped
If the temperature drops (and Pressure) have a family day and save the fishing for
the more stable weather days as sudden changes in weather can put the Bass in a sulky
mood. There are some good “Fishing Ontario” books which list all the main lakes in
various zones, it’s worth spending a few quid to find out which lakes are shallow
and hold the most Bass. Deeper Lakes have Big Trout and Pickerel (wall-eye) because
of the temperatures but they can be hard to catch in summer.
If you’re really hoping to keep the family happy but you really want to fish every
day, do it from 6am to 8am and from 7pm to 9pm to get the best results in August
without spending all day on the water. Evenings and sunsets are great to fish but
don’t forget the mossies at this time of the day are very active.
You may see some lovely turtles in the lakes; they can grow up to the size of dustbin
lids. Tell the kids to leave them alone as they have long necks and will be able
to swing round and nip. Large Snapping turtles can be seen but they are quite timid
and will leave you well alone. Some water snakes will be seen, 99.9% harmless, they
do have some type of Rattlesnake in Ontario but not in Muskoka area. The worst wildlife
encounter I have personally had was a leech on my toe. Pour salt on them and they
peel off without too much bleeding. Pull them off and you’ll have a bit more of the
red stuff flowing as they make a bigger hole. I have spent hours and hours in the
water over the last 4 years and only ever had one leech on me. Wear Water Shoes and
don’t stand motionless in weeds for hours and you will avoid them. There are many
websites to visit regarding fishing in Ontario, here are a few good ones including
good rental sites for Lakeside self-catering accommodation.