Fishing for Bronzebacks
It was our last morning fishing beautiful northern Lake Huron out from Blue Heron Resort on the Spanish River. The rocky terrain was quite similar to that of this Great Lake’s Georgian Bay way to the south where fishing partner Doug Wadden and I have each spent far more time, yet in some respects, it’s even more rugged and displays far less sign of human activity. Every morning we would be blessed with an eagle sighting followed by tremendous success catching smallmouth bass.
This was our fifth straight day on the water and after waiting for the downpour to stop, we only had a couple of hours of fishing before we had to head home. We were not experiencing the great action we had come to expect but when we saw not one but two fully mature bald eagles hovering majestically overhead we kind of forgot about that detail. Suddenly out of nowhere another lone eagle appeared even closer to us with a good-sized fish held firmly in its sharp talons. It swooshed back and forth right in front of us — possibly to show off his catch to us, or the other two eagles nearby. The lack of fish that morning didn’t really seem to matter. In fact, watching those eagles was the icing on the cake to cap off a fantastic few days in Algoma.
Return Trip To Algoma
To take advantage of Ontario’s year-round bass fishery, earlier this spring my brother Marcel and I stayed at Clear Lake’s Birchland Cottages located further west in Algoma Country off Hwy 17 in Fisheries Management Zone 10. Here we relished a rare opportunity for great spring smallmouth bass fishing while our season was closed back home. To top it off we fished other nearby waters where we could catch a few bonus largemouth bass and walleye.
This fall, however, our destination would be the Spanish River and the adjoining northern part of Lake Huron. This multi-species fishery is renowned for walleye, pike, and big muskie. Blue Heron Resort is fortunate enough to be the only fishing lodge on this vast section of the river. As bass-crazed individuals however Doug and I heard many glowing reports not only about the lodge but the smallmouth bass fishing in particular (including from TV & Radio fishing personalities Bob Izumi and Angelo Viola, and from local guide Adam Vallee) so our primary purpose was to fish bronzebacks.
Hopefully, the following photos and notes are entertaining and entice some of you to give this underutilized part of Ontario and Blue Heron Resort some serious consideration for your next fishing trip.
Our six-hour drive from just north of Toronto on highways 400 north and 17 west of Sudbury included a leisurely lunch and a break for me to be a guest on the Outdoor Journal Radio Show with Angelo Viola of Fish’n Canada. Talking about this trip with Ang only heightened our excitement as we drove on. A rebroadcast of that live show can be listened to here.
Our housekeeping cottage at Blue Heron Resort was roomy, super clean and had an amazing screened-in porch that would be a real treat for spring visitors to relax bug-free after a full day’s fishing. At the river, we realized right away that the spring high water levels had not totally receded even this late in the season so the boat launch was still partially underwater. Fortunately, though, we had no problems getting the big deep V Nitro off that first day or out the last. The dock system was perfect with each angler assigned a slip and provided an electrical hookup to charge their batteries overnight. After we unloaded all of our gear into the cottage we headed out for a late afternoon fish.
Our first stop was a large bay in Lake Huron adjacent to the mouth of the Spanish River. Although we caught a few smallmouth bass here and there, they were scattered and we really didn’t develop much of a pattern.
The next day we started fishing islands and shoals and the pattern we were looking for began to develop thanks to a fish-fast approach tossing Rapala X Rap Jerk baits and the Shadow Rap! One of the key findings was that although the smallmouth bass we caught were typically in shallow water – between 6 to 12 feet and related to rock, or rock weed, that area had to be right up next to significantly deeper water.
Thanks to our Navionics mapping and Lowrance High Def units, these areas were not overly difficult to pinpoint once we knew what we were looking for. Another key finding was that in very few select areas near bluff walls if the wind was blowing right, you could catch several bass back to back to back… but only if you were quick and diligent about it.
Although the vast section of Lake Huron that we fished had no shortage of cottage-free islands and isolated shoals where we found fish, we were anxious to develop a secondary pattern and began looking for one later on day two. Doug is a strong proponent of fishing current for smallmouth – and has no qualms about fishing sections that provide more fast-moving water than most anglers would consider fishing. So, late on day two, we scrolled through the Navionics Map and found a neck-down area between two large open expanses of Lake Huron and figured there just had to be current in that neck-down area.
As we approached mid-channel, the whitewater turmoil present was a sure giveaway that current existed and a sly grin overcame Doug’s face. “This is gonna be good,” is all he quipped!
Although the heaviest current was mid channel…it was the intricate less flow-thru area off to the side that really provided the best current breaks, habitat and most importantly forage (various minnow species). Interestingly enough though, the current would not just change daily or from morning to afternoon, but even hourly or sometimes by the minute! It was like nothing Doug or I had ever been a part of before and it kept us on our toes as we tried to figure out which flow rates were best, how the bass would position themselves and which baits we should use and when to use them.
On day three we had determined that our current area would be our first stop bright and early that morning before we would venture out to more unexplored endless waters of Lake Huron. Many areas that we fished reminded us of the limestone-type slabs we’d see on southern Georgian Bay or even the northern part of Lake Couchiching. Like these waters as we travelled further out into Lake Huron, the water took on a magnificent blue hue and was much clearer (thanks to zebra mussels) than near the mouth of the Spanish River. We would need to be on guard against those filter-feeding zebra mussels and their razor-cutting abilities on our 10 lb Suffix Floro leaders so checking them and retying when needed helped us land most fish we hooked into.
Day four was back to cloudy, drizzle-like conditions but we didn’t let that get us down … this would be our last full day here and we were determined to make the best of it. Doug was certain a five-pounder was part of his destiny this trip and that today would be his day to make it happen. Long story short … not only did he get a five-pounder early that morning – but he also got one moments later that was almost 5 and a half! These big bass are so slowly growing this far north that the importance of catch and release cannot be overstated, so all of the bass we caught were live released to be enjoyed by other anglers another day.
On our last evening, we were both exhausted and came back to the cottage in the dark, fired up the BBQ for dinner and were discussing what else to eat. Just then we heard a friendly knock at our door and in popped Deborah (who previously owned the property with her husband, Cal) carrying a large rolled-up tin foil package of fresh, hot & steaming, homemade onion rings. “Cal took some clients out walleye fishing today and they did really well – so we all had a big fish fry but I made far too many onion rings…so here you go, fellas!” I’ve had good onion rings before…but none have ever come close to those that Deborah made that day.
As the opening paragraph of this article states, we didn’t hammer bass during the last few hours on our last day the next morning. Like everywhere, you can have slow days, but all in all any bass angler who visits this great area of the province should have no qualms about staying at Blue Heron and experiencing some of its bountiful bronzeback glory! For more information about planning a fishing trip, visit the Blue Heron Resort website.
Editor’s Note: Since Wil’s fishing trip, Blue Heron Resort is under new ownership. Enjoy your fishing trip with hosts Mike and Patti Smith!
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