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 the very well-known bass belt of southern and central Ontario where I live and usually fish. When an opportunity however arose to experience a homegrown bass fishing adventure in a fully legit, year round open bass season area of Ontario, I jumped at it. From June 8 to June 12, my brother Marcel (aka Red) and I pulled my bass boat from the southern part of Lake Simcoe where I live up to Northern Ontario’s Algoma Country in Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) 10. On our way up, I spoke about our trip with Outdoor Journal Radio and Fishing Canada TV host Angelo Viola and we both agreed how critical instant catch and release is during the spring, even though the year round season does not mandate it. A re-broadcast of that Sportsnet 590 the Fan radio show can be listened to online.
Arriving in Algoma Country
Driving on Hwy 17 west of Sudbury, I had forgotten how the topography changes from rugged Canadian Shield – primarily moose country, to flatter, tamer agricultural lands. As we approached the Town of Blind River, we knew we were approaching our first destination. For the first night of our journey, we would stay with local fishing guide Adam Vallee of Angling Algoma. 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 Saturday afternoon and the better part of Sunday allowed us to catch and keep a few very tasty walleye… a Simcoe-size jumbo perch, a monster sized bullhead and best of all catch and release some gorgeous largemouth bass. That, and watching an eagle soar overhead was the prelude to what Algoma Country had to offer before we settled in to catching smallmouth bass and some pike at our main destination – Birchland Cottages on Clear Lake.
Marcel Wegman (left) with a vibrantly colored Algoma Country pike and brother Wil with a nice eater sized walleye caught on a Rapala X Rap before they settled in to Birchland’s Clear Lake.
The new Storm 360 GT Swimmer Searchbait proved to be one of the most effective lures of the entire trip. Unlike its predecessor (Storm’s 360 GT Searchbait) this swim bait has a short diving lip which gives it inherent crankbait qualities. We caught plenty of pike on it but nice largemouth like the one above, walleye and smallmouth liked it too.
On To Birchland and Clear Lake
Clear Lake has very limited public access and unless you stay at Birchland 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, I was impressed that the owner of Birchland, Mark Graves instills a catch and release code for his visitors, knowing full well that harvesting the extra-large bass there 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 at Birchland. As an added treat for visitors staying here, the shores of beautiful Northern Lake Huron and other waterbodies with bountiful walleye are just a short drive from Birchland.
At Birchland, our beautiful little cottage was right on the water and beside the boat launch. I usually don’t comment on the quality of docks at camps I stay at (so many are not very good) but the boat docks here for each cottage were solid, extra wide and super sturdy deals where I was able to safely leave my boat for the duration of our stay. Each day, my brother and I even jumped off our dock to get a head start on the lake swimming season as the water warmed up to 62C during our stay. Although I had my goggles and could see well enough below the surface, my next trip will see me bringing my full snorkel gear to capitalize on the visibility of these clear waters.
This green tree frog – frequently heard but seldom seen graced our patio for the entire trip. We were pleasantly surprised the blackflies and mosquitoes were held at bay for most of our stay there even though it was peak season. The owner of the lodge said it was an unexpected yet very welcome bonus when he bought the camp that for some unknown reason his area is not overly attractive to these pesky bugs.
Unlike many of the water bodies on the south side of Hwy 17 that are connected to nearby Northern Lake Huron via tributaries, Clear Lake is more landlocked. It’s aptly named too, even without the artificial influence of filter feeding zebra mussels. So for visitors coming from nearby Lake Huron or anywhere to the south with zebes … be sure you follow the “CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY’ edict back home before launching your boat at any lake in Algoma Country. For first time visitors with a boat, knowing these uncharted waters are hazard free … i.e. no hidden shoals or dangerous rocks to run into; is good peace of mind.
Basically… our technique for success was simply a matter of working the shoreline, whether casting towards shore for shallow fish or out for deeper ones. At both lakes we fished, we discovered different stages of the bass spawn. A few were still in shallow water and on nests and others had already finished and were deeper. Of course the whole notion of fishing spawning bass on nests is a hot potato… especially in the southern part of the province where it’s taboo and not permitted before the 3rd or 4th Saturday in June. Removing guarding male bass from nests can result in a multitude of predators coming in to devour the eggs or fry. In the case of Algoma Country’s FMZ 10 with a year round bass open season, round gobies and multiple panfish were not as evident to rob nests. Regardless, although harvest is legally permitted a strong catch and release ethic is absolutely key for the sustainability of the incredible quality trophy bass fisheries available in Algoma. Additionally, this far north, bass grow so slowly that regardless of time of year, four pounders could easily be 15 years old … so they are much more fun to catch and release than they are good to eat!
During our fishing vacation we would find ourselves in a very relaxing routine, capitalizing on best fishing times based on weather and other factors. Top waters like Rapala X Pops and Storm Chug Bugs were smashed by smallmouth during low light conditions of early morning and late evening. The beauty about being this far north, even here in Ontario, is that it stays light longer … so even by 10pm, it was still light enough to see what you were doing. Mid-day success came from a new lipless Rapala rattle bait, various jerkbaits like the standard X Rap but also the Rip Stop and Shadow Raps… plus of course the GT Swimmer. Terminators new Shudder Bait was good for largemouth. Soft plastics- like flutter worms rigged wacky style and tube jigs were also productive.
With a six plus hour drive back home, we planned to fish the morning of our last day in Algoma Country at the largemouth and walleye lake where we started our adventure. Naturally we were sad to leave the great the smallmouth action at Clear Lake and the wonderful hospitality and comfy cottage at Birchland but we packed up and headed off. Back at our first lake, we revisited a beautiful lush green, broadleaf cabbage bed that was already a metre high and screamed of more fish. We stumbled across it on our first visit here and although we caught several small pike around it, I knew it would have to hold more. My first fish was a decent 3 ½ pound eating size walleye that I would actually take home to treat the family with that evening. We then nabbed some pike again before exploring the far outer deeper edges of those cabbage plants. I was casting a new deeper diving Rapala jerkbait when suddenly a solid thunk stopped the lure dead in its tracks. Its jump was only a half-hearted attempt to imitate a smallmouth but that was fine by me because when I finally landed that gorgeous creature at close to 6 lbs, it ended up being the biggest largemouth I’ve ever caught this far north. That definitely was the icing on the cake for a fabulous fishing adventure to Algoma Country … and plans have already been made to return there this summer and hopefully in the fall too!
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