Professional photographer and writer James Smedley's contributions to US and Canadian books, magazines and newspapers have earned him over 40 National and International awards. James is an assignment and stock photography represented by several top agencies. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is Travel Editor at Ontario OUT OF DOORS Magazine. Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com
"Islay's got a fish," says my four-year-old daughter Lillian. Islay, two years her senior, is furiously reeling a small jigging rod. A tiny perch rockets out of the hole, stubbornly gripping the worm in its teeth. On seeing its peril the wise little fish releases its hold and arcs into a perfect swan dive back down the hole. Tears well up in their eyes as the five-inch trophy disappears with a flick of its tail. "It's okay, girls, we'll get another one," I say.
Sure enough we do. My wife Francine and I are with our girls on a small lake reputed to have scads of small perch. We end up hooking a few, plus a little rainbow trout and a much larger brook trout whose exact dimensions will remain a mystery, forever.
That was back about 10 years ago on a typical winter fishing trip with our daughters. The girls have been toted around outdoors since before they could walk. Now in their teens they still join us on the ice and I like to think we did a few things right during those formative years.
Looking back on what has since been ingrained in my mind as The Day of the Mystery Trout, I remember a mild, sunny mid-winter day. The girls are dividing their time between playing on the ice, molesting the minnows in the cooler and pulling up the occasional fish. The fact that Islay and Lillian are happy, comfortable and having fun outside makes the day a success. If you have children with a budding desire to ice fish, make it blossom by following a few simple guidelines.
Go Where There’s Fish.
Experimental scouting trips are not good for children.
Fish Easily Accessible Lakes.
Check provincial stocking lists, available at Ministry of Natural Resources offices and tackle stores, to find lakes close to home and full of trout.
Dress for the Occasion.
In addition to dressing snugly in layers from head to foot, bring extra mittens to replace the pair that inevitably become soaked with water or slush.
Take Time from Fishing To Play.
Standing on a sheet of ice waiting for fish to bite can equal boredom. Play options include pulling children on a toboggan and scouting the shoreline for moss, pine cones and firewood.
Make Warmth and Food.
A small fire or camp stove provides a central gathering point that is warm, comforting and entertaining, especially when there are sausages to grill, marshmallows to roast, and hot chocolate to drink.
Use Set Lines and Live Bait.
Where allowed, live bait is often a better option than artificial lures because fish will bite a worm or minnow without the angler having to jig the line.
Don’t Take Fishing Too Seriously on Family Trips.
It's one lesson my children continue to help me grasp.
As The Day of the Mystery Trout progresses our girls are quite content with the three or four tiny perch and the 10-inch rainbow trout lying on the ice. We're ready to pack up when I get a strike on my jigging rod. I set the hook into what feels like a large fish. As I angle it closer to the hole I see a huge expanse of speckled hide flash by. I'm thinking that it's at least four pounds as Islay and Lillian arrive at the hole, wondering why I don't just pull it in. My rod is bent double with line peeling from my reel when Islay grabs the line.
"I'll show you how Dad" and before I can say or do anything she heaves straight up. The audible snap of the breaking line helps to mask my gasp of horror. Islay sees the blood leave my face and the tears welling up in my eyes.
She puts her hand on my shoulder "It's okay Dad, we'll catch another."
Once the shock and disappointment pass, I realize the loss of the big trout is destined to be part of a fond memory of a great family fishing trip. No trout can replace that. And in all the years since, no fish ever has.
Missed the Family Fishing Events in February? Plan your own Ice Fishing Trip here!
Our crew of six adults and five children assembles at the Algoma Central Railway Station in Hawk Junction under grey skies. At around 3 p.m. the train rolls in and long ramps are lowered before loading snowmobiles, sleds and mountains of gear into the baggage car. We sink into the reclining chairs of the passenger cars and watch the winter landscape roll by as the train gets up to speed. After an hour and a half the train slows at mileage 215.5 where Jason Lebrun is waiting with a snowmobile and large sled to help transport our gear about a kilometre across the lake to Tatnall Camp, on eight-mile-long Oba Lake.
Distance between Hawk Junction and Oba Lake
Home Sweet Fishing Home
Jason has fires burning in the woodstoves of the two cabins and while we’re unpacking our gear, the skies clear pointing the way to a warm evening of angling off the point about 500 metres from the lodge. It's shallow at the north end of the lake but not long after the lines are down a five-pound walleye is bolstered by several rotund 16-17 inchers, caught as the sun sinks below the trees. As we take up our lines Jason starts the generator and we head back toward the glow of the camp lights.
Another Day on the Hard Water
It’s a cold morning but warming quickly with the rising sun. Slowly the crew trickles out of the cabins and onto the ice. I set up a gad and bell for my daughter Lillian, close to where she and her friend Lindsay have hollowed out a fort under the overhanging branches of a large spruce tree. When I hear the ring of the bell I look to the girl’s fort to see Lillian and Lindsay racing towards the gad bending quickly toward the hole. Drama ensues when the line is pulled from the end of the stick and the bell is flung into the air. Lillian slides into home plate to see the spool of line being pulled down the hole. Flinging her gloves aside she grabs the spool before the two of them play and land a five-pound pike. They hold the fish in the morning sun for a photo before its release.
Fruits of Our Labour
Fresh air and sunshine prompt healthy outdoor appetites and a bunch of 14- to 16-inch walleye are filleted and tossed in a spice mixture. It’s late afternoon before we finish lunch. The adults return to fish off the point while the children come and go as they please. A profound relaxation permeates the group - secure in the knowledge that we’re not leaving this remote lake full of pike and walleye till the train returns in a few days time.
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Editor's Note: James Smedley's is an outdoor expert. Read his story about tackling the Turtle River, one of Ontario's many whitewater adventure experiences, with his two daughters. The video is wonderful—you can almost feel the whitewater on your cheeks.
My two teenage daughters are pretty fearless when it comes to moving water. Islay and Lillian’s eyes light up at the site of any visible drop in the river ahead.
We’re on our annual family canoe trip—this year on Northwestern Ontario’s Turtle River, part of the Turtle River – White Otter Lake Provincial Park. So far the rapids have been exciting. Steep drops, fast current, large standing waves and virtually no mid-river hazards translate to thrilling runs that are not that difficult. So when we land our canoes and scout a particularly sharp drop squeezed between a sloping, rocky shoreline, my girls are keen to run it.
“Okay, but take everything out of that canoe before you go down,” I say. Our group of four adults and five children are divided into four canoes, and Islay and Lillian are paddling the smallest boat. While they portage the packs down the trail I set up a waterproof video camera on the gunwale of the canoe because I’m pretty sure they are in for an interesting ride. Check out the video below.
The rest in our crew scramble along the rocky shore of the short rapids and settle in to watch the show. Clad in bathing suits and PFDs, Islay and Lillian paddle into the teeth of the rapids. Amidst shrieks of excitement and barking commands, the tiny canoe undulates through the troughs and peaks of large standing waves, appearing to sit lower and lower in the water by rapid’s end.
To their credit, the girls stay upright throughout the white water. The triumphant run ends with a totally swamped canoe slowly capsizing in the still pool below the rapids. It was not totally unexpected or unwelcome.
And with the warm sunny day the white-water-swim joins great fishing and easy camping on the sloping granite as memorable parts of our Turtle River paddling adventure.
GOOD TO KNOW INFORMATION
LOCAL EXPERTS OFFERING GUIDED TRIPS, OUTFITTING AND/OR INFORMATION
I always experience a healthy dose of fear when heading into the first rapids of a white water canoe trip but with Erin Pehar in the stern I have an added measure of confidence. Fifteen minutes ago we were on the river bank scouting this rapid, but as we drop sharply into an amalgamation of swifts, standing waves and giant boulders, everything looks different.
"Forward, forward, forward!" Erin calls from the stern, "we need speed going into this."
"Draw!," she yells at the appearance of a submerged boulder. I bury the blade of my paddle, drawing the canoe to the right as Erin swivels the stern around the rock. "Cross bow," she calls, but I’ve anticipated the command, rotating to draw the canoe to the opposite side. "Good, now forward, power!"
I'm three days into a five-day trip with Missinaibi Headwaters Outfitters. I joined the group of seven paddlers at the town of Mattice in Northern Ontario. Aside from our guides, no one on this trip had met each other before. But the fact that we are all moving through the woods and waters with increasing skill, efficiency and enjoyment is a telling commentary.
Rather than simply ushering clients down the Missinaibi River, a Canadian Heritage River, guides Erin, Ceilidh and Ryan teach the skills required to navigate a wilderness river. We learn paddle strokes, how to read moving water and the importance of knowing exactly where we are on the river.
This hits home at Thunder House Falls, where a group of five paddlers died after being swept over the falls back in 1993. Unloading at the portage above an inviting class two rapid it’s easy to understand how paddlers, who might not know exactly where they are on the river, could be drawn into the series of navigable rapids to a point of no return above the falls.
As I remove my pack at a wooded campsite along the cusp of the deep canyon, I’m happy to be experiencing Thunder House from dry land. I walk down a steep path to a terraced landscape of angular bedrock scoured clean by seasonal high waters. Dark waters are funneled through a narrow canyon and over a series of three to four-metre-high falls; breathtaking from the boreal-capped ridge, but deadly from the water.
Back at the campsite the distant roar of the falls is accompanied by the crackling of pine branches that feed the fire while we sip red wine and grow hungrier by the minute. There’s nothing like fresh air, a lot of exercise and a suitable period of anticipation to enhance the enjoyment of a meal.
Last night we sat on a slab of warm granite, watching pizza cook in a reflector oven. Tonight it’s Thai chicken curry and noodles.
In contrast to the relaxing evening, we spend most of the next day bent under the weight of packs and canoes, trudging over the 2350 m portage trail around Hells Gate Canyon. As the name implies, this is another stretch of water best experienced from land. Below the canyon we return to the river for an exciting ride to our final destination at Bells Bay.
The late afternoon sun just peeks over the high rocky shoreline that funnels us through Long Rapids, a two-kilometre stretch of continuous swifts. There is still an inkling of fear deep in my core, but as we head into the final class two rapid it’s easily eclipsed by the sheer fun that comes with growing confidence. Bring it on Missinaibi!
GOOD TO KNOW INFORMATION
Best Times to Paddle: June to September
Local Experts Offering Guided Trips, Outfitting and/or Information:
The Best Canadian Adventures: Paddle Ontario’s Missinaibi Outside Magazine July 2012
Regional Travel Information:
As the nose of my sea kayak sends a ripple across the mirror finish off Lake Superior's northern shore I start singing Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This is not unusual for me when paddling the big lake. While floating in a tiny craft over massive water I think it's a means of keeping me on guard. The line "The lake it is said never gives up her dead..." resonates deeply as I dip my paddle into the fathomless lake, helping to keep me wary of moods that can change from meek to merciless with little warning. And on this trip, constantly reminding myself of Superior's wrath is necessary because so far she's been uncharacteristically warm, calm and inviting.
We left the mouth of the Michipicoten River near Wawa this morning for the first leg of a 30-kilometre paddle along the remote coastline to the Dog River. I'm joined by Naturally Superior Adventures (NSA) guide James Roberts and fellow guests Tony Hill and Stephen Haggert. Although today our 16 foot sea kayaks seem invincible against the glassy surface of Superior, evidence of her fury is all around.
The entire coastline is gnawed down to bare rock sloping up to a stunted tree line ravaged by a booming surf. Bulbous rocky islands are worn smooth and rounded by wave action. Our first campsite is at the mouth of the Makwa River where black flowing water is squeezed between a long granite point on one side and a cobble beach on the other. We land amidst bowling-ball-sized rounded rocks and carry our gear up a steep incline of progressively smaller cobble spread beneath an expanse of driftwood.
A spicy chicken stir fry unites the group under the shade of a tarp overlooking the waters of the river mingling with the still lake. Fresh air and exercise accentuates our guide's well developed culinary skills. Any trepidation about paddling with complete strangers is quickly washed away with a chocolate fondue and a splash of premium bourbon Stephen produces from his pack.
Day two dawns warm and still. Again the calm weather gives us a chance to hug the coast tightly. We see virtually nothing man made today except for the items in our possession. Sculpted granite ranging from grey to red to black is rippled with veins of quartz and fissures of igneous rock. The detail of the coast is more striking than any work of art, impossible to recreate except through the forces of wind, water and time.
Once at the Dog River we hike two and a half kilometres up a narrow trail to 35 metre Denison Falls. Even at summer levels the falls are spectacular, with volumes of water issuing from a narrow gorge to spill over the craggy ledge. I follow Tony and James up one side to find deep circular holes, secondary falls and mist-shrouded caves. The whole ensemble is garnished with tenacious blue flowers that grip the sloping black rock.
Hot, sunny, and calm weather prevails for the rest of our time on Lake Superior and I'm secretly hoping the big lake will give us slight taste of her power on our last day. However, a gentle breeze and slight swell nudge us past Perkwakwia point, across Michipicoten Bay and up the river mouth to Naturally Superior Adventures.
This is a coast where arctic plants cling to barren rock, where paddlers are immersed in perpetual fog or shore bound by storms for days. We manage to avoid it all. Although we were all expecting a challenging big water experience, we decide to count ourselves as lucky. After all, if we complained about the great weather on Lake Superior I don't think anyone would listen.
For more information on paddling to the Dog River and other destinations along Lake Superior contact:
Naturally Superior Adventures
RR#1 Lake Superior
Wawa, Ontario P0S 1K0
Toll Free: 800.203.9092
View James Smedley Kayak Trip in a larger map
Order a FREE Outdoor Adventure Map and free travel information at the Algoma Country website www.algomatourism.com
Catching that first fish is the initial giant step toward cracking the walleye code of any new water. Partner Lloyd Melbourne and I are trying to do just that on the murky and mysterious waters of the giant Kapuskasing River. While I pull a leech behind a bottom bouncer Lloyd pops a jig with a piece of worm. “Here’s something,” says Lloyd as he hoists a fat 15-inch pale yellow walleye out of 10 feet of water. I mark the spot on my GPS and we move across to a windblown shoreline at a bend in the river where we extract several 17-inch walleye from along a sharp break tight to shore. Not only are we making good progress dredging fish from the Kapuskasing River but two old fishing buddies are well on the road to getting re-acquainted.
Lloyd Melbourne was one of the first guys I fished with when I moved to Wawa 20 years ago. We pursued fish together with a fierce intensity until work took Melbourne west. With the six foot plus Melbourne back in Northern Ontario, I suggest we fish the Kapuskasing River Walleye Tournament and with boat and truck brimming with fishing and camping gear we roll into the town of Kapuskasing, along Highway 11, the Wednesday before the weekend event.
We turn up a gravel road and proceed about 20 km to where a 100-metre bridge supported by two immense I-beams stretches across the Kapuskasing River. There’s a good launch ramp on the east side of the river, and we find a sandy clearing to set up camp on the west. We don’t get out on the water until the next morning but after our initial half-dozen walleye we continue to work our way down stream.
With no perceptible current the Kapuskasing is more like a long and narrow lake than a river. The amount of navigable water on this remote system is about as mind boggling as the fact that we only see two private waterfront camps our entire time here. The boundary for the Tournament stretches from the bridge downstream 40 km to the Kapuskasing’s junction with the larger Mattagami River. From there we could continue on the Mattagami north 25 km to Ontario Power Generation’s Little Long Dam or south 18km to Cypress Falls. The Mattagami is also joined by the Groundhog which, under high water conditions, presents another 30 km to Whist Falls.
We’re more than happy to limit ourselves to the 40km stretch of the Kapuskasing River. The broad course of the river cuts through the boreal landscape alternating between thick black spruce forest, smatterings of birch and aspen and sections where thick cedars grip the mud and sand banks to arc over dark waters.
No matter the shoreline there are few clues as to where the fish lie. Structure is subtle mid river and each stretch of undeveloped shoreline looks as good as the next so it simply means stopping and trying spots along the way, not a quick way to cover water. In fact, its late afternoon and we’re nowhere near the junction with the Mattagami. But we have found fish. Walleye are spread haphazardly throughout the length of the river we've covered. The turbid water means we don’t know what we've hooked till its in the net and the 14 to 17-inch walleye are joined by a few small pike, some big perch and even a handful of catfish. One fish easily identified when hooked is the powerful Kapuskasing River sturgeon that test the drags of river anglers from time to time. We don’t hook any but I do get a few photographs when fellow anglers pull up alongside our boat to pull a “small” 56-inch grey beast from their live well.
With the day winding down and about 30km of river under our belts we turn south, back to the campsite. By the time we slide into warm sleeping bags the temperature has nose–dived and wind and rain beat against the tent through the night. Extracting ourselves from the relative warmth of the tent is difficult but we eventually step out into the blustery, grey morning. As we make our way north we’re assaulted by bouts of driving rain interspersed with merciful periods of sun. The virtually flat terrain has that big sky feel to it and we see patches of blue sky mingling with great burly black clouds that obscure sections of the broad landscape with driving rain. We angle through the alternating weather, flipping our hoods up for the rain and down for the sun, confident that neither condition will last long.
The weather is not the only thing that’s changeable. Today the big walleye are on the feed with Lloyd piercing a 3/8oz. jig into the maw of a well proportioned 25-incher. Waves lap against a shallow weed line and winds drive intermittent rain as Lloyd continues to connect with fish averaging about 20 inches. While my wiry companion fools about four fish for every one I catch, I continue to experiment with live bait rigging, soft plastic, jerk baits and floating cranks. By the end of the day we've both caught a lot of walleye over 20 inches and our confidence going into the tournament next morning is high. Indeed our performance day one is quite good but declines sharply into a downward spiral day two.
To have the gates to the big walleye of the Kapuskasing open one day and closed the next only increases the intrigue of this giant northern river. I was hoping my old friend Lloyd would hook a really large walleye during the tournament but our big fish come when we really don’t need them. But then again, it’s always a good time to feel the satisfying pull of a large walleye and over four days of angling we catch our share. Add pike, perch, catfish and sturgeon lurking a vast and undeveloped waterway and it’s not difficult to draw a deep angling satisfaction from the dark waters of the Kapuskasing.
For more information on Northern Ontario fishing adventures visit: northeasternontario.com
This is the first time I’ve started an ice fishing adventure with a trip to the mall but according to my partner, my 13-year-old daughter who simply must have the right shoes for her grade 8 graduation, not stopping to shop in Timmins would be unacceptable. We’re on our way to giant Abitibi Lake, north of Highway 101 and straddling the Québec border, and after the purchase of a pair of sleek black heels we’re back on the road. “You’ll want to wear some heavy socks with those on Abitibi Lake,” I say.