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Coffee, Fish, Repeat

• Credit: Alyssa Lloyd
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Coffee, Fish, Repeat

Fishing in Haliburton County for Smallmouth Bass and Muskie

As my eyes opened, I could already tell it was not early.

Listening for sounds of life, I was relieved to find my weekend’s fishing partner, Kelly, wasn’t awake either.

Having woken up to rain pattering on the roof at sunrise, I convinced myself it was the perfect excuse to stay snuggled under blankets in the peaceful cabin.

Now well after 8 am, the sun beckoned me to rise and put on a pot of coffee. Thankfully, Kelly had the same idea. We laugh at our shared laziness while stretching unconvincingly and rubbing our eyes. All of our fishing gear was loaded and the boat was already hooked up to the truck. Our preparedness only fuelled the procrastination while we sipped our coffee at a record slow speed.

Kelly and I both love to fish, but something about our ability to enable one another to slow down made this day's pace a welcome change. By noon—yes, noon—we headed towards Haliburton County to chase smallmouth and muskie.

The wind was relentless, and suddenly I was reminded why I prefer mornings on the water.

During her trip down to central Ontario, we had plans of targeting both bass and muskie. Kelly had made the seven-hour trip south to target two of my favourite species. Although bass are abundant up north, walleye tend to take precedence. And muskies are fewer and farther between in her region, so this weekend had some high expectations.

A fair-sized lake with deep pockets and no shortage of rocky shorelines mixed with weed beds, it had the potential to produce some true central Ontario monsters. But first, we went for a swim. I promise, we eventually fished.

“We’ll chase the evening bite,” I said with a smirk, giving us purpose for our tardiness.

While I had my fill of sore arms, shoulders, and neck from muskie fishing, I decided to go for a fish I could catch. Bass. I fly fished off the front of the boat while Kelly followed up my woolly buggers with a giant, water-slapping Bull Dawg. The contrast between the two tactics likely looked comical to passing pleasure boaters.

alyssa lloyd holding ontario smallmouth bass

ontario smallmouth bass

Within the first hour, Kelly had a follow off a log that dropped into deep water. As she pulled her lure into the figure-eight, the fish lost interest and swam back to the depths. With newfound spirit, Kelly refused to put the muskie rod down the entire day.

A short stint to some muskie-infested waters on day two produced a couple follows on the fly, but none on gear. It also ended with boat troubles and bruised egos. With stories we’d rather not retell, we retreated back to my region with our tails tucked between our legs and decided to stick to bass the next day. After all, we needed some success this weekend.

Day Three started off just as slow as Day One. However, continually boating bass made up for our slump on Day Two. 

woman angler holding 2 smallmouth bass

woman angler releasing smallmouth bass

Kelly had never caught a smallmouth or largemouth bass before, so even the half-pounders were bringing a smile to her face. But the glee didn’t quite kick into high gear until I handed her my fly rod. Situated close to shore, I taught her how to make quick roll casts towards a fallen tree that held hundreds of rock bass.

woman angler fly fishing

Within minutes Kelly was setting the hook like a pro, stripping line like it was second nature, and landing every fish that nibbled.

Pure joy.

This is a woman who has caught monster salmon in British Columbia and red snapper in the ocean and makes frequent fly-in trips to Northeastern Ontario with her husband (in their own plane, I may add) to lakes and streams no one has touched or will touch in years to come. Yet handing her a fly rod with an olive woolly bugger to purposefully catch rock bass, it felt like I was witnessing someone fish for the first time.

woman angler holding small ontario bass

When I eventually got my fly rod back, Kelly picked up a jointed Rapala and started making long casts towards yet another rocky shoreline. This spot had produced some decent takers on our first day out, so we decided this would be how we’d end the day. 

“Big fish, big fish!” I heard Kelly’s voice whisper as if she was screaming on the inside. I turn around to see a giant smallmouth turn broadside, flashing its deep belly, veering back to the deadfall it came out of.

“Cast back, go right over the tree,” I said to Kelly, giving her instructions she didn't need to hear twice. 

Kelly bombed the cast perfectly over the tree, we both watched in anticipation as the inch-and-a-half jointed Rapala wobbled precariously back to the boat. No follow.

Suddenly, as Kelly lifted the lure, a colourful small muskie lunged out of the water to grab it, almost propelling itself into my boat. Missing the lure, it retreated. At this point, Kelly was officially casting every single angle off the boat, but not before I gave her my rod with a steel leader. If this fish bit again, I didn’t want her to go through the tragedy of losing it to bitten braid.

After a few more valiant efforts and another pass through the area, we decided to call it quits and continue down the shoreline to finish up our last stretch before the launch. More pint-sized smallmouth were had before the bugs officially drove us off the water.

woman angler holding small ontario bass

woman angler holding small ontario bass

woman angler holding small ontario bass

Settling that no matter how hard we tried to convince ourselves, the evening bite may not have been our best bet. During Kelly’s next visit, we’ll be taking our coffees to go.

woman angler holding small ontario bass

(All photo credits: Alyssa Lloyd)

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