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Creating an Angler

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Creating an Angler

• Credit: James Smedley Outdoors

Family Fishing in Northern Ontario

Instilling the love of fishing and the outdoors in future anglers



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It was always my intention to raise my daughters to be anglers. My wife, Francine, and I reasoned that by instilling our love of sport fishing and the outdoors in them, we would have lifelong fishing partners. And to some extent, the plan has worked.

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Growing up in a small Northern Ontario town, our daughters were particularly spoiled with regard to access to the outdoors and all it has to offer. Plus, as a writer and photographer, I was able to bring the whole family to some of the most coveted destinations in the province. For Islay and Lillian, significant exposure to prime Ontario wilderness was the only reality they knew. Now in their early 20s, both are extremely well travelled, adventurous, and have a deep appreciation for an upbringing that involved fishing, hunting, camping, paddling, and all the skills required to stay comfortable and happy in the wilderness.

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Eldest Daughter

But are they anglers? Understandably, neither girl is as fanatical about angling as their father. Our youngest, Lillian, has a continuing interest in fishing, but her sister has always been a bit of a wild card. Both girls asserted their independence and individuality through childhood. This is especially true of my eldest daughter, Islay. I always supported this, but even through the formative years she was full of surprises. Here’s a look back at some pivotal moments in Islay’s angling upbringing:

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Mystery Trout

Discovering new brook trout waters is a rare and enviable experience, and scoping out new lakes became the raison d’être behind most family camping trips. When my eldest was four, we portaged into a gorgeous remote lake reputed to hold brook trout. On the way in, Islay found a green caterpillar, and by the time we piled into the canoe she was determined to find more.

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I was equally determined to catch a fish, and as we trolled along the edge of a rocky shoal I had a hard hit, followed by a screaming drag, as a strong fish peeled line from my reel. By this time in my angling career, I had caught a lot of brook trout, and this fish was stronger and, I suspect, much larger than anything I’d ever tangled with. Although I was able to turn the fish and start to bring it back towards the canoe, it turned again and made another long run before spitting the hook and disappearing.

If that was indeed a brook trout, it was a monster. I was impacted by this fish and started trolling with fervent enthusiasm. The headstrong Islay, on the other hand, was not so impressed. My efforts to connect with brook trout were conducted amidst a repeated chorus of “Let’s catch green caterpillars.” Our focus soon shifted from fishing to hunting crawling insects.

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Better Brook Trout Lure

Paddling a small lake in the heart of Algoma’s brook trout country, one would think that an eight-year-old might have confidence in her father’s choice of lures, but Islay had to rummage through my tackle. She selected a white tube jig. I tried to explain that we were trolling, and a tube jig is more attuned to casting and retrieving. She was unimpressed, and while I sought to entice a trout with a flashy spoon, Islay dragged a white tube jig. Of course, the brook trout hit the tube, and I’ve come to respect her angling instincts ever since.

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Walleye Whisperer

I have a secret shoal where the precise presentation of live bait often connects with trophy walleye. To that end I was trolling slowly, dragging a fat leech behind a bottom bouncer under the warm July sun. Sixteen-year-old Islay lounged on the rear deck of the boat reading. She eventually put down her book and grabbed a rod with a green jig. “You should really use a bottom bouncer here,” I said with the earnestness of a father who wants to see his daughter catch a fish. Predictably, she raised an eyebrow and lobbed the jig into the water. Within seconds, she was into a good fish, and eventually would hoist and release a glistening 26-inch walleye.

I was energized, vibrating with intensity as I turned the boat for another pass over the shoal. I looked back and saw Islay settling back down on the deck. “That was fun,” she said, then opened her book and continued reading.

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Where Fishing Takes Us

With the girls in their early 20s, pesky commitments like school and work mean we don’t get out on the water as a family as much as we used to. So when we do converge on the waters of a productive walleye and bass lake near Chapleau, it’s clear this is a time to savour. Not only are the four of us together but it’s flat calm, warm, and sunny, and the smallmouth bass are nailing top water lures. Lillian and Francine occasionally join me in my feverish angling, but I don’t think Islay even picks up a rod. She’s busy netting fish, making us laugh, and generally revelling in the fresh air and sunshine.

As I observe my reluctant angler, I understand that it’s not all about fishing, but about where fishing takes us. Today we are laughing, eating, singing, and floating around in a boat, together.

Although she hasn’t turned out to be the fanatical angler I am, she is the unique product of a Northern Ontario wilderness education and it’s always a pleasure to have her on board. In my eyes, the plan has worked.

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