Back when the Kawartha Highlands became a managed provincial park in 2011, I figured the bass population would be reduced to a few hand-sized fish, rather than the trophy-sized monsters I’d caught consistently in the past. More people usually equals fewer fish but, surprisingly, that has not been the case in the Kawartha Highlands. I still do extremely well when paddling in the park and I think it comes down to one reason -- canoeists generally don’t fish.
Of course, I’m an exception to the rule. I can’t help but make a cast along every weed edge or rock outcrop I paddle past, and I don’t understand why more paddlers don’t drag a lure behind the canoe while they travel remote lakes throughout the Kawarthas. Some of the larger lakes do get a lot of fishing pressure but this is a big park -- the largest in Ontario south of Algonquin -- and there are plenty of small to moderate lakes that hold largemouth and smallmouth bass. A few even have a smattering of walleye.
One of my favourite routes is in the park’s northeastern section. It’s a paddling loop accessed by Anstruther Lake and consists of Rathbun, North Rathbun, Copper, and Serpentine Lakes. A longish portage of about 1 km connects North Rathbun to Serpentine. It’s generally flat, however, and considering that each lake promises plenty of bass action, it’s worth the walk.
There’s also an extension to this route from Copper Lake to a couple of smallish ponds: Anderson and Rock. A swampy and meandering stream has to be navigated to get into Anderson, and a short portage over a knob of granite gets you into Rock Lake. Anderson can be finicky at times, but trust me, it holds some lunkers. Rock Lake is wide and shallow, but has plenty of bass holding in the weeds. The campsites aren’t the best, so I generally camp on Copper or Serpentine and make day trips to fish the smaller lakes.
The Copper Lake campsites are on rocky points or islands shrouded by red and white pines, perfect for the paddling angler. Each has a shoreline that cries out for an evening cast with a surface plug or jig, followed by conversation with friends, warmed by a campfire and a dram of whisky in an enamel cup.