I had my first experience on the French River in summer 2016, and I just knew I had to visit this place again. The river runs 110 km, beginning at Lake Nipissing and winding its way down to Georgian Bay, a large northeastern jut off Lake Huron. Designated as a Canadian Heritage River and surrounded by the French River Provincial Park, the French River is protected from future development, preserving its rugged and natural beauty. To top of the amazing natural scenery, there are also incredible fishing opportunities here.
Fishing the Lower French River
While visiting the French this time around, I stayed at Bear’s Den Lodge. It’s a lovely place operated by Art and Brenda Barefoot, along with their son Joe. Art fell in love with the French River and the fishing here in his teens. It was his dream to one day own and operate a lodge here. It’s been 31 years since the Barefoots took over Bear’s Den Lodge. They see guests from all over the world year after year, with some now bringing their grandchildren along. It’s a very special place.
During a road trip through Northeastern Ontario, I made a quick day-and-a-half stop at Bear’s Den with my fishing partner Eric. Last year, we had fished the Upper French and Eric connected with a nice musky that spat the hook mid-fight. I hoped that we’d have another shot at a French River musky this time around while on the lower part of the river. We were quite surprised at how our adventure played out!
Favourable Conditions: Locating the Big Guys
With a storm rolling in on our first afternoon, we had to keep a close eye on the sky. These types of conditions can be favourable for musky activity, as they’ll often feed more aggressively leading up to a storm. We explored the river and found a rocky point that sloped down from the tip of an island, mixed in with weeds and surrounded by deeper water. Areas like this can really set the food chain into action, as bait will hide out here bringing in bass, pike, and walleye to feed. Of course this also provides a great feeding opportunity for musky, too.
Throwing a big musky bucktail spinner, I quickly saw a follow from one of the larger musky I’ve seen in person. Whew! That will bump up the heart rate. I did a figure-eight beside the boat to extend my cast, but this fish slinked away. My heart pounded. As we worked our way down this finger, I had another follow from the other direction a few moments later. By this time my heart was beating out of my chest and after this fish also denied my figure-eight, I started to wonder what I could have done differently.
Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to think about this as Eric then had a follow on his top water Whopper Plopper. These fish all appeared to be different sizes so it was pretty amazing to see so much musky activity in a short time even if not on the end of our line. Eric was also denied by his fish, so he then decided to switch to a gold and black bucktail.
It turns out that Eric made the right decision as the next follow turned into a bite and it was “fish on!” Our heart rates were still up from all the musky sightings as it all happened in a matter of minutes. I scrambled for the net and slipped it under his thrashing fish. Cheering ensued. I grabbed the camera and snapped a couple of quick photos before this fish was sent back into the river followed by a musky slime high-five—the best kind.
The storm got closer and with a flash of lightning, it was time for us to zip back to the lodge for safe cover. A quick few hours on our first evening was certainly memorable. We focused on musky a bit more on the following day, but unfortunately didn’t connect. We also got into some other species: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and some northern pike.
I was so happy Eric got his redemption musky this time around, and I sure hope I’m up next time!