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by John Geary
(for Travel Writers' Tales)

Bzzz...slap! Bzzzz.....slap!

Humping along the trail with the paddles and fishing gear, I thought to myself, "I hope the fish are biting even as half as much these mosquitos!"

I was part of a small group of outdoor enthusiasts portaging canoes from Lake Opeongo to tiny Minnow Lake in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park. I was about to do something I'd never done before if the mosquitos didn't eat me alive, that is.

(Photo #1)

Algonquin Park is one of my favourite places in the world. I've camped and canoed and hiked there on countless occasions, dating back to my childhood. The one thing I had never done there was go fishing.

That was about to change.

(Photo #2)

We finally got to the small lake and started baiting the rods and getting the canoes ready to launch. It was a beautiful sunny day, following on the heels of two days of rain, so I wouldn't have to try as hard to prove that old adage, "A bad day fishing beats a good day doing almost anything else."

(Photo #3)

Three of us piled into our canoe, a guide, myself and another fishing buddy, Darcy. Unlike me, Darcy was an experienced fisherman, so our attempts at trying to land a brook trout or two looked promising.

We took turns trolling and spin casting, coasting along the shorelines, trying to coax some nibbles from the trout. Being out on the lake, away from the bush, with a very light breeze, meant we wouldn't have to "play bait" for any mosquitos. Visions of battles with brookies danced through our heads. Even if we didn't catch any, we'd be able to tell "fish tales" about the "ones that got away."

The park boasts more than 1,500 lakes and 745 miles of streams with as many as 54 recorded different species of fish. Algonquin is home to some excellent fishing for both brook and lake trout. The backcountry lakes are not fished heavily because of their remote nature and difficulty to access, while the lakes along Highway 60 - the band of asphalt that cuts through the southern portion of the park - are specially regulated to make sure they're not overfished due to their ease of access.

It certainly seemed like we would not be contributing to any overfishing on that day. There were four canoes in our group, but try as we might, only one or two of them got anything resembling a nibble. Darcy and I were oh-for-the-day in our canoe.

(Photo #4)

But anyone who loves to spend time in the outdoors knows that even if the fish are not biting, there are still many other ways to enjoy the experience, to take something away even if it's not a fish.

We could soak up the sunshine and listen to the silence, silence broken only by the occasional gust of wind through the trees, or the call of a pair of loons that floated along beside our canoes for a short while. Their laugh-like calls made me wonder if they were amused by our lack of success, and chortling at our expense. Do loons tell "fisherman" stories to their loon pals, like humans tell "fish stories?"

I could just see it...a flock of loons gathering round on the lake after we'd left, "Yeah, you shoulda seen these humans, they couldn't catch a trout if their lives depended on it!" Portaging between lakes meant we also had the opportunity to spot other wildlife, like white-tailed deer, often seen along the trails in the park, as a few of our group did.

Fish or no fish, the experience helps create more memories of good times in the wilderness of Algonquin.

All too soon, it was time to paddle back to shore and the portage trailhead, pack up the gear, and hike back to Opeongo, before making the short 15-minute paddle across the lake to Algonquin Outfitters to turn in the canoes and other gear.

(Photo #5)

As we headed back down the portage trail, we realized that while the fish weren't biting, at least the mosquitos still were much to our dismay.

Bzzz...slap! Bzzzz.....slap!

This is where we came in...



Getting there: Algonquin Park is a three-hour drive from Toronto, straight up Highway 400, turn onto Highway 11 north at Barrie, at Huntsville turn east onto Highway 60, drive through the west gate.

Driving from Ottawa takes just under three hours. Head west on Highway 417, turn onto Highway 60 just east of Renfrew, then head into the park through the east gate.

Accommodations range from back-country camping to high-end lodges, with everything in between. The website will help you plan.

Outfitters (fishing licences required):
Algonquin Outfitters, Lake Opeongo 1-800-469-4948
The Portage Store, Canoe Lake 1-705-633-5622

PHOTOS by John Geary:

#1: Gathering the gear, getting ready to head out on Lake Opeongo.
#2: Paddling across the lake to the portage.
#3: Time to get the canoes out of the water and down the trail to Minnow Lake.
#4: No one had much luck fishing for brook trout, day, but it was fun trying.
#5: Back at the portage trail, waiting for the rest of the group to come in and head back.

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