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Since 1953 I have been traveling to eastern Ontario to visit the Lake Temagami area – about 300 miles north of Toronto – not only to fish for species ranging from northern pike and walleye to lake trout, brook trout, smallmouth bass and splake, but also to enjoy its many wilderness canoe routes. This area was once traveled extensively by fur traders and has literally hundreds of established canoe routes, both river and lake, that interconnect the thousands of lakes, streams and rivers in the area.
Although it can be daunting to think about navigating your way around this vast Lake Huron watershed, the outfitting services provided by Dan Carpenter of Keewaydin Camp (*) make it all possible. He provides everything a self-guided canoe fisherman needs except for fishing equipment and sleeping bags, which you provide. His $50 per day fee includes tents, canoes, paddles, food, cooking utensils and, most importantly, detailed trip-planning advice.
Importantly, Carpenter is an avid fisherman himself; plus, his company has been in operation longer than any other camp in North America. This means he has an amazing archive of trip notes, which I’ve used many times. The information includes portage location, length of portage, campsite locations and type of fish in the waters.
One other company you may want to contact is Lakeland Airways (*), which can arrange fully-outfitted canoe flyouts for self-guided fishermen from the town of Temagami. They even have cabins complete with canoes on several remote lakes. Their charge for a three-day outpost cabin stay and flyout is $365 per person for two people. This is a good option for anglers who are ready to fish some of the more remote waters after a couple of seasons’ experience.
You might also want to order a copy of a book called Temagami Canoe Routes, which is published by the Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association and can be ordered for $18.95 plus shipping from the Adventurous Traveler Bookstore (*). Dan Carpenter highly recommends it.
When packing for your trip, plan on using rod and line weights that can handle pike up to 20 pounds, walleye to 12 pounds, lake trout to 32 pounds, smallmouth to six pounds, splake to four pounds and brook trout to seven pounds. As regards spin tackle, pike fishermen will want to bring wire leaders and Daredevils in various sizes and colors with the old red and white being the favorite. For walleyes, I recommend Rapalas, Redfins, Rogues, medium and deep Cranks in gold or perch, one-eighth and one-quarter-ounce jig heads with black or smoke grub tails, and worm harnesses. Lake trout will require wire line and large spoons in silver or gold. Fly anglers will want to bring a variety of dry flies for brook trout and popping bugs and Woolly Buggers for smallmouths. Carpenter can provide more detailed information depending on which lakes and rivers you have on your itinerary and what kind of fisherman you are – fly or spin.
Even with the help of Carpenter or the folks at Lakeland Airways, it is important to note this is a big area and it can be dangerous, so remember to let someone know your itinerary in case of emergency. The waters are healthy to drink, I’m told, with no giardia, although I would carry some purification tablets if I planned to travel on the Ottawa or the Montreal rivers. Of course, bug dope, a good rain suit and well-broken-in boots are a must. Bugs can be bad in June; however, this month has some of the best fishing. August can be tough fishing as the water will have warmed substantially. I fight the bugs and go early myself.
Anyone interested in fishing these waters can contact me and I can suggest some rivers and lakes that I find productive. This is strictly self-guided travel and your fishing success will be determined by your abilities. All I can do is assure you that the fish are there and that they are underfished. – John F. "Jeff" Schneider (*).
To: The Angling Report
From: Subscriber Carl Zabarelo
Date: January 27, 1998
I was pleasantly surprised to see fishing in the Temagami featured in the January 1998 edition. For 20 years I lived just one hour by car north of the Temagami, and have fished many of the same waters as J. Schneider. One important note — this is "northeastern Ontario," not "eastern Ontario." In tourist literature it is referred to as the "Near North." Although I moved to British Columbia in 1973, I still return periodically to fish in the area; guided by my brother, who lives in North Bay one hour south of the Temagami.
As to wilderness, hang on a minute. This area is still crossed with active logging roads. All summer one is rarely out of hearing a bush plane servicing some lodge or out post camp; and to the east the sound of Hwy. 11 or the Ontario Northland Railway locomotive whistles remind one that civilization lies in easy reach. On Lake Temagami itself, bass boats roar, jet skies whirl and pontoon boats waddle.
One of the few true wilderness areas left is lovely Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park, a real jewel. Others? Yes, I know them, but don’t need a yellow baseball cap that bad.
As regards fishing, the weights given reflect 1958 more than 1998. Walleye to 12 pounds? Pike to 20 pounds? Smallies to six pounds? Fat chance! Catch and release is still something of a novelty in NE Ontario, according to my brother. On our last trip (fly-in) in 1993 (1992?) the lake we fished had just hosted a group of six from Tennessee, all of whom took home their limit. We had reasonably good fishing, pike, walleye and smallies to three pounds, nothing larger. Interestingly, the best action was in a small creek connecting two lakes. Accessible only by small boat or canoe. More and more, my brother tells me, this is the case. The larger lakes are not "fished out," far from it, but are hit hard all summer, and the ubiquitous fish finder has left few places of refuge.
For tackle, all I’ve ever used is a six to seven-foot spinning or bait casting outfit with eight pound mono. Certainly no wire leader for pike, who (because of pressure) have become increasingly line-shy. Hi-vis line is out, as my brother has discovered. Wire line for lake trout? Not for years, the downrigger reigns here, as everywhere. Giardia is common here as every where in North America.
I hope I haven’t been too negative. This area remains interesting, fun and affordable, far from pristine, but not overrun. Enjoy!
To: The Angling Report
From: John F. "Jeff" Schneider
Date: March 11, 1998
Mr. Carl Zabarelo misunderstood the thrust of the information on canoe trips that I sent to you for your readers. Lake Temagami was mentioned simply because it is a convenient jumping-off place for canoe trips and is the home base for Keewaydin Camp which has the extensive trip archives that are so valuable. There are, indeed, float planes and some logging roads in the immediate area, however, it would be foolish for your readers to attempt an unguided canoe trip without the ability to be completely self-sufficient. One only has to make a short portage away from Lake Temagami to leave the developed world. Some of the larger lakes in the area have good road access and, like Lake Temagami, have motorboats, cottages, and some even have limited electricity. However, the beauty of using the trip archives is that you can tailor your canoe trip to travel through country where the lakes and streams are too small for airplanes to land, and the logging roads do not reach. Mr. Zabarelo is correct that there are many lakes that offer wilderness fishing, but one has to earn that privilege by using the traditional canoe routes long established by the fur traders and Indians of another era.
Canoe travel is enjoying a new awakening and the concept of "wilderness" is surely in the eye of the beholder. I have seen float planes lined up and fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder hundreds of miles from the nearest road in Alaska. Hopefully, we can get our batteries recharged by an outdoor experience of any magnitude. If not, why go?