Over the past several years I have spent more and more time in Ontario during the summer. This year I’d been on the fence about travelling east during the pandemic, but with numbers falling and stringent mask and cleaning policies in place we decided to give it a go. With less than a half load of people on the plane and a strict mandatory mask rule I was more comfortable in the airport and on the flight than in our local grocery store. Once we were settled into cottage life we really didn’t leave, the weather was beautiful, and the fish were biting, what more could a fisherman want.
Due to extenuating circumstance the original dates of the trip were shifted forward by a month, the plan had been to leave mid-August and return mid-September, this would catch some of the warm weather at the end of summer and the window when water temperatures start to drop, and the bite turns on. As it was we arrived in mid-July, just as the hot and muggy weather had settled in. Having spent the past twenty years in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia one’s internal thermometer forgets how humid southern Ontario can be.
My nephew Quinn testing out his boat with Rachael.
Over fifteen years had past since visiting in the middle of summer and I’d either forgotten how good the fishing was or the ever present realities of climate change had made things different. The past two years my mid-August trip had seen the shallows devoid of fish as the extended heat waves and weeks without rain sucked the oxygen from the lake. Showing up in mid-July it was encouraging to see the end of the dock teaming with panfish. After a morning of catching up, drinking coffee and a couple ass-over-tea kettle waterskiing bails it was time to fish.
Catching pike on flies I tied on the lake I grew up on. Photo: Rachael Mallory
The first half of our visit saw us mostly fly fishing slow presentations in deep troughs. A beadhead marabou streamer pattern I’d tied was really getting the smallmouth bass excited. Fast sinking lines in fifteen to twenty-two feet of water with slow strips was the ticket, on days when the wind was too much we’d just drift with a jigging motion to the fly and the action was insane. We were not bringing in big numbers but the size of the smallies was ridiculous, the average weight was over three pounds, including one absolute tank of a bass that my wife landed on her six weight flyrod.
This was one of the largest smallmouth bass I've ever seen and it was amazing to watch my wife fight it on her 6 weight fly rod.
One of the joys of visiting the family in the summer is being a 30 second walk away from the water and our old 1964 Arkansas Traveler fishing boat at the dock. In a matter of minutes after deciding to go fishing you are on the water. One of the other simple joys is trolling with gear, something I don’t really do at home in the west.
Trolling isn’t just a productive way to catch fish it is also a time honoured tradition in many places. There are many families who pass down routes over generations, routes that inspire confidence and produce strikes regularly enough that justifies going back year to year, decade after decade. Our traditional route has been a not so family secret for over 30 years and we’ve collectively caught thousands of pike and bass from it. My late Uncle Norm discovered these interconnected channels and drop offs three decades ago, it’s the only place my father fishes and for good reason. The route has been passed from my Dad and his brother to me and we’re now passing it along to my three nephews. There is a fishing legacy on this particular lake dating back to my Grandfather on my Mother’s side and much of it has to do with trolling for northern pike. While the days of big pike are gone with Grampa Ferguson we still catch lots in the five pound range and the occasion one pushing double digits to keep things interesting.
Pick your poison, diving perch bodybaits are magic on hot summer days. Photo: Rachael Mallory
While the first half of the trip was spent fishing hard and mostly using our fly rods the second half took on a more leisurely approach as the bite slowed down. Sustained warm water temperatures started to give the fish lock jaw and while I still was getting my fly rod fix daily I was spending more time with the baitcaster in hand trolling and enjoying the company of my wife, nephews and father in the boat. There is a wonderful satisfaction that comes with catching pike and bass on flies that I tied but there is also enjoyment to be found fishing with the same gear in the same places I did growing up.
In an ever increasing busy world I fully realize how lucky I am to have the time to spend thirty-one days straight fishing. I’m also not deaf to the fact that there is a lot of luck involved in having parents who worked hard and sacrificed for their children so that we would have a cottage, something not everyone will have in their lives. Now I’m already looking forward to going back next summer.
See you on the water or the mountain.