I was sitting in the passenger seat of a 1953 Buick and heading for Algonquin Park, for my very first interior canoeing/fishing/camping trip. Actually, that statement's not quite true, as I'd been in the interior of the Park before with my dad on numerous occasions. My dad was a trainman and there was always a work train somewhere in the Park. I always had the privilege of sleeping in a caboose, rather than in a tent. And I'd already fished quite a few of the lakes. Some of them I remember are Ghost, Loon, East Bear, Grand, Potter and Ground Hog. However, this trip would be my first that I actually got to sleep in a tent. Actually, this statement isn't quite accurate either, because I didn't own a tent. Only rich people owned tents, and my family wasn't rich. Our substitute for a tent was a huge sheet of plastic, with many small holes that had been patched with tape. This plastic was flung over a rope tied between two trees and anchored at the sides with big rocks and/or logs. This was our "tent". Rich people also had brand new, shiny, long canoes. I'd acquired a 12 ft. dull, green fiberglass one with many scars on it from the battles it had had with submerged rocks.
My mind was racing and I was in a trance-like state imagining all the experiences I expected on this trip. For some reason, recollections of me fishing with my friends in my early years crept into my mind. I remember each and every one of them boasting about how great a fisherman their father was. It was getting rather tedious, so I decided to put an end to it. I proudly boasted that my father could actually tell what kind of fish had bitten on the worm on the hook by the teeth marks still left on whatever portion of the worm that was still left. This statement elevated my father to the very top of the list. And he reigned supreme!
The 1953 Buick was my dads, but he had passed away in February of that year. Now my brother Bob was in possession of the car. We arrived at the East Gate and my brother, being the organizer of this trip, went to the office to secure our permits. With nothing better to do, I decided to tag along. I had no idea at this point where we were planning on going.
My brother was told by the permit-issuing-person that Dickson Lake (our original destination) was closed this year. I eventually discovered that some lakes at this time were closed due to over-fishing. I remember that Merchant and Lavieille were some other ones that were closed every so often. My brother then decided that Big Trout would be our destination and we paid for our 7 night stay in the Park.
Our access point was Canoe Lake. We had whatever was in the car unloaded and packed in the canoe in short order. It was around 1:00 p.m. and my first trip was about to begin! I should mention at this time that this was my first time ever in a canoe. Although I considered myself a very good fisherman, I didn't consider myself a very good canoeist. All the trips I had been on with my dad were always with a boat and motor or by walking through the woods and fishing the lakes from shore.
We pushed off from the dock, the canoe didn't sink and down Canoe Lake we paddled. The first small portage was around a dam and this was accomplished in no time flat. We canoed down Joe Lake to Little Joe Lake, portaged into Lost Joe Lake and then another portage to Baby Joe Lake. (Joe sure must have been someone famous!) Another short 200m portage and we were at the start of Burnt Island Lake, where my brother decided we would camp for the night. It was going on towards 5:00 p.m.
We were in the process of setting up camp when 4 American canoeists landed on their way out. They told us they had been into Portal (Burntroot) and had superb fishing. One of them even gave my brother a lure that they were catching all their fish on, namely, a huge silver William's Wabler. They couldn't talk long as they wanted to get back to Canoe Lake before dark. After they left, and after our plastic tent was up and our sleeping bags placed neatly under it, my brother decided that if this lure worked so well in Portal, it should work just as well on Burnt Island. He put it on his line and gave a mighty cast. I remember vividly to this day how that lure sailed through the air and landed in the water a long, long way from shore. It was the last time I ever saw it since my brother had forgotten to flip open the bail on his Mitchell 300 spinning reel!
With all the excitement over-with in the fishing department for the night, we proceeded to cook supper and were in our spacious, open-air "tent" just as darkness fell. I remember going to sleep thanking my dad for introducing me to this very special place at a young age. And although I didn't fully understand then what I know now about me, I also felt that my dad was with us!
I was up and about before dawn, as I was too excited to sleep. I began searching the packsacks for our coffee, but wasn't having much success. My brother heard all the commotion and joined me. We emptied all of the packsacks but no coffee was to be found. I also didn't see any bread or worms. Apparently, my brother was planning on buying these items in Whitney, but had completely forgotten to do so. However, we did have tea. Not Salada or Red Rose, but green tea. I hated it then as much as I hate it now!
This was a very eventful day in my tripping life. I decided that if I was to go on future trips in the Park, no matter with whom, I'd be the organizer and that I'd be in charge of buying the food and anything else needed for the trip!
After a cup of green tea and porridge for breakfast, we broke camp and continued down Burnt Island Lake. This is a long lake and after what seemed like an endless paddle, we arrived at the 790m portage that led to Little Otterslide Lake. This was the longest portage on our route and I decided it was my turn to carry the canoe. I've never felt more in tune with nature than I did on this carry! I was in my glory and I was praying for giant hills to climb as I felt I was infallible! I'm convinced at that moment that I could have carried the canoe all the way to Big Trout if such a portage existed. I made it to the other end in only a few minutes and I ran back for my second load. (These days, I no longer run back for my second load. It's more like a very slow walk with me trying to catch my breath and rubbing all my sore muscles). We finished the portage and went down Little Otterslide, a little creek, and eventually we were on Otterslide Lake .. at the start of the first of five portages that would take us to Big Trout. I won't dwell too much on going down Otterslide Creek as the stench from the paddles disturbing the muck on the creek-bottom was unbearable. I decided then that if I ever decided to return to Big Trout, there had to be another way of getting there!
About 2:00 p.m. we found ourselves on Big Trout Lake. It was quite windy and we paddled a distance down the left-hand shoreline. We eventually came to a small island and decided to get out to stretch our legs. We walked across the island to the other side where two guys were bobber fishing from shore. With the wind blowing hard, they never even heard us approach. We sure gave them a scare as they thought at first that we were a bear stalking them. They hadn't caught anything from shore but informed us that they had caught 6 lakers and 5 specks the day before. Back to the canoe we went and continued on down Big Trout in search of a site that would be our home for the next 6 nights. Why we decided to cross the lake and camp on the point of the bay that leads you to the portage into Lake LaMuir. It was the best decision I'd ever made. The site was excellent and we claimed it as our own. It had large flat rocks for fishing from and/or lying on. The site was extremely flat. And to top it off, it had an underground spring behind camp. A trail on the left led to a spot where a series of logs in the water led you to a very small island about 5 yards from shore. It was here that we'd spent many evenings fishing.
We set up camp, gathered some firewood and set about doing other small chores to make the camp complete. With our worms still back at the store in Whitney, I decided to try and catch some minnows to use as bait. We had brought along a minnow trap (legal at that time), but with no bread to put inside it I didn't know what success I'd have. But luck was with me, as I managed to catch 8 really stupid minnows!
That night the lake really calmed down and we went to the island to fish. I put a bobber and minnow on my line and tossed them into the water. It was like watching a Jacques Cousteau movie as you could see the dorsal fin of the laker making a v-shape in the water as it was headed for the minnow. You knew exactly when you were going to get a bite, and you were ready! We managed to catch 3 lakers that night, all over 5 lbs. We fished until dark and turned in for the night after sitting around the campfire for a bit. We spotted 3 satellites in the sky from the flat rocks on the shoreline that graced our site.
Little did I know at that time that I was to return to this lake many times in the years ahead. To this day, it's a very special lake to me. And not once have I ever traveled there again by way of Otterslide Creek!
The next morning, my brother decided that we'd take a side-trip over to Shippagew Lake where the winding Tim River finally empties its water. My brother assured me that our chances of catching specks in the Tim were excellent.
We had a quick breakfast. After a short paddle down Big Trout, a short 300m portage to Longer Lake, followed by a 1335m portage into Shippagew Lake, we found ourselves at the mouth of the Mighty Tim River. With no objections from my brother, I was now the official carrier of our canoe! We decided to canoe up the Tim to the first portage and fish the fast water there for specks. We arrived at the portage and beached our canoe on shore. I decided I'd use a small white lure in my fishing box that had pink spots on it. I just knew there had to be specks in this fast water and with my heart beating a mile a minute. I gently tossed my line into the current. It was immediately taken further down the Tim and then my rod bent and I gave a tug, and I had a fish on! My line kept on teeming off my spool and I was afraid I was going to run out of line. I reeled in frantically and was able to get some of my line back on the spool, only to have it taken off again. I repeated this over and over for a good 10 minutes and finally I started to make headway and I yelled for my brother to get the net ready! From previous specks I had caught, I figured this one had to go at least 5 lbs., if not 6! On closer examination after my brother netted it, it actually went 7 ……not lbs……but inches! I'd forgotten to tighten my drag and it was only the force of the river that had been taking all the line off my spool!
We did manage to catch 12 more specks there that afternoon. All of them were bigger than my first speck, with the biggest being almost 2 lbs. On the way back to camp, we fished the rapids on Longer Lake where a torrent of water comes in from Big Trout. We caught 6 more here and were heading back to camp with 18 specks on our stringer. We were still within our limits for trout as we were allowed 10 each in our possession back then. Oh yeah, I released that little 7 inch steroid-taking speck!
Back at camp I started cleaning all the trout while brother Bob started a good fire for some red-hot coals to cook the trout on. We wrapped a few in tin foil, complete with salt, pepper, butter, and onions. A after about 5 minutes per side on the coals, a delicious speck dinner was thoroughly enjoyed.
It was now starting to get dark and I went by myself to lie on the flat rocks by the shoreline. I laid there on my back for over an hour looking up towards the heavens. I made a promise to myself that I was going to try to go on trips in this Park every May. Not only have I kept this promise to this very day, but I have also managed to find time to do many other trips in all areas of the Park. I honestly believe that I could actually be a guide!
I walked back and crawled into my sleeping bag as my brother was already asleep. I fell asleep that night listening to the cry of the loon. I pity city folks who have never heard this beautiful, eerie sound.
I awoke to the sound of raindrops assaulting our plastic roof. This was the first bad weather we'd encountered. All the other days were sunny! I wasn't worried at all about water running into our sleeping quarters as I had dug a small trench around it the day before. But I was concerned about drops of water that were coming from the inside of our roof and landing on my nose. I had nothing handy to try to fix this leak so I just moved to my left and drifted back to sleep.
I awoke a second time to the ominous sound of thunder and bright flashes of lightning. I also could hear that the wind was picking up. Before long, I was clinging to our plastic walls trying to save them from blowing away. I thought for sure that we would end up totally drenched, with our large sheet of plastic touring the upper reaches of Portal Lake. But such was not the case, as our "tent" withstood these mighty forces of nature!
Brother Bob somehow managed to sleep through all of this. No wonder I no longer wish him to be in charge of any future trips I might happen to go on with him. I could have been pulled from my sleeping bag by a bear and not even been missed by my brother until the following morning when he woke up! I could have gone for a midnight stroll to attend to the call of nature and fallen over a cliff and not be missed by my brother until the following morning! I thought that the small snake I saw behind camp the other day might get his attention if I released it into his sleeping bag! And sure enough, it did get his attention the very next night!
It was still pouring when daylight came, but the thunder storm had passed. It was still quite choppy out on the lake and I was content just to spend the day on shore. Later that morning, we noticed two canoes coming down Big Trout close to our shoreline from the direction of Longer Lake. As they canoed by, we motioned for them to come in, and they obliged. It was a family of father, daughter, and two young sons. They had been camped on the upper end of Longer and were in the Park on a survival trip. They hadn't had any success at all in the trout department and the two young boys indicated they hadn't eaten anything substantial for two days. They were planning on canoeing all the way out to Canoe Lake that day. I told them that we had caught a lot of specks the other day and would gladly cook some if they indeed wanted to eat. They graciously accepted, but the daughter insisted on doing the cooking. I never knew that two young boys of 10 years could manage to eat 6 specks each. In the end, all of our specks on hand were cooked up. It turned out that this family (the Milloys) was also from Ottawa. The daughter worked part time at an ice cream store and we were each promised a sundae if we dropped in. For the record, let it be known that on my return to Ottawa, I had a delicious butterscotch sundae! And let it also be known that 6 years later, Sheila Milloy became my beloved wife! They thanked us for our hospitality and continued on their journey out.
It was now going on 1:00 in the afternoon and although it was still drizzling, the wind had died down considerably. We decided to do some trolling for lakers down the bay towards the LaMuir portage. The water there was quite deep and I decided to use the lure that I only use in deep water .. the one my father gave me as a Christmas present. It's called a Moose Look and is red in colour. I snapped it on to my leader and hauled in 3 lakers over the next hour. All went about 2 lbs. With some lakers still to eat back at camp, these were all released. Brother Bob also managed to catch 2 lakers .. one small and one huge! This brute went 10 lbs. on my fish scale. Both of these were also released to the depths from which they came.
We trolled all the way back to camp with no success. We had another fine trout dinner, with instant mashed potatoes and gravy. It was still raining on and off so we decided to turn in early. I prayed for the return of our sunny weather!
I awoke to a gorgeous sunrise! But I should have also prayed for no wind. I could see a few whitecaps out on the lake. After breakfast, I talked my brother into canoeing down to Portal Lake just to be able to say we saw it. We stayed quite close to shore going down Big Trout and made the small portage into Longer Lake. This lake was a lot calmer than Big Trout and we decided to troll. We trolled all the way up to the first of two small portages that lead into the start of Portal Lake. We managed to catch a few small specks in the fast water here and they were all released unharmed! We decided (or I should say that brother Bob decided) that there was no need to portage as we could "shoot" these small rapids. Before I had time to raise my objections to his suicidal tendency, we were shooting down the aforementioned fast water. And even though we bounced off a large rock in the middle, we made it down safely. I was now an accomplished "white water" canoeist!
We trolled all the way up to where Portal Lake really expands. The huge lake continued on as far as my eyes could see. We never went further that trip, but I have been back here many times. Faithful readers of the Algonquin Adventures message board know of some unexplained phenomena that happened to me while camped here.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we decided to head back to camp. We hadn't caught anything trolling so we pulled in our lines. We paddled all the way back to the two small portages that we had "run" previously. We did these in short order and once again started trolling down Longer Lake. I am sad to report that we never even had a bite trolling the rest of that day.
After the 300m portage back to Big Trout, we got back at camp by around 5:00 p.m. I noticed it first! Something was swimming across the bay from our camp to the far shoreline. It was a bear! I watched in amazement as this fellow swam across the bay and climbed out on the far shoreline. For some reason, I never had any fear of bears or other wild animals in Algonquin Park while I was camping. I've always felt safer here than I do back in Ottawa. And in my 40 years of camping in Algonquin, I have only had bears in my campsite twice. And each time, although a nuisance, was a memorable experience!
We had a quick supper of lake trout and instant mashed potatoes with gravy. I fell asleep that night dreaming of hundreds of wolves, bears and other wild animals coming to the site to visit me! And they were all talking to me in a language that only they and I understood!
I awoke quite early realizing that this would be my last fishing day in the Park, as tomorrow would be used for traveling back to Canoe Lake. I also realized that I hadn't looked on the map yet to see if there existed another way from Big Trout to get back to where we started, other than going back down through Otterslide Creek.
It was a little chilly, so I started a good fire and spread the map open on the forest floor. I was pleased to discover that a route did exist through Trout and MacIntosh Lakes that would lead us back to Canoe Lake. Although it looked like a longer trip than the way we came in, there were only 4 portages involved, with one of them being a mammoth one.
Brother Bob was finally up with me by the fire. I showed him the route I thought we should take to go out. He reluctantly agreed. The plan was for us to leave very early the next morning.
But we still had all day to fish and we trolled Big Trout Lake from early morning until late in the evening. We only managed to catch 4 small lakers, which were all released. We went back to camp just before darkness fell and sat around the fire for a long time. Brother Bob eventually turned in and I once again went and laid down on the flat rocks on the shoreline. The lake was now completely calm and I could hear trout jumping in the middle and a cry of a loon way off in the distance. I stayed there for a while waiting for something remarkable to happen, but it never did. I remember looking up at all the stars in the sky and I was trying to come up with an answer of just how many they were. And I was wondering what lay beyond the stars? And then I was wondering how many trout were in Big Trout, and how many bears were roaming around the park? Lots of questions from a young lad of only 16! And I didn't have any answers!
I finally went to bed for the last time on this trip. And before falling asleep, I checked my sleeping bag for snakes. You just can't trust some brothers, if you know what I mean.
My brother and I were up at the crack of dawn, as it was moving day. Our vacation was almost over, but I'd had the time of my life. Although most people don't realize it, it can be quite dangerous tripping into the interior especially if something serious happens to you .. like appendicitis or pneumonia. One can actually die, and some have, before help arrives.
We rounded up all our gear and slowly but surely packed everything in our canoe. Although I have returned to that campsite many times, my brother never has. We paddled across Big Trout and through the narrows that took us to Trout Lake. We made a left turn here and paddled for about 30 minutes before meeting up with MacIntosh Creek. With only 2 small portages, this creek would take us all the way to MacIntosh Lake. This creek had a plethora of wildlife. I saw moose, beavers, otters, ducks, loons and many other colourful birds that I don't know the names of. It was such a peaceful feeling.
On occasion I've walked up real close to a moose and started talking to it, actually believing that it understood what I was saying! I've sat on the forest floor for hours feeding squirrels and chipmunks peanuts from my outstretched hand! I've had whiskeyjacks and chickadees land on my hand feeding on sunflower seeds that I was offering to them! I've canoed down the Little Madawaska River for miles with my friend the otter right beside the canoe and chatting to me all the way! And, I'm able to canoe real close to loons where I believe I can even sense what they are feeling! I'm one with all of them, and they have no fear of me!
We were now at the first portage and it was a tricky one as it crossed MacIntosh Creek and one had to balance on a log over the creek in order to get across to the other side. A long paddle after this and we were at the last portage that would take us to MacIntosh Lake. It wasn't a difficult portage at all.
MacIntosh is a roundish lake with many islands to camp on. We canoed down the left-hand shore line and found the creek that would take us to Ink Lake. The portage from Ink Lake to Tom Thomson Lake is a marathon one, but I had no difficulty at all and I managed to carry the canoe non-stop all the way to the end. I again jogged back to get my second load. We finished this portage and it was now getting late in the day. All that lay ahead of now us was about a 3 hour paddle and a small portage around the dam at Joe Lake. This was accomplished in short order and we had arrived back from where we started. Total time from Big Trout to Canoe Lake was about 11 hours.
My trip was over and I knew that I just had to come back for some more May trips.
Now, if one could go back in time to a spring day in Algonquin Park in May 1972, and if one just happened to be canoeing by a certain site on Big Trout Lake, one would've seen a young lad and his new bride on their honeymoon. And on closer examination of the campsite, one would've seen a 12 ft. dull, green fiberglass canoe pulled up on shore and a huge sheet of plastic flung over a rope tied between two trees, with its sides anchored by huge rocks and logs. If one had then looked beneath the plastic roof, one would've seen a smiling, misty-eyed young lad in the process of putting up his brand new, small, blue tent. And if one had then been able to delve deep into this young lad's soul, one would've discovered that a strong, loving bond had developed for Algonquin Park, as well as all the animals, fish, birds, trees, flowers and plants that live and flourish inside its boundaries.
And finally, one would have witnessed the rainbow that was beginning to form in the sky and draw the conclusion that this young lad's dad was smiling too!!!!!!