Sec Lake Boys Trip . . . August 2015

by Craig White


It was Mother's Day weekend, the spring of 2015. The minute my 5 year old son wrapped-up lacrosse practice in Ottawa, we jumped in the car and headed straight for Canoe Lake. The plan was simple. Hit the Portage Store canoe sale, pick up a 15ft bargain, and make camp at the Rock Lake campground for the night and test out the canoe before returning home in the morning. Well, the canoes were sold out, and extreme weather was inbound. So after dinner at the Portage Store restaurant, we drove all the way back home though unbelievable thunderstorms, with no canoe.

Sometimes plans change kid . . .

However, while yelling at each other over the rain and thunder as we made our way back across highway 60, it was agreed that we'd make up for it with a 2 night boys trip later in the summer. So with that, we planned our first father/son trip .. to Sec Lake.

Day 1:

With my now just turned 6 year old tripping partner ready for action, we left home at 6:40am on a Friday morning. We surpassed all expectations for timing, pushing off onto a cloudy Sec Lake alongside another couple at 9:30am. Great start!

Loaded and ready to go

Despite having the car parked so accessibly close by, this trip was being done with minimal luxuries .. a bit of a tester for future trips. We limited ourselves to what we could comfortably fit in a single trip down the lake. Since the Canoe Lake debacle back in the spring, we'd purchased a barely used 15' kevlar Bob's Special, and had been doing some local paddling to get our trim and technique well established.

The couple ahead of us headed down by the eastern shore. We figured they'd snag any prime island sites, so we went west. For a minute it looked like the prime big island campsite was open, but it turned out that a soloist was well hidden from view. With showers pending, we tucked into the last site on the mainland before the island, and proceeded to set up camp. The site was good size, with a great tent area, but lacked any kind of "furniture". The weedy beach landing didn't make for great shore fishing, or swimming. However in contrast to a rocky point, it did make getting in and out of the boat very easy for us which was ideal for this trip.

Great sandy landing

By noon we had camp fully established, and some firewood gathered under our tarp. We agreed to head to the far eastern bay to check out the small rock island. So we packed our fishing and swimming gear, and headed out for adventure.

The boy with a small mouth bass

We each caught and released a decent bass en-route. But it wasn't long before the skies opened up with a very cool shower driving down. Although it didn't last long, it was somewhat chilling sitting in the boat in wet bathing suits. So as we were only halfway to our destination, we headed back to camp to dry off and warm up.

We played a couple rounds of Skip-Bo in the tent. I won both .. something that never happens at home. There was no more rain for a while, so the boy went froggin' along the shore while I gathered up some more firewood.

One of many fine specimens captured

Around 3:30 we decided to head out for a little fishing, looping around the big island. We had some pretty good success, and kept a nice mix of smallmouth and largemouth for fish dinner, as another shower opened up on us while out in the boat. Good thing we had lots of fish, as I managed to kick over the bag of dehydrated corn just before getting it zipped closed to re-hydrate.

We had chairs, but any kind of flat space to prep food on would have been really helpful. I might have to look into a barrel as a dual purpose storage/table for short trips like this. The fish made a great meal. We then paddled out to dispose of the remains, and to pump some more water (not in the same location). We could see more heavy cloud moving in from the southwest. As it worked out, the sun lasted through the rain showers. We didn't get wet this time and the scenery was fantastic! The sun lit up the eastern pine-clad shore, with the dark skies providing great contrast. Not only did we make the rainbow we were looking for, we could clearly see the end of it!!!

Rainbows are right there!

To the lucky campers on the north end of the small island, we hope you spend your pot of gold wisely!!

Looking for the shine off the pot of gold

We put in the rest of the day building our campfire, roasting some desserts, and playing a few rounds of 'pine cone baseball'. The game requires a selected piece of driftwood with a good, flat side, numerous sizes and shapes of pine cones, and one large, strategically placed white pine (red is suitable if you must) for the "pitcher" to retreat behind immediately upon delivery of the pine cone - for personal safety reasons. Any pine cones hit clear into the water from up on the campsite hill are automatic home runs, but running the bases (a.k.a. tagging a specified route of red pines) is optional, depending on age of the batter.

We timed our campfire perfectly, as by 9pm it was getting quite dark, and we only had a few coals to douse before turning in for the night.

Day 2:

We both awoke just a little before 6am, which is about our usual at home. So, all-in-all, a decent night's sleep was had. It was cool enough to want socks, shoes, pants and sleeves. But we knew it would get warm fast, once the sun came up.

Early morning fog

Breakfast was mini M&M pancakes, and they didn't disappoint! This day we planned to tackle a portage. So, we packed up our fishing gear, lots of snacks, and headed off to explore Mallard Lake. The take out was a rocky beach, with a short but steep rise up the sandy bank from the water. As we made our way through, I was surprised how overgrown it was. I'd never considered how many more branches in the face you have to deal with if you are less than 4ft tall. But we crossed the trail twice with zero complaints, and my partner called out obstacles for me as I carried the canoe.

We launched onto Mallard, to see an aluminum boat cruising about with an electric motor. "Huh, they can't do that" I muttered as we pushed off. As we slowly trolled down the east side of the lake, it dawned on me that Mallard is a border lake. The boat then scooted right past us, and pulled into a small campsite, equipped with satellite TV no less! Ah right, they CAN do that.

We worked down through the shallow narrows, catching a couple of small largemouth, and exploring as we went.

Water lily

We pulled up at a 'crown land' campsite. It was a nice spot, other than the trash and piles of beer cans. It was in notable contrast to the condition of our campsite back on Sec Lake. It was a good chance to discuss Leave No Trace principles with real evidence, and as to why the rules are in place inside of Algonquin Park. A lot of chipmunks scurried about the site as we stretched, snooped, and snacked. Since neither of us were overly impressed with the Mallard Lake fishing or scenery, we decided to head back to the portage. The paddle back across a calm Sec Lake yielded yet another feisty smallmouth for the bow-man.

Another smallmouth

I was thrilled with the lack of winds, as it had been my biggest concern for this trip. The flat water was not great for fishing though, as we saw many nice bass spook under the shadow cast by our canoe. But overall, it was a gorgeous day of easy paddling.

Back at the campsite, I decided it was time for more sunscreen. But as I pulled the small bag out of the dry pack, I was completely unaware of what was coming. I opened the zipper on the small bag, and immediately let out a yell of rather embarrassing tone and volume, as a chipmunk SHOT out of the bag like a bullet. It headed across my hand and half way across the site before stopping to get his bearings, "What the .. ? Did he just .. ? We just portaged a chipmunk!

Yup, the poor guy must have gotten into the bag back at Mallard Lake, looking for snacks. We then unknowingly had packed him up, paddled him up Mallard, carried him back to Sec, then paddled him all the way back down to our campsite! The boy was still busy laughing at how startled I had been by a tiny little chipmunk. You just can't script this kind of stuff. In hindsight I'm just glad I didn't look for the sunscreen mid-lake and turn him loose in the canoe!

As on the previous day, we set off after lunch for the small island at the far end of the lake. This day though, there were no cold rain showers to deter us. It was bright and calm as we paddled to the eastern portion of the lake. What a great spot!

Cliff from the island

We explored around the small yet interesting island and chatted with the soloist camped near us about the snakes on his island. We then had a great swim off the rocks in the clear water.

Paddling by the cliff

We eventually paddled away to check out the cliff, and nearby campsite. It was an OK site, and we wanted to check it out due to its proximity to the island and cliffs for future reference. With the likelihood of never being alone on this lake, knowing the campsite options seems wise.

We fished our way back to camp without any success. So we set about preparing KD and hotdogs for dinner.

A water snake cruised by our site, 10ft offshore. We followed him down the shoreline as it became shallower and shallower. We lost sight of him for a second in the brush, until 3 frogs erupted for the trees! I told the boy that his harassment of the frog population had put them on high alert, and had saved them from being snake food this time!

Still hungry water snake departing

We made another short outing for drinking water and cast a few lures around, but had no real fishing success. We still had lots of campfire goodies to take care of. By 8:30pm we had everything tidied up, and decided to put out the fire and retire to the tent before bed, for a few games of UNO, in which I was thoroughly beaten. It seemed my card partner hadn't enjoyed my previous day's victory celebrations. By 9pm or so, we said our goodnights and turned in.

Day 3:

There were lots of options this morning. We could stay as late as 11am and still be home on time. Or we could pack down and head home whenever we were ready. After a simple yet satisfying breakfast of oatmeal and hot drink of choice, we decided we'd slowly pack down, and troll our way slowly back to the car. After all, we'd accomplished almost everything we came to do (aside from catch a pike). And we had a new puppy at home with the girls awaiting our return. No less than 7 loons swam in to wish us off this morning.

Loons cruising in to say goodbye

With the campsite spotless, and a nice pile of wood left for the next occupants, we pushed off one last time from the sandy landing. Our last pass down the lake produced one last scrappy smallmouth that cleared the water twice before the rod ever made it out of the holder.

One last smallmouth

We stopped for a treat at the Algonquin Portage Store on the way out, and scored a great paddle from the rental bin for $7 for the boy, who was badly in need of a longer paddle. As we headed for highway 17, we agreed it had been a great trip. The only question now is are we back at Sec Lake next year, or off in search of new waters?