Scott Smith's "Billabong 2006" Algonquin Adventure (May 5 Ė 7)

3 Day Loop (Access #27) - Cedar Lake, Petawawa River, Catfish Lake,
Lynx Lake, Luckless Lake, Nipissing River, Cedar Lake      

Voyageurs: Scott Smith, David Mazurkiewicz, Daniel Ansari, Ainsley Raymond,
Darren Wolfe, Shawn Collins, Lawrence and Bojan

I dedicate this trip-log to all my friends "Voyageurs" who have joined me on my many trips to Algonquin over the years. "May the wind always be at your back."

The term "Bil-la-bong", as used in this trip-log, has been adopted as a reference to our many Algonquin adventures over the years. Itís defined as follows: "In Australia, a pool formed by a backwater channel of a stream". People may think this description is unbecoming of such a magnificent and enjoyable place like Algonquin and this is not the intention. Itís merely used as a reference by our particular group of trippers and it describes the place that every one of us has a deep connection to. There is simply no other place that I would rather be than interior camping in Algonquin Park.

May 4

Our much anticipated journey began in London, Ontario as my friend Dave and his eleven year old nephew Shawn drove to Mississauga to pick me up. It was truly hard to believe that the time had finally come and all the e-mail correspondence and trip planning was about to be put to the test. The hardest test of all would be for my friend Dave who suffered a broken collarbone from a recent car accident. As a result, we decided to share a pack between the two of us, which would prove to be a significant challenge. Gone are the days of our youth when two week trips in the interior were the norm. Now we must be content with our 3 day excursions in order to get our annual Algonquin fix. After inspecting, organizing and carefully packing our gear, we finally departed en route to North Bay, with a quick stop just north of Barrie to pick up Darren another member of our contingent. Darren was a first timer to the whole Algonquin experience and was just beaming with excitement.

After fuelling up in North Bay we traveled east on Hwy 17 to the town of Mattawa and half an hour further to reach the access road to Brent. A very beautiful drive in the daylight with the Ottawa river and high terrain on the Quebec side to the north. Unfortunately, we were travelling in total darkness so these sights were just out of our grasp. To shave 10 minutes off your driving time take exit 94 at Calendar and you will bypass North Bay completely and then reconnect with Hwy 17 E. Finally we arrived at the permit office at 1:00 a.m. The office is located just off Hwy 17 about 1 km south on the access road. This was the rendezvous to meet our four friends (Daniel, Ainsley, Bojan and Lawrence) who were spending the night at a hotel in Mattawa. We decided to spend the night in the car in order to get an early start. The permit office is a brand new building that is very convenient and located directly off the highway. It used to be located at the 15 km marker on the access road however the old permit office that existed was recently torn down.

May 5   Cedar L, Pettawawa R, Catfish L, Lynx L

It was the start of our journey and we awoke at 6:00 a.m. to a clear but crisp morning awaiting the arrival of our friends. The night was very long and restless and none of us were able to get much sleep with the anticipation of things to come. About half hour later our friends rolled in from Mattawa and we picked up our permits at 7:00 a.m. The permit office always opens early which is a definite plus for early starts, however this is often not the case for the Brent store which on many occasions has opened past 8:00 a.m. the regular opening time. Always friendly service at the store coupled with the anticipation of our trip makes it difficult to get upset. We met up with a young fellow who was minding the store and his trusty dog "Dozer", a half lab and half boxer mix. I always remember the long trains that passed through Brent in the early 90ís and used to be the lifeline of this small town. Today the tracks are torn up and the days of the railroad are long gone. If you are departing from the dock at the Brent store be sure to sign and write on the white message board so to remember your tripping experience. This board is nailed to the ceiling of the store each year and I always enjoy reading the signatures and stories from our past trips and those of others. If you are not renting from Algonquin Outfitters the departure point is the dock at the beach where there is a parking lot. This point is located just west of the Brent store and is the first open area at he south end of the access road in.

We were on the water at 8:30 a.m. and headed towards the rapids of the Petawawa River that can be seen spilling out into Cedar Lake from a distance. Itís often difficult to negotiate Cedar which is a large open body of water, were choppy waters and strong winds are the norm. On this morning though, all was calm and we easily made it across in just over half an hour. We originally planned to travel up the Nipissing River to reach Lynx Lake as we have done several times in the past, however for variety and shorter overall portaging distance we opted to travel the Petawawa instead.

Petawawa River Falls

The route along the Petawawa River although picturesque includes some long grinding portages, including a 715 m, 255 m and 2,345 m which are uphill carries all the way. Basically the 715 m and 255 m portages are warm ups and we single carried both distances with ease. Take the time to stop and enjoy the large falls at the 255 m portage. We refer to this beauty as "Niagara Falls" and many old timber pilings from the logging days remain lodged at the bottom of the discharge. Definitely some great photo opportunities to be had. Next up was the gut wrenching "heart attack" 2,345 m carry that was hanging over ours heads.

This portage was only the second longest of the trip, but is without question the most demanding I have encountering in the Park. No doubt this carry makes up the majority of the 80 m difference in elevation between Cedar (307 m) and Catfish (387 m). Although we were able to single carry the entire distance, my paddling partner Darren and I stopped at the ĺ mark for a break. Bojan and Ainsley, who were not far behind us, also stopped to join us. Darren offered me a few pastrami and sauerkraut sandwiches, which tasted like heaven on earth and that gave us the energy we needed to press on. Working together as a team on portages will improve your efficiency. A good tip involves travelling together side by side with your partner, handing the canoe off to one another when fatigue sets in. Split the workload and youíll find the carries much easier.

Next is a short paddle across a small pond to the 170 m portage to Narrowbag Lake. Always be cautious in early spring as a strong current exists that sweeps across this small expanse of water and youíll need to be prepared. I recommend getting a few strong paddle strokes heading on a diagonal line into the current and you will pop though to the other side without incident. I have heard of some unfortunate trippers who have dumped their canoes in this current, but luckily no serious injury .. just smashed canoes. After a quick carry across an AFA logging road we reached Narrowbag Lake and encountered a few other trippers. One group of two guys just flew by us on this portage only stopping long enough to say hi. The weight of their canoe was only 38 lbs. and their packs seemed light as a feather as they swung them into their boat with little effort. We were most envious and talk about efficiency! After a quick breather we launched into Narrowbag and started paddling west along itís expanse. Narrowbag is a long lake and an enjoyable paddle. This has always been a travel lake for us and I have never seriously fished these waters. I have however, witnessed several brook trout rising to the surface in the past.

Catfish Lake Narrows

After skipping across the 80 m portage which is only a minor inconvenience, we slipped into Catfish Lake. I noticed an older couple fishing the rapids on the Narrowbag end. The opening into Catfish is very scenic with large boulders and some current to negotiate. After a short paddle the narrows open up into the NE corner of Catfish. Darren and I attempted some fishing and trolled in a SW direction past the island with the Alligator until we hit the set of narrows leading to the next section of Catfish. To reach Lynx Lake we headed west along the NW arm of Catfish and into a strong headwind. Shortly afterwards we were met with a strong drizzling and driving rain to make us even more uncomfortable. I was directly responsible for navigating and leading our group of 4 canoes and although I knew exactly where I was going my fellow trippers were getting a bit anxious with the deplorable conditions. Upon reaching the end of the NW arm you angle south for about 1 km along a narrow passage that leads directly into Lynx, our final destination. I wonder why this lake is named Lynx? It was a relief for all as the passage was totally protected from the gusting wind and we were able to take a needed break.

Lynx Lake

About 15 minutes later the narrows opened up into the SE end of Lynx and knowing this route from the past I knew it was time to wet a line. Darren and I started trolling and almost immediately I hooked into a nice lake trout just past the first campsite. After a good battle we skillfully flipped the fish into the canoe. It was a good 3 lbs. and perfect for shore lunch. We never bring a net is it can be quite cumbersome to carry in and we like to give the fish a chance. Lost many a fish at the boat over the years as a result.

The rest of the group pressed on ahead of us and set up camp at the northern campsite. This site is adjacent to the portage into Luckless Lake, which is only a short 595 m carry and a good option for fishing. Luckless, contrary to itís name, has proven very lucky for lake trout fishing over the years and shows as only having brookies in the "Fishing in Algonquin" guide. The Lynx site we were staying at is just a short walk away from Luckless and itís a good idea to leave a canoe behind at the end of the portage for easy fishing.

Lynx Lake has always been a favourite of Daveís and mine. Dave and I have been tripping together in Algonquin for the past 15 years. At the age of 35 thatís a good portion of our lives with many memories attached. Lynx is a smaller sized lake that is usually protected from the wind and has a beautiful view looking south with a small island in the NW corner. One feature I find attractive about Lynx is the back bay to the south, which is totally secluded and is basically like a separate lake. Dave and I have been to Lynx five times and have rarely seen anyone travelling through. Over the years we have caught both lake trout and brook trout. However, the brook trout fishing has been a bit tough in recent years. There used to be a Ranger Cabin located in the field directly to the north of the site on Lynx. All that remains is the clearing riddled with old artifacts and saw blades from the past. New tree growth and foliage is quickly reclaiming the field, which has been noticeable over the past several years.

Lynx Lake Campsite

Upon arriving at camp, Darren and I noticed that everything including the tents where set up which meant less work for us. After setting foot on shore with my fresh catch of lake trout, everyone was surprised. Apparently no one heard the commotion on the water, not paying any attention to us. What else is new? After cleaning the fish we prepared dinner and began to unwind after a long day of paddling. It was a cool crisp evening and the temperature was dropping fast. The echo of the spring peepers (frogs) could be heard everywhere as we prepared our campfire to keep us warm. We would all sleep well this night.

May 6   Lynx Lake

It was Saturday morning and we awoke to the "pitter patter" of what sounded like raindrops pounding hard on the tent. It was 6:00 a.m. and I was contemplating whether to try some fishing, however the discouraging weather kept me in the tent until 8:00 a.m. After popping my head out of the tent my jaw dropped with the sight of steady snow flurries in the air. I could hardly believe what I saw! Soon afterwards the rest of the gang awoke and reluctantly gathered at the fire pit where Dave had a good fire going. The flurries were strong and at times would then taper off, a cycle that would continue for balance of the morning. The sight of snow was disheartening indeed, but it did not break our morale. A few of the guys decided to venture out to try some fishing.

Three canoes went out as we launched an all out fishing assault on the lake. We brought along 2 pairs to walkie-talkies to report in our catches. Each canoe with a radio and one left behind at base camp. Reports of the blowing snow and total disbelief could be heard over the radios. Good thing we packed our toques and gloves.

Shawn's Catch

Moments later we could all hear the celebration as Daveís eleven-year-old nephew Shawn reeled in a nice 3 lb. laker the largest fish heís ever caught. It was truly a glorious moment and one that he will always remember. But that was not the end of it. Shawn quickly hooked into yet another laker that was slightly smaller but a respectable size. Yes, we were all letting the kid get the better of us but for a kid these are the types of memories that will last a lifetime. Shawn proudly reported his catch to everyone. We were all looking forward to enjoying a delicious shore lunch Algonquin style and Shawnís catch would be more than enough to feed the 8 of us. Luckily I avoided getting skunked as I hooked and landed a small 16" laker casting to shore. It was quickly released to fight another day. A short time later we all headed back to shore to warm up as by this time we were all cold and damp.

One little mishap to report. After returning from a jubilant fishing trip Shawn slipped and fell off of the rock in front of our site and into the water. He jumped out as quickly as he fell in, as water temps are frigid. Luckily he had an extra change of clothes and was able to warm himself by the fire, which was already ablaze. Iím sure this will also be an experience he will always remember and that safety around the water should never be taken for granted.

Lake Trout Fillets

Upon returning to camp I cleaned the fish as we prepared for dinner. Cleaning fish just so happens to be one of my responsibilities on our trips. I donít mind it that much as it always brings back memories of when my Grandfather taught me this skill from our days fishing in the Muskokaís. On the menu for the evening was trout cooked three different ways. Trout marinated in Cajun with black pepper (Ainsleyís special); trout marinated in maple jelly thinned with homemade maple syrup (compliments of Darren) and lastly trout baked in foil for 15-20 minutes with onions and lemon wedges (Again compliments of Darren). Having good cooks on any trip is a luxury as my cooking skills leave much to be desired. On the side we had 4 grain rice, mashed potatoes and red wine from a tetra pack. Just plain heaven! The White Crowned Sparrows were scurrying all around our campsite much to our amusement and also provided some dinner time entertainment.


Dave's Lakers

After dinner we once again tried our hand at some fishing. Darren decided to be my guide as Dave and Shawn, and Daniel and Ainsley paired up. We decided to try casting to shore to try and stir up some illusive speckies. After a precision cast almost right on shore something quickly engulfed my #6 Panther Martin spinner and the drag started humming. Several long runs followed and after a lengthy battle I was able to land a nice 5 lb. lake trout. This is not a typical pattern for lakers however in the early spring when the water temperature is more uniform they will often cruise the shallows to feed. Shortly after I spotted another large laker slowly cruising the bottom in about 3 feet of water. After announcing my catch on the radio it was quickly returned with news that Ainsley also boated a nice laker (~2-3 lbs.). What a great way to cap off the evening as we all returned to camp.

The day was an emotional rollercoaster with many high and low points. Our fortunes definitely seemed to turn for the better as the day was drawing to an end. I was concerned as the digital camera I had brought had moisture build up behind the screen. This was upsetting as I always keep warm and in a large ziplock. No further pictures were taken with it and as the result many lost photo opportunities. Luckily Dave brought a digital video camera with video footage and stills. I was happy to know that the memories of "Billabong 2006" will be preserved on DVD for years to come.

Night was falling and the curtain was closing on yet another enjoyable year of spring camping in the Algonquin interior. The campfire was set and we all gathered round to share the experiences of the day. Later on Darren treated us to an exceptional performance on the harmonica. He not only played, but he sang songs by Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" and Tom Pettie. It was a real treat for all to enjoy. Difficult to blow and sing while inhaling campfire smoke. Darrenís performance was met with a thunderous applause. We all turned in afterwards as the solitude and quiet sounds of the night crept in.

May 7   Lynx L, Luckless L, Nipissing R, Cedar L

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. to a clear blue sky after having a restless sleep. Today was our final day and the long trip back was upon us. After stepping outside the tent I met up with Dave and we decided to give the fishing on Lynx a final try. I welcomed this opportunity to have a chance to visit with Dave. After all it was only until 4 years ago that it used to only be a two man trip with Dave and I. Our annual spring trip has changed dramatically with a total of 8 people participating this year. Itís just as enjoyable but a different experience for sure.

The lake was like glass reflecting the surrounding shoreline. Conditions were perfect as we trolled towards the NW bay of the lake. Upon arriving in the bay we started casting to shore and soon after noticed a beaver lodge. Upon careful observation we noticed the beaver on top of the lodge doing a little bit of renovating. We paddled slowly by so not to disturb it as we watched him go about his business as the construction continued. I was expecting a rude slap of the tail but I guess we did not look intimidating enough. Without any luck we arrived back at camp at 8:00 a.m. and there was not any activity at camp. I guess everyone was enjoying their sleep in preparation for the long day ahead. Dave and I were getting a bit anxious, as we wanted to hit the Nipissing River early so that we could enjoy the sights and a leisurely paddle. At 11:00 a.m. after we packed up camp and everyone had eaten, we headed up the portage 595 m to Luckless. Itís great when the first portage of the day starts with walking rather than having to load up the canoe.

After completing the short carry we loaded up the gear and headed out onto Luckless which was like glass and extremely peaceful. In my opinion Luckless Lake is a gem and is very secluded off the beaten path. With only a few campsites and good fishing opportunities to be had. Iíve had the best of luck on the west shore while the eastern part of the lake is very shallow and snag prone. Itís a short carry into Luckless if accessing from Catfish Lake and definitely worth the effort.

A few minutes of easy paddling across Luckless and we reached the 2,835 m. portage to the Nipissing River. After assembling at the shoreline and taking a final breather we began the long descent to the banks of the Nipissing. This portage although longer than the 2,345 m. on the Petawawa, is easier as itís all downhill to the Nipissing and over 1/3 of the distance is on AFA logging road. After several canoe hand offs without any rests along the way, our group managed to single carried the entire 2,835 m. distance in only 45 minutes. I was impressed that my friend Dave who was recovering from a broken collarbone managed to carry a fully loaded pack and the canoe the entire distance.

Once on the Nipissing we all felt a sense of accomplishment and relief. All the major portaging was now behind us and we would be paddling with the current all the way to Cedar Lake. It was simply a matter of steering the canoe and the current would do the rest. This section of the river is relatively straight and only has a few minor meanders that are easy to negotiate. I enjoy this part of the trip as we always take our time to fish and enjoy the scenery. Precision casting Mepps #2 spinners towards the boulders, riffles and undercut banks often yields some good catches of both brook trout and smallmouth bass. Ainsley managed to catch a nice 16" brookie while casting to a riffle at the top of a pool in the middle of the stream. We stopped briefly to admire this beauty which was released shortly after. Momentís later Darren and I were casting towards some shoreline boulders when suddenly both are lines exploded. We had a double header and after a few seconds of hard fighting we realized we both had 1.5 lb. smallmouth bass on the end of our lines. After a comparison to see who had the bigger fish (of course it was me), we quickly released both fish. What a great fight and catching smallmouth bass was quite unexpected.

After all this excitement had passed we approached the next portage on the river of 230 m. In the spring the rapids on this portage can be run with ease, however I recommend getting out of your canoe and walking the distance to inspect the terrain. Other than a few boulders on the course an experienced paddler can easily shoot these rapids. And be sure to wear your lifejacket on the way down as a safety precaution.

Unfortunately the next portage of 915 m has to be carried. The first 200 m is all uphill and then a nice sloping downhill walk all the way to the mouth of the Nipissing. Do take the time to fish the outflow of the Nipissing for speckies. The bank at the river mouth is flat and wide open. A very good location for casting. As such we decided to try some fan casting with spinners. Ainsley hooked into a nice fish and fought it for a while before it shook the hook. Did not get a look at it but probably a nice brookie. Soon after we began our long paddle out of the Nipissing river delta and toward the opening to Cedar Lake. Coming around the corner we spotted a large cow moose grazing in the shallows. This Nipissing delta is a prime moose habitat and sightings are common here. What a great way to end our trip. Next was the long grinding paddle across Cedar Lake to the dock at the Brent store.

At The Brent Dock

As is tradition, we all looked forward to having lunch at the Subway restaurant in Mattawa, but none of us was looking forward to the long ride home.

"Billabong 2006   Let it snow . . . let it snow . . . let it snow . . ."

Writing and photography by Scott Smith