Our Man In Canada
November 24th, 2003

Ontario's French River Area
Family Fun Fly Fishing for Smallies and Pike

By Jorge J. Santiago-AvilÚs

As the pontoon boat moved lazily into the cove, my son Sebastian yelled, Dad, a huge Pike! I looked at the water in the direction the boat was moving, scanned left and right all the way to the shore, nothing! In my thoughts, I said to myself, child imagination, the same he uses making sea monsters out of the minnows in the ever-present bait pail. As those thoughts clear my head, I cast a chartreuse and yellow Clauser minnow to the port side shore. While retrieving it, I got a strike, a smallie, nothing to write home about, but listen! A smallie is a smallie, and those in the French River tend to be in the heavy side. Then, I saw the monster! It looked like a piece of a sycamore tree trunk, sort of grey and perhaps a foot in diameter speeding toward the struggling smallie. The outcome was anticlimactic; the muskie grabbed the bass and cut me out in a single motion. That was the last time I saw or felt the big fellow.

Happy Sebastian at full throttle taking us to the middle of the river channel

To be honest, I never saw the muskie head or tail, just the center, and it was impressive. Our guide, as he took care of changing a lure to my son's spinning rod, lowered his head, and said, "It happens all the time."

Well, how come it had never happened to us before! My fishing gang (and family) had fished this river perhaps five times during the last decade. It is ur smallmouth bass Nirvana. During the bass season, from mid-June to September, it is a fifty fish-per-person-per-day river. Of course you have to check out that the river is not too high or too low, or things might not be that easy.

View from the cabin in Cranes Lochaven Lodge. This is a particularly good place for early morning and evening walleyes.

The French River crosses several hundred kilometers of prime Ontario forest, from the Mippising Lake to the Bay of Quinte in lake Huron. It is a substantial river with low current and multiple large islands (giving you the impression you are fishing a lake). It is quite pristine and undeveloped, with lots of beaver, mink, deer, black bear and all kinds of birds, a place for the nature lover in you. The fishing lodge we always visit is called Crane's Locheaven Lodge. It is a well-established family run operation by the Crane family, and a true family place for family guests. We have been taking our kid there since he was 7 months, and now he is nearly 8 years old. There is a virtue in returning to a well-run fishing lodge, you develop a special relation with your hosts and guides, and it is the synergy obtained when you mix a great deal of friendship with admiration and respect. Besides, you get to know most of the repeat guests, some of which become your friends. Needless to say we feel at home in Locheaven Lodge.

My wife Marta is a dedicated small mouth bass person. Nothing more fun than connecting to a jumping smallie trying to shake out a woolly worm.

We particularly enjoy fishing with two of their guides. Jackie, who was our first guide at the lodge whom we have seen prematurely loosing some of his hair through the last decade. I am sure in no small part due to the toil of chasing and taking care of what was then my baby, then a toddler and now a full fledge over-inquisitive boy. The other guide Ed, is the oldest son of the Crane family. Both of these gentlemen are quite sociable, smart and understand the particular needs of the fly fishing guest, Ed being a fly fisherman himself.

Our friend and guide Ed with a good walleye. He gave my son the solid lenses from the walleye. He treasures that souvenir.

For the self-guided fly-fisherman, Locheaven lodge can be sort of an all-inclusive operation. It operates under the American plan; that is, it includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All served at the lodge dinning hall. For your fishing adventures you receive a well appointed steel boat (yes, steel, with all the rocks in the river is the material of choice for a working vessel, even if it is 16 feet in length) with an electric start motor. If you are fishing with a partner or your family, I recommend you hire a guide. It is inexpensive, and it will entitle you to travel in a pontoon boat, so everyone in your party can fish simultaneously, rather than you handling the boat while your partner fishes, with the kid bouncing up and down in the middle and messing up the casting by tangling the floating line. A related feature of the pontoon boat is that the child will see it as a wide and stable platform where to roam and play away from the bow area were most of the casting is done.

Jackie and Marta checking out a smallie caught by the rock behind them. Jackie is a long time friend and guide from the Lochaven lodge.

This summer the river was a bit too high for our taste. The fishing was, how shall we say, not quite as furious as to yield 50 smallies per day, but fast enough as to keep our enthusiasm, (a dozen fish each with a few good smallies and many of the ever cooperative rock bass to keep Sebastian happy). Of course there are always the pike. Oh, what a joy! There are plenty of pike in the 3 to 6 pounds category and you should be able to land a few over ten pounds in a week.

A veritable bonanza of small pike in this river. They are aggressive and suckers for Clouser minnows. They are small, but, careful handling them, their teeth are like little knives.

We release all the bass, but if we land a keeper pike (or a walleye), that means shore lunch. If we have the guide to clean and carve the fish, prepare the fire and cook-it, so much the better. This time Sebastian was curious of what the pike have in their entrails, what sort of pray this super-predator eats. Needless to say, we endured Jackie (and in due time Ed), as they dissected the fish and gave Sebastian a fish anatomy class. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of having a guide do the shore lunch for you, is that they know the best and most scenic places in the river. Those places with the right amount of wind to keep the bugs away and right wind direction to keep the smoke away from your face.

Jackie getting ready to start the fire for a shore lunch. Beautiful places like this one are common along the French River, and these guys know them all.

The guides always select places that are great for fishing, near good coves with the right rocky structure. Besides, they can point out and name all the trees, plants, and wildlife. This last time, the highlight was a cave with a pair of turkey vultures and their chicks. That was quite enlightening to our young naturalist, Sebastian. My wife Marta, always fishes this river with a small (7.5 foot) five weight Sage, her favorite rod because it's stiff and light. Well, she outfishes me most of the time, even when I cast farther than her with my 7 weight. She always uses light and small streamers, which are easy to cast. I always use large streamers, with the hope that large bait might lure a large fish. Well, maybe there is a message somewhere for us guys.

A happy fly fisherman (the author) with his prey. This is such a productive and fun river, and the lodge is a great and affordable family place.

So, if you like fly-fishing for smallmouth bass and pike, enjoy family atmosphere and unspoiled nature, give the French River area a try. You will not be disappointed. You can view the Cranes Lockhaven website at: http://www.cranes-lochavenlodge.com/ ~ Jorge J. Santiago-AvilÚs

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