Biscotasing - Spanish River

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SNAPSHOT

Portages: 4

Longest Portage: 900m (approx.)

Total Portage Distance: 2300m (approx.)

Portage Difficulty: Difficult

Paddling Difficulty: Intermediate

Overall Difficulty: Moderate-Advanced

Time: 7-8 days

 

Day 1: Toronto - Biscotasing (Bisco)

We left Toronto at 3:30pm with hopes of arriving at Biscotasing (Bisco) before midnight. Approximately 8 hours from Toronto and 3 hours north of Sudbury hides this small town only accessed by logging roads. The population in the off season is said to be 20 but in the summer it is a well known fishing town. We arrived at the watershed around 10:30pm (at Sultan Industrial Rd. and Hwy. 144) to fill up gas before driving into Bisco. The watershed is a well known spot as it is the last place to fill up gas on your way in. It is said to be a 70km drive from the Watershed but we ended up missing the turn off Sultan Industrial Road and ended up following it all the way into Sultan. There were no signs up here, our phone signals were gone, and we were somewhat lost right off the bat. Our phones were still able to triangulate our rough position and a general idea of what direction we were heading, but showed no roads. Knowing the general direction of Bisco, we used trial and error to find the right way to get there in the dark. After everything we finally ended up getting to the general store at 4am and quickly pitched our tent out back. We did our best to get some sleep but little did we know there were two trains scheduled to pass by at 5am and 6am in the morning and they are not shy with the whistle. 

Day 2: Launch - Boyuk Bay

We woke up at 8am and asked a local cottager what time the general store opened. She said there was no specific time and that if we really needed something we could just knock and the owner would wake up. We really didn't feel comfortable doing that being guests in the town. Once letting us know she didn't think the store had coffee, we got invited to her camp as they had fresh coffee made. After a cup with them, we paid our $25 parking for the week, packed up the canoe and headed out SW towards the train tracks.  We opted to take the scenic route and went for the Crooked Narrows, which was a little our of the way.  Our first fish of the trip was caught just after the narrows, and we stopped on an island nearby for a shore lunch.  After lunch the weather turned from the previously sunny and bluebird skies to heavy rain and strong winds as we paddled into the large bay of Biscotasi Lake. We followed the eastern shore around an island in hopes to have protection from the wind and while effective, we had to do a slight liftover through a sand patch.  We continued into O’neil Bay towards Boyuk Bay where we decided to camp for the night.  We set up our camp on the north shore of Boyuk Bay near the mouth.  The site was marked and was in pretty good shape.  Fishing in the area left something to be desired, only managing to bring in one pickerel that night.

Day 3: Boyuk Bay to Indian Lake

            Day 3 we woke up to rain, lots of rain.  The rain continued on from the moment we woke up until 1pm which made cooking breakfast, packing up and paddling in open water that much more difficult.  Just after 1pm the sun poked out for a few hours so we decided to take advantage and move onwards back into Biscotasi Lake towards the railway portage into Indian Lake.  This rail line makes it extremely easy to get all the equipment and canoe over a 250m portage in one trip. We paddled right up to and over the rail cart, grabbed the rope, and pulled the canoe up and out of the water and across to Indian Lake.

  From what we had read, this rail line had been installed by the Biscotasing locals so they could build a lodge for the Prince of Wales, even though he never ended up travelling out to the lodge anyways.  Nonetheless we found it to be very useful for our needs.  Just after crossing the railway portage, the rain returned. Starting with just a light drizzle, the skies were growing very dark and we knew we were going to have to make camp soon. Kevin Callan’s map showed some sites coming up that were marked from his time spent in the area. We found an island site just in time. Just as we pulled up on land, the rain didn't hold back.  This torrential downpour remained for almost the entire night, which made setting up our tent or getting a fire started very challenging.  The site itself was very large with many different and suitable areas for setting up camp.  The fishing off a large drop off on the East side of site was awesome – bringing in (even during the storm) three pickerel and a pike that we cleaned and had for dinner that night.  Luckily the storm lightened for a few minutes so we took the opportunity to set up our tent and fix our tarp set up to try and have a dry area for us to cook.  Soon after, the storm came back stronger than before, so we did all we could, and called it a night, tired of battling the elements and trying to stay dry. 

Day 4: Indian Lake

            After a long night of rain it was nice to wake up to sun. The pickerel fishing continued with us bringing in a few more and having a bacon and onion stuffed pickerel breakfast.  The morning mainly consisted of us trying to dry as much of our stuff as possible while still packing up what was dry enough so we could get on our way further into Indian Lake.  As we were about to set off, a bush plane came in to land at the camp across from our site. Likely just dropping off some new guests for the week. 

            We continued paddling onward and found an amazing little bay that seemed to be full of pickerel.  We ended up catching and keeping a few pickerel and a pike for a shore lunch at an unmarked site.  The fishing in this area was amazing and we caught many more fish then we could have possibly ate.  Just before leaving the shore lunch site, Noah brought in the biggest pickerel of the trip which we unfortunately do not have an accurate measurement on.  On the ensuing paddle we encountered some strong headwinds that slowed our pace a fair deal.  Made it to the area where we believed there would be a few campsites based on Kevin’s experiences paddling this lake.  We choose a site about 2km to the West of Metagama Bay as we planned on paddling toward Tasker Bay to the West of Indian Lake the following day. 

The site was extremely large, located on an island, but also bared the signs of plenty of use.  The site was messy to say the least, with forgotten and broken camping equipment left around as well as plenty of garbage. We did our best to tidy up the area for future campers and so that we could enjoy the site a little more.  After a long day we had a nice big fire to sit by that night.

Day 5: Indian Lake

            Day 5 started with a cloudy sky and a strong breeze. After a quick breakfast we packed up to head into Tasker Bay to follow our proposed route into Southern Bay to the West of Indian Lake. 

Just after leaving the main bay of Indian Lake along the South shore, there is the remnants of the Lodge the Biscotasing locals had built for the Prince of Wales.  We stopped to check out the area as we had previously read about it and found ourselves curious to see it as well.  All that remains is the chimneystack and an old bedspring along with assorted odds and ends, which may have been left there by others over the years as the lodge site appears to have been used as a campsite.  After another hour or so of paddling we had reached the West end of Tasker Bay, which becomes a swampy and buggy area.  Nonetheless this did not deter us from at least attempting to find a way to portage through this forest into Southern Bay.  After about half an hour of being bit by mosquitos and stumbling around in marshy conditions, we came to the conclusion that this would be impassable as a portage with all our gear. We had been told by the locals that were kind enough to give us coffee on the very first day that their father had maintained some portages along the route but that was a long time ago, and this is what we were finding out the hard way. 

            After reconvening over a pickerel lunch at another very used shore lunch spot, we looked over our map and decided to head back into Indian Lake and stay at one of the other island sites that we had seen the day before.  At this point we were all feeling fairly broken, and did not want to completely admit to the defeat of not being able to follow the route we had set out to complete. 

Day 6: Indian Lake - Norma Lake - Mishap Lake

            The new route we decided on was a proposed alternate route that Kevin Callan had made mention of in his book Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario.  This required us to retrace our path north on Indian Lake, into very strong headwinds, and east into East Earl Bay. After following the narrow bay as it heads back up northwards to the East shore there was to be a portage, around 600m, that would then lead us into Norma Lake, about a 1km paddle across the small lake and then another portage, about 550m into Mishap Lake where we planned to call it a day and camp for the night.  This plan, on paper, seemed very simple but in reality it was nothing of the kind.  The paddle to the first portage was not too bad, albeit the strong winds and light rain.  However when we arrived at what we believed to be the first portage location we were surprised to see three individuals who had set up camp there.  When we pulled our canoe up on shore we inquired about Norma Lake asking if they knew of a portage over to it, to our dismay they said they had never even heard of the lake.  However, they had cleared a path out to a logging road that they had used to access there camp and pointed us in that direction, which luckily corresponded with the direction of Norma. Unfortunately for us though, none of our maps had any distinction of any sort of road existing in this location.  We spent a great deal of time looking for the other side to continue on but with little luck until we decided to just push right through the heavy bush where it looked like there may, at one point, have been a portage or at the very least a path.  This very overgrown path, complete with plenty of bear scat, ended up bringing us to our sought after lake at last, only 200m or so from the logging road. 

            We completed the short paddle across Norma, a shallow and beaver infested lake, to what we had hoped would be a somewhat marked portage.  We spent the good part of an hour searching along the far eastern shore’s forest for some sort of way to get our gear and canoe through but nothing seemed possible.  We then spent another hour or so attempting to navigate the marshy land to the northeast end of the lake but it was also impassible.  As a last ditch effort we decided to point our canoe to furthest Southeast corner of Norma, which was made up of swampy and reedy marshland followed by dense forest.  After walking towards the East, almost aimlessly we came to a hill, that lead us to another gravel road (one we believe must have been connected to the one on the other side of Norma).  Although this was exciting to get to another ‘checkpoint’ we still had no idea how to get to Mishap Lake from this point. For the next hour we had to then portage our equipment through the thick forest and then search the logging road, which was covered in more bear scat for any clue of the next section of our proposed portage.  During this time we ventured through knee deep marshland hoping (as we had seen some orange ties hanging from trees) that this may lead us to something but all it came to show us was evidence of wolves and more bears.   Further down the road we ended up seeing another few orange ties hanging from trees.  Out of desperation at this point we decided to follow it and to our extreme joy we found more of these orange ties until it became obvious that this had to have been a path to something.  These orange ties ended up being the ‘portage’ to Mishap Lake.  All together the two portages and 1km paddle ended up taking us a little more than four hours due to the shear density of the forest we had to navigate and little to no markings to follow. 

            Within Mishap Lake we started off with good fortune, right away, catching a couple pickerel for our dinner.  We set up camp on the only area that we could find in the lake (on a southern peninsula, if you were to enter from the bay to the west).  Upon entering this Mishap Lake' we had believed that we would be totally isolated judging by the shear difficulty of entering this lake.  However we soon found out after entering the lake from the western bay that this would not be the case.  To the north we were able to see a large camp and soon after heard a boat coming from further down the lake where it ends into a small creek.  That night we were able to hear evidence of the wolves in the area in full force, hearing their howls as we fell asleep.

Day 7: Mishap Lake

            Woke up to some sunshine for the first time in a while.  We spent the majority of the day fishing and swimming in this new lake and were able to catch enough fish for both lunch and dinner. Due to the change in route and the amount of distance that we had ahead of us to complete the new loop, we decided to stay on Mishap Lake at our site for the day and spend two nights at this awesome little lake that has had the most plentiful fishing we’ve encountered.  While fishing we met a few of the people that were at the camp.  According to them we were the first people they had seen on Mishap in the twenty-six years that they had owned this property.  They were completely unaware that portaging into this lake would even be possible as they did not even make use of the logging road that we had crossed to access the camp but used a bush plane.  A while after meeting these friendly folks, when we were considering calling it a day and heading back to our campsite, I hooked into a large pike.  The fish was big enough that for the first bit we were unsure if it was just a snag or actually a fish, but once it broke the surface there was no mistaking it.  The pike was  just over 30 inches and according to the Mishap locals the biggest fish they had ever seen come out of the lake.  These locals stopped by our site later that night with some much appreciated cold beers for us and to hear a little more about our journey thus far and hangout around the fire. 

Day 8: Mishap Lake - Skelton Lake - Mishap Creek

            Today we moved forward with the trip after a day of fishing and relaxing.  We paddled North up Mishap Lake towards Skelton Lake which had a portage approximately 900m in length to reach.  From previous experiences thus far on the trip we were prepared to have to battle through yet another unmarked and unmaintained portage, however we were able to fairly easily identify the portage.  It seems as thought the Mishap locals must have used this path at some varying points as it was marked with pink ties rather sporadically but not maintained.  The entrance point to the portage required us to lift over a downed tree that blocked the path to the steep rock face to the paddler’s right, which required a liftover.  The portage itself, although lightly maintained, had many fallen trees and rotten stumps that were just waiting to collapse when you stepped on them, as well as the length of it and the amount of bugs made it moderately difficult but easier than the previous two. 

            Once we entered Skelton Lake we stopped at a small peninsula campsite on East shore for lunch, to regroup after the portage and to come up with a plan as to where we would paddle to today.  What followed would be one of the most scenic paddles any of us had ever done.  The waterway that leads from Skelton Lake to Mishap Creek consisted of narrowing areas with towering trees, many meanders, with more wildlife than we had seen for the majority of the trip as well as some great pike fishing through some particularly reedy sections.  Talking about the paddle does not really do it justice; to fully grasp its beauty one must paddle this area for themselves.

            We decided to stay at the more north site in Mishap Creek, just below where Hogsback Channel and Houghton Lake meet.  The area was quite compact and had a fairly steep slope down to the water but we decided to stay nonetheless.  After seven days of camping together we realized that we had become very efficient at arriving and setting up a site without having to do much in the way of delegating activities. We all just knew what had to be done and got to it.  At this particular site we had the tent and tarp setup done within ten minutes of beginning and the fire burning away shortly after.  After having one of our first non-pickerel dinners of the trip we decided to wet our lines a bit across from our site where a few bays looked to be promising.  Were able to reel in a few more pike before heading back to our site for the night.  While back at the site we discussed our options for the next day and decided to paddle all the way back to the Biscotasing general store to get some cold beer then paddle back to a nearby site and have a relaxing final night.

Day 9: Mishap Creek to Biscotasi Lake

            Woke up early so we could stick to our plan to get to Biscotasi Lake to get to the general store for about 3-4pm.  Our plan for the route was to head north into Houghton Lake and follow the bend west into Biscotasi Lake.  The paddle north through Houghton Lake is a cool one as it made up mainly, of a series of islands that are all leading to the same area. We decided to stop along the train tracks that we were following for a while for lunch, our first non-fish shore lunch of the trip – which speaks to the quality of the fishing in this area. 

            We arrived in Biscotasing just before 4pm and headed to the general store, bought our beer and headed to an island only about 500m from the Bisco launch. Seeing as we finished the loop a day early, we wanted to be able to wake up, pack up and be on the road for 8am at the latest seeing  how long the drive was.  We spent the next hour drinking beers and swimming around between a set of islands where we had set up our tent.  We ended up taking the short paddle back to the general store to have some beers at the bar that is attached to it. There we ended up striking up a few conversations with some more locals of the town about the area and our trip route.  Soon we had the whole patio talking to us asking us questions about our trip. As it got later the bar was emptying and we were invited to one of the nearby camps for some more beers.  When we arrived we were somewhat surprised to walk into the one room camp to find the town’s summer minister and her husband sitting with one of our new friends. We sat around and talked, sharing stories about the area and our experiences with it over the last eight days and they gave us a little more insight into the town. The minister then did a blessing on everyone in the house and we were on our way back to our island site for one last sleep. We were back in the area of the train and got to listen to them as they passed by this small town.

Day 10: Home

            We were woken up early to the train rolling through Bisco for our last time. We packed up our gear and made the short paddle back towards the general store.  Packed up the car and said goodbye to Biscotasing.  The drive back, luckily, went much smoother than the drive in, taking about eight and a half hours including two stops in Sudbury and Parry Sound. 

             This is a route we would highly recommend to those who have fishing as a priority on their trips. We unfortunately could not get as much fishing in as we would have liked but still ended up pulling in well over 80 fish for the entire 9 days. Biscotasi Lake is boat accessible and technically Indian Lake is too, since boats can use the railway portage. Once you get beyond these lakes, you will be in some very remote areas.

Biscotasing Map:

Our Route - Biscotasi Lake, Indian Lake, Norma Lake, Mishap Lake, Skelton Creek, Mishap Creek, Houghton Lake, and back to Biscotasi Again
Biscotasing Map