We were at the Outdoor Adventure show this past February, like many others, buying gear, swapping stories and getting excited for the paddling year to come. Alex and I have slowly been getting more and more obsessed with filling as much vacation time as possible with rough portages, remote lakes and good fishing. This coming summer we were planning a 2-week trip to Northwestern Ontario. We’ve heard rumours of it’s unspoiled wilderness and legendary fishing which had us very interested in getting up there to experience it for ourselves.
Not having a plan or idea of the logistics, we were eager to reach out to experts and outfitters at the show to hopefully fill in a few blanks. This is where we met the lovely Bert and Brenda. The duo help run an outfitter in Wabakimi Provincial Park known as Wabakimi Outfitters and Ecolodge. Bert is an old timer who knows the Wabakimi bush like the back of his hand and was eager to share his knowledge with us. We sat down with a few maps as he gave us recommendations regarding routes, prices and opportunities. It was safe to say we were easily convinced that Wabakimi would exceed our expectations. We were sold and decided on a route which would require us to be flown into the heart of Wabakimi where we would paddle 230 km to a dirt road for pick-up 14 days later. We shook hands, grabbed some maps and waited patiently for August to arrive.
Thursday, August 3rd, 2017
August had finally arrived, and we were eager to get on the road. We went to work that day but our minds were already racing through our pack list and last minute things we needed to pick-up. We met in Etobicoke that night and did a last-minute pack before heading out at 8:00 pm. The drive from Etobicoke to Armstrong was clocked at 1600 kms and would take roughly 18 hours.
That night we made it to Sudbury by 1:00 am and slept at a boat launch in the car. We hoped that the slant of the launch would add to the quality of our sleep by making us more horizontal. For those that have slept in a sedan know of the difficulties of getting a good night’s rest.
Friday, August 4rd, 2017
We woke at 6:00 am and continued the commute. We split up the day by check-points at towns and view points where we made stops for coffee and snacks at “Slim Hortons”. We found Tim Hortons along the Trans-Canada had slim pickings – thus getting the name “Slim Hortons”.
We took the Trans-Canada to Thunder Bay where we then headed North to the small town of Armstrong. The drive from Thunder Bay to Armstrong had an abnormal amount of rabbits. We arrived at Wabakimi Outfitters at 9:30 pm. Exhausted, we had a few beers and shared stories with the staff before going to bed early. Our trip still seemed surreal.
- Trip Distance: 220km
- Total Portages: 37
- Longest Portage: 2000m
- Most Difficult Portage: 1300 km (Butland Lake to Cliff Lake)
- Portage Difficulty:Well maintained but can get muddy - No Markings
- Paddling Difficulty: Moderate - Big open water can cause delays
- Overall route difficulty: Moderate
- Resources: Wabakimi Fishing & Canoeing Outfitters
Day 1: Saturday, August 5th, 2017
We woke at 7:00 am and had a complete breakfast of coffee and homemade apple crisp, compliments of the lovely Brenda. We spent the morning organizing our gear and patiently waiting for our float plane to arrive which was scheduled for noon. With the excitement and anticipation for the upcoming weeks, we dabbled with a mid-morning glass of Jameson on ice as we reviewed our trip plans with Brenda for any last-minute advice.
When the plane arrived, we were greeted by a young, energetic bush pilot named Oliver. He was from Belgium and had dreams of being a fighter pilot. Being of similar age to us, we instantly connected.
The flight took 30 minutes as we flew 40 kms into Wabakimi’s interior. Along the way we were treated with some of Oliver’s flying maneuvers as we dipped and dug around rivers and rock faces. It was a great overview of the terrain we would be paddling for next 14 days.
We landed on Granite Lake where we gave our final farewell to our new friend Oliver. Upon his take-off we asked if he could give us a cheeky send-off. He agreed as he took off circling around to give us a very low flyover. The plane slowing disappeared into the distance as the sound of the engine slowly died off. We were now alone. The year of anticipation, planning, and dreaming had all come to this moment. We paddled over to a nearby beach to collect ourselves. We set-up our rods, rearranged the canoe and started our paddle North on Granite Lake.
Granite Lake had strong headwinds coming from the North. It was tough to make the distance as we slowly made our way to Brennan Lake. We got to the first set of swifts where we thought we could paddle up current. We were wrong. We ended up having to drag the canoe through a shallow, rocky pass.
We continued our paddle until we got to a section that our map noted as a “sneak route”. The name alone was enough to entice us to take this side option. The sneak route was another section that required us to paddle up current. Again, being full of piss and vinegar, we thought we could muscle up current. Upon execution we were almost at the end when suddenly I heard a snap.
My dear paddle broke in half as we started floating backwards with the current. It took a moment to process what just happened. We always bring a spare paddle, but now we had no reserve and still had 14 days to go. It was a very humbling experience.
Overcoming the set-back, we continued up stream until we reached the first defined portage. Not knowing the quality of the portages in Wabakimi, we found an take-out that looked to be of the same quality as the Temagami portages we were working with earlier that summer. We took the overgrown trail to the put-in on the other side. This was a huge eye-opener for us because it was extremely demanding; already being on a low from the broken paddle, we were questioning how difficult this trip was really going to be. Once we got to the other side however, we followed a much clearer path back which took us to another take-out about 100-yards North of our docked canoe.
After shaking ourselves off after yet another slip-up we had to portage around another set of rapids. This portage was much shorter and clear. Despite the hiccups, the landscape is this section was stunning. A network of smooth, glaciated islands followed the river up to a surging waterfall. This would be the spot we would spend our first night.
We set-up camp on one of the many islands and headed to the falls to catch some pickerel for dinner. We kept two nice size fish that we paired with Bacon Carbonaro Sidekicks. The sun sunk below the treeline, dropping the temperature dramatically. Compared to Southern Ontario, the nights had proved to be much colder. We enjoyed a fire and drank the few beers that we brought along. We did a ceremonial burning of my broken paddle and went to bed.
Day 2: Sunday, August 6th, 2017
We were up by 7:00 am, made our coffee and oatmeal and prepared our gear for the white water we would be hitting that day. The travel from Granite to Brennan was a side-route we wanted to explore which required us to double back into Granite to continue our route. The current we had to paddle up the previous day was now on our side. We lined the first set of rapids on river left. The second much larger and dangerous set, we portaged around. This time we did not take the “sneak route”, as the bad memories were still fresh. We went around the other side where we ran a short Class I.
Once back on Granite Lake we continued North towards Allan Water River. We stopped for lunch on a small island where we had cured pork and trail mix. We continued to Granite Falls which was the start of the Allan Water River.
Allan Water River
The portage around Granite Falls was a well-maintained trail on river right which brought us around to the bottom of the falls in a deep pool. Tempted by the churning water, we did a few casts. While I was retrieving my spoon I saw a big flash behind the lure. Alex casted in right after and hooked into a 33” pike. I casted back and hooked into a 34” pike. We spent the next while casting and catching what seemed to be unlimited pickerel.
Following the put-in there was a short Class I around a bend. If you don’t want to run this set, the portage continued down river to a calmer put-in.
Black River Rapids
The Allan Water continued downstream to another set of rapids. This set required a portage on river right. Again, the trail was well maintained and the put-in was stacked with pickerel. Following the rapids there was 2.5 km of intermittent swifts.
Little Sturgeon Rapids
Approaching the rapids, there were two islands crossing the river. The portage can be found on river right just after a bend around the islands. To get there, there is shallow swift where you must eddie out to reach the portage. Once we reached the take-out we scouted the river which looked runnable. We took out important gear and ran the rapids. The line involved a swift around an S-bend with pushed us into the chute. The chute was on river right which brought us into medium haystacks with few obstacles.
We continued down river 1.5 kms to the Sturgeon Rapids to set-up camp for the night. The weather was becoming dark and a storm was imminent. We set-up a tarp and had fish and beef tacos for dinner. There was light rain, but the skies cleared before bed. We stayed up late enjoying Kraken and shooting night photography.
Day 3: Monday, August 7th
We were up by 8:00 am and scouted the rapids over breakfast. The set literally wrapped around our campsite which started with a non-runnable chute, followed by 200 m of Class II-III rapids.
We packed up by 12:00 noon, and ran the rapids. Access to the runnable section was in a small pool downstream of the chute. The line started in an eddie where we cut into the current following the flow around the campsite. This brought us into the deep-water channel where we were greeted by three large haystacks.
A short paddle past the rapids we reached Wabakimi Lake. Wabakimi has big water with the potential of dangerous waves and headwinds. While we paddled, waves broke over the canoe though the wind direction eventually changed giving us a tail wind and opportunities to drift fish. We made our way across the lake into the lower channel. Along the shore there were remnants of past forest fires evident from charred wood and early succession flora. We continued through the narrow channel into lower Wabakimi Lake as a storm built behind us.
We headed to the far East shore to camp near a section known as “Stone Henge”, possibly named for the large amount of near-surface rocks which scattered the area. On route we saw a group camping on the Northern shore.
We camped at the mouth of a shallow channel that lead into the next lake. The site had standing dead trees which made tent pad locations sparse. We set-up camp and then waded downriver to catch some fish. The wading was more difficult than we first anticipated, as we ended up wading through marsh up to our waste. Once at our fishing spot, the weather worsened and pushed us back to camp. Along the way back, Alex lost his crock in mud which handicapped his campsite attire. Dinner was fish burritos with tea which was shortly followed by bed.
Day 4: Tuesday, August 8th, 2017
Swift River – Lower Wabakimi to Smoothrock
We were up at 7:00 to a strong, cold wind which made for a slow start. Despite the weather we were on the water by 9:00.
We started the day wading all our gear down the shallow creek. Once down creek, there was a small unnamed lake to the first portage around a waterfall. For the next 4 kms there was a narrow scenic river that is unnamed which is possibly a continuation of the Allan Water, but that is unconfirmed. At the put-in I caught a 34” pike followed by Alex catching a 32” pike. It seemed like in every pool following waterfalls, there were a couple nice pike to catch.
The river continued with intermittent swifts until the next waterfall, requiring another portage on river right. We portaged around the falls and ran the next two Class Is/swifts. At the end of the section the river opened into a small lake where we had shore lunch on a rocky island.
Following lunch, we continued back onto the river where the shorelines became more elevated as we paddled through a beautiful passage. On route there were two runnable Class Is followed by another waterfall. At this portage there was a great campsite which overlooked the main chute.
The entire section from Wabakimi Lake to Smoothrock Lake was very beautiful and full of fish. If you are reading this as a reference for an upcoming trip, I urge that you consider spending a night along this portion of the river.
Smoothrock is another big lake where there were signs of fishing camps. During our paddle we saw a couple motor boats as we pushed Northeast towards Outlet Bay. On route we were trolling when Alex hooked into an unrecognizable fish which put up a tough fight and came off near the boat. We concluded it may have been a Lake Trout but that is unconfirmed.
Outlet Bay has an Eastern shoreline linking 4 kms of sandy beachfront. We paddled over and found that the beach was full of animal tracks – Moose, Caribou and Bear. Like the animals, we found this waterfront appealing and set-up camp on our own private beach as the warm, sunny afternoon turned into the evening. The beach was perfect for swimming as we cleaned up and had a fire. Sunset was at 10:00 pm as we witnessed one of the most stunning sunsets of the trip.
Day 5: Wednesday, August 9th, 2017
We were up at 6:30 hoping to be greeted by a Moose on our front porch. We combed the shoreline for fresh tracks, but it had seemed we had no company through the night. We had breakfast and were on the water by 9:00. We continued North on Outlet Bay towards the notorious Berg River.
The Berg River
We arrived at the mouth of the Berg by 10:30. Typical planning, we did not do much research before heading on this trip. I think we subconsciously do this on purpose as it adds to the excitement of unknown routes. One exception was the Berg River. Before choosing this route, we had heard many wild stories of the Berg. The area was known for wildlife, good fishing, and some feisty whitewater. The Berg was a section we were looking forward to since our original conversation with Bert and Brenda the previous February.
Upon entering the Berg the map showed a portage by-passing a large stretch of river. We were assuming this was due to unpassable rapids but were convinced that taking the river would be the better option. We lined the first set of rapids on river left. The shoreline was peppered with football-sized rocks and shallow moving water. Once we started lining we realized we were in over our heads (metaphorically speaking), but we were already committed. We completed the first of four sets of rapids with only a few slip-ups. The next set would be a little trickier. We were already committed to the left shore which prevented us from lining the second set due to a sweeper and a thick barricade of bush behind us. We concluded our best bet was to try to shoot the set. The section was short but technical.
We got in the canoe, paddled into the current an then eddied out on the left to scout our route. We discussed lines and saw that it was possible to shoot the following three sets of rapids, each showing a deep-water channel, as well as a large eddy (a safe haven). We ran the sets successfully and celebrated with some pickerel fishing at a pool at the end of the final set of rapids.
Near the end of our casting session, Alex hooked into a heavyweight. Using only monofilament and a jig, Alex adjusted the drag accordingly. 10 minutes into the fight and we still hadn’t seen what was on the end of the line. Every so often Alex would make progress and then with a few hard sweeps of the fish’s tail it was back into depths, though eventually the fish did get close enough. Out of the depths a monster pike emerged and just like that it opened its mouth and the jig fell out - heart breaking. We decided to have a slug of whiskey to the Gods in hopes for better luck in the future. We carried on.
Hole in the Wall Rapids
Down river we reached a set of rapids, known as “Hole in the Wall” rapids. We still aren’t sure why they were called this. After scouting, we agreed we could run the set. Class IIs, the set involved a long in-run where the smooth, quick current swept us into playful haystacks. We stayed on river left to avoid several large rocks and a souse hole. We cut through the haystacks and eddied out on river left.
We continued paddling to the Moosechute Rapids which did not require any scouting as they were straight forward. So far, the Berg looked to be a mecca for Moose, though we did not see any. We arrived at the Double Falls and did the portage on river left. At the put-in at the base of the falls, the river opened into a large pool. The entire bay slowly churned with a constant chop on the surface. The air smelled like fish and the scene represented a picturesque remote Northern river.
Upon reloading the canoe, we decided it would be apropos to do a few casts. Floating into the middle of the bay, situated in a shallow eddie, we rigged our lines for some routine pickerel fishing: A white grub, ¼ jig head and 10-lb mono, a deadly combo for Northern Ontario pickerel. We quickly got down to business casting our jigs into deep pools.
It was not long until Alex casually announced, “Got one…”. The fish did not hammer the bait, nor did it do anything out of the ordinary. Alex could only describe the fish as “having weight”. Not knowing what it could be Alex adjusted his drag to let the fish run. If the fish was a pike, their sharp teeth are known to cut monofilament and for the fish’s sake, we did not want to leave any jigs in it’s mouth. Due to the circumstance, the drag was set back so loose that with a flick of your wrist, you could peel line. Next thing you know Alex was playing a fish that seemed to just be sitting in the dark, no advancements being made. Having no idea what we were dealing with, Alex was enjoying the fight of this elusive fish.
Every time we thought it was coming to the surface, the fish would peel off line until is was back, deep into the pool. My first thought was that is was a good size pickerel. “How loose is your line?” I said, getting a little impatient with Alex’s finesse fishing. “I don’t know man, it’s hard to tell with the drag” After about 10 minutes, Alex thought the unknown fish might be getting tired-out, so he increased the tension on his reel. Using the power technique, Alex slowly pulled the rod tip up, and then reeled in the slack; the fish was cooperating as Alex made advancement. After a few more pulls and reels, the fish was under the boat, still out of sight.
In anticipation we were both leaning over the side of the canoe to see if we could catch a glimpse of the fish. The line slowly rose from underneath the boat and like a submarine rising from the depths of the ocean, the biggest pike either of us had ever seen rose from the dark. As soon as we saw it, we both exploded with emotion, we both had never witnessed such a fish, let alone in a canoe with 10 lb monofilament! At that moment, this was no longer a fun casual fight, it was a fishing battle of a lifetime.
It seemed like the pike sensed our emotional high as it made one large kick and disappeared into the dark. Alex’s drag sung as line raced off the spool. Not knowing how the fish was hooked, or how the line was holding up, Alex decreased the drag once again to let the fish run. If the fight was going to take all day, so be it.
Time passed as the fish dragged us around the bay, we were now a good 200 yards downstream of where it was hooked. Drifting closer to shore, we made the decision that this battle would be better fought on solid ground. As Alex played the fish, I slowly farried the canoe to the shore. We had not seen the fish since the introduction in the middle of the bay. With deliberation and total concentration, we beached the canoe onto the sandy shore. The beach made for a good spot to continue fighting the fish as it had a graded drop-off into the river with room to walk around. The fight continued, now getting close to the 20-minute mark.
It seemed like the monster was getting tired out, it was miracle that the enormous fish was still hooked. Alex made some advancement as the fish emerged from the dark. Once again, our excitement was sensed by the fish as it took off with renewed energy and power. This continued for what felt like a lifetime. The fish would swim off completely green, and then slowly be brought back just to repeat the motions.
Thinking we had the upper hand, we devised a plan that involved me wading up to my knees, and Alex guiding the fish to where I could grab it. We had a net but there was no way it was fitting in it. Upon execution, our plan didn’t work as flawlessly as we thought. My presence kept the pike at a distance, as we both silted up the water creating a turbid cloud.
Alex’s continued effort made headway, after 40 minutes the fish started to tire out. I stood motionless in the water as Alex again tried to guide the fish over. This time it cooperated as it slowly moved towards me as it stayed perfectly suspended. I stood there with total concentration and vigilance towards this pike, I felt paralyzed. After what felt like a lifetime, this fish was finally giving us an opportunity.
As I reached out to grab her tail, I remember being surprised of how thick it felt. I cautiously advanced to her gills as I held onto her thick tail. She allowed me to slip under her gills where I fully committed and clenched down. With what felt like a good grip I pulled the tired-out, monster pike out of the water. Her weight was staggering as this thick bodied fish emerged from the water.
We both cheered with joy as I slowly waded back to Alex to present him with his trophy fish. Upon wading to shore, a renewed breath of life went through the fish as she did an unexpected head thrust. I lost my grip as she free-falled into the water. Out of instinct, I tackled her with my entire body into the river, fully clothed. I felt the fish underneath me as a straddled her to try to get a better grip. I locked in on her gills and we both emerged from the water once again. I handed her over to Alex. We were both blown away by this beautiful fish as we took photos, measurements and revived her after the long battle. In such delicate circumstances, one strong head thrash, change of direction or pull of the line could have broken her off. Alex’s rod control, drag setting and patience was the only reason this trophy pike was landed.
She stayed motionless in the water with her dorsal fin breaching the surface as Alex slowly moved her back and forth. Only a moment passed before she regained her strength and slowly swam off like ever nothing happened. The 45-minute fight with 10 lb monofilament on the Berg River in Wabakimi Provincial Park, was a fishing memory we will both cherish for a lifetime. The fish was 42.5“ long with a 17 “ girth. Luckily we managed to capture this entire fight on camera and the video can be seen below!
Oatmeal Cookie Rapids
We continued our paddle down stream, a little dazed and confused. We had planned to camp at “Oatmeal Cookies Rapids” but the campsite that was marked as “Good” on our trip notes was hardly decent at all. It was an overgrown tent pad on the side of the portage trail. We continued onwards and ran the following swift. There were no more marked campsites until the Ogoki River, though we were certain we could find a spot to pitch our tent for the night. Not finding a potential spot, we continued our paddle to the Ogoki River.
Ogoki River- The Berg to Whitewater
Once we reached the marked campsite, we met the second group of campers that we saw in 5 days. Unfortunately they were on the only marked site in the area. The Ogoki was a very shallow, sandy river with many sandbars. We decided our best bet was to paddle down river as far as we could with the setting sun and set-up camp on a shallow sand bar.
We reached a narrow patch of sand at dusk and agreed it was our best option. Camping on a sandbar gives you no protection from the weather, does not provide firewood, nor sustenance. The sand bar was also pretty much at water level as you could dig 4 inches and strike water. Not an ideal campsite, but the weather was holding up and it was a unique opportunity. As soon as the sun set the mosquitos started to swarm. We hadn’t experienced bad bugs until that night.
Day 6: Thursday, August 10th, 2017
We were up at 7:00 and on the water by 7:45. We skipped breakfast to paddle the rest of the Ogoki River. It was a picturesque morning with mist slowly being burnt off by the rising sun. We made it to the outflow of the Ogoki by mid-morning; it involved a section of shallow rapids and a cascading waterfall.
This required a lengthy portage around river right. The portage itself was a clear trail and had a few boats at the takeout.
We portaged our gear over to Whitewater Lake and ate a late breakfast of bannock and coffee. Whitewater could be considered the heart of Wabakimi, the monster lake spans 24 miles across and is home to world-renowned Pike fishing and the infamous Best Island.
As soon as we entered the Lake, Whitewater lodge can be seen adjacent to the portage. We paddled North into the open water where we planned on taking a Northern channel and camping in a narrow pass in a network of islands.
Reaching the channel, we stopped for a shore lunch with some freshly caught pickerel. My knot had slipped on one of the “chosen pickerel” and it got away, that wasn’t a problem as we restoked our keeper chain in a few casts.
We made a fire and fried up the most golden brown, perfect fillets we were ever so blessed to witness. We laid the flaky steaks on wraps and had ourselves a lovely shore lunch. Once we cleaned up, we checked the time and realized it was already 5:00 pm and we started looking for a site to stay the night.
We found an island that looked to have a good sleeping pad, we had a couple libations and then headed back out on the water for an evening of trophy pike fishing. We found a spot that looked “fishy” and lit up a cigar as a ceremonial start-off to the night. I lit the cigar and passed it over to Alex, he took one puff and hooked into a 36” pike. Not a bad start. We weren’t out long before the sun started to set, it was another gorgeous sunset. We made our way back to camp, had some popcorn and dirty feet (Nutella dipped in Big Feet) and then went to bed.
Day 7: Friday, August 11th, 2017
We were up at 8:00 to a warm, sunny morning. We dedicated the day to targeting trophy pike and didn’t worry too much about covering distance. We only had 10 km to cover and were in no rush. We started by drifting through bays trying to find deep weed beds. Being mid-August, the water was warm and the larger Pike would be found in deep weeds.
While we fished I spotted a black bear running along a sandy shoreline. Shortly after in the distance we spotted the elusive woodland caribou! We slowly paddled towards it and ended up getting within 100 yards before it disappeared into the bush. Today was feeling special.
As the day progressed we stopped for shore lunch at an island that had a picnic bench. On the bigger lakes in Wabakimi, it is not unusual to see fishing camps and designated shore lunch locations. Having a bench was a pleasure we didn’t fully appreciate until we were using it.
Alex filleted our mornings catch as I collected firewood, the hot sun was hard to escape on the barren island. We ate our fish, cooled off in the water and continued on route. We paddled through another network of small islands and noticed an odd shape on a distant shore…another Caribou! Once the caribou noticed us it swam across to a larger island and disappeared into the bush. Woodland Caribou spend their early summers island hoping as they provide shelter from predators. We were lucky that a few of them decided to stick around.
Best Island – Wendell Beckwith’s Cabin
We made our way closer to Best Island, home to the infamous Wendell Beckwith Cabin. We planned our route strategically so that we could stop off at the historic landmark. We landed on the back beach and followed a trail back in the woods as the cabins started to appear.
The main cabin was in rough shape. In recent years a large pine had fallen onto the roof and decapitated it. The floor was full of debris, glass and old appliances though the chimney was still fully intact. The adjacent cabin was a much better story, still in almost perfect condition. There were old National Geographic magazines from the 1960s sprawled about and a bed fully made.
The craftsmanship that went into building these cabins was meticulously superb. The mysterious Wendell was a talented engineer who was good with his hands and had an architectural vision. “The Snail” was a good depiction of this. The Snail was the last cabin that he built and was designed to be apart of the natural landscape. This was the smallest cabin and was where Wendell would spend his winters. Upon entering The Snail, I could visualize Wendell’s lifestyle, as tools and crafts hung on the wall. A very interesting man, this was a unique experience on such a remote canoe trip. There’s a book that was placed in “The Snail” by The Wendell Beckwith Historical Foundation where you can learn more about Wendell’s life as well as sign your name and leave a note.
It was getting late as we paddled to the closest island (a small island off Best Island) to set up camp. We had Mr. Noodles for dinner, went fishing and went to bed.
Day 8: Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Forest Fires and Trophy Pike
We were up at 7:30 to the smell of “campfire”. We opened the tent to see what looked like fog rolling in. Soon, we realized that the smell was not a campfire, and the mist was not fog, it was the smoke of a distant forest fire.
It was a still morning, the smoke almost blocking the open water from wind and waves. We made our way across the most open section of our route on calm water. As the morning progressed, the western treeline became harder to see as smoke thickened. Luckily the fires were far enough away that we could not see an obvious source. Having no contact to the outside world, we were a little unsettled about the extent of the fires.
We stopped at a rock peninsula for lunch. The rocky point was pinched off by a long white sandy beach. Going into this trip we had no idea of the amount of beachfront we would be seeing. It was like we were on a southern vacation.
Continuing on our paddle we saw another object moving in the distance. We slowly made our way over trying to be as quiet as possible but it turns out it didn't matter. Standing in front of us was a beautiful caribou that didn't seem spooked by us at all. This allowed us ample time to capture him on photo and video.
By the end of lunch the wind picked up and the smoky skies lifted. We continued on Whitewater and made our way to a section known as “Pike Alley” near the North channel. Pike Alley lived up to its name as I hooked into a 39” and a 36” pike relatively back-to-back. We worked the area until late afternoon. Having caught our dinner, we pull over to a sandy beach where we would stay for the night. The weather started to pick-up as a storm was on its way. We rigged up an A-frame tarp on the otherwise barren beach. The storm front quickly came and left giving us a clear night around the fire to enjoy our dinner. With bellies full of fish and our minds content, we both fall asleep beside the fire.
Day 9: Sunday, August 13th, 2017
We awoke at 7:30 to hazy skies and the smell of “campfire” once again. The cool morning required a quick fire as we fried bannock and brewed coffee. This would be the last morning of Baileys which was probably a good thing as the Baileys had been in our warm Bear Barrel for over a week. Today would also be our last day on Whitewater Lake as we made our way back onto the Ogoki River.
I am traditionally not the biggest fan of paddling big lakes, but Whitewater proved to be one of my most favourite lakes to date. The large water body is full of rocky islands and sandy beaches. Being from southern Ontario I would describe the lake as a rugged Honey Harbour. The area is also known to hold monster pike and, for us, caribou. We were originally going to bypass the big waterbody but instead we ended up spending over 3 days exploring the endless water and network of islands.
Ogoki River – Whitewater to Whiteclay
We arrived at the first portage leading into Ogoki by mid-morning. The portage was 1 km and overgrown. The river had changed much since our earlier travels south of Whitewater. The river was deep with weed flats covering the shoreline with churning black pools around each bend. We paddled the meandering river until it widened into a large deep pool. The entire area was deep, dark and churning. On the northern shore there was a small shack and around the corner there was a set of rapids which required a portage.
Alex wanted to try a few casts at some reeds. We pulled over and with one cast he hooked into a “snot rocket” (a small useless pike). I was not interested in having to deal with one of those guys so I decided not to cast as I surveyed the shoreline. In the corner of my eye I saw a swirl in the middle of the deep pool. Out of interest I pulled out my rod and started to paddle over.
I casted over at where I saw the swirl with a 3” jointed Wally Diver. I slowly retrieved the lure as Alex wrestled with the snot rocket which was now bleeding all over the canoe. I continued to reel in with the assumption of whatever swirled at the surface was now gone. I casually got the lure to the side of the boat when all of a sudden, an enormous pike comes out of nowhere and sucks up my bait. I only see it for a moment as I was almost shell shocked by the shear size of the monster. Being in a state of disbelief, I did nothing other then hold the rod and try to yell to Alex. The fish luckily hooked itself but as quickly as it appeared it did one big headshake, opened its mouth, and disappeared forever. Having caught many large pike over the past week, this pike seemed to be the largest…or close to it. The head of the pike looked like it could swallow a duck and the body looked to have competed with Alex’s trophy earlier on the Berg. We tried fishing for the next 30 minutes throwing everything we had in our tackle box, but with no luck. Unfortunately, we will never know the true size of that fish.
We decided to continue on-route, in a state of depression, I talked about the fish for the rest of the day. At this point weather had come back with strong winds and a dark horizon. After we finished the portage we pulled over on the side of the river to let some thunder and lightning pass. Sheltering under a cedar, Alex bumped me as said “Hey, do you feel like a Filipino woman working in the cane fields?” A reference from one of the National Geographic books in Wendell Beckwith’s cabin. The front page said “Nothing is sweater than a cigar for this Filipino Woman working the in cane fields” This would be a quote we would use for the rest of the trip every time one of us fancied a cigar. We shared a Captain Black and waited for the storm to pass.
When the weather looked safe, we continued our paddle onto Whiteclay Lake. The western portion of the lake was not appealing. The “white clay” spanned across the shoreline. The description of the soil was a misconception as it resembled more of a “beige mud”. We paddled Southeast towards camp. As we got farther across the lake, the landscape shifted into rock and weeds. We made it to camp by 9:00 when the rain started to pick up again. We were treated with several picnic tables and a fireplace with a built-in grill. The shoreline included a private beach surrounded by smooth rock. A perfect place to spend the night.
Day 10: Monday, August 14th, 2017
We woke to the sound of rain hitting the tent which kept us inside until 9:00. We boiled water for our oatmeal and brewed some lab tea to warm us up on the chilly morning. Lab tea is a plant that can be found all other the North. The plant is distinguishable by the narrow leaf clusters with a fuzzy underbody. The rain hung around as we packed up for the day. The overcast, wet conditions and the rugged backdrop gave a sense of a temperate rainforest.
We continued our paddle Southeast where we would link up with the Raymond River and start our trip South. Upon reaching the river, we were greeted by shallow mud and a large grassy flat which pinched off the Raymond River. With weather still unstable we dragged out gear across the flat to put-in at the muddy shoreline of the Raymond. I unfortunately had to go to the washroom (number 2) and with sinking mud combined with high winds and rain, it was a very unpleasant experience.
The river was very shallow with areas of floating bog and muskeg. We took the meandering river up stream towards a 300-meter portage. The portage take-out was hard to find as water levels were so low that the river was a rock garden, making a clear path to scope the shoreline difficult. While we were walking the shore, I found a siltstone with a 40 million-year-old horn coral in it. It was a cool find, as it represented life back when the region part of the epeiric sea, millions of years ago. Once we completed the portage, the river became deeper and was more navigable. Along route there were swifts and deep holes where we caught pickerel to keep our minds content.
We continued the day to Pickett Lake to search for a campsite. Unfortunately, there were slim pickings which required us to make due on a narrow sandy shore. This beachfront had been the most rugged so far. Completely saturated, the sand was inches above the waterline and lay beside a reed bed that spanned 1 km. While we set-up, a Moose crashed through the adjacent reeds startling us. We finished off the night with fish and rice. The rice was one of Alex’s signature dishes which involved tomato soup, peas and corn. Another great meal.
Day 11: Tuesday, August 15th, 2017
Chained Lakes and Portages
We woke up at 6:30 to a blanket of fog. We cooked bacon and peanut butte wraps. Once we got on the water, the shoreline quickly disappeared without a trace. It was an eerie feeling but we had a good sense of the direction we needed to go. Once we paddled across Pickett Lake the fog rose enough that we could see the shoreline. We paddled 6 km to the first 1000-meter portage of the day. The portage was clear with a few elevation gains and drops. The dew soaked foliage soaked both of us to the bone. Once the portage was complete it was a short, shallow paddle to the next portage which had an extremely muddy take-out. The 325-meter portage was easy and takes you to a dramatic rock face at the put-in.
The paddle continued down a very narrow lake where we were forced to wade through the final section. The mud had now been replaced with rock as we had to take extra precaution not to twist our ankles. We leapfrogged through the next 100 and 150 meter portages where we planned to camp on the other side. Being that it was only 3:30, we opted to continue to complete the next two 700 meter portages. These portages went through a floating bog that we were dreading all day. The portages were back-to-back and could have been considered one 1600 meter portage if it wasn’t for a 200-meter Kettle Pond in the middle that had to be paddled.
These portages had their fair share of overgrown sections full of lab tea and blueberry bushes, as well as open muskeg that sunk as you walked. It was impossible to stay dry but overall, they weren’t as bad as we anticipated. We finished the duo by 5:30 and paddled down to Butland Lake for the night. We had pickerel and sidekicks for dinner and topped off the evening with the last of our alcohol, which was Southern Comfort. We were also at the point where we had to start rationing our candy, limiting us to only 5 wine gums that night. If it wasn’t for the bounty of fresh fish, we may have lost more weight than we bargained for.
Day 12: Wednesday, August 16th, 2017
We were up at 7:00 and on the water by 9:00. Alex caught a pike by accident. At this point if a pike was under 30”, we didn’t have time for it. A little later I caught a 19” pickerel that looked like it had been spray painted turquoise blue. We had caught blue tinged pickerel in the past, but the size and shade of this one was something we had never seen before.
We reached the portage on the South end of Butland Lake which was marked as 1000 meter and “boggy on the south end” on our map. The trail ended up being the worst of the trip. The portage was 1.3 km and had boggy sections through the entire trail.
Post-portage there was a small “lift down” through a chute which brought us to the sacred lake, Cliff Lake. Cliff Lake as the name suggests is surrounded by dramatic rock faces. The shear size of the cliffs were stunning as we paddled in disbelief. More incredible than the cliffs, the lake boasts some of the most spectacular pictographs, with over 40 paintings still visible today. It’s important to show your respect to these historic sites by not touching or disturbing them.
We continued our paddle to the south shore where we leapfrogged through a 100 meter, 750 meter, and 350 meter portage into Ratte Lake. These portages had some of the highest elevation changes of the route as well as took us through a small scenic chain of lakes.
Once we completed the portages we took a narrow river into Ratte Lake where we paddled directly across to a campsite that was marked on our map as “World Class”. I wouldn’t call it “World Class”, but it was a great site none-the-less. We had ourselves a swim, ate some fajitas and rationed out our candy reserves. This was out last full day on the water.
Day 13: Thursday, August 17th, 2017
We woke at 8:00 and explored an abandoned hunt camp on the lake. The inside had old notes on the walls which told times of big fish and moose hunts from the 1990’s. We continued down to the south of Ratte lake where we linked up with the Pikitigushi River. The shallow outflow of Ratte required us to wade 200 meters until reaching the head of Pikitigushi.
The Pikitigushi meandered dramatically, showing signs of old Oxbow lakes on the map. The river had a few tin boats and a hunt camp on the shore that we passed along the way. The river flows into Gort Lake where we hooked into a few pike at the island just before the portage. The portage itself was a clear trail that happened to be guarded by a garter snake.
The other side of the portage we decided to do a few casts near the outflow of the river. Another spot that was filled with pickerel. As I was bringing in my fish, out of the dark comes a massive pike that explodes on my pickerel right next to the boat! In a fury, I quickly unhooked the pickerel I had just caught and tossed my line back in to see if she was still hungry. We were both hunting for this fish at this point.
Just as we were about to put the rods down and continue on, Alex did one more cast in the eddy right where the outflow hits the lake. Moments after the Little Cleo hit the water, he had a fish on and it looked like another good one. The fight didn't last too much longer before he was able to get the 39" pike into the boat.
After putting the pike back, we put on some jigs and started casting for our dinner. Once we had a few pickerel, we continued our paddle into Wash Lake where we would pull over and stop for lunch. As I was cleaning the fish, Alex was getting the fire going and getting the bear barrel from the boat. It had been raining out and the rocks down by the water were very slippery. Only one step away from the boat and Alex slips and falls right into the boat, pushing it off shore and into the lake. It was an overcast and cool day, not one that you would typically want to go for a swim on. Alex had to jump in and grab the canoe.
After having some lunch we continued down Wash Lake only to discover an old plane wreck that had been pulled out of the water and left on land. The little we know about this crash, was that it happened in the 70's and everyone survived. The plane was located just before the portage which would take us to Derraugh Lake. This portage was a little tricky to find as it was fairly over grown, but once we were past the first 50m, it was a nice trail to follow.
The other side of these rapids were another school of pickerel. Both of us had managed to pull more than 15 fish out of this pool. While fishing, I managed to hook into another 35" pike.
At this point it was starting to get dark and we needed to find a site. Luckily once we made it to the main body of water on Derraugh Lake, the point on the right had a perfect elevated site that wasn't marked on our map. It was a bit tricky to climb up to but the top was flat and provided a great place to set ourselves for the night.
Day 14: Friday, August 18th, 2017
We continued down river until we reach Gooseneck rapids which would require a 2 km portage into Pikitigushi Lake. We loaded our gear so we could one-shoot the portage. Being more mentally prepared than the 1.3 km portage that we did earlier, we completed it with no problems. The trail was overgrown with lab tea but always showed a navigable path.
We reached Pikitigushi Lake in good spirits. We were getting picked up at the bridge at 2:00 and it was only 10:30. We decided we would have one last shore lunch to top of the trip. We trolled some deep drop offs and caught our lunch easily. I was jigging a white grub and Alex was throwing a ¼ oz Little Cleo. We had our catch and we were about to head to a nearby shoreline when Alex said those words “Got one…”. This fish however, did not fight like a pickerel, it fought like a pike…a big pike. Alex luckily had a leader on which gave him the upper hand. He fought the fish for 10-minutes until it finally got to the boat. It was a monster 41” pike! After two weeks of catching big fish we were both a little more cool, calm and collected, though the thrill of landing the second biggest pike of the trip still had us on edge. Alex landed it without a hitch as we cheered and high fived.
We had our final shore lunch of the trip and then continued to the bridge. We heard rumours that the south side of the bridge had a Brook Trout pool. The Pikitigushi River flows into Nipigon Lake which is home to world class brook trout fishing.
We paddled around a sharp turn where we saw a big body in the middle of the water. As we approached we saw that it was a moose! The moose either was not bothered by us or didn’t see us as it continued to dunk its head in the water foraging for food. Getting closer than we expected, we slowed down to wait for it to notice us. Eventually it lifted it’s head, looked in our direction, and squared off. It was not mating season, but the thought of being charged by a moose layed in the back of our minds. After sizing us up it turned around and crashed into the bush.
Bridge Pick-Up – Surprise Fish
We pulled up to Bear Camp where we were greeted by some local hunters. They offered us hot showers and pop. Though we were more interested in cold beer and a brook trout. We lugged our gear up to the road and with time to spare we headed down to the river for the last few casts of the trip hoping for a brook trout.
First cast Alex hooked into a fish, but we were disappointed when a snot rocket came to shore. Another cast, Alex catches another snot. Discouraged, Alex started heading back to the road to wait for our ride. I agreed to follow but wanted a few casts in a pool a little further down stream. I ran over, tossed my spinner and hooked into my personal best brook trout. Brook trout have always fascinated me because of their beautiful colouring and how they can change in different environments. This trout looked like a tiger with sharp yellow and red spots and measured 17". Alex ran back as he heard my excitement. I got the fish to shore, took some photos and put her back.
On the final day we saw a moose, caught a 40+” pike and a personal best brook trout; it seemed pretty fitting for such an epic trip. We headed back to the road to wait for our ride. We didn’t say much as we both struggled to make sense of the fact that our journey was over. The last 14 days flew by but felt like a lifetime. Our lives we were going back to felt foreign, as our routines over the past two weeks had been so simple, yet so fulfilling. Wabakimi Provincial Park is a wild place!