The land between Algonquin Park and the rugged shores of Georgian Bay has quite a few lesser-known paddling and fishing routes. Many of these promise an oasis of solitude and some downright amazing fishing for bass, walleye, and pike. So, I wondered, what if we connected a few of these routes into one big loop? Last season, some trip mates and I did just that. We discovered one of the best places to paddle and fish in south-central Ontario.
The three main routes we combined were the Magnetawan River, Island Lake, and Noganosh Lake. There are plenty of access points, but we chose Wahwashkesh Lake because it has less big water and is less developed than other entry points. Plus we had a good chance of hooking into walleye on the way across it.
Probing the interior
Our journey into the interior began at the northwest corner of Wahwashkesh Lake. A series of short portages and lift overs along the ever-twisting Farm Creek ushered us, five hours later, into the expanse of Island Lake. It’s over six kilometres long and three kilometres wide, and is full of islands, most of which would make prime campsites.
Even with a fly-in fishing lodge located in the southwest bay and a handful of private camps, this lake provides an exceptional place to hang out and enjoy a wild setting. Within the labyrinth of islands the possibilities are endless for monster largemouth and smallmouth bass. We found the bigger fish were away from the lake’s edges, holding on submerged rock piles where they smashed buzz baits. Find sunken structure and your chances of finding trophy bass are good.
Even larger fish hole up in a number of side lakes that can be accessed by short bush portages.
Putting the pieces together
Day two of our trip was the biggest question mark in terms of connecting all three routes. I’d heard of two old unmarked portages linking the Island Lake region to Noganosh Lake, a non-operating, 7,608-acre (3,079-hectare) provincial park.
The first portage, 850 metres into Kelsie Lake, was easy to find, but the trail from Kelsie to John Lake, one of five lakes that form Noganosh Lake Provincial Park, was not. It was a slog through numerous swamps vaguely marked by rock cairns, most of which had been pulled apart by black bears sniffing out ant colonies. We made it through, however, and entered one of the best bodies of water to catch trophy pike and largemouth and smallmouth bass.
The largemouth were hunkered down in the maze of weed beds, especially in the eastern end of John Lake. Further along, into Smokey and Noganosh Lakes, the habitat favours smallmouth, with pike everywhere in between. I had my best luck trolling straight down the middle with a diving crankbait or Five of Diamonds spoon.
Day three was spent on a series of portages connecting the southern arm of Noganosh to the Magnetawan River. A 1/4-ounce jig with a white plastic grub took chunky walleye from deep, oxygenated pools at the base of each rapid while we were making our way up the Magnetawan.
Our last night was spent on Trout Lake, a flat water extension of the Magnetawan. The scenery there was Algonquin-like, with perfect campsites, each with rock outcrops and lush canopies of red and white pine. Walleye were cooked up for shore lunch and pike fillets were baked on the campfire for supper.
Off the beaten path can be rewarding
A series of smaller lakes can be found to the north and southeast of Trout Lake; all incredibly scenic, each one enclosed by walls of granite and separated by short portages. They’re miniature versions of Trout Lake, providing picture-perfect campsites and some of the best bass fishing the province has to offer.
Our trip ended by looping back to the familiar Wahwashkesh Lake via a two-kilometre portage along the north side of Grave and Canal rapids. It’s alongside a mud-filled, dirt road, but relatively flat the entire way.
An hour-long paddle across Wahwashkesh took us back to the launch site, ending one of the best, lesser-known routes I’ve taken outside of Algonquin Park. It’s a chunk of wilderness a couple of hours north of Toronto where there are no park fees, no reservations needed, and plenty of angling action.
Originally published in the Ontario OUT of DOORS 2019 August issue.