Editor’s note: Before planning a Canadian fishing vacation from the United States, make sure there are no border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the publishing of this story, the Canada-U.S. border remained closed to nonessential travel through Aug. 21.
By Louie Stout
When most people think of Canadian fishing, they think of abundant walleyes, northern pike, and big lake trout.
But in many of those glacial lakes lying in lower Canada are some darn fabulous bass lakes that get far less fishing pressure than our U.S. lakes.
Bass don’t exist in all Canadian lakes and are less prominent the farther north you go. Smallmouth dominate although there are populations of largemouth in some of the southern lakes.
Because the growing seasons are shorter, you won’t find many monster-size bass in these lakes, but many do harbor an abundance of 2 to 4-plus pound smallmouth with the occasional 5 and 6 pounder.
The lakes remain iced for six months or longer most years, and the bass season generally runs from mid- to late June until late November. (Be sure to check specific dates for any lake you plan to visit.)
No one knows the Canadian bass lakes better than Dave Mercer, 26-year host of the award-winning “Facts of Fishing” television program that airs on the Outdoor Channel, WFN and SportsNet 300.
“The fact that Mother Nature protects them six months out of the year is why our bass fisheries are so good,” he said. “When the ice melts, those bass are dumb as rocks.”
The beauty of Canadian bass, he added, is you can do well fishing for them any month of the season. The waters remain relatively cool and the fish stay active.
Mercer has fished across the Great White North and has produced several bass fishing TV shows in the process. Below are some of his favorite bodies of water for catching big smallmouth.
For a hardcore experience, consider Quetico Provincial Park, a large wilderness park in northwestern Ontario, adjacent to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At 1,180,000 acres, Quetico has more than 2,000 lakes accessible almost entirely via canoe. Launch points are located a couple hours west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
An extensive system of maintained portages throughout the park allows for a mix of short, easy trips, or extended routes that require skillful outdoor camping techniques and rigorous paddling and portaging skills. Outfitters are available to rent equipment or even provide guided trips.
If you can handle the physical demands of penetrating the interior of a sometimes unforgiving wilderness, you can find some incredible smallmouth fishing. Smallies love rock structure, and there’s a ton of it in this Canadian Shield region. Though the growing season is short in these cold, infertile lakes, they see low fishing pressure, even less than in the BWCA.
Though not native to the area, smallmouth were stocked there more than 100 years ago, and they’ve thrived, now surviving in a majority of the so-called Quetico-Superior Country waters.
The scenery is breathtaking, and your chances of seeing a moose or bear while fishing are high.
For specific information on Quetico, visit www.ontarioparks.com/park/quetico.
For information on regulations and fishing Ontario waters, visit www.ontario.ca/page/fishing.
For travel and accommodations in Ontario, visit www.ontariotravel.net.
Lake St. Francis
“Franny,” as it often is called, borders southeastern Ontario, southwestern Quebec and northern New York.
It’s a dammed up portion of the St. Lawrence River that runs about 29 miles from Lake Ontario to Montreal.
“It’s one of the coolest fisheries because of the massive amounts of current in the system,” offered Mercer. “It’s unlike any place else you might fish for smallmouth, and it produces giants.”
Because of the current and the rocky snags lying on bottom, you have to fish vertically with tube jigs most of the time. Mercer recommends ½- to ¾-ounce tube jigs.
“If you try drop-shotting you will be hung up most of the time,” he explained. “Once you figure out how to hold yourself in position so you don’t get a bow in your line, you can avoid the snags and catch a lot of bass.”
And because you are fishing the current, the battle with bruiser smallmouth is magnified.
“Those fish live on a treadmill,” he joked. “They are that strong and know how to use the current.”
If you want to avoid the current, you can go to the shore and fish docks and catch largemouth, but the smallies produce the trophy fish in that fishery.
Located in southern Ontario north of Toronto, Simcoe is the fourth largest lake in the province. It covers 1,100 square miles and is 19 miles long and 16 miles wide at the widest point.
Although the lake averages 49 feet deep, it has huge sand and rocky flats around shore and numerous islands that provide ideal spawning conditions.
“Simcoe is one of the few inland lakes up here that gives you the feeling of fishing the Great lakes,” Mercer said. “The smallmouth even act like those in the Great Lakes. In fact, if Michigan’s Lake St. Clair mated with Lake Erie, its baby would look like Simcoe.”
There are two large islands in the middle and Mercer says if you fish around them you will always be around bass.
You can catch them on drop-shot rigs out on the break lines or fish jerkbaits and spinnerbaits over the flats.
“Moving baits work real well there, and because the water is so clear, lure speed is important,” Mercer said.