Wood Duck Exploits

Our recent trek into the woods occurred on a parcel of crown land about 45 minutes north of Kingston.  We planned to spend the weekend hunting for grouse on the trails and the opening morning of waterfowl in a duck blind a few minutes paddle from our campsite.

On the hike in we ran across loads of deer, bear and moose sign.  This area seemed to be pretty vibrant with wildlife.  We even got a shot at a fleeing grouse.

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This was the furthest north I had ever duck hunted and was immediately surprised when a flock of wood ducks flew in hard and fast to our spread.  Being a mallard hunter from the lake Ontario corridor, I was conditioned to think that there were no other species of puddle duck in Ontario.

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The woodies provided a good challenge for our group.  They are somewhat smaller than a mallard and fly a bit faster making them tougher to hit.  still, we managed a few birds.  Enough for a taste and more than enough to keep us coming back.

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Cheers from the Wild

Al

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

Beginners Guide to Backcountry

At a glance, back country trips can seem mystical and awe inspiring.  Photos of your friends or “favourite blogger”… cough.. retracing the steps of explorers and voyageurs long since gone can be mesmerizing.  The concept of becoming “one with nature” on these trips, is not only mystical and romantic, but quintessentially Canadian.  After all, our country was built on hardy folks who had an unhealthy penchant for spending most of their lives in the backwoods.  Unfortunately when it comes time to actually plan one, the weight of the task can leave you feeling inadequate and unconfident.  Especially if these sorts of trips weren’t part of your youth.

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So how do you go about planning and actually executing one of these trips? I’m sure there are many folks out there who are infinitely more qualified to answer this question, but I’d like to weigh on with a beginners/intermediate’s point of view on the subject.  Here is what I have learned.

Have a Good Plan

Decide how much time you want to spend on a trip. Decide where in the province, country, or even world you want to go. Once you have answered these questions narrow down your search to a specific route.  In Canada, Canadian Canoe Roots  would be your best option.  Alternatively you could look up Trails.com  for trails in the states.  Once you have narrowed it down to a specific route, get your hands on  a map of your route showing the path, portages, portage distances, and topography.  I’m a big fan of Jeff’s maps http://jeffsmap.com/ .  They guy has seen a good portion of the parks in Ontario and has lots of handy notes on his maps.  Not to mention they are fairly current, and best of all made available through donations.  Thanks Jeff!

If your still deciding on what route to take consider your level of physical fitness when selecting a trip that’s right for you.  Consider choosing a trp that is well travelled if your new.  There may be others present should you get into a bit of trouble.

Don’t be a hero and don’t bite off more than you can chew.  A two day trip may not sound as epic as a week long excursion, but its definitely easier and safer. Every year lots of people decide to head into the woods with very little gear or food expecting things to just work out.  News flash, they wont, unless you prepare for it.

Choose Experienced Trip Mates

Personally, I prefer learning by doing and by seeing.  So it worked out when I was invited on my first trip by some seriously experienced trekkers.  I got to learn the ropes with minimal risk to myself.  I recommend this method of grafting yourself onto a trip.  I bet there is nothing worse that being in the middle of a trek running out of food and having no idea how your going to get back and no one to ask for help.

Plan Your Meals

Understand what your dietary needs are and pack accordingly.  Its important to watch your weight here though, and I don’t mean your waistline.  I’m taking weight of your pack.  Bringing a case of beer and fresh steaks may work for a 2 day canoe in trip where you don’t mind packing it in, but that wont really fly on a long haul 7 day trip with numerous portages.  Your not going to want to haul that crap in or haul the remaining garbage out. Consider meals that are light and full of calories like wraps and peanut butter or oatmeal.  Dried meats are a favourite as well.  Basically anything that doesn’t require refrigeration and is light.  Remember, its not the food that usually weighs a lot, its the water present in your food.  Try to avoid bringing meals that contain lots of water and rely more on things like pasta, rice, or oatmeal.  They have a high calorie/weight ratio.

Water

Consider how you will get your water.  A couple Nalgene bottles wont cut it for a long haul trip.  Bring a water filter designed to remove all the lovely bacteria and parasites or use purification tablets/drops.  Simply boiling your water wont save you from a severe case of “beaver fever”.  Oh and avoid drawing water from swampy boggy areas or from near shore.  These areas can be teaming with parasites.  If in an emergency you need to drink untreated water, get it from a fast moving stream or from the middle of a deep cold lake.

Gear

Gear needs are tied directly to the trip you plan to take.  You’ll need at least: a compass, your map (preferably in a water proof case), fire starting equip, pack, sleeping bag, therma-rest or sleeping pad, water filtration or purification equip, minimal cooking gear (preferably pots that fit within one another), a stove or way to cook (something light is great like a whisperlite or similar), life jacket (if canoeing), and assortment of medication (ibuprofen, Benadryl, antihistamines, personal meds).  A bit of rope and a good knife are never bad things to bring along.  Try to minimize gear and reduce redundancies.  Discuss equipment with your group to avoid duplicating gear.  No need to haul 6 camp stoves in when one will do the trick.

Resist the urge to bring along your favourite axe, clunky propane BBQ, or other gear that has no direct use on trip.  Believe me, you’ll only make the mistake of over packing once, especially if you have a few long portages to deal with.

Maintain a dry set of clothes, but don’t bring the whole wardrobe.  Accept that you wont have a fresh set of clothes to wear each day unless you pack them in.  I keep one set of dry clothes for camp and one for the hard day of paddling and hiking.

Organization

Reduce clutter and loose items. Make sure you reduce items that need to be carried in your hands or that are loose.  This makes for easy portages and minimizes lost items.  You will tire quickly of having to pick up a ton of crap each time you move.  Also, one pack containing all your gear is easer to pick out of the water than a mess of gear if you capsize.  As a plus, your pack will likely float minimizing loss of equipment!

Read Trip Reports

Although you may be hoping to experience your very own Lewis and Clark moment once you are in the woods, its likely someone else has been there before.  Use resources such as myccr.ca folks on that sit have piles of information for the new adventurer.  Don’t forget to use Google and read posts like those you may find on your favourite outdoor blog based in Southern Ontario “wink, wink”.  If there is a problem with a trip, someone somewhere is likely to mention it.

Weather

Be prepared for it or plan around it.  Remember as nice as a light rain shower is in the summer, the same rain can be deadly if your travelling in cold temperatures.  Staying dry is key when the mercury drops.

Stay off the water during thunderstorms or in high winds. Likewise, learn your route and constantly be looking to landmarks that indicate where you are. Stay alert!  you don’t want to be the person who misses the portage only to head into a class 5 rapid un-expectantly.

Well that’s my two cents.  I’m not a pro by any stretch, but hopefully this information will help you make some good decisions up front about your trip.  If I can leave you with one thought its this: don’t be intimidated.  This may seem like a lot of things to think about when tripping, but you’ll learn quick.  Start small, be eager to learn and humbly take advice for more experienced trippers.

Lastly, and above all else, enjoy the experience.

Cheers from somewhere in the middle of nowhere,

Albert

White Water Canoeing on the Madawaska

This blog could be accused of focussing too much on the Hunting and Fishing aspects of Southern Ontario and I would be hard pressed to refute the accusation.  I mean they are my two favourite past times, which explains why they often make their way to the forefront of this blog.

However I do occasonally get a chance to step outside of my cofort zone and try something new and exciting.  Last weekend was such an occasion as I was invited to a bachelor party which included a white water canoeing component.

The trip took place on the lower portion of the Madawaska starting at the Paddlers coop in Palmer Rapids and finishing some 41 kms in Griffith.  The route took us through the Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park and over several sets of rapids.

The trip started following an early morning of fishing on a small back lake I frequented in my youth.  We camped at the Paddlers Co-op for the night and awaited the remaining 3 members of our group to arrive.  For those who have never been, the Paddlers coop is a great location to get your learn on when it comes to white water.  The facility is a non-for profit organization owned and run by paddlers who really enjoy what they do.  Its also a great place to get outfitted for the river if you don’t have your own gear (https://paddlerco-op.ca/). It’s funny, I’ve spent a ton of time in the Bancroft area as a kid and had no idea a gem like the paddlers Coop existed.

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DSC_0152(ii)Everyone who has ever camped at bon echo or head up highway 41 knows the Kaladar General Store.  There aren’t a whole lot of options for gas in the area and the KGS is a great spot for fuel and odds and ends you may need for your outdoor adventures.

DSC_0161 (ii)Typical foggy morning landscapes from the Bancroft area.

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The first day started with a leisurely paddle from the Paddler Coop.  There are several flat stretches right off the hop just downriver from the Coop.

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Aumonds Rapids (shown above) was the very first set we encountered, and my very first set as a newly minted white water canoeist.  Although it was only a class I in low water, it seemed huge to a newbie.  We did scout this rapid, which in hind sight was probably more for my benefit than safety.  Glad the guys eased me into these things!

But lets not down play the importance of scouting when canoeing whitewater.  Scouting is a vital component of white water canoeing in order to stay safe.  Scouting allows the paddler to assess the level of difficulty of each rapid set and allows for the development of a game plan prior to entering the set.  Rocks can be game enders and since they can be difficult to see from the low angle of a canoe, scouting is critical.  If I haven’t already sold you on it consider this:  Water conditions can vary greatly from season to season or even between rain events and rapids can change drastically over time.

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(View of snake rapids above)

Fishing on the trip was dominated by 1-2 lb smallmouth bass.  They seemed to be everywhere in the river and very hungry.  They also made a delicious addition to our evening meals.

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To be honest, I was pretty terrified of running some of these rapids.  Most were Class I to II however there were some class III rapids, which on paper seems beyond my confidence level.  Good thing the other gents on the trip were pros and more than willing to teach me the ropes.

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(Nailed it!)

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(Above: Dave crushing Rifle Chute)

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White water canoeing has inherent risks, and spilling can be a frequent occurrence.  Thankfully the Madawaska is a fairly forgiving river in the sense that most rapids are followed by slow moving pools which easily accommodates spilled paddlers.  Swimming to shore from these pools is usually fairly quick and easy to do.

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(The author hitting split rock rapids)

River features like rapids and specific rocks often come with weird and quirky names.  Some seem to have no meaning at all, while others are aptly named.  We encountered one such feature ( a rock) in Raquette Rapids dubbed “The Canopener”.  This rock is located immediately down stream of the rapids that canoes often get pinned against, leaving them “open” the current. According to the locals, it can be nearly impossible to remove the canoes from the rocks during high water.

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The addiction to white-water grew over the trip and by the end, I was eagerly anticipating the next set.  Definitely a trip I would do again.

Cheers from the rapids,

Albert

 

Canadian Canoe Routes

I am not sure why I haven’t posted a link to Canadian Canoe Routes before.  It has been such a vital component to all the trips I have planned that I am ashamed I haven’t promoted it sooner.  I know, the hardcore paddlers out there already know that this is the definitive resource for finding a canoe route Canada.  But for those beginners who are planning their first portaging/ canoeing trip, or for those finding it difficult to find the right trip for them, this post is for you.

So, Canada Canoe routes. What is it?

Canadian Canoe Routes is a website dedicated to documenting canoe routes across the Canadian wilderness (as well as some in the US).  It provides users with a database of canoe routes that can be searched by a variety of criteria which allows for very specific search criteria input.  Only interested in loops? no problem, CCR has your back.  Only want something under with a length of 50km or less? Easy, CCR lets you choose the length of trip your interested in.

So what info does it provide.  In a nut shell, everything you need to know to plan a trip.  it includes details on distance, directions, possible camp sites, maps (in some cases links to where to buy maps), warnings, trip reports, and helpful hints from past adventurers who have done the trip.  Each route is assigned a difficulty level and an estimated time required to complete.

The site includes additional resources such as a forum, tips on cooking and food preparation, gear reviews, safety tips and pretty much anything you would need to plan and execute a trip.

This has to be the most comprehensive conglomerate of information on the topic of canoeing in Canada and in my opinion a must for your web browsers favourite list.

http://www.myccr.com/

Cheers from my desk

Albert

Late Season Canoeing

It was December 14, 2014, the temperature was +4 degrees, and I received a text from a friend who had a hankering for some canoeing and fishing.   Minutes later we launching the canoe on a local lake that was open all year for LTs.

This was officially the latest I have been out canoeing, and although we struck out with the trout, I still enjoyed every bit of it.

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Cheers from the Wild

Backcountry Camping on the French River

Ontario’s provincial park system includes some of the most beautiful sections of wilderness this province has to offer.  Every year, starting on the Victoria day long weekend, The provincial park system opens across Ontario and people flock to the nearest park in search of this beauty and a glimpse of the natural world.  Much can be seen at these parks and many of the parks do great jobs of displaying our natural heritage and history.  Car camping makes up the lion share of attendees at these parks and can be a fun experience for those looking for convenience and ease of access.  But if your like me, and you like a little more seclusion and remoteness, back country camping may be for you.

Backcountry camping and canoeing takes a bit more preparation and skill to execute, but the rewards are equally greater.  Packing must be minimal to what you can canoe and carry and each item brought must be deliberate.  Forget the kitchen sink!  But for all the trouble it is to prepare, this methods of camping allows the participant to see parts of the park that are virtually untouched by man and see nature in a undisturbed setting.

This was our goal when setting out for the backcountry in the French River Provincial Park.  Just like it sounds, the French River Provincial Park encompasses the French River which is approximately 110 kilometers long and flows from Lake Nippissing to Georgian Bay.  The river flows amongst rugged shield terrain around countless islands and in into countless bays.  The river itself is rich with logging and native history and once served as a major transportation route for aboriginal people and logging operations.  We were excited to relive some of these routes and sleep and experience the same wilderness our for fathers had many years ago.

After much deliberation, we chose a route along the lower arm of the French River with a start at Hartley Bay Marina.  The marina seemed very busy and had a distinct  ambiance with lots of character.  Including some interesting fish mounts.  This place was obviously a hub for fisherman in the area, and based on the mounts, dentists too.

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The trip was off to a great start and with anticipation and excitement we pulled away from Hartley Bay Marina.  About 10 minutes later we received our first surprise of the trip as Dave hooked up with a fairly hefty fish.  After a heated battle between angler and fish, Dave yells “its a musky”.  Fish of a thousand casts, people call these beasts, and Dave had one after 10 minutes!  Best guess puts it in between 8 and 10 lbs. Too bad the fish got off at the canoe (unfortunately no pics).

The trip continued through Hartley bay to the mouth of the Wanapitei River.  We encounter some pretty fast flows, many flooded areas, and the water was full of sediment; this did not bode well for the fishing.  After a valiant fishing effort with no success, we continued our paddle through some of the most scenic country our province has to offer.DSC_0031DSC_0018

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Amazing rock formations were common throughout the trip.  This river could be the poster child for all Canadian shield rivers.

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The Wanapitei was a tough paddle against wind and current.  We originally planned to camp at  a set of rapids, but due to flow rates, we had to change our route.  We headed south through a small confluence of two river arms called the forks and proceeded into Thompson Bay.

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After a lengthy (and tiring) paddle against the flow of the Wanapitei we found our campsite (617) and set up for the night.  Our hopes were that we could find clear water the next day which would hopefully mean Walleye and Pike.

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A classic French River sunset.

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We broke camp early In the morning and headed south down the French River Main Outlet towards the Elbow where four sections of the French converge.  After some searching we found an amazing campsite (624) with a great view and set up our gear.  On the way through the Elbow, I noticed a distinct edge to the murky water and suspected that would be our best chance for walleye.  We were desperate to find gold on the French so following the set up of our site, Dave and I immediately headed for the sediment break.  We wasted no time wetting a line and sure enough, our my guess was correct.  The walleye were stacked up in the break and the bite was on in a big way.

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After an intense bout of Walleye fishing we head back to camp for diner and a late night fish along our campsite.

We devoured a bit of the freshly caught walleye and some packed in Spaghetti for dinner while enjoying the scenic view from our site.  Nothing beats freshly caught fish on a long trek into the wilderness.

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During our campfire one of the guys decided to throw a set line into the water.  This resulted in a giant hit and a lost fish, however the mystery fish enticed us all to throw lines in.  Sure enough,  we started catching some fairly respectable catfish.  Probably the only fish that can be caught consistently in the currently murky state of the French River.

(below: the author with a decent cat)

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Most people travel to the French River to catch walleye and pike and to have a chance at a giant Muskellunge.  For good reason too, the fish here can grow to be giants.  Unfortunately this leaves species like the catfish a bit neglected.  Too bad too because these fish are tenacious and provided, pound for pound, more fight that any walleye we caught.

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The evening wore on and we settled in to watch another great French River sunset nestled up to a roaring campfire.  With a belly full of fresh fish, life was good and all was right with the world.

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The next day we headed up the Eastern Outlet of the French River with a decent tail wind and continued to catch both Pike and walleye as we travelled.

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(Ian seemed to have a knack for catching snot rockets)

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Thanks to one of the engineers travelling with us we rigged up a makeshift sail with one of the tent flys.  What a way to take advantage of a strong tail wind.  I think the dog travelling with us also didn’t mind having three canoes to walk around in either.

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After a great day of fishing and sailing we set up camp in Ox bay at site 629. The site was situated on some beautiful rock outcroppings on the south west point where Ox bay meets the Eastern Outlet.  This would be our last campsite for the trip.

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With that, our trip was over.  Fish were caught, sights were seen, and overall, good times were had.

There is something special about experiencing the majesty of Ontario’s wilderness through backcountry camping.  Nothing else seems to get you as close the serene beauty that is our park system.  It seems the further away from civilization you are, the more “connected” the nature you feel.

If you haven’t been already, I suggest you try a backcountry trip.  Most parks have a few sites that require canoeing or portaging.  If your not very experienced with wilderness camping, I suggest you contact a guide service or go along with some friends who are experienced back country campers.   Either way, find a way to try this unique natural experience.  These sort of trips are profoundly rewarding and generate memories that will last you a lifetime.  So go on, grab your canoe and camp stove and see what the Backcountry has to offer!

Cheers from the Wild

Albert