Fishing The Atlantic – PEI

I recently had the opportunity to travel to PEI for a well needed family vacation.  We had previously travelled as far a Gaspe and intended to continue our exploration of maritime Canada by visiting PEI.   Of course, the most authentic maritime experience I could think of was to hit the ocean for some deep sea fishing.

Tales of the fabled COD fisheries of old filled my head as a youth and I was eager to investigate the state of the fishery for myself.  I was also interested in investigating the variety of fish available for an angler as I was recently surprised to learn there are over 50 species of fish have or are being commercially harvested (at one point or another) in the northwestern Atlantic.  50 +! Granted most of these are deep water varieties, but I didn’t let this stop my hopes for landing some weird critters.  So when we arrived at our cottage in PEI I eagerly head down to the local wharf to see what options there were for deep sea angling.


After careful consideration I opted to head out with one of the larger tours that ran out of Covehead Harbour, located near Stanhope, along the north shore of PEI.  The boat was clean, well outfitted and the captains seemed very knowledgeable.

According to the captain, the fishing had been slow across the board for the last week, although he was hopeful we would find fish.


As we pulled out of the harbour we discussed the details of fishing the atlantic ranging from locating fish to what we could expect to catch.  Although young, our Captain seemed extremely knowledgeable and it was obvious he had been raised with one foot in the ocean.  He regaled me with stores of giant halibut and Hake caught while fishing cod, and detailed the perils of Lobster fishing which he took part in every year.  All the while he kept one eye on the fish finder mounted on the dash of the helm.  Suddenly, mid scentence, he announced we had stumbled upon a mackerel grouping in approximately 40 FOW and that we should get our lines in the water.   Finally we had arrived and the fun was about to begin.

The captain gave a brief tutorial as he dropped a line in the water.  The captain released the catch on the large saltwater reel and the weighted mackerel rig dropped into the briny depths.  In seconds the captain deftly hauled a brace of mackerel aboard the boat and explained the mackerel bite anything that moves and that we should drop and jig vigorously to maximize our catch.  Fish were caught immediately by all aboard.

Mackeral put up an impressive fight darting in all directions as they are reeled in.  This is compounded when multiple mackerel are hooked; which is often the case.  Even once aboard the boat, these fish refuse to give up and will flop about the deck until stored on ice.

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Pretty soon we had a full icebox of mackerel and a boat load of very happy fisherman.

We even caught some sculpin, AKA “mother in laws” as they call them out east.


Lots of fun all around, but now it was time to track down some cod.


We pulled up our lines and headed out to 90 FOW.  The rigs were baited by the first mate with bits of mackeral and once again our captain gave a brief tutorial on how to catch cod.  He instructed us to drag our baits just above bottom and wait for bites.  Sure enough, the cod started to bite and we got our first glimpse of the fish that once filled the nets and bellies of many an east coast fisherman.

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From a fishermans standpoint, the cod is not much of a game fish.  Once hooked they make very few runs, all of which are unimpressive.  Most times they just come right along into the boat.  Regarless of this limp fighting style, the fish has a hefty feel giving the angler the impression that dinner is in your hands when held.  With their thick fillets and meaty build, It is easy to see why these fish were once fished so heavily and how they were ale to feed a growing world.

Our boat managed to catch our limit of keepers (2 per person) and we headed back home to enjoy our catch.

I can say without a doubt, our meal of freshly caught cod along with new PEI potatoes was the best of the trip.  You haven’t had cod until you’ve caught your own and cooked it right away.

Cheers from the wilds of PEI,


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


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


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.



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.


A classic French River sunset.


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.




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.


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)


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.




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.




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


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.


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.


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