A Return Bass Fishing Trip to Algoma Country in Northern Ontario

Wil Wegman

Fall 2019: It was our last morning fishing beautiful northern Lake Huron out from Blue Heron Resort on the Spanish River.  The rocky terrain was quite similar to that of this Great Lake’s Georgian Bay way to the south where fishing partner Doug Wadden and I have each spent far more time; yet in some respects it’s even more rugged and displays far less sign of human activity. Every morning we would be blessed with an eagle sighting followed by tremendous success catching smallmouth bass.  This was our fifth straight day on the water and after waiting for the downpour to stop, we only had a couple of hours of fishing before we had to head home.  We were not experiencing the great action we had come to expect but when we saw not one but two fully mature bald eagles hovering majestically overhead we kind of forgot about that detail.  They say fishing is so much more than just catching fish … and although I have argued against that point I must admit, right then and there catching really didn’t seem to matter much.

As if the double eagle sighting wasn’t enough … suddenly out of nowhere another lone eagle appeared out of nowhere even closer to us with a good sized fish held firmly in its sharp talons. It swooshed back and forth right in front of us- almost as if it wanted to show off his catch to us, or the other two eagles nearby.  Watching those eagles was the icing on the cake to cap off a fantastic few days in Algoma Country.

Return Trip To Algoma: To take advantage of Ontario’s year round bass fishery, earlier this spring my brother Marcel and I stayed at Clear Lake’s Birchland Cottages located further west in Algoma Country off Hwy 17 in Fisheries Management Zone 10. An article on that trip can be found at: http://www.wilwegman.com/Articles/an-early-season-bass-fishing-trip-to-algoma-country-in-ontario-canada.html   In early June, we relished a rare opportunity for great spring catch & release smallmouth fishing while our season was closed back home. To top it off we fished other nearby waters where we could catch a few bonus largemouth and walleye.  This fall however, our Algoma destination would be the Spanish River and adjoining northern part of Lake Huron.  This multi-species fishery is renowned for walleye, pike, and big muskie. Blue Heron is fortunate enough to be the only fishing lodge on this vast section of river. As bass crazed individuals however Doug and I heard many glowing reports not only about the lodge but the smallmouth bass fishing in particular (including from TV & Radio fishing personalities Bob Izumi and Angelo Viola and from my buddy Adam Valee who guides there periodically) so our primary purpose was to fish bronzebacks.
Hopefully the following photos and notes are entertaining and entice some of you to give this underutilized part of Ontario and Blue Heron Resort some serious consideration for your next fishing trip. I know I can’t wait to go back!

Our six hour drive from just north of Toronto on highways 400 north and 17 west of Sudbury included a leisurely lunch, and a break for me to be a guest on the Outdoor Journal Radio Show with Angelo Viola. Talking about this trip with Ang only heightened our excitement as we drove on. A rebroadcast of that live show can be listened to here: https://fishncanada.com/radio/wil-wegman-september-21-2019/  . 
Our housekeeping cottage at Blue Heron was roomy, super clean and had an amazing screened in porch that would be a real treat for spring visitors to relax bug free after a full day’s fishing.  At the river, we realized right away that the spring high water levels had not totally receded even this late in the season so the boat launch was still partially underwater. Fortunately though, we had no problems getting the big deep V Nitro off that first day or out the last.  The dock system was perfect with each angler assigned a slip and provided electrical hookup to charge their batteries overnight. After we unloaded all of our gear into the cottage we headed out for a late afternoon fish.
Our first stop was a large bay in Lake Huron adjacent to the mouth of the Spanish River. Although we caught a few smallmouth here and there, they were scattered and we really didn’t develop much of a pattern.

Wil’s fishing partner for this trip was his friend and fellow Aurora Bassmaster club member Doug Wadden. Doug caught the first bass of the trip; a nice 3lb smallmouth in a northern Lake Huron back bay (adjacent to the Spanish River mouth) with isolated weed cover. After fishing it extensively that first day, the duo determined that these scattered fish were there more as remnants of a summer seasonal.

The next day we started fishing islands and shoals and the pattern we were looking for began to develop thanks to a fish-fast approach tossing Rapala X Rap Jerk baits and the Shadow Rap! One of the key findings was that although the smallmouth we caught were typically in shallow water – between 6-12 feet and related to rock, or rock plus weed, that area had to be right up next to significantly deeper water.  Thanks to our Navionics mapping and Lowrance High Def units, these areas were not overly difficult to pinpoint once we knew what we were looking for.  Another key finding was that in a very few select areas near bluff walls if the wind was blowing right, you could catch several bass back to back to back … but only if you were quick and diligent about it.

One of Wil’s favorite colored X Raps is the pink and white version … and apparently the smallmouth here liked it as well.   One of these twins wacked the bait but the other was jealous and hit it as well; providing Wil with an interesting battle before they were both released to settle their differences back in the lake.

Three pound smallmouth like this were the most common catch for Wil and Doug during their trip and provided plenty of excitement

All bass were released unharmed and ready to provide more fun-filled fishing opportunities to those visiting Blue Heron Resort

Although the vast section of Lake Huron that we fished had no shortage of cottage-free islands and isolated shoals where we found bass, we were anxious to develop a secondary pattern and began looking for one later on day two.   Doug is a strong proponent of fishing current for smallmouth – and has no qualms about fishing sections that provide more fast moving water than most anglers would consider fishing. So, late on day two, we scrolled through the Navionics Map and found a neck down area between two large open expanses of Lake Huron and figured there just had to be current in that area.  As we approached mid-channel, the whitewater turmoil present was a sure give away that current existed and a sly grin overcame Doug’s oftentimes stoic face.   “This is gonna be good,” is all he quipped!

And … “it was good.”  This first of many current-oriented bass was typical of the many smallies the duo caught there, not just the afternoon of day two, but for the duration of our trip

Although the heaviest current was mid channel … it was the intricate less flow-thru area off to the side that really provided the best current breaks, habitat,  and most importantly forage (various minnow species). Interestingly enough though, the current would not just change daily or from morning to afternoon, but even hourly or sometimes by the minute!  It was like nothing Doug or I had ever been a part of before and it kept us on our toes as we tried to figure out which flow rates were best, how the bass would position themselves and which baits we should use and when to use them.  To be honest with just four days there, we were unable to decipher exactly which current condition was best – because it was always different. The one constant however that was unmistakable was that if the current was non-existent … you may as well move on and come back later when it does kick up again … Just sayin”!

This particular current bass on day two took one of Wil’s favorite topwaters- The Rapala Skitter Walk- saltwater version.  It came inches from shore- in inches of water, off a small secondary rocky point adjacent to the main channel. Water here was rippling from the current during Wil’s first super long cast there to catch this bass, but a minute later (after taking this quick pic and releasing the fish) the current had already subsided and his 2nd bass on 2nd cast was out just a touch deeper. By the time that fish was released, the main flow was next to nothing near shore, and no more topwater bass could be had. So … the duo moved in closer and worked the break into a 12 foot hole, where they proceeded to quickly catch more bass on a weighted wacky rigged flutter worm (Doug) and a tube jig (Wil).  As was par for the course though during all their visits to the current oasis, the action would stop dead as fast and furious as it started once the current all but stopped – which it did plenty of times.  They learned by day 3 to recognize this trait and move on to another area … no matter how strong the draw was to stay put and wait for more fish.

On day three we had determined that our current area would be our first stop bright and early that morning before we would venture out to even more unexplored endless waters of Lake Huron. 

Day three was really the only day Wil and Doug saw the sun during their stay at Blue Heron in late September.  After catching their share of 3-4 pound smallmouth within various sections of the current area, they moved on down the shoreline out into the lake, fishing rocky points, shoals, breaks, weed clumps and even lily pads.

The flat calm and sunny conditions day 3 were perfect to explore some of the amazing main lake structure well out into Lake Huron.  Whenever rocky outcroppings like this presented themselves, the angling duo would stop and fish, and although not all of them produced, many did!

High water levels covered many shoals that would normally be visible and twice the size. Realizing this, Wil and Doug would not just focus their casts on the rocky sections they could see above water but intentionally look for the more subdued rocks and weed clumps they could only see below the surface with their eyes or electronics.

Many areas that we fished reminded us of the limestone-type slabs we’d see on southern Georgian Bay or even northern part of Lake Couchiching.  Like these waters as we travelled further out into Lake Huron, the water took on a magnificent blue hue and was much clearer (thanks to zebra mussels) than near the mouth of the Spanish River.  We would need to be on guard against those filter feeding zebra mussels and their razor cutting abilities on our 10 lb Suffix Floro leaders so checking them and retying when needed helped us land most fish we hooked into.

Hundreds of small islands and shoals abound that hold bass at one time or another, but those with deep water nearby and a mix of rock and still green weed were most productive. Although Wil and Doug were anticipating several bass would already be deep (30-40 feet) feeding on pelagic baitfish, they did not really mark any bass that deep. The still warm 64-67F water may have played a role in this as baitfish and bass were still found relatively shallow for most of the trip.

That third day the duo stopped in their current area and caught several bass well over four pounds, but not quite reaching the magic five.  Doug’s goal for the next day was to get one of those five pounders.

That 3rd day really was magical and they were able to keep the rain gear away from sunrise to sunset.

Day four was back to cloudy, drizzle-like conditions but we didn’t let that get us down … this would be our last full day here and we were determined to make the best of it. Doug was certain a five pounder was part of his destiny this trip and that today would be his day to make it happen.

First stop day four was the current area shown here. The rolling waves were not from wind but the actual flow which made presenting your lure of choice a challenge.  Doug did best with his infamous green pumpkin wacky worm rigged with a weight 2- 3 feet above the hook.  Meanwhile, Wil’s choice under these conditions was either a brown and black tube jig or deep diving Rapala DT 16, fire tiger color crankbait.

“These current fish are super strong and fight super hard, but they will gingerly pick up a soft plastic bait so you need to really focus, stay in contact with your bait and line and watch where it meets the water’s surface,” Wil said. Not so the way they attack a passing crankbait, as Wil also commented that even three pounders like this nearly rip the rod from your hands when they attack the bait. Note the current in the background; when that dissipated even a bit, reaction baits like Wil’s crank were put aside for the soft plastics.

Doug not only got his 5 pounder early on the last full day but followed it up moments later with another that pulled the scales down to over 5.6 lbs. These big smallmouth this far north are slow growing and can be 15 + year’s old, so harvesting them is simply not a viable option. 

Most of the bass showed beautiful color markings but some were big dark brutes like this one

Although smallmouth bass were without a doubt their primary target species, you couldn’t help but lock into several northern pike like this as well.

This particular smallmouth bass came from the edge of a Lilly pad bed that reeked of largemouth, but the explosion on Wil’s topwater was like someone threw a bowling ball into the water; way fiercer than any largemouth could ever muster!

Even on the cloudiest days Wil and Doug always seemed to manage a gorgeous sunset during their boat ride back to Blue Heron Lodge. The resort pictured below, offers 11 housekeeping style cottages plus RV sites, with a screened-in fish cleaning station and plenty of amenities for a family vacation or a hard core fishing trip. The docking system provides plenty of room for guests like us who brought their own boats, as well as for the rentals the resort owns.  Interestingly enough during their stay Wil and Doug were surprised all the other guests were there for the walleye, muskie or pike … not the fabulous smallmouth this part of Algoma Country has to offer.

On our last evening we were both exhausted and came back to the cottage in the dark; fired up the BBQ for dinner and were discussing what else to eat.  Just then we heard a friendly knock at our door and in popped Deborah (who owns the lodge along with husband Cal) carrying a large rolled-up tin foil package of fresh, steaming hot, homemade onion rings! “Cal took some clients out walleye fishing today and they did really well - so we all had a big fish fry but I made far too many onion rings … so here you go fellas!” I’ve had good onion rings before … but none have ever come close to those that Deborah made that day.  It’s wonderful touches of class like that, which sees so many repeat clients returning Blue Heron year after year … and of course the world class fishing.

As the opening paragraph of this article states, we didn’t hammer bass during the last few of hours on our last day the next morning. Like everywhere, you can have slow days, but all in all any bass angler who visits this great area of the province should have no qualms about staying at Blue Heron and experiencing some of its bountiful bronzeback glory!
For more information on Blue Heron Resort, visit their website at: https://blueheronresort.on.ca/

Wil Wegman is an award winning outdoor writer, seminar host and tournament angler from Bradford Ontario. His fishing articles have appeared in most Canadian and several US Outdoor magazines. As former Conservation Director for the Ontario BASS Nation (1995-2010) and spearheading conservation and research projects, Wil was recognized in 2017 for his dedication to the sport, by being inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. It was the same year he won the prestigious National Recreational Fishing Award, and the Rick Morgan Professional Conservation Award. Wil can be reached through his website below:

Wil Wegman
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"Focus On Fishing"
www.wilwegman.com