|Whitson Lake (Petawawa River) Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 2005|
Bonjour to all who enjoy Algonquin's outdoors or those who just like to read about it. My first trip ever in Algonquin was on Pinetree Lake back in late April of 1984, my buddy Dan (R.I.P.) and I were real amateurs at this canoe and portaging stuff….but that's another story. The trip log that I am about to share took place on the Pettawawa River with my brother Alain and my friend Steven. Alain was a lucky young man to have older brothers like my twin Denis and myself, as we would bring him along on some interior Algonquin trips and also many, many fishing and hiking days within Gatineau Park which was only a few km's from our house in Wolf Lake Québec. Alain has been involved with "environment policing" since the age of 15 with his first job, a student patroller for the National Capital Commission, managers of Gatineau Park. He continued to work at this summer job while completing his studies as a conservation officer and then in law enforcement. After this, he was employed by the N.C.C. as a conservation officer for Gatineau Park and The Greenbelt, which surrounds Ottawa. Alain has now been since employed by the Québec government as a conservation officer and is stationed full time in Campbell's Bay, in the county of Pontiac, just across the Ottawa River, north of Algonquin. The Pontiac is where Bo has his cottage, so beware Bo, I told my brother to keep an eye on you….just kidding!!
As for my buddy Steven, he has since gotten married to a Korean women, Seong Hee, who has been to Lake Travers once and just loved it. Steven has been a freelance english teacher in Korea for the past 7 or 8 years and come's back home every summer, as there are NO Algonquin in Korea, Steven can't wait to be back to Canada and back to this paradise. I met Steven in 2001 at Lac Lapêche in Gatineau Park. I was working at the canoe and camping rental cabin and Steven was a regular camper. He would travel from Montréal to Gatineau Park because he said that peace and quiet was now non-existent in the Laurentides.
I know it is a lot better in Algonquin if you choose your spots and dates. It is a wise thing to plan ahead to avoid crowds and traffic. This is why I plan on going in on a Monday for 3 and 4 day trips and on a weekday for those 7 or 8 day trips. This trip was a real quiet one for this time of the year. Only a few canoe groups were going down the river and only one couple was camping one night on Whitson. We met up with Steven, who took a shot of Alain and myself at the Algonquin Portage store, the people who run this store have been there for years and are the best.
Dano with his little "brother" Alain.
Travelling up the Petawawa River from McManus Lake on to Smith Lake and then to Whitson is a good paddle. It should take 3 to 4 hours on a regular day. On some days, this paddle can be hard if you face the wind. Or, it can be long as there are no real features (points, islands, falls, etc..) on the way until you reach Whitson Lake and the portage before it.
We were lucky on this day as the wind came from the east and helped us along to our west, north-west destination. Steven being a good solo paddler, had no problems in keeping up with Alain and myself. To be honest, Steven was eager to do a little fishing on the way up, as soon as we reached the rapids. This motivated him to paddle hard. The first portage to Smith Lake is a short, flat 90 meter affair. I portaged a few heavy packs as Alain and Steven pulled the canoes over the barely covered rocks. Delicate foot work is needed as the rocks can be very slippery. As soon as we were on the water, lures were cast just above the rapids and it wasn't long until a nice smallmouth was hooked by Steven. A few minutes later, I caught a funny looking muskie, it had a large head with a skinny body…look's like it was under-fed. Does this mean a lack of baitfish or prey?
Funny looking muskie.
View of Whitson Lake in the background from the Smith Lake portage.
We finally reached the second portage of our trip. This portage is high up and gives you a beautiful view of the Petawawa River flowing out of Whitson Lake in the background. You can also pull your canoe through the shallow water. We reached our site in mid afternoon and decided to set up camp, eat and relax for a few hours before hitting the water for some evening fishing. The site itself was flat, sandy and covered with pine needles. It had enough room for 3 tents. A small trail lead to the next site which was the same. It looked like a good few spots for those large groups coming down the Petawawa.
The first time I came to Whitson was in 1995, when Louis and I used a rowboat. Yes, we rowed up and occasionally used the electric motor to help us. I was more concerned in saving the energy in the battery so I could put it to good use…fishing. We eventually had enough power to come back to the car at McManus Lake. The best part was shooting the small rapids in a rowboat. We even had some spectators who watched us come down the rapids. They were probably hoping for a "crash" and a good laugh. But, we made it ok.
The evening was getting closer, so we decided to go out for a few hours. It took Steven a few minutes to catch another nice smallmouth.
Bass fishing was great at sunset.
The next morning, we were all in agreement to go upstream and explore the river for a good part of the day. Steven and I wanted to practice our non existent white-water skills with Alain being our instructor, as only he had some white-water experience. We paddled our canoes whenever we could and pulled them with ropes when the current was to strong. It was not the place to slip as we could have been swept away in a second.
We fished some of the pools with good success, many smallmouths and to my surprise, many, many channel cats. On one occasion, I was walking the shore at the base of a large, sand filled, slow moving pool, when all of a sudden, I saw this huge, slow moving dark fish at the bottom of the pool. At first I thought it was a sturgeon because I noticed large whiskers. But no. It turned out to be a, no kidding, a 3 to 3.5 feet long channel cat. It must of weighted at least 30 lbs. That had my heart going for a minute and then I remembered about another previous trip to Smith Lake in 1996, where my friend Mariau and I spotted a small 3 foot sturgeon in only about 2 feet of water as it was resting on the way up the rapids to Whitson Lake.
Steven, proud to be on the Petawawa River.
Getting wet is part of the fun…but you still have to wear your P.F.D.
Whitson Lake has to be one of my best places to be. It is such a beautiful spot, where the river flows in with it's shallow, weedy areas. It's thick vegetation on and around it's islands and it's soft, clean sand make it a great spot for animals to raise their young .. mostly feathered friends. We had the privilege to be greeted back at our campsite by my "cousin" Jean Pierre. As night fall came, Alain and Steven went back out for some fishing. I stayed at the site to keep the fire going. This was the time to reflect and think on how beautiful and lucky we are to have Algonquin.
My cousin "Jean Pierre" ... I hope there are no Jean Pierre reading this.
The third day was another nice day weather-wise. While we enjoyed a mild but cloud covered day with a few sprinkles, it was nothing compared to what was going on in Louisiana as they were getting hit with the leftovers of Hurricane Katrina. While it was pouring rain in Ottawa, we were just at the western edge of the Katrina depression which was covering a good part of eastern U.S. and Canada. My brother Denis was at his home and looking at the satellite shots on T.V. and told himself "they must be right on the edge" and we were.
During the afternoon, we went hiking on some trails leading from the campsite to our right. Not much to talk about on this trail .. but it sure was quiet. We got to see the sun for a while as evening was approaching. It was a perfect time to get some nice pictures where the Petawawa flows into Whitson. This is also the spot where the silver maples are. A great area to discover and fish. To our surprise, we caught a few small walleyes just before sunset and kept only one for a midnight snack.
Dano and Alain fishing and appreciating the surrounding beauty.
On our last morning we were not eager to pack, as Steve knew this was his last trip to Algonquin for quite a while. He's been mostly in Korea since. While looking around the site, I noticed a large black snake with yellow streaks (forgot it's name). I then then spotted a few more. It turned out that there was a whole family of them inside a rotting tree trunk. Steven took his camera out and took a few shots. They didn't seem to appreciate us disturbing them as they posed unwillingly for a group picture. As you can see, one of them did not mind at all being picked up and handled. It must of known that it was in "good hands."
Papa snake, mama snake and baby snake.
Being from Montréal, Steve is not your typical city boy.
Besides the two small "swifts", it was a slow pace going back to McMannus as we knew that another trip was ending and that the next time was too far away for Steve's liking. Maybe again in a year or two. For Alain, it brought back many memories of his younger days spent with his older brothers. For myself, I knew that I was coming back in 6 weeks for my annual fall (october) trip with other lucky friends and of course my twin Denis who is almost in on every trip. Why? Because he only catches fish when he is with his personal guide .. me!! We were all happy to have caught some fish, 5 species in all. And considering Katrina, we came out lucky and pleased.
Shots of the silver maples, looking east with the Katrina depression in the background..
Thanks to everybody who took the time to read this, as I am not a writer, just an Algonquin nut.
... Dano (Dan Ouellette)