by - Stephen Molson
Fourteen nights total, late June through mid July 2009. This would be my tripping partner’s first paddle since recovering from a bout with pneumonia back in late March. We had planned it since April, and it was something that we were both looking forward too as neither of us had been to most of the lakes on the route. Only two days saw no rain, two and a half were wind bound, two thunderstorms, cool nights and 20 minutes of rain every 1.5 hours on most days were the weather trademarks on this trip. About a dozen moose were seen, 28 lakers were caught, 25 were released and roughly 16 brookies, over half of which came from the Petawawa River, 11 released and of 4 of the smallmouth only one was retained. Surface water temps ranged from 68-72 F over the duration of the trip.
We had booked the latest water taxi run possible for the day, and by the time we began the portage to Happy Isle it was close to 6:30 pm. After the double portage we launched and threw a line out as we paddled across Happy Isle. Judging by the number of campfires dotting the shoreline of the lake it was a very popular spot, counting at least a dozen fires. Many a distant laughter, the sounds of excited children and the odd dog bark could be heard echoing throughout the lake.
The water in Happy Isle was very clear, a testament to its name-origin as Green Lake. Within a minute of leaving the beach we had the first lake trout on, a small 19” char was quickly released. We continued on around the island and far point, catching 3 2-pd smallmouth bass (all released) before reaching the landing to Merchant. It was getting dark at this point due to the heavy overcast skies so we navigated the portage with headlamps. By the time we made it to Merchant it was pitch black, shoreline nearly indistinguishable from the night sky. We made our way carefully and parallel to shore towards the eastern portion of the lake. We had a campsite in mind well before the trip and luckily it was vacant. As it turned out only one other group was on the lake with us over the duration of our stay.
We setup, made a fire, cooked our burgers, listened to the loons and called it a night around midnight.
The next morning, Mark woke up fairly early to catch first light and do some fishing. His happy shouts woke me from my foggy state, he had hooked is first-ever brook trout.
He wanted to keep it for a meal, so it was quickly dispatched and cleaned. Afterwards we went about preparing our morning coffee and breakfeast (which included brookie sushi) while getting our first good look at the lake. Merchant, like Happy Isle had beautiful clear waters and a number of sandy-beach areas along her north shore.
Shucked skins from various aquatic insects, a common sight on emergent vertical obstructions close to water, were everywhere.
After breakfeast we headed out to paddle the lake. There’s a chain of small islands centered within Merchant’s north half, each occupied by various birds. This island’s ‘heron’ rookery as identified on some maps had now become a nesting sight for cormorants and a perching area for gulls.
As we navigated around the islands many young and as of yet flightless gulls were seen ‘paddling’ away from the marauding canoe. Their screeching parents would mock-dive bomb the vessel if you came too close, so we let them be. Cute little puffballs.
We caught and released close to a dozen lake trout during our paddle, and made it back to the campsite mid afternoon and cooked up a shore lunch with the remaining brook trout fillets.
The skies, as they’d be for the duration of this trip, were mixed. Every few hours it would rain or drizzle, then the sun would break free for a short period before the clouds would close the gap and spotty rains return.
Throughout the trip many hatches of various insects were observed, from chironomids to cadis to mayflies. Here the sky is filled with thousands of mayfly spinners doing their seasonal dance of life above the water. Many species of mayfly were observed, including what looked to be an albino strain (white with green eyes). Lake trout could be seen slurping them down as the insects touched the surface dropping their eggs or lay dying or spent on the surface.
We caught/released more lake trout, retaining another small one for a fish meal that night.
Fried with curried noodles and lemon-curry cubed potatoes and onions.
The next day we checked out Chickaree Lake. Paddling her shoreline we spotted a loon nest. Keeping our distance we took a few pictures and let her or him be.
We caught and released a small laker on Chickaree and made our way back to Merchant. Caught and retained another small one for a meals.
The winds picked up a bit, so we stayed at the campsite and made dinner - coconut and jerked char.
Merganser family sauntering by the campsite.