In 2000, after paddling 32 miles of flat water in 2 days on the Mississaugi River, I vowed I would take a short and relaxing trip to Algonquin in 2001. We set out from Baltimore (Maryland - U.S.A.) on August 17 to spend 4 days on Sec and Mallard Lakes fishing, swimming, eating, and relaxing. John and I drove all night and ate breakfast in Pembroke before reaching the Portage Store where we obtained our fishing licenses. About 9:30 we registered at Sand Lake Gate and found the fire restriction was still in affect. This was my first encounter with fire restriction and it was not to be a pleasant experience.
It's just a short drive from the park entrance to the walking trail along the ridge of the Barron Canyon. I couldnít resist seeing it again and sharing it with my friend. After the breathtaking view and several pictures of the canyon, we backtracked along the gravel road to Access #20 on Sec Lake. This access serves only six small lakes, with a loop route connecting Sec, Wet and Norm Lakes. There is no connection to other parts of the park. All of the campsites are on Sec Lake with the exception of one on Mallard Lake and one unimproved site on Wet Lake. With small lakes, long portages, and only one other campsite it doesnít make much sense to paddle the loop unless you really enjoy portaging. It becomes obvious that the purpose of Access #20 is for camping on Sec Lake. Several of the sites are accessible by car.
From the launch site we could see straight out to an attractive island campsite on Sec Lake. By noon we were comfortably settled into the camp with our tent set-up and gear stowed. To our great pleasure there was not a bug to be found in the campsite. That was to be the upside of the dry weather. This particular site has an excellent landing on the left as we approached. It overlooks the water with a view in three directions across the lake. A light breeze was blowing making us comfortable. It just doesnít get any better than this!
I noticed that a number of trees around the camp had been scarred by lightning strikes. I suspect this might not be the best place to be during a thunderstorm. Nevertheless, we had a good weather prediction and all the amenities of tables, a covered toilet, and nicely positioned trees for erecting a dining fly. Other campsites on Sec Lake looked inviting as well, especially on the island nearest the portage trail into Wet Lake.
We wasted no time getting back on the water to test the lake for fish and we were not to be disappointed. The first small mouth was shortly on the line, breaking water in his valiant struggle. He would have made dinner for one of us, but for the sirloin steak we brought. After catching and releasing a few more bass, some too small to keep, we headed back to camp for a nap and to prepare the evening meal. Since fire restrictions were in effect, we could not cook the steak on the open fire. We chopped it up and fried it, mixing the chunks with spicy red beans.
Clean-up, without a fire in which to burn things, gets nasty. We ended up with a lot of trash for our 'sac de schet' that could have attracted bears but most certainly would draw raccoons. After a few days the trash begins to repel the human species. There is little that can be done with it. I suppose if we were on a week long trip it would become necessary to wash everything and bury the food particles it in a pit. You can really appreciate a fire when you have to do without. This is true when relaxing around the camp in the evening. There isnít much to do after dinner and it doesnít get dark until 9:30, even late in the summer. I am not one of the noisy people keeping others awake, unless my snoring is heard.
After Saturday's breakfast we broke camp and packed up for the short trip over to Mallard Lake, where we were to spend the second night. This area is a bit restricted when it comes to getting away from the cars and roads. The only Mallard site can be reached by a 25 meter trail from the road. We could have returned to the launch site, loaded things into the car and driven to the Mallard site, but we didnít. The portage landing on Sec Lake goes from the water straight up the hill. It is not user friendly, but the Mallard side is nice. We were in camp and set-up before lunch and wasted little time before again wetting our lines.
Mallard Lake is shallow. The south end has a lot of water plants. However, we found it to be good fishing for a variety of species. We caught Small and Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Bluegills, all on artificial lures. Most of them are too small to keep but the catching is still fun. We were able to catch enough for two sizable servings at dinner. After filleting, I dusted them with some cornmeal and fried them in margarine. Of course this was on a gas stove and would have undoubtedly tasted better over an open fire.
As mentioned before, the Mallard site is virtually on the road and at the edge of the park. Another drive-in site outside the park was very close. Unfortunately, the car camping crowd with barking dogs and noisy vehicles ruined the solitude of the quiet evening in this not-so-wilderness part of Algonquin.
Sunday morning we broke camp and headed back to Sec Lake. We found the previous site still occupied when we arrived so we left our gear to stake a claim and headed out to do some fishing. In the afternoon we paddled over to the portage trail and hiked into Wet Lake. Although the map showed this to be unimproved, the trail was well cleared, especially around some marshy parts near Wet Lake. I made a few casts from the shore but did not find any fish willing to take the bait. In retrospect, it would have been nice to carry the canoe in to check out the campsite and try some more serious fishing. However, it was warm that day. The portage was 804 meters each way and my canoe weighs about 36 kg. The same could be said of the other small lakes connected to Sec Lake.
Sunday afternoon we caught a lot of fish and kept a few for the evening meal. These went well with noodles primavera and snack cakes for dessert. We awoke Monday morning to a quick cold breakfast and an early departure to make the 13 hour drive back to Baltimore. We accomplished all we set out to do except to explore the southern end of Mallard Lake for a connection into Johnny Lake. From the dryness of the season and the shallow water of Mallard Lake, I suspect there was no passage during the time of our visit.