Out of the species we wanted to target, we knew the Musky were going to be the toughest to catch, so the trip was based around targeting ‘the fish of 10,000 casts’, with other days fishing for Smallmouth Bass, Walleye and other species fitted in around those. We spent a great deal of time researching which area to visit to give us the best chance of catching these species, as well as there being lots to do in the area (as it would also be a family holiday), and came to the conclusion that the area around Ottawa ticked all the boxes. We contacted John Anderson of the Ottawa River Musky Factory, a guide renowned for casting for and catching monster Muskies, and John very kindly recommended a couple of other guides who could help us catch other species too. A plan was formulated and we were soon preparing for a trip to Canada!
We arrived in Ottawa late in the evening, picked up the hire car and stayed a night near the airport, but we were up very early in the morning because of the jetlag. Our first week of the trip was based in Kingston on Lake Ontario, where the St. Lawrence River forms, and we were going to be driving down in the afternoon, but our plan was to stop off at Cabelas en route. As we were up so early, we were at Cabelas just as it opened to have a look around and stock up on a few items!
Later that afternoon we arrived in Kingston, and the evening was spent gearing up for two days fishing with Dave Curtis for Smallmouth Bass, with maybe the chance of a Walleye or Musky. To give you some idea of how big Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is, just the Kingston area alone has over 1000 islands, with the biggest over 17 miles long!
On our first day’s fishing with Dave, we targeted Bass, and although we had a fairly slow start, the fishing warmed up as the day went on and we both caught our first Smallmouth Bass, along with plenty of others.
Most of them were caught drop-shotting plastic worms rigged wacky style, but the best fish of the day took one of the new Fox Rage spinnerbaits in Table Rock, with a Zander Pro Shad trailer. Pound for pound, they’re like Perch on steroids - intense head shaking, powerful runs and jumping too! I really wish we had them in the UK - no wonder so many people fish for them in the US and Canada!
The Great Lakes have some of the biggest and best Smallmouth Bass fishing in the world - one of the reasons for this is because of the abundance of Round Gobies, which the Smallmouth love to eat. They're native to the Black and Caspian Seas but got in to the Great Lakes system through ballast from ships. In fact, my very first Smallmouth of the trip coughed up a Goby! We managed to catch a few Gobies later on that week whilst fishing tiny lures from the shore, and compared them to the Fox Rage Grondles, and they were very similar.
The next day was split in to two - we spent the morning Musky fishing, but with no interest by lunchtime, we took a break in a restaurant on an island in the St Lawrence River, and after having probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, we had a look to see if the wind had calmed down enough for us to venture out further in to Lake Ontario to search for Walleye.
Luck was on our side as the wind had calmed down enough. Normally, July is a bit early for targeting Walleye in Kingston, as they’re migratory fish and don’t usually show up until August, but, just like the UK, Ontario is experiencing an unusually hot summer, so Dave guessed the Walleye may have turned up early, so this was his first attempt at catching Walleye this season on Lake Ontario. Not long after we started fishing, I caught my first Walleye, and a fantastic looking fish too between 7-8lb - I couldn’t believe it!
Then about half an hour later Dad hooked up and landed an even bigger fish, which was over 30” long - not bad for his first ever Walleye!
Although we continued fishing for another couple of hours without a bite, we were more than made up with both catching our first Walleye, with Dad’s being considered a trophy fish!
The DIY fishing around Kingston was really interesting. Kingston Harbour is based where the Cataraqui River meets the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, and the crystal clear water meant you could see a lot of the species we were fishing for. Using a variety of lures, some of the species we caught included Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth, Rock Bass, Yellow Perch, Pumpkinseed, Round Gobies, Black Crappie and even a Brown Bullhead (Catfish) I caught on a wacky worm!
One of the highlights though was Dad catching a Freshwater Drum, which he stalked dropshotting a Rage Critter on 8lb line! It gave him an unbelieveable fight, taking him under boats, jetties, then in to a massive weed bed, before the line suddenly went slack after grating on something. We thought the line had cut on some Zebra Mussels, and Dad put the rod down, crossed his arms and bent his head down in frustration. By this time a crowd of around 30 people had gathered behind us from the town and all sighed at the same time, as we thought he'd lost this fish. 30 seconds later I then spotted his line moving in the opposite direction, so he picked the rod back up, and amazingly it was still on! After another nerve-wracking few minutes, I finally managed to squeeze it in to our pan net, and the crowd let out a massive cheer!
That fish was caught on our last night in Kingston, and the next day we headed to Montebello in Québec for Musky and Longnose Gar. The route took us through Ottawa city centre, which is a spectacular looking city, and it’s amazing how, by just crossing the Ottawa River, which runs through the city, the language changes from English to French. Montebello is a small, quaint town situated roughly half way between Ottawa and Montreal, famed for having the world’s largest log cabin - the Fairmont Chateau Montebello.
Our first day’s guided fishing here was with John, targeting Musky. It took us a little while to get used to fishing with longer rods than we normally use here in the UK (which were 8’6”), and I can see why they use them, as the longer rod helps with the figure of eight, which is so important after every cast, and it’s something we're definitely going to try here in the UK.
It didn’t take long at all for us both to have a couple of follows from Muskies, but they didn't seem to want to take the lures. That continued throughout the day, as we had at least another 10 follows from Muskies, some of which were very big, and we both hooked fish - Dad hooked two (one was on a topwater lure which was a fantastic take) and I hooked one, but all three shook the hooks. John was saying that the Musky can be crafty, and even rub their lateral line along the lure to check whether it's a real fish or not. We did catch a couple of Ottawa River Pike though - they were only jacks, but they had beautiful markings.
Despite not landing any Muskies on day one, we were very confident one of us would at least catch a Musky on our remaining two days fishing with John. However…
So far on our trip, the weather had been fantastic, but that was all set to change, and we ended up having two days of record-breaking rainfall for the region. It meant we had to postpone a day’s Gar fishing we had booked and also one of the Musky days, but unfortunately, by the time the rain ended the Ottawa River had turned from clear to just a couple of inches of visibility - not good news for our Musky fishing.
On one of our days between fishing trips, we visited Parc Omega, which is a huge reserve for native animals that you can drive your car around, take a bag of carrots and feed the animals from the car! It was very interesting and a great laugh feeding them through the car windows, and I’d definitely recommend it. Only it's antlers stopped this Caribou from getting it's whole head in the car!
On the way back we also visited Plaisance Falls, which was pretty spectacular, especially after having so much rain. Unfortunately though, this was another place we intended to fish, but weren’t able to because of the coloured water and the incredible amount of water roaring through.
We were very lucky to have a break in the weather for our rescheduled day’s Gar fishing, with sunny, flat calm conditions forecast, and we were really looking forward to targeting them with Rob Jackson, who specialises in targeting them on the Ottawa River. RJ is also the host of Renegade Bass TV, a show dedicated to Bass fishing competitions in Canada. Longnose Gar are a smaller species than the Alligator Gar, growing to around 20lb, but found as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec. The way RJ fishes for them is by sight casting to them in very shallow water with shallow diving crankbaits, or flies.
Although the water was really murky in most places, it didn’t take long for us to spot our first Gar of the day basking in the sun, so I cast my 7cm Salmo Minnow to it, and not long after, my first Longnose Gar was in the net!
Then Dad spotted one almost immediately after releasing my fish, and caught that too, which was a very nice fish of 49”!
Gar are one of the few species you can cast to, draw the lure back towards the fish without spooking it, and as the lure swims past it's nose, the fish makes a complete u-turn and takes the lure, which was awesome to watch!
After such a great start, we decided to break out a fly rod. For this we used a 9’ 9wt, a floating line and a leader of around 7ft, and a bite tippet of 60lb fluoro, and tied to this was a yellow Clouser Minnow my Dad had used for fishing for Barramundi in Australia in stained water. Our next two chances both saw us land our first fly-caught Gar, and again, my Dad managed to land another good fish, slightly longer than the last one!
One more Gar later, the horizon turned black and a huge electrical storm started to loom towards us from the south west, which wasn’t forecast, so a decision was made to call it a day and head back to Montebello early. We were very lucky with that short window of perfect Gar conditions, as it absolutely threw it down for the rest of the day, but despite going home early, we had a great time fishing for them - they’re an awesome fish and very under-rated in Canada! Cheers RJ for a great day!
Now all eyes were on the Musky for our remaining two days with John. We were very unfortunate that the rain had coincided with our holiday and coloured up the river, and we had to dodge one or two very big storms whilst we were fishing too. There was one afternoon where a storm came up really quickly on us, with torrential rain and lightning, and as we were tying up the boat to a jetty, everything went white, the pressure dropped and I heard probably one of the loudest bangs I’ve ever heard. We ran to land and took cover under a hut, waiting for the storm to pass by, and when we came out there were some guys sitting in their Hummer waiting to launch their boat, who watched the bolt hit a tree on the bank of the island opposite us, which wasn’t too far away!
We went back out for another hour of fishing - this is the storm in the distance, after it had moved through.
During another storm, John welcomed us back to his Musky Den to take shelter. It was absolutely fascinating, with Musky lures and memorabilia hanging up everywhere, each with their own stories.
John did everything possible to help us catch a Musky, but unfortunately, the lack of visibility made the fishing extremely challenging, and when the conditions are against you, there’s not much you can do about it. It was a huge learning curve for us though, and I can now see why they’re called ‘the fish of 10,000 casts’ and why people become addicted to them! We had a great time fishing with John and I’m sure we’ll be back - we have unfinished business!
On our very last day, whilst packing to go home in the morning, we decided to have one more hour fishing just outside the hotel. We caught a few different species, and Dad’s last fish was a nice Smallmouth caught on a Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet - a great fish to round off the trip with.
We had an awesome time in Canada and managed to land 14 species between us in total. John, RJ and Dave are fantastic guides and if you’re interested in fishing in and around the Ottawa area, I’d highly recommend them. The people were friendly, the food was fantastic, and the wildlife was amazing too. And we didn’t even scrape the surface - an even better excuse to go back!