By Ken Poor

     Canada offers a wide variety of spectacular fishing opportunities. Each year thousands of fishermen from across the United States head to Ontario in anticipation of the fishing experience of a lifetime. Many of the finest multi-species lakes in the world are located there. On some lakes it is possible to fish for largemouth or smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, lake trout, and trophy muskie all in the same day.

     Ontario has the most lodges in all of Canada and the widest variety of accommodations. Typically, I expect to spend around $1500 for a week of fishing in Canada. If that stretches your budget, Ontario also has plenty of excellent trips for the more budget-conscious fishermen. Whatever your budget allows and whether you choose a drive-in, first-class boat-in or fly-in trip, proper planning on your part is the key to a successful fishing trip.

Sunrise and the call of wild loons on a Canadian lake are very special.

     Whether you are the one organizing the fishing group or have been invited to go along, pick your fishing companions carefully. The trip of a lifetime will be a disaster if the fishing partners can’t get along. On your first few fishing trips limit the size of the group to three or four close friends. After a couple of trips you will have gained enough experience to include more people if you decide to do so.

     Start planning your trip as soon as possible and pick a group leader. The group leader assigns responsibilities, serves as spokesman and follows-up on individual assignments. Set up group meetings at least six months in advance of the trip and start collecting deposit money right away. All lodges require a deposit, typically $100 to $200 per person. Make sure everyone in your group understands that the deposit is usually nonrefundable.

     Outdoor shows are a great opportunity to meet and talk to the lodge owners, outfitters and the tourism groups that promote fishing, hunting and camping in Ontario. The internet is another good source for information about fishing in Canada. Ontario’s Sunset Country website is a good starting point for maps, links to lodges, outfitters and other good trip information.

     Deciding where to go should be a group decision and can be a lot of fun. Before you pick a location decide what species of fish you are after, how you will travel and what type of accommodations you will need. Will you cook your own meals or go with the American Plan (meals Included). Drive in lodges, remote outpost, camping, river trips and charters are all available in Ontario.

My nephews, Matt and Billy, muskie fishing on a Canadian lake

     If you plan on bringing your own boat, make sure the lodge has a launch ramp, piers, gas and electric available for charging batteries. If you plan to use the lodge boats, make sure they are suitable for the type of fishing you are planning. Most lodges do not provide fish locators or trolling motors and those that do usually charge an upgrade fee.

     Good food is an important part of any fishing trip. If your group plans to cook its own meals appoint a cook and assign clean-up responsibilities before the trip. Have the cook write out a menu for each day and a grocery list. At one of your meetings review the menu, detail quantities for the grocery list and decide how you will buy and pay for your supplies. Don’t forget to include snacks, pop, beer and coffee.

     After you decide on where to go, the group leader should send in the deposit and get a confirmation letter. At the same time find out if the lodge or outfitter will accept credit cards, personal checks or if they require final payment in cash. Most lodges offer package deals with a reasonable base cost. Gas at lodges for boats is a little expensive so make sure there is agreement in advance for sharing the cost. The group can expect to pay additional fees for any extras they ask for. The confirmation letter will normally indicate only the cost of the basic package and your deposit, but will not include extras.

     Extras typically include gas for personal boats, fishing licenses, guides, bar drinks, bait, launch fees, taxes and tips. The cost of a Canadian fishing license varies depending on the type you buy. If you plan on driving to Canada, another cost your group should consider is gas for personal vehicles. Make sure there is an understanding of how that will be handled.

Later that day I caught Matt up in tree trying to save a muskie lure with Billy in the boat supervising. Nothing less than I expect from those two.

      One of the most important reasons I suggest having group meetings is to have the group decide what they will need to bring on the trip. Try to develop a checklist and include cameras and plenty of film. Appropriate fishing equipment and clothing are the main considerations. Most fishermen will bring more tackle than they need and if space is not limited that’s okay. Don’t overlook a complete first aid kit. Nicks and cuts are to be expected on a weeklong fishing trip.

     At the same time, if you have extra line, rods, reels, lures or terminal tackle, that you are willing to share, let the others in the group know. If you have a novice in the group make sure they have everything they need. When I fish with a group I have no problem sharing my gear, as long as they understand a basic rule, if you lose it or break it – you are expected to replace it.

     Every trip I have made to Canada included rain and mosquitoes. Make sure the group brings plenty of quality insect repellent and high-quality rain gear. Early or late season trips will also include cool weather, so bring suitable clothing. The weather is usually great during late June, July, August and early September. During this part of the season, typically a light jacket and sweatshirt is all you will need unless it rains.

     Make sure everyone has the necessary paper work to enter and leave Canada. A passport is required to enter Canada and also to re-enter America. You can also arrange to get some Canadian money if you choose, but it really isn’t necessary. American currency is accepted throughout Canada.

     If you plan to hire a guide discuss the groups expectations of the guide before the trip and talk to the lodge owner about the availability, the cost, and your groups requirements for a guide. On most trips to Canada I only hire a guide for one day.

     In my opinion, hiring a guide is a must, especially on any lake that I have not fished before. When I use a guide, I make it clear that I want him to show me around the lake, identify some good fishing spots, why it is a good spot to fish, and lure selection. With only a week to fish, a guide can jump start a fishing trip and allow you to get down to the business at hand of catching fish.

     Also, the guide should identify safety or navigation hazards and then I will consider going fishing. If the guide has a problem with this agenda, I will ask for a different guide. Some guides will charge extra if there is more than one boat in the group. Make sure you are clear on this point before you leave the lodge.

     Shore lunches are an important part of the Canadian fishing experience and a good guide will bring everything he needs to prepare as well as cook this important meal – including the fish. Discuss the shore lunch with him before you hire him. The guide should also clean any fish you catch and freeze them if you are bringing them home. I have high expectations for the guides I use – but I also tip them accordingly. Everyone in the group should tip the guide and the amount should be discussed before the trip. 

     Finally, approach every fishing trip with the resolve to make it a great experience. Make sure the trip doesn’t go bad on your account. If you take every precaution to make sure you do your part, then you can make the best of even a bad situation. With a good plan to work with and realistic expectations chances are you will come home with memories of the Canada fishing trip of a lifetime.