A Paddler’s Guide to Algonquin Park Excerpt

I have a new book out this Spring. It’s an update (third edition) to A Paddler’s Guide to Algonquin Park.

Lots of paddling route ideas for brook trout and lake trout angling. Here’s a sample chapter – one of my favourite paddle routes for trout angling Algonquin has to offer. It’s not easy – but it’s worth it.


LOWER CROW RIVER

Time: 7-8 days
Portages: 54
Distance: 45 miles (72 km)


Moderate tripping skills are required but this is a tough trip with lots of portages.

I’ve paddled and fished a lot of Algonquin. Since boyhood, I’ve made an annual pilgrimage, casting for brookies in the deep pools of rivers like the Nippissing and the Tim, and trolling for lakers in the depths of Merchant, Happy Isle, Burntroot and Hogan. But one place I had never cast a line or paddled a canoe in was the lower Crow River.

This legendary stretch of water, between Lake Lavielle and the Petawawa River, had been placed on my wish list ever since I read the classic book “The Incomplete Angler” by John D. Robins. It tells of two anglers on a canoe/fishing trip in Algonquin in 1943, and it was the lower Crow where they caught most of their fish.

I finally paddled – and fished – the lower Crow a few years back; and I returned a few times after. The brook trout fishing was incredible, and the solitude was immense.

I didn’t expect the angling to equal that of Robin’s book. I’ve come to realize over the years that the fishing in the park has declined somewhat. But there, it hadn’t. Every hole held a trophy trout. During one memorable lunch stop, I cast nine times from an interior campsite and caught eight brook trout, all well over two pounds. Amazing!

So why is the Crow still teeming with fish? Simple. It still holds that one thing that keeps trout populations healthy — it’s extremely difficult for anglers to get to.

There are a few options on how to reach the Crow. Take note, however, that all of them require at least 7 to 8 days of paddling and portaging.

Most paddlers go with the current by starting at Lake Opeongo and paddle and portage to Crow Lake-upper Crow River-Lake Lavielle and then do a side trip for a day or two on the lower Crow before heading home from Lake Lavielle. It’s a relatively easy trip to Lake Lavielle, and Lake Lavielle is another true Algonquin gem. However, your return route is not so easy. It takes way too much effort to paddle back up the upper Crow, which means you have to portage south into Dickson Lake and then complete the dreaded 5,982 yard (5,470 meter) Dickson/Bonfield portage to complete your journey back to Opeongo Lake.

My choice to reach the lower Crow is starting at the east side of the park at the put-in at Windigo Lake. From there you paddle to Radiant Lake (see Windigo to Radiant Lake chapter for details). From Radiant Lake you paddle down the Petawawa River to where the Crow flushes over Blueberry Falls, and then paddle upstream.

Radiant Lake is where “The Incomplete Angler” group started their journey to the Crow. At the time, the train had a regular stop there for canoeists entering Algonquin Park.

There’s a series of portages around some rapids along the Petawawa River section. Most can’t be run, although I’ve successfully navigated the first, a short 257 yard (235 meter) to the left of Squirrel Rapids. A much longer portage is next, 760 yards (695 meters) to the right of Big Sawyer/Battery Rapids. Then there’s a quick 76 yard (70 meter) leading up to the portage(s) entering Francis Lake. A rough 547 yard (500 meter) portage is on the right bank. It’s a bit of a slog and was actually cut so paddlers wouldn’t portage the train track on the left bank. But now the train doesn’t run through the park anymore, so a much flatter route is to portage 650 yards (595 meters) on the left bank, along the old train track.

A 230 yard (210 meter) portage to the left of the small Francis Rapids takes you out of Francis Lake, and another quick 170 yards (155 meters) to the right of Killdeer Rapids ends your time on the Petawawa.

The Crow River flows into the Petawawa on your right. A short paddle upstream will take you to the base of Blueberry Falls. There’s a 170 yard (155 meter) portage to the right of the cascade, with a campsite found halfway along. It’s not the best site, but the view of the falls is amazing.

From Blueberry Falls it’s basically an uphill, up current, grind on the Crow River. The river has 14 portages, adding up to over 2.5 miles (4 kilometers); so, you’re going to walk more than paddle. However, the scenery and the fishing will keep you well motivated.

A 557 yard (510 meter) to the left of some rapids and a quick 23 yard (20 meter) to the right of a swift are soon after the falls. This area of the river is totally different than what’s to come. The banks are low and swampy, lined with soft maple. Rare oak is rooted on top of neighbouring ridges. However, once you meander your way upriver to the next portage (a long and uphill 2707 yards [2475 meters]) Algonquin’s typical forest return. The portage takes you out of the lowland and on to the granite ridges cropped with pine, spruce and balsam. It’s a tough walk, but one of the most scenic in the park. The river flushes over countless moss-covered boulders, with each eddy or pool holding a brook trout, or two.

What’s next is more comical than grueling. You literally have a two second paddle across White Partridge Creek before portaging again, another uphill climb of 1323 yards (1210 meters). Seriously.

You’ll be glad to reach Lavaque Lake. It’s more of a pond than a lake. It’s where the river widens its banks and forms a couple of weedy bays. Don’t let this shallow section fool you. Monster brook trout live here. That’s why I prefer to camp here for a night (or two), fishing the rapids ahead and retracing my steps and fishing the holes along the rapids; and even casting a line along a stretch of White Partridge Creek.

It might make sense to retrace your steps from here, paddling back from Lavaque to Wendigo. However, you’d be a fool not to continue on and visit Lake Lavieille first. It’s too close – and beautiful – not to.

A series of short portages lead the way. A 668 yard, 49 yard, 120 yard, 273 yard, and 71 yard (610 meter, 45 meter, 110 meter, 250 meter and a 65 meter) – all on the left except for the second one – takes you to another small pond, Mallic Lake.

Then another chain of small portages (98 yards, 180 yards, 202 yards [90 meters, 165 meters, 185 meters]), all on the left, takes you the rest of the way. An old dam at the last portage marks the entrance to the expanse of Lake Lavieille.

There’s a number of picture-perfect island campsites to pitch your tent on (and a number of deep bays to troll for more trout) before heading back on the reverse route, downstream and downhill on the Crow, and up current on the Petawawa.

My favourite island campsite on Lake Lavieille is the large one along the eastern shore. The tent spot and fire pit are high up on a rock mound, making it difficult to haul your gear up. But the view looking out over the lake is breathtaking.

This route is definitely challenging. The payback, however, is dreamlike. You get to paddle a remote stretch of accessible south-central Ontario wilderness that has changed little over the years. It’s a trip made up of solitude, incredible scenery and a good chance to go back in time and hook into a trophy brook trout from the days of the book The Incomplete Angler. You couldn’t ask for anything better.

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