Although the French River was originally used as a transportation corridor by the Algonquins and Ojibwas who lived in this area in the early 1600s, it wasn’t until the 17th century that it truly became an integral part of our nation’s history. Used by early explorers, missionaries and fur-traders such as Pierre-Esprit Radisson, Samuel de Champlain, Simon Fraser and Alexander Mackenzie, the French became a vital link in the voyageur’s highway which ultimately stretched some 3,000 miles connecting the Hudson Bay to the Pacific and the western Arctic.
By the end of the 19th century, the fur trade gave way to logging. But because of the rugged nature of the Canadian Shield country surrounding this river, large parts of it remain relatively untouched and it is now a popular location for recreational canoeing, kayaking, and of course the reason we’re here: fishing.
The 110 kilometre (68 mi) long French River which flows from Lake Nipissing west to Georgian Bay was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1986. It flows through some of the most incredible vistas imaginable from exposed rugged glaciated rock to heavily forested areas, countless islands, channels, steep-walled gorges, falls and rapids—one breathtaking view after another.
FAVOURITE SLICE OF HEAVEN
Ang: “My guest on this episode—or should I say my host, since we’re playing in his sandbox today—is long-time friend Steve Niedzwecki, proprietor of Chaudière Lodge, one of my all-time favourite little slices of heaven. I have to tell you something without it sounding like a sales pitch. One of the things that both Pete and I get asked for regularly as hosts of Canada’s most-watched fishing show is, ‘Where would you recommend I go for my next fishing adventure?’ And let me tell you, it’s not an easy answer. For us, steering you in the right direction is a huge responsibility and one that we take very seriously. The biggest problem is finding places that are consistent. Consistent in the quality of fishing, consistent in excellent service, and consistent in the overall experience. This is one of a handful of operations that we are always happy to recommend.
“We are not strangers to this magnificent stretch of water and have produced several episodes from the French and Chaudière Lodge, each one memorable and unique. Today promises to be no different.”
FRENCH RIVER KOOL-AID
Although Walleye and muskie are by far the most popular sport fish on the river today, Smallmouth bass is starting to close that gap. Savvy Bass anglers are finding the relatively short drive to the near north is well worth the results. 25-30 fish days are the norm here with the average size between 2 and 3 lb. More often than not, however, you will run into days of 50+ fish and some of the best trophy-sized bronze backs north of the St. Lawrence. We’ve seen fish here in the 6-7 lb category. Blessed with an abundance and great variety of Bass holding cover, the French River is quickly becoming the topic of discussion on fish forums across the internet.
“I’ve known Steve for some time but I’ve never had the pleasure of sharing the bow of a fishing boat with him before,” says Angelo. “Now they say you never really know someone until you’ve fished with him—I’m looking forward to the experience.”
During one portion of the show, Steve totally surprises Angelo. “He might know a thing or two about running a successful fishing lodge, but I think he’s had one too many sips from the French River Kool-Aid. Figure 8 for Bass? Give your head a shake, Stevie boy!”
Needless to say, Steve never connected.
THE MAIN TARGET
The least sought after sport fish on the French is this episode’s main target: the Largemouth Bass.
This cousin of the Smallmouth is traditionally associated with more southerly climes and is often overlooked in the more northern reaches. But make no mistake about it, old bucket-mouth is alive and doing well on the French. All you have to do is find its house—and that’s where the boys are headed. The only problem is they don’t have a current address, so they’ll be knocking on a few doors before they find where the big boy’s hiding.
“I can tell by the excitement in Steve’s voice that he’s as excited as I am about the prospect of hunting for Largemouth,” says Ang. “It’s probably not that often that he gets a chance to just go out and fish for fun. Come to think of it, neither do I.”
BASS BY THE TRUCKLOAD
Fishing is a great leveler of man. And with the boys struggling—trying to hook into a hungry bunch of Largemouth, but constantly coming up short—truer words have never been spoken.
“I can openly say this is one of the most frustrating moments of my fishing career,” admits Angelo. “Neither one of us can seem to figure out what it’s going to take to get these fish properly pinned. It’s not like they’re not willing to bite.”
Well don’t stick a fork into these boys yet, the tides are turning. “That’s what I love about fishing,” says Angelo. “In the blink of an eye, things can change. A storm gives way to sunshine or, in our case, we finally start connecting with some of these incredibly elusive French River bucket-mouths. At least we brought some sort of sanity to an otherwise crazy situation, but this just reinforces my belief that there are areas on the French River that house Largemouth Bass by the truckload. Another reason to come back. Hallelujah, brother!”
“This was a very mind-exhausting shoot for me,” says Angelo. “Especially the Largemouth portion. Steve and I scoured the back bays looking for that motherload but kept coming up short. Then Steve finally remembered a little bay (episode Hotspot) that one of his past guests talked about for shallow Pike. We decided to take a look. As we entered the bay, it looked vast and very shallow… not normally a mood booster considering the conditions. That said, we trimmed up and chopped our way to a reed bed in the very the back of the bay.
“As we made our first few casts, we were pleasantly surprised by what we thought was a Largemouth strike (hoping it wasn’t a Pike).
“Then again and again… the strikes kept coming. However, the hookups did not! I think we missed or lost somewhere between fifteen to twenty Bass in a row. And that’s the exhausting part.
“Ultimately though, these little green monsters were fooling with the wrong pair of hombres. By dialling our topwater presentations in, giving just the right amount of time and making that perfect cast, the fish finally started coming in the boat. It’s the perfect way to end a great day on the water.”