Hidden Treasure in Ontario's Lake of the Woods
With 105,000 kilometres of shoreline and over 14,500 islands, Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods is a boater’s paradise for those who like exploration and discovery. It is why we have chosen to spend parts of our summers in the small community of Sioux Narrows.
Being a good three-hour drive from Winnipeg, it tends to not get the crowds of tourists one finds in larger centres like Kenora. Yet it is only 45 minutes south of Kenora on a well-paved road. This road leads to the iconic South Narrows Bridge, the town's centre and its identifying brand for decades.
It is also a Northern Ontario sport fishing centre where Americans often come for the opportunity of plentiful quality catches of Walleye, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and Lake Trout. The Sioux Narrows information centre is a perfect place to gather information about the area, and its visual moniker underscores its claim to be the home of some of the best fishing in the country.
While I come back here in no small part for this reason as well, our best times are had when we have guests joining us who have not experienced the wonder of the area. We look for our own journeys of discovery to take them on, so they too can appreciate what we have had over so many summers.
One of our favourite guest trips is to the Wiley Point Lodge, about an hour’s boat trip away, and not accessible by land. On this occasion, with our Winnipeg friends comfortably settled into their seats aboard my 18-foot Crestliner, we leave around noon, knowing we will likely be making several tourist stops along the way to marvel at the scenery and wildlife we are likely to encounter. My plan is to come back as the sun starts to go down, so they can see why the visual magic of the area has been a magnet for so many visitors over the years.
Lake of the Woods may be an attraction because of its thousands of islands, but it is this same quality that can easily get boaters lost or stranded on a reef if they are not religiously guided by the exceptional depth maps of the area.
Modern GPS units make it much easier to navigate today, but even at that, the driver of the boat must be in full concentration at all times. I have come to know this area of the lake extremely well, and still have found myself turned around at times when I approached an island from a direction with which I was less familiar.
Even as we pass through nearby Fire Island Narrows and then Rendezvous Point, our guests are already raving at the beauty of these islands, appearing as though they were laid out by God on perfectly designed postcards to be captured on camera, and preserved for follow-up recollections.
I pull into a quiet bay and park in front of an island where I know a number of American White Pelicans nest, and will be sitting on the rocks waiting for us to admire them. These birds are common in Lake of the Woods, as its many islands provide them quiet sanctuary for breeding and raising their young.
With the motor turned off, we quietly talk about nature for a bit, before the conversations move to discussing whatever subject comes to mind that is warm and pleasant.
Lake of the Woods is also home to several hundred pairs of bald eagles. As we weave along the islands on our way to Wiley Point we spot a few flying high in the sky. But I am hoping to show them one a little closer. Later in the day, my wish is granted as I point out a single eagle perched on a tree top, bothered only by the occasional gull that seems to want to detract it from its watch for easy prey on its pristine real estate below.
I know we are getting close to Wiley Point when we begin to see more boats fishing near the islands, along with the occasional gathering of a few boats on shore, clearly enjoying a shore lunch that is emblematic of the daily ritual for those staying at the area's many fishing lodges.
As we enter the narrow channel to Wiley Point Lodge, we are hungry. We are one of the few guests who are ordering meals at the lodge at this time of day. But there are a few who have taken the day off from fishing and have chosen to eat lunch in the lodge itself.
Wiley Point Lodge is part of the Totem Lodge group, located just beyond Sioux Narrows, and is the largest company of its kind in the area. Guests often arrive at Totem and are transported via the same route we took to the Wiley Point location.
After a meal, a beverage, and a wonderfully enjoyable period of relaxation on their luxurious deck, our guests explore the facility, and we get set to begin the leisurely voyage back to Sioux Narrows.
Lodges tend to do their prime fishing during the day. It is the locals who take their turn later, knowing the bites will come hot and heavy as the temperature cools, and the scenery goes through kaleidoscopic changes as the sun retreats.
Our guests are overwhelmed by this beauty as we arrive back at our lodgings, early enough to enjoy the full majesty of the setting sun.
They can go back to Winnipeg knowing they have experienced something special. And we can look forward to planning a tour in a different direction when they or other guests visit again.