A Taste of Angling the Missinaibi

A fishing adventure on a mighty river

I'm three days into a five-day trip along the fabled Missinaibi River with Missinaibi Headwaters Outfitters. I joined the group of seven paddlers in the town of Mattice along Highway 11. They'd already been on the river for several days but by the end of my first day, I knew this would be an exceptional trip. Not only because I would sample the angling of this remote river, but because I’m joining four strangers who quickly become friends, and guides whose exemplary cooking, camping and paddling skills make moving through the remote wilderness a distinct pleasure.

James Smedley with an eating-sized walleye caught from Northern Ontario’s Missinaibi River.

Thunderhouse FALLS

It’s late in the sunny afternoon when a tailwind fills in, hastening our push toward the infamous Thunderhouse Falls. Back in 1993, a group of five paddlers died after being swept over the falls. As I remove my pack at a wooded campsite along the cusp of the deep canyon, I’m happy to be experiencing Thunderhouse from dry land. I walk down a steep path to a terraced landscape of angular bedrock scoured clean by seasonal high waters. Dark waters funnel through a narrow canyon and over a series of three to four-metre-high falls; breathtaking from the ridge, but deadly from the water.

Ryan holds a beautiful walleye caught from Northern Ontario’s Missinaibi River.

Conjuring up Some Fish

So far, our need to cover water has meant I haven’t had a chance to wet a line, but with a free evening, our guide Ryan relinquishes his dishwashing duties to join me in some exploratory angling. We launch below Thunderhouse and paddle upstream where steep walls of rock rise above foam-licked waters. We round a bend to see an angular rock pillar rising 25 metres. I recognize this from photographs as Conjuring House Rock. It's a transition point between the Precambrian Shield and the James Bay Lowlands and a significant spiritual location for the Ojibwe and Cree. A powerful spot to catch my first bass and walleye of the Missinaibi trip.

The following day, we negotiate the 2,000-plus-metre portage around Hells Gate Canyon. It takes most of the afternoon, but the portage trail ends at a deep swirling pool. While the others relax on the cobble shoreline, Ryan and I summon our angling reserves and clamber onto angular rocks to work the pool. I’m rigged before Ryan and manage to catch three walleye in three casts. Once rigged, Ryan enjoys similar results before the others have the canoes packed and ready to roll.

Fellow paddlers at Thunder House Falls on Northern Ontario’s Missinaibi River.

With the river now dropping about six metres every kilometre, it’s an exciting ride to our final destination at Bells Bay. With our final campsite set, Ryan and I return to fish. A floatplane will arrive in the morning to fly us out but tonight as Ryan and I pluck walleye from calm, shallow waters, I can’t help glancing downstream toward the remaining course of the mighty Missinaibi.

Fishing Adventures with MHO Adventures

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com

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