World Class Smallmouth Bass

The New Fly Fisher describes fisheries in Northern Ontario as “goldmine” of smallmouth bass

As producers of a fly fishing television series focused on education and destinations, we have seen some really wonderful fishing opportunities. For anglers like us who love catching smallmouth bass on a fly or lure, we are always keen to learn about new locations. Over the years we have discovered that Northern Ontario possesses a “goldmine” of smallmouth destinations. Places where you can catch 3-6 pound smallies and not see another boat all day! It's true, these places really do exist and, even better, they are accessible and affordable locations for all anglers. Here are three great options from across Northern Ontario to consider for your next smallmouth bass trip.

Chaudiere Lodge

Located on the French River in northeast Ontario, Chaudiere Lodge is blessed with some outstanding smallmouth bass fishing opportunities. In fact, what we really liked about this location is that you could also fish for other species such as largemouth bass or even musky in the same relative areas. The lodge is a short boat trip from Lake Nipissing, which is renowned as a walleye fishery. In the islands and many shoals where the lake flows into the French River, are some exceptional smallmouth bass options. We found casting intermediate flylines into sandy or rocky flats produced well. Equally, points on islands and shoals were magnets for schools of bass. Topwater action can be an option but we found most of our success using sub-surface flies fished slowly near the bottom to be our best bet. Of note, there are many weedy areas with tall reeds and lily pads adjacent to deep water. These locations produced some really big largemouth bass, all caught on topwater poppers! Chaudiere Lodge is a great recommendation for those looking for comfortable accommodations, great food, and access to some outstanding fishing.

Birchland Cottages

Some cannot believe there are giant smallmouth bass just off the Trans-Canada Highway…but there are! One of the places to catch them is Birchland Cottages, which is less than two hours from Sault Ste. Marie and the US border. Located on Clear Lake, which possesses a great population of fat smallmouth bass, what is wonderful about this location is that it gives you access to over a dozen other lakes and rivers in the region which boast big populations of smallies. Clear Lake does, in fact, have crystal clear water—usually, you can see down to the bottom in 10 to 12 feet of water. The bass like to cruise along the drop-offs and hang near rocky points or under fallen trees. The early and late-day topwater fishing can be epic with hatches happening all the time. Fish of three to five pounds are caught every day, and larger specimens are caught and released every week. Slender streamers like Scotty’s McFly or even woolly buggers work exceptionally well on this lake. For topwater action, yellow and orange were the top producers of poppers. Nearby lakes also boast large smallmouth bass, plus other species. The cottages here are all recently renovated and are large and well-appointed. Birchland Cottages is strongly recommended for anglers looking for a drive-to location with DIY fishing.

Merkel’s Camp

In Northwest Ontario, there is an abundance of lodges, resorts, and camps to choose from. One of the best for anglers who want to catch big Smallmouth Bass and other species is Merkel’s Camp. Run by Terry and Merrill Kluke for over 25 years, their camp is literally five minutes off the Trans Canada Highway and yet has access to some truly outstanding fly fishing. Nestled on the side of Wabigoon Lake, this watershed is unique because of the stained waters that are full of predatory species, thanks to a healthy population of forage food. The lake is generally shallow and anglers will be casting into 2 to 6 feet of water to catch large smallmouth bass. If the bass are deeper, thankfully we use Intermediate flylines and streamers to connect with these bruisers. What we really like is that you can also cast to structures like fallen trees or weed beds and hook into huge northern pike and musky. They are all here! Most anglers bring their own boats, but there are rental-fishing boats available. The cottages are clean, comfortable, and perfect for anglers and their families. It's a great location—near the US border, accessible, and provides outstanding fishing.

Equipment & Flies

A 6 or 7-weight outfit is appropriate for Northern Ontario smallmouths. The rod should have a fast action and enough backbone to turn over big, bushy flies, and handle powerful fish. The reel should have a large arbor and a smooth disc drag system. A weight-forward floating line is fine for fishing on the surface and in the top of the water column, but you’ll have to switch to a sinking line when you need to go deeper, especially from mid-summer on when the fish tend to seek the cooler water in the depths. An Intermediate fly line is perfect for this. We prefer a nine-foot, knotless, tapered leader of 8- to10-pound test for most situations, but go up to a 12-pound test when fishing logs and structures, or anywhere that the fly might get hung up. Some recommended flies for smallmouth bass in Northern Ontario include: Gamechanger, Scotty’s McFly, Woolly Buggers, Poppers (yellow, orange and black), Muddler Minnows (1/0 size), and Coneheaded Bow River Buggers.

There are some real monster smallmouth bass in Northern Ontario with access in most locations not far from the Trans-Canada Highway. You can bring your own boat or rent one, go with a friend or make it a family fishing trip; either way, you will find great fishing, affordable accommodations, and easy access! The locations we have recommended in this article are outstanding places to begin your first trip to the wilderness regions of Northern Ontario.

About Colin McKeown

Colin McKeown is the producer of The New Fly Fisher Television Series, and several documentary series for the Outdoor Life Network, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. With a passion of fly fishing, Colin's goal is to help both novice and veteran fly fishers everywhere by giving them a top-quality fly fishing series that will make them better anglers. Known for his keen sense of humour, Colin has two wonderful children and is married to the most understanding and patient woman in the world. 

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