Fishing and fun at Bon Echo

Southeastern Ontario gem has beaches, abundant wildlife, family activites and lots of fish

Why Bon Echo Provincial Park will keep anglers—and their families—coming back all season long

1Ryan McGilchrist

As associate editor of Outdoor Canada magazine, I get the opportunity to fish in a lot of different locales, so when I go back to the same place three times in a season, you know it’s pretty great.

Eastern Ontario's Bon Echo Provincial Park is just such a place. Situated on Mazinaw Lake, at the southern tip of the Canadian Shield, the park’s most dramatic feature is the 100-metre tall, 1,500-metre-long Mazinaw Rock (above), a stunning cliff that drops into the depths of the lake. And Mazinaw Rock is both a natural wonder and a cultural wonder. At water level, it’s adorned with 260 pictographs, painted centuries ago by the region's indigenous inhabitants. Incredibly, some of the red-ochre images are more than 1,000 years old.

As for the sprawling park's facilities, it has RV-, car- and backcountry camping, plus yurts and cabins, and interior paddle- and hike-in sites. Other amenities include several natural sand beaches, numerous hiking trails and daily interpretive programs. And yes, there are also fish, and plenty of 'em. 

2

My first visit of 2016 was the third weekend of May, which is opening day for walleye and pike in southeastern Ontario. It’s also a time of wildly unpredictable weather, which is why I opted for one of the park’s new camp cabins. Situated on Bon Echo Lake—a small lake that’s contained entirely in the park’s boundaries—the cosy cabins (above) are just steps from Bon Echo lake, and a five-minute drive from the park boat launch on Mazinaw. And boy, was I ever glad for a roof... 

3Scott Gardner

After a clear, hot Friday afternoon, Saturday morning brought a cold, wet snap, with near-steady rain, high winds, temperatures that never exceeded 10°C and, at several points, sleet and even snow. Yes, snow—in late May. These shots of my friend and fellow kayak angler Rob Dankowsky (above) were pretty typical of how it went: damp, cold and hunched against the wind as we searched for walleye and pike. Though as you can just make out through the haze, at least Rob was still smiling. Honestly, if you love fishing as much as we do, it's hard not to smile when you're on such nice water. 

4Scott Gardner

Mazinaw is a big, deep lake with walleye, pike, bass and lake trout. Ordinarily I’m not shy about going long distances in my kayak, but given the tough conditions, Rob and I didn’t get to explore much of the park’s water. Still I did manage to nab a northern (above), and lost a few more that I’m sure were bigger. Through some accidental, incidental catches of out-of-season bass, we also got the impression that the area had a strong population of largemouth and smallmouth. That alone meant I had to come back. 

5aScott Gardner

In early August I made it back to Bon Echo, this time tent camping in the park’s private, secluded Hardwood Hills campground. The perfect weather allowed an opportunity to climb the trail up Mazinaw Rock, and take in the spectacular view back toward the park (above). About half-way up the climb, I was also treated to a low-altitude fly-by from one of the Bon Echo's peregrine falcons (below). 

5bJulie Blair

aScott Gardner

I also highly recommend the interpretive boat tour of the cliff’s pictographs (above). The Mazinaw Pictographs were designated a national historic site in 1982, and with good reason. The cliff face boasts the largest rock art site on the southern Canadian Shield, and the only major pictograph site in southern Ontario. In addition, this extraordinary collection of indigenous art includes many more abstract and geometric symbols than are normally found. In fact, although archaeologists have been working with indigenous elders for decades, many of the symbols have never been deciphered. One theory is that many of these images were painted by people on vision quests. It seems feasible, since it's easy to see this unique location as a place of spiritual significance—for visitors both ancient and modern.  

6aScott Gardner

Family trips never seem to leave a lot of time for fishing, but what time we had was great. Above, my girlfriend Julie Blair battles and lands a nice largemouth. And below, I get in on the action as well. 

6b-2Julie Blair

7Scott Gardner

For an obsessive angler, a little taste of good fishing on a family trip leaves you with only one option: Go back on a solo trip, so you can be on the water from dawn to dusk, eat steak for both dinner and breakfast and really do some fishing. So a couple of weeks later I headed back, and I got into some fantastic action, boating dozens of bass, with a very respectable average size, plus some pretty good ones (above). And I got many on topwater baits, plus a few on the fly rod, which is always fun. 

8aScott Gardner

What, a few more fish pics? Well, if you insist... and yes, those were all caught on one hot, sunny August afternoon. And no, I’m not going to tell you where exactly I was. Though if you bring the steaks on my next trip, I might be persuaded...

Just north of the small town of Cloyne, Ontario, Bon Echo Provincial Park is about a 2½-hour drive from Ottawa, and about 3½ hours from Toronto. In summer, reservations are highly recommended and, happily, Ontario’s provincial parks system has an excellent on-line and phone reservation system. And when you're there, if you see a big fella in a yellow kayak, and an Outdoor Canada hat, come over and say Hi!

Also, special thanks to talented photographer Karill Diaz for use of the featured photo at the top of the page.

 
Scott Gardner is Outdoor Canada’s associate editor, web editor and fly-fishing columnist.