Angling adventures at Bon Echo

Beloved provincial park has outstanding fishing—if you’re willing to sweat a little


I could also have called this story “100-plus reasons to fish Bon Echo,” because that's a conservative estimate of the number of fish my three friends and I caught on a recent weekend jaunt to the park. And as you can see from the photo above, that total included plenty of nice ones, too. Read on to hear where and how we put those numbers on the board.

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I’ve written before about my affection for Eastern Ontario's Bon Echo Provincial Park which is only a few hours from both Toronto and Ottawa, but sits on a dramatic outcropping of the Canadian Shield. Most of the campsites are on Mazinaw Lake, across from the stunning bluffs of Mazinaw Rock— a 100-metre-high bluff (above), that also features several hundred ancient indigenous pictographs (below).

1Scott GardnerBon Echo is beloved by generations of family campers for its natural environment, wildlife, beaches, trails and interpretive nature programs. The park has RV, car and backcountry camping sites, plus a variety of recently built roofed accommodations (more on those later). But what you may not know, is that’s there's also some outstanding fishing provided, as park superintendent Clark Richards put it, you’re willing to invest a little “sweat equity.” And take it from a guy who hates to portage when he could be fishing, we didn’t invest all that much sweat. Here’s the deal...

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Mazinaw Lake has a mix of shallow and deep (as in 450 feet) sections, and good fishing for a mix of species, including smallmouth (above, from Upper Mazinaw) and largemouth bass, pike, walleye and lake trout. The park has a boat launch and docking, and the lake is home to several dozen cottages and a small marina. But, if you take a look at a map, you’ll see that there are several smaller lakes within the park boundaries, including Bon Echo, Kishkebus, Clutes, Essens and Joeperry Lakes. Motorized boats are prohibited in these lakes, and while all are close to roads, none of them (other than Bon Echo) have true road access. And that, as we discovered, means good fishing.

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Believe it or not, we experienced fishing comparable to what you find in remote backcountry lakes, but in a park full of campers. For example, the shots above were all taken our first afternoon (clockwise from the top left, that’s Adam Holman, Rob Dankowsky, Eric Moreau and me.) All of Bon Echo’s interior lakes have bass and pike, and Joeperry and Kishkebus have lakers, too. And according to superintendent Richards, Kishkebus in particular has exceptional bass and lake trout action, and sees almost no fishing pressure.

We visited just after the bass season opened, so largies and smallies were on our mind. Since our group of four hard-core anglers was staying right on Bon Echo Lake, naturally that was the first place we targeted. It was the right call. In just four hours of fishing on our first drizzly afternoon, we all had at least a dozen fish, and all four of us had a bass either just over or just under four pounds.

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Given the on-and-off showers on our first afternoon and evening, we were extra-pleased to be staying in one of Bon Echo’s camp cabins (above). These one-room cabins sleep five, with baseboard heating, a kitchenette and dining area, plus a screened porch and a BBQ and picnic area outside.

aScott GardnerAnd that ‘s where self-appointed chef Adam (above) prepared some awesome meals (below). An experienced backcountry camper, what Adam did with a grill and a pair of frying pans just about brought a tear to the eye.

aAdam Holman

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Our second day was sunny, with bluebird skies, and the bass fest continued as we explored more of the park's water. The only wrinkle was a stiff wind, which made canoeists Adam (above) and Eric work pretty hard. Though it didn’t seem to slow down their catching.

Eric hooked the stunner below literally inches off shore, where it slurped up his wacky-rigged soft-plastic stickbait. Though he’s a lifelong angler, Eric claimed to not be overly proficient at fishing bass in cover, but he sure looked like a pro while I watched him wrestle in this porker. 

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In my kayak, by the way, I barely noticed the wind (which is one of the reasons kayaks are such great fishing machines, as I wrote for the Parks blog this spring.) And the breeze dropped a bit in the evening, so I was able to nab a respectable fish (below) on my 8-weight fly rod, with one of my best bass flies —an articulated green and yellow Seaducer.
1Adam Holman

2Rob Dankowsky

When targeting bass on this trip, the wacky worm (above, in a selfie by Rob) was by far our best presentation, and colour didn’t seem to matter much, as you can see from Adam’s catch (below). Believe it or not, he slayed 'em on the those pink worms. When I run through the 200-plus green-pumpkin-coloured worms stockpiled in my tackle closet, I am definitely getting some pink ones. 

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I’ve now fished Mazinaw, Joeperry and Bon Echo Lakes, and you can bet I’ll be back soon to take on Bon Echo’s other interior waters, especially since most are only metres (instead of kilometres or even days) from the road. And all you have to do is give up the motor, check out a map, and deploy a little paddle power. Bottom line: Everyone knows Bon Echo is a wonderful park for families, but take it from me—it’s also a park for anglers.

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 Ontario’s provincial parks system has an excellent on-line and phone reservation system. And if you make it into Clutes or Kishkebus and spot an angler in a mango-coloured kayak and an Outdoor Canada hat, come over and say Hi!

Also, special thanks to superintendent Clark Richards, plus the whole Ontario Parks team, for inviting us to visit and making us feel so welcome.


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