Step-by-step instructions for a fun family Ontario Parks vacation
Want to make sure your camping and fishing trip is one to remember rather than forget? Learn from managing editor Bob Sexton and his young family's stay in one of the new camp cabins at Silent Lake Provincial Park in August, 2017
Book one of the new camp cabins
While we haven’t completely left our tenting days behind us, Silent Lake’s newly-built cabins certainly made camp life with three kids six and under much more comfortable and convenient. No scrambling to get the car unpacked, tent up, mattresses inflated and dinner on before dark. We stayed in number 204, named Silent Shores, although the floor plan for all of the park’s 10 cabins is roughly the same. They’re not big, but the layout is smart and worked out great for the five of us. There’s a small kitchenette with a mini fridge, microwave oven and kettle, as well as a gas bbq on the deck. Space inside the cabin is freed up by the well-designed mud room at the entrance, where we stored the majority of our gear. Note: the cabins are also equipped with electric baseboard heating and a propane fireplace so you can visit year-round. There's no indoor plumbing but all the cabins are a few minute's walk away from a comfort station with washrooms, showers and amenities. For more info on how to reserve your own cabin, check here
Get organized, together
Bob SextonWhile it might take longer, and cause you to occasionally pull your hair out (if you’re lucky enough have some), give the kids a job when you’re setting up camp. Whether it’s carrying a pillow in from the car (be sure to bring your own bedding and towels), helping to set the picnic table, or piling up wood to start a fire, there’s always something you can do to make them feel part of the team. They usually want to help anyway, especially when the situation and environment is new and there’s no TV to compete with.
Plan for rain days
We had hoped to fish every day, but the weather didn’t always cooperate. Thankfully, my savvy spouse, Norine Williamson, brought along a variety of craft supplies, including finger paint. Here, three-year-old Sam (front), six-year-old Maya, and three-year-old Ben get hands-on in their art. And don’t worry, Ontario Parks, it was water-soluble and non-staining paint!
Make sure you have the right kind of gear and tackle for the species of fish found in Silent Lake—lake trout, small and largemouth bass, yellow perch and sunfish. I find that ice fishing rods and reels are ideal for kids. They might not have the same visual appeal as a Snoopy or Barbie set-up but they’re better in the long run, because kids learn proper techniques right from the start. To keep the kids interested, I think it’s better to try for numbers of fish rather than trophies so I rigged up their rods with small jigs and soft-plastics for perch and wacky-rigged senkos for bass. We didn’t have much success with either, to tell the truth, but that was more to do with the cool, low-pressure front that socked in while we were there more than the lake's potential. Note: if you’re fishing from a canoe with a young and restless little one, like my three-year-old boy Sam, you might consider snipping the tip off his hook for safety’s sake. This was Sam’s first canoe-fishing excursion and while he did sit down for the most part, he would occasionally swing his line around like a lasso, causing his sister and I to take cover. He really just wanted to hold the rod and plop the jig up and down in the water anyway. There'll be more times to actually catch fish down the line.
Never forget the snacks
While Maya was pretty happy just to be on the water, Sam didn’t have the same attention span. That’s where a well-timed granola bar or piece of fruit came in really handy.
Divide and conquer
If you’ve got more than two kids, and you're the only angler, don’t take them all out at the same time unless you have to. Instead split them up into groups of two, or just go with one. In our case, Ben woke up on our last day at the park with a nasty stye on his eye so my spouse Norine took him to a clinic in nearby Bancroft. That gave me the morning to fish with Maya and Sam, so I then took Ben out when he and his mom got back in the afternoon. In a busy household like ours, getting one-on-one time with either kid is tough, so it was a good chance for some quality bonding time and an opportunity to work on basic techniques like opening the bail of the reel, casting, jigging and how to just look cool in a fishing hat and vintage waterski lifejacket.
While you might be able to fish all day, know when to take a break or call it a day if the fish aren’t biting and the kids are showing signs of boredom. While it's true they have to learn the reason why it’s called "fishing," and not "catching," having to go a long time between bites can be even tougher on young, active kids. Instead, head back to camp to regroup and come up with alternative plans. Silent Lake has some great hiking trails and beaches, or you can even keep the kids busy just exploring your own site. All you need is a bucket, some good footwear and a spirit of adventure. Our kids had a blast looking for frogs, for instance.
Remember, it’s a vacation so slow down, relax and enjoy some non-scripted time. Whether real or imagined, it seems that parenting these days comes with more pressure than ever. Getting away from routines and schedules for a little while is a great way to recalibrate, reconnect and regain perspective. And though the fish weren’t cooperating on the one decent weather day we could get out in the canoe, we rolled with the punches, stayed positive and focused on our next fishing opportunity, where the kids caught a pile of rock bass at a friend’s cottage in the same area. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of how hard you try, but how often. And in the end, the smiles are worth all the effort.Bob Sexton