So, where do we start? That was the question Patrick and I asked each other as we pulled away from the boat ramp in Balsam Lake Provincial Park. Neither of us had been here before, and we only decided on Balsam late yesterday afternoon so we didn’t have any time to research hot spots.

Coincidentally, Patrick met an old timer yesterday evening who had a cottage on Balsam for 40 years but he wasn’t much help. Indeed, he said Balsam had been fished out. Still, our spirits were high. I mean, the sky was clear, the temperature was warm and we had a whole lake to explore. And it was Wednesday, which meant it would likely be less busy than on a weekend.

Our first course of action? We headed out into North Bay, put the motor in neutral and checked the map. Fortunately, we’ve got a nice Humminbird sonar/GPS chart plotter with a Navionics chip on board, so we could easily scan for fishy-looking areas. That’s the beauty of contour mapping. You can scout without even putting the motor into gear. And it didn’t take long before Patrick identified some breaks where the depth changed dramatically.

We zipped across the bay and found some submerged weeds in about 10 feet of water. After a couple of passes along the weedline, working drop-shot rigs with three-inch soft-plastics, Patrick got the first bite. And the fish on the line was a nice surprise. A small muskie! Not the first fish you’d expect to catch on a drop-shot, but a great start.

Patrick-muskie2 Muskie man: Editor Patrick Walsh with the first fish of the day

All the same, we were primarily after smallmouth so motored over to the next waypoint Patrick had laid on the map. And this time we lucked out, the bottom was prime smallie territory. Gravel mixed with baseball- and baskeball-sized boulders, in about five to eight feet of water, next to a drop-off into 15 to 18 feet.

Patrick got the first fish, here, too, (grumble, grumble)—a decent smallie who took a couple of strong runs before Patrick lifted it into the boat for a quick photo and release.

Walsh-bass Little wonder: A typical Balsam Lake smallmouth bass

I got on the board at our next stop, near Hogg’s Rock. Again, it was primo smallie territory and, over a couple of hours and a trio of other waypoints, we took a few more fish around the same size before calling it a day and heading back to the ramp. We only explored 10 per cent of the lake so I’m definitely looking forward to heading back to fish the rest. See you again soon, Balsam.

photo Lip grip: One of the small, but strong, fish I caught on Balsam Lake in Ontario's Kawarthas