2013 Spring Fishing Trip McKaskill - Hidden -Vireo

Wednesday, May 1 – Day 1

We almost didn’t leave on our planned date for this year’s fishing trip as the current ice and road conditions for the Park indicating that the season and facilities were open wasn’t posted on the Park’s Web site until after 10pm last night.

Dad came over first thing in the morning and we packed up and were on the road by 10:15.  Two hours later we were at the Shall Lake Access Point.  According to the permit office employee we were the first customers of the season.  After obtaining our permit we loaded up the canoe down at what is normally the beach at the Farm Lake side of the access point.  This spring though high water levels had completely covered the beach

High water levels, Crotch Lake Access Point Farm Lake side (not snow in foreground, just washout by camera exposure).
We were on our way by 12:40 and barely squeezed under the bridge as we headed into Crotch Lake.  I had never seen water levels so high.  There was at best about a two foot clearance between  the river and the underside of the bridge.

A half hour paddle up Crotch brought us to the portage leading to Shirley Lake.  High water and the lack of aquatic plants meant that we could paddle straight to the portage landing instead of winding our way up the narrow, shallow creek that is usually there.

Dad took the small pack and the canoe and I took the big equipment pack and the large food barrel.  This was my first trip with my new 60L barrel instead of my smaller 30L one.  Being bigger it didn’t sit as comfortably on my front as the smaller one did and it was also heavier.

The portage to Shirley is an easy trail and is signed 1050m but it is actually around 800m give or take.  The awkwardness of the food barrel finally got to me after about 500m and I had to drop it before the uphill climb towards the end.

After going back for the barrel we loaded up and were on our way across Shirley just after 1:30 and were at the Ryan Lake portage by 1:45.  We had lunch at the start of the portage and were on our way again by 2pm.  The 515m portage is nice and flat and is also shorter than signed.

We fished as we paddled down Ryan but didn’t have any luck.  The next portage was an easy 230m into Big Red Lake.  The 545m portage into Shrew felt longer than signed.  It had several trees down but nothing that couldn’t be easily stepped over or walked under.  The last 100m or so is a steep downhill and with the awkwardness of the barrel on my front and reduced visibility directly in front of me I left the barrel at the top of the hill and continued on to the end with just the equipment pack.  By that point in time my shoulders and neck were very sore from carrying both packs that I decided I would have to double carry them on the next portage, the 2355m into Dove Lake.

I started to the portage to Dove Lake with the equipment pack and Dad’s small pack on my front.  After the first ten minutes of the portage I decided I didn’t care for it.  The terrain and footing didn’t allow you to get up a good pace.  Shortly thereafter we encountered a flooded area of the trail.  I skirted it as best I could and Dad dropped the canoe and floated it across the 40m stretch.  After the wet section I continued on for another five minutes and then dropped the packs and took a rest.  Dad continued on up the trail after the rest and I headed back for the food barrel.  By the time I got the barrel to where the equipment pack was it was 5pm and had been 50 minutes since we started the portage.

I took a short break then loaded up the two packs and headed off down the trail.  The trail flattened out for a bit then turned into a roller coaster with several steep ups and downs which were hard on the legs.  After that point there was a good steady downhill section before it levelled out at what looked like an old bush road.  The old road didn’t stay level for long and quickly turned into a steep decent.  Halfway down the road I met Dad coming back up and he said I had about five minutes to go.  The trail then veered off the old road and continued downhill for a while before finally terminating at Dove Lake.  Unfortunately I had to head back up the series of hills to retrieve the food barrel.  A good pace and 20 minutes later had me at the barrel.  I loaded it onto my shoulders and was on my way again.  Twenty minutes later and two hours after starting the portage I was thankfully at the end for good.  I definitely wasn’t looking forward to doing that portage again on Sunday on our way out.  That portage normally would have taken 40 minutes but because of the weight load I had to double up my leg.

A short paddle across Dove brought us to a short 40m lift over into McKaskill, our destination for the day.  We headed across the lake and at 6:45 we finally arrived at the McKaskill Lake Cabin.  We unpacked the gear and set up the cabin.  Once everything was organized we broke out the wine and relaxed with a couple of glasses by the lake.  As we were in to hurry to get dinner going we lounged until close to 8pm.  Dinner was to be chicken fajitas but Paddling across McKaskill I realized I had forgotten the fajita seasoning.  As I started to prepare the fajitas I then realized that I had also forgotten the red and green peppers!  Oh well, chicken and onion wraps with salsa and sour cream I guess.

Inside of McKaskill Cabin.
Once dinner was done and the dished cleaned up we got a good fire going and relaxed with more wine for the rest of the evening.  We decided to turn in just after 10:30.  I was definitely looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, May 2 – Day 2

So much for my good night’s sleep!  I first had trouble falling asleep, then a mouse started rustling around in a box of paper that was right beside my bunk.  Having left the dry food inside and only hung the fresh I got up and hung the dry as I knew it was only a matter of time before that mouse found the bread and granola bars.

After the rest of the food was hung the mouse kept rattling around the box and it was driving me up the wall!  Finally I had enough and out went the box and hopefully the mouse with it.

I then awoke sometime in the night covered in sweat and was becoming chilled so I got rid of my wet T-shirt.  Then as dawn broke, I was continually bothered by one mosquito.  Just one, never more than that.  I don’t know if I kept killing the one that was bothering me and then another would take its place, or I was just missing it and it would take off for a few minutes before resuming its attack.  Needless to say it was a very restless night.

We both got up at 8:30 to a beautiful day.  The forecast for today was to be sunny and 23°C.  I put on a pot of water for coffee and Dad started to get things prepared for breakfast.  We cooked up a hearty breakfast of eggs, homefries and sausage washed down with some juice and a couple of cups of coffee.

We cleaned up and the organized our fishing gear for the day.  Today’s plan was to head north up McKaskill into Hidden Lake to fish for some specs.  We loaded up and were on the water by 10:30 with a nice tailwind to help us up the lake.  We arrived at the portage to Hidden Lake at 11:10.  It’s a good portage that was signed 430m but it felt shorter than that.  I measured it on the return trip with the GPS and it was actually 445m.  I guess a good portage can feel shorter than it actually is and a bad one can feel longer.

We headed up Hidden traveling to the end without any luck.  After reeling in we tried a few casts and Dad hooked into into a Spec.  Unfortunately it spit the hook right at the side of the boat.  We traveled back down the lake with no results and cast around for a bit in one of the bays and saw a good size fish jump but weren’t able to land any.  Back up the lake we went again with the same results and once again we cast around when we reached the end.  On Dad’s first cast he hooked into another fish, this time landing it, a nice 12” Spec.  After a couple of pictures we let it go and went back to casting.  We had drifted no more than ten metres from the spot where we released the fish when a Herring Gull flew in, landed and dove into the water and came up with the fish we had just released.  I guess the fish didn’t beat much of a hasty retreat.  The fish was putting up a fight and the gull was wrestling with the flailing fish.  As the gull adjusted its grip on it the fish took the opportunity to break free.  Having lost its meal the gull flew off.

Dad with Speckled Trout on Hidden Lake.
We continued casting about and five minutes later, a mere twenty metres where the gull had it’s struggle with the fish the gull returned, landed, submerged into the lake and appeared with another struggling fish.  This gull was having better luck than we were!

Once again the fish was thrashing about but this time the gull was having none of it and started slapping the fish on the water.  It then tried to get airborne but gave up after about twenty feet.  The fish was still alive and kicking and the gull again repeated the process, again with the same results.  After the second failed attempt to fly away with the fish the trout gave all it had and was successful in breaking free of the gull.  Having lost to a fish twice in a short period the gull flew away and wasn’t seen around the lake for the rest of the day.

After that bit of entertainment we trolled back down the lake with no luck and cast around a bit more with similar results.  Pushing 2:30 and not having brought a lunch we decided to head back to the cabin.  We trolled going down McKaskill but had no luck.  Back at the cabin by 3:30 we cooked up some chilli cheese sausages on a bun and relaxed for a bit.  Around 4:30 we headed off to fish McKaskill for the rest of the afternoon.  We fished until about 7pm but had no luck. 
Back at the cabin we relaxed with a couple of glasses of wine then cooked up a dinner of pork chops and noodles.  Once dinner was done we cleaned up and got a good bonfire going.  We enjoyed the fire for the rest of the evening and then retired shortly after 10:30.

Cooking dinner.
 Friday, May 3 – Day 3

We awoke just before 7:30am and started getting things together for breakfast.  This morning we had a good farmer’s breakfast, eggs, hashbrowns and bacon all mixed together.  As Dad did the dishes I prepared the lunch for the day as we were heading out all day to fish.

With everything away and the lunch packed we loaded up and were on our way just after 9am.  A short paddle brought us to the 1140m portage from McKaskill to the Aylen River.  We only did the portage as far as the cart trail, about 200m, and then loaded up the canoe onto the cart and off we went along the trail (actually the hydro line road) towards Vireo Lake.

Dad at start of Cart Trail (hydro line road)  from McKaskill to Vireo Portage.
The entire length of the cart trail is about 8Km and I figured we’d have to travel just over 3Km to get to the Vireo Lake portage.  Using the GPS it turned out to be 3.83Km and took us until 10:30 to reach that point.  We then took the canoe off the cart, loaded up and off we went along the 1645m portage to Vireo.  The portage was a gentle climb uphill, the trail was good and 25 minutes later we were at Vireo Lake.

Coming to the start of the Vireo Lake portage from the Cart Trail.
Vireo is a long, narrowish lake with three islands in the centre and only two campsites.  One site was suppose to be on the western shore but the entire western shore had extensive trees down from a wind storm and the site had been relocated to the southern end of the western most island.

As we drew near the bottom of the lake we past the portage to Creepy Lake and just past that I hooked into a nice 22” Lake Trout.  After a few pictures we released it and headed back up the lake.  As we reached the top of the lake I hooked into another Lake Trout, this one 17 inches.

Lake Trout on Vireo Lake.
We trolled back down the lake with no luck and decided to stop for lunch at the other island site.  What a terrible site!  There was no place to put a tent, the thunder box was covered in moss, there were  large cut up logs piled at the edge of the site and the last people there left a myriad of junk behind.
We fished for a while after lunch but didn’t have anymore luck.  Pushing 2:30 we decided to head for Roundbush Lake to try our luck there.  To get there we first had to take a 995m low maintenance portage out of Vireo to Creepy Lake.  The portage was a disaster!  There was a tree across the landing and once we managed to get the canoe ashore we couldn’t find the trail because of all the blowdowns.  Dad and I spent about ten minutes searching before we finally found the trail.  We were finally on our way by 3:30 and I think that every tree that fell in that section of forest fell across the trail.  It was so bad that for 90% of the portage you couldn’t walk more than 10-15 metres without coming to another downed tree or group of trees.

Looking down at start of Vireo to Creepy Lake Portage.

Just some of the many blowdowns on the Vireo to Creepy Lake Portage.
Towards the end of the trail there was a nice little stream and Dad and I stopped to take a drink and splash water on our face and hands.  After the much needed break off we went down the tree chocked trail.  Finally after half an hour we were at the end but even that wasn’t a relief as there was a large Red Pine down over the trail blocking the landing so we struggled for about five minutes to get the canoe into the water.

Taking a much needed rest at a little waterfall on the Vireo to Creepy Lake Portage.
Blowdowns all the way along the Vireo to Creepy Lake Portage, even right at the end!
Just after 3pm we were on our way across Creepy Lake.  Despite the name it is a pleasant little lake and if it hadn’t been for the dreadful portage I would have enjoyed it more and fished it a bit.  Instead we paddled on across the lake to the 940m portage to Roundbush Lake.  I’d heard this was one of the steepest portages in the Park but luckily we were heading downhill.

Within five metres of the start of the portage there was a downed tree and just beyond that there were several more downed trees.  We carried the canoe around all of the obstructions and then loaded up and were on our way.  The trail rose for a bit and there were a few more downed trees but nothing that proved difficult.  The trailed then levelled out and from the ridge I could see Roundbush Lake down below in the distance.  There definitely was a good drop ahead as the trail descended to the lake.  I don’t think I would want to be coming uphill on this trail.  The landing at the lake was good and in low water there would be a nice little beach.

Blowdowns at start of Creepy to Roundbush Lake Portage.
Roundbush Lake looking south from Creepy Lake portage.
Given the time when we reached Roundbush we decided to do one loop around the lake and then head to the portage to the Aylen River.  We started heading in a clockwise direction around the lake.  The campsite immediately to the east of the portage was unlocateable.  The one at the far east end of the lake looked half decent with a little bit of a beach.  I had heard that it had been flooded due to beaver activity but it now looked fine.

We headed up the south shore of the lake admiring the high hills on the north side.  Eventually we arrived at the portage to the Aylen River.  The landing was less than ideal but wasn’t a problem.  The trail itself was wet in places with a few blowdowns but nothing that posed any problems.  After 20 minutes we took a break utilizing a downed spruce as a bench.

Taking a rest part way through the Roundbush to Aylen River Portage.
After a brief respite we were back on our way and about another 20 minutes brought us to the Aylen River.  I judged that the water was quite high but could also get quite low during the summer.  A look upstream revealed a cluster of alders across the river.  I had heard that this short stretch of river could take up to an hour to do and if it was chocked with alders and beaver dams I could see why.

Start of the Aylen River.
On our way we paddled through the first section of alders without much difficulty.  We then encountered a beaver dam which we pulled over, then encountered another group of alders and then another beaver dam which we were able to just paddle over.  The obstacles so far hadn’t been much of an issue and neither was the current despite us going against it.

A look behind us revealed the high hill and cliff face that made up the north side of Roundbush Lake.  Ahead of us the alders gave way to flat marshland.  As we continued upstream Dad happened to notice a path on the right bank that lead through the grasses for about 20 metres.  There was no portage sign at the river edge but in the distance at the edge of the forest a small plastic diamond portage marker was nailed to a tree.  If Dad hadn’t noticed the path we probably would have continued upstream for a bit as the river seemed navigable beyond that point.

Paddling upstream on the Aylen River.
Start of Aylen River to McKaskill Lake Portage.
We loaded up and were on our way around 5:40 and I figured, barring any obstacles, that we should be back at McKaskill around 6 o’clock.  The trail turned out to be fairly good with some trees down but nothing that impeded our progress.  A few minutes before six we were back at McKaskill where we started nine hours earlier.  We headed off across the lake and fifteen minutes later we were back at the cabin.

Almost back at McKaskill Lake.
While it was a bit of a hard day largely in part to the Vireo to Creepy portage, it was also a good day and nice area of the Park had been explored and some nice fish caught.  Regardless we were glad to be back at the cabin and relaxed with a couple of glasses of wine over the next couple of hours.

Around 8pm we decide to get around to dinner and cooked up some pasta and garlic bread.  After things were cleaned up we got a good fire going and relaxed for the rest of the evening after a long day.

Saturday, May 4 – Day 4

After a much needed good night’s sleep we rolled out of bed close to 8:30am.  It was another warm, beautiful day and the surface of the lake looked like glass.  With coffee in hand we cooked up breakfast of eggs, cheese and peameal bacon.  After another coffee we cleaned up and packed up for the day ahead.  Today we were off to Fairy Lake with a side trip into Animoosh.

Another beautiful morning on McKaskill Lake.
We left camp just before 10am and trolled as we headed up the lake.  Halfway up Dad hooked into a fish which turned out to be an 18 inch Speckled Trout.  After a few pictures we released it and were off on our way.  We had no more luck on the rest of the journey to the Hidden Lake portage.

McKaskill Lake Speckled Trout.
Over the portage we trolled up Hidden but with no luck.  The portage to Fairy Lake was marked 1550m but was actually 1620m.  It was a good trail with a few small trees down but they didn’t pose any problems.
Fairy is a little smaller than Hidden but wider.  It’s also quite weedy a good distance from shore around most of the lake.  We trolled across the lake in the direction of where the portage to Animoosh was supposed to be according to the Canoe Route Map.  The portage though is actually to the left of the little bay where the portage is shown to be.

As it got shallow we reeled in and continued up the narrow bay and little creek a bit to explore.  There wasn’t much up there but we did see quite a big Snapping Turtle.  Turning around we headed back and then trolled down the western shore of the lake.  At the end we cast around a bit and leisurely paddled up the lake casting and continued to do so as we drifted back down the lake.  At this point I had foregone my lure and had on a worm harness.  Drifting down the lake I hooked into a nice Speckled Trout about 14 inches.  A few more passes up and down the shoreline yielded no more results.

Fairy Lake Speckled Trout.
A little after 1pm we decided to head over to Animoosh.  We left the canoe behind and just took the lunch and poles hoping to be able to cast from shore.  The almost 3Km trail was good with several small blowdowns.  Fifty minutes brought us to the lake and the one of two campsites on the lake.  Our hopes for casting from shore were dashed as the south end of Animoosh is shallow and sandy for a good distance out from shore.  Instead of fishing we settled for a relaxing lunch and a good view of the lake.  Looking through the binoculars I noticed a canoe tethered to shore on the eastern side of the lake.  Someone must have been camped at the other site but the site itself was obscured from that angle.

Walking a beaver dam, Fairy to Animoosh Lake Portage.
Campsite at south end of Animoosh Lake and start of portage to Fairy Lake.
After relaxing for a bit we packed up and headed back to Fairy Lake.  Not having had much luck in Fairy we decided to head back to Hidden and try there for the rest of the afternoon.  We fished Hidden for awhile, casting around the north and south end of the lake and trolling a bit but with no luck.  Deciding to call it a day we headed back over the portage into McKaskill.

As we headed down the lake a canoe came into view in the distance.  I was surprised to see another party as so far we hadn’t seen anyone on our journeys except for Animoosh.  Given that they were more than halfway up the lake I surmised that they were either going to camp on the site at the north end of the lake or on Hidden. 
The rest of the journey back to the cabin was uneventful and yielded no fish.  We relaxed for a bit back at the cabin before dinner.  Dinner of steak, rice and peas was prepared and little earlier than we had been eating so we could get out and fish for the rest of the evening.

We headed out just before 7pm and fish the south end of the lake.  We fished well past sunset but with no luck.

Back at the cabin we wrote in our journals for awhile and then got a good roaring campfire going for our last night.  It was a beautiful evening again with a clear sky and lots of stars.  It was another great end to a great day.

Sunday, May 5 – Day 5

Up just after 7am after a good night’s sleep.  Coffee was put on and pancakes mixed up as we went about packing up camps.  After a good breakfast of pancakes and sausage and bacon we relaxed for a while with our last morning coffee of the trip. 

Just about to leave the McKaskill Cabin.
We finished breaking camp just before 9am and headed off across the lake under blue skies and warm sunshine.  We were over the first short portage after 20 minutes of leaving the cabin and then quickly across Dove Lake to our big portage of the day which neither of us was looking forward too.  This time I would not double up carries as the food barrel was much lighter and I’d be able to carry it on my front no problem.  The hardest part of the portage would be the first section which was mainly uphill.
Loaded up and with fresh legs and shoulders we were on our way.  Twenty minutes later we had put the uphill climb behind us and stopped for a rest.  Back on our way and 25 minutes later brought us to Shrew Lake.  With one carry we did that portage in under and hour, not just over two as we did on our way in.
After a bit of a rest we were on our way and shortly were at the portage back into Big Red.  This was another portage I wasn’t looking forward to doing as the first 50 metres was a good uphill climb.

Done the portage in good time we were on our way across Big Red and then quickly over the short portage into Ryan.  As we paddled up Ryan we could hear voices and then a large party camped at the northeast end of the lake came into view.  As we approached the portage to Shirley Lake another party was just finishing up.  Judging by the amount of gear and coolers they had I figured they were probably going no further than Ryan.

Loaded up at the start of Big Red to Ryan Lake Portage.
After exchanging pleasantries we were on our way and quickly over the nice flat portage.  As we loaded up and were just heading on our way another party appeared behind us.  They must have been camped at the site on the northwest end of Ryan which you can’t see as you approach the portage.

We trolled one last time as we headed across Shirley but with no luck.  One last time we loaded up and were off on our last portage of the day and trip.  Fifteen minutes later brought us to Crotch Lake.  It was now just after 12:30 so we decided to sit and have lunch.  The party that was behind us came along about five minutes later and we chatted for a bit before they headed off as we continued with our lunch.

We lingered for awhile before reluctantly packing up and heading off down Crotch to our final destination of the trip.  We paddled into the access point landing just before 1:30pm.  It was hard to believe that five days were already over and another fishing trip done until next year.  Once again it was a great trip with Dad and we had some half decent fish this year.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip!

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