Bear Lake Wilderness Camp Fishing Trip Report from Espanola, Ontario

This past summer, my 2 sons and I headed to Espanola, Ontario for a fishing trip.  It would be the first trip outside of Pennsylvania for my son, Cole, and the first trip where it was just the boys and dad. I was a bit nervous about how Cole would do on a week long fishing trip away from mom and how I would do being a single parent for the week away from mom.  I knew that I had to focus on not putting too much pressure on them and allowing them to enjoy the vacation.

Bear Lake Wilderness Camp was our destination.  BLWC is a remote rustic housekeeping boat-in camp near Espanola.  BLWC does offer a meal plan for dinners only but we opted not to take it. 

A portable DVD player was used to assist in the travel.   

I really recommend the DVD player for any long car trip with the kids. They really didn’t seem to mind the length of the trip as long as the movies were rolling.  I didn’t mind that the movies were rolling as long as they were not whining about the drive.  It was truly a win-win.

MapQuest calculated the trip at 12 hours.  It was more like 14 hours as traffic around Toronto was really bad on the way and the way back. The traffic around Toronto was by far the worst part of the trip.  I was a bit surprised as on the way up, Friday, we hit Toronto in the early afternoon before rush hour and on Saturday on the way back we went by Toronto again in early afternoon.  I guess the best time to go by Toronto would be during the middle of the night.

As far as the fishing once we got there, it was nothing short of great for my sons and I.  I need to immediately say that we didn’t catch the trophies that lurk in this area.  They were there but I needed to put my boys on action to keep them interested.  The lakes accessible through BLWC have no shortage of numbers of fish.  If you found a beaver dam, you always found fish. 


Park the boat 15 to 20 yards from the dam, cast in all directions or even directly under the boat, and catch fish.  I may have concentrated on the beaver dam pattern too much. The bigger fish turned out to be on isolated structure off of islands, but the beaver day pattern was dependable for numbers of fish.   Here are a couple of examples of the small bass and panfish that we caught by the boatload:

First Fish of the Trip 


A “Trophy” Rock Bass (at least in the eyes of my son)


A double is always great regardless the size. 

Cookie cutter 13 to 15 inch bass, in the smallmouth and largemouth variety, were common and a lot of fun on light tackle. 

The largemouth on these lakes were quite feisty and smallmouth are always a blast to catch. If you are into numbers, the first evening the boys alone would catch over 100 rock bass, smallmouth and largemouth of all sizes up to about 15 inches.  I barely had time to fish.

BLWC’s best fishing opportunities are on its portage lakes.  

They have a bunch of them.  A number have really good fishing after only a short portage.  I love portaging.  The kids didn’t like portaging that much.  I am not sure if that is true for most kids or if mine just aren’t used to the work that goes with it.  Even for me, portaging is a lot of work.  You need to carry all of your gear, gas can, and a small outboard motor over mountainous terrain.  It would’ve helped a lot to have one other adult with me.  Moving the boats around at the end of the portage trail also wasn’t easy considering I didn’t have another adult. 


(Don’t worry Bear Lake staff, I didn’t just let it fall.) 

Despite the fact that this wussy office boy was worn out at the end of the week, I love the excitement of going to a lake that you’ll be the only one fishing for the day. 

Smallmouth and pike were the highlight for me on these portage lakes.  Most of the smallmouth that we caught measured up to 14 inches.  What they lacked in size, they definitely made up in quantity.  We used an assortment of baits to take them.  I could only tempt a few on topwater baits as it was late August.  We landed a few when trolling crankbaits, like Rapala Shad Raps.  Case Magic Sticks (a Senko type bait) in a natural color were dynamite.  Case Jack’s Worms also produced but not at the same rate as they have on previous Ontario fishing trips.  Nightcrawlers also accounted for plenty of fish.  We even caught one small bass on a bare red hook dangling in the water.   

Its funny the difference between kids.  My oldest son loves to use livebait like nightcrawlers.  My other loves to use artificial baits, especially plastics. 

Pike fell victim to Shad Raps, Hot-n-Tots and Rat-l-Traps. 

The pike fishing was really good.  If you are only after big trophy pike, this probably isn’t the best place.  But if you like lots of good size pike up to 30″ and good chances at 30 to 35″ inch fish, BLWC is a good choice.  Pike in the 40″ class do exist but this isn’t the location that I would recommend if trophy pike are #1 on your list.  Here are a few pike pics with our first ever pike double.

My son, Cole, took his first pike ever on this trip. He was particularly delighted because he did opposite what his dad told him to catch it.  I kept telling him that dangling a nightcrawler in a foot of water would not catch the pike he was looking for.  I was wrong.  We even had two incidents where pike attacked smaller fish that we were reeling in. 

You’ll see a canoe in the pics above.  I was reluctant about canoeing with the boys, but they really enjoyed it and did very well. 

Austin was a champ, helping me paddle a very long lake without complaining.  Both took turns paddling throughout the week and did well.  So much so, that I am now thinking of buying a canoe.

The scenery was great.  Here is a cool little water fall at the end of a long paddle.

At the other end of the long paddle, a rain storm loomed ahead. This was the only real bad weather we had for the trip.

I’m so photogenic after a rainstorm.  Here I am asking “Where’s my beer?”

Make sure that when you are fishing with kids that you allow them to have fun even when not catching fish.  I am not very good at that but we did manage to have a good time out on the boat even when not catching fish. 

 Cole taking a picture of himself with his “professional” fishing glasses.

Having fun yet?

Lover’s Leap was also a cool break from the fishing.

What about the bigger fish?  They were definitely there but I didn’t adjust to the pattern of the bigger fish until the last day. On one hand, I regret this a little bit.  On the other hand, we caught so many fish on the pattern that we hit that I surely can’t complain.  Here is a Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Award Smallmouth.  It was caught on a natural colored Case Magic Stik.

Austin and dad teamed up to put a second award fish in the boat.  Again, the natural colored Case Magic Stik does the trick. 

I’m quite confident that serious bass fishermen could have caught a lot of quality fish on this trip. 

How about the accommodations?  They were really nice for a boat-in camp.  If you want fancy, this is probably not your place but the cabins were very nice and clean.  While my kids complained about using the outhouse, I thought that this was one of the nicer camps that I have stayed at.

Finally, I need to comment on the staff.  The staff was great.  Owner and staff went out of their way each day to make sure we had a good time.  We went during bear season.  So, these guys were working their tails off to accommodate the fishermen and bear hunters.  They did a great job.

So here’s my summary in the same lines of the American Express commercial:

Gas price at time of trip - $2.89

Hours spent at stand still in Toronto traffic jam - 2 hours

Promises made to wife about future vacations that don’t involve fishing - 7

Smile from realizing that  northern pike are really fun to catch - priceless

This was a great trip, and I highly recommend Bear Lake Wilderness Camp.


Bear Lake Wilderness Camp
PO Box 5262
Espanola, Ontario
P5E 1S3
Phone: (705) 869-7562
Season: (May to October)

Winter (Hibernation Home)

Major Bill Drane (USAR)
7100 Ridgeway Circle
Pendleton, KY 40055

Reservations: (502) 565-6221
Cell Phone: (502) 565-6221
Email: Major_Drane@aol.com