It has become evident to me over the years that I am not gifted with a stomach for life on the water. In fact, my last trip on a boat left me in the fetal position.
Despite my vomit-inducing experience on the west coast one thing that I have been able to hold down is a keen interest in fishing. Perhaps it’s because I have sweet memories of the activity from my youth but I can’t get seem to shake the idea that I’m supposed to enjoy fishing. Affection for the activity is the reason I embraced an opportunity to travel to Sault Ste. Marie and take a road trip to Bruce Bay Cottages & Lighthouse. I was up to the challenge of fishing, fetal position be damned.
Located in historic Bruce Mines in the Algoma District, 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Sault Ste. Marie Airport and 7 ½ hours from Toronto, Bruce Bay Cottages & Lighthouse is about what you would expect from the cabin experience. The property is rustic with eight housekeeping cottages, each with its own three-piece bathroom and patio. There’s also a fireplace in each cabin, which came in handy because it does get chilly at night. Bruce Bay has walking trails, kayaks, canoes, a pontoon boat available upon request, and several fire pits. Owners Larry and Pat Peterson took care of breakfast and dinner, which included French toast, bacon and eggs in the morning, and fried fish for dinner.
Fishing is a the key reason why many choose to make the trek out to Sault Ste. Marie, near the Michigan border. Beginners or advanced anglers can experience fishing for sought after species in numerous lakes all over Algoma. Visitors don’t even need to head for the woods to fish. One popular spot to drop a line is the St. Marys River Rapids. Located within the city limits of Sault Ste. Marie and only accessible from the Canadian side, St. Marys River Rapids is famous for annual runs of steelhead and is an original gathering place for Indigenous communities.
The itinerary called for our group to go out with Angling Algoma owner Adam Vallee, a guide and tournament angler whose journeys on the waters began in his childhood. I was nervous about being on the water and scanned the weather reports like an air traffic controller but I had nothing to fear — the lake was as flat as a sheet of glass. Waters in the region can get choppy but Vallee assured us if Mother Nature chose not to cooperate there were many inland options available.
Vallee pulled up to the dock in a slick Ranger Comanche Z20 that looked more like a bullet than a boat. After a cliché cry of “Hang onto your hat,” we glided across the water at 103 kilometres (64 miles) per hour. Armed with Hummingbird and Lowrance sonar and fish finders our group was ready to catch some fish (best-case scenario) or at least some rays. The destination was the North Channel on Lake Huron on a lonely stretch of water surrounded by forest and a clear blue sky. It was all I could have hoped for.
“The fishing in the Sault is really good, but of course everybody who fishes in their home waters is going to think their water is really good,” he said, adding that his clients come from as far away as Scotland, Australia, and Hong Kong. “We are right where Lake Huron and Lake Superior meet so we have two Great Lakes that present all kinds of options where you can catch many types of fish.”
Vallee explained in these parts he fishes a lot of small-mouth and large-mouth Bass, muskie, lake trout, and walleye. On this day, he told us, we would be fishing amur pike. I had no idea what an amur was but I was ready.
“One of the things that make fishing in the Sault unique is the lack of fishing pressure,” Vallee said. “When I’m in Belleville or Lake Simcoe I’ll see thousands of boats on the water. So that’s definitely a nice thing about fishing out here. You’re not going to see a lot of boats.”
He wasn’t joking. During our entire five-hour trip we only saw two or three boats. Vallee did most of the work and had all the equipment we needed for success, including bait, lures, electronics, and the knowledge to catch fish. It didn’t take long for our scaly friends to join the party. Within a half-hour I felt tension on my rod and an adrenalin rush in my chest as I realized I had just caught the largest fish of my checkered fishing career. All I had to do was finish the job.
“Just hold on, bring her in slowly, it ain’t going anywhere,” Vallee said with a coach’s support. After tugging the catch close to the boat, he scooped it up in a net. Mission complete. I reeled in a beautiful 174-pound … okay, sorry, that’s how much I felt it weighed. Truth is, my whopper of a catch was a modest 12-pound pike. Most of the fish brought onto our boat were 12 to 15 pounds each, including the two others I caught. I released them and kept the first one for frying later.
For those who prefer to just enjoy the sights and not fish, no problem. Relaxing by the campfire with a cold drink at Bay Bruce as the sun dips below the horizon is all the excitement you will need. Bruce Bay gives visitors the best of both worlds. It is immersed in nature while also being a short drive to retail stores, coffee shops, and restaurants in Bruce Mines.
While visiting Bruce Mines be sure to gaze upon the Tom Thomson Group of Seven Monument. The landmark on the property is a tribute to the pioneering Ontario artists. It can be seen at the McKay Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1907 to serve the timber industry and is now available for rent. Visitors can climb up the narrow staircase into the tower and out onto the “widow’s walk” to enjoy the panoramic view of the channel.
“I love the lighthouse because it’s steeped in history,” says Pat Peterson, adding that the business has been in their family since the 1960s. “People can rent the lighthouse, it’s one of the biggest draws. Visitors can watch the lake freighters come in during shipping season. A pontoon boat is available upon request.”
Fishing season begins early May and ends around November, so there is lots of time to plan your vacation during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would encourage anyone who is considering fishing to give it a try. There are parts of the experience that may push you out of your comfort zone. The sport involves large chunks of time in one spot on the water and often under a blistering sun, making it necessary to cover up to avoid sunburn.
And I won’t lie — watching Vallee carve up a wriggling fish wasn’t the easiest thing to witness. But even if you’re unaccustomed to a slower pace or a little squeamish, fishing offers a unique experience that will allow you to connect with nature and relax. I was happy with the decision to venture out on the water. In doing so, I addressed a few fears, faced my dislike of boats, and actually managed to catch more fish than I expected. I’m even happier that I was able to do it without ending up curled in a ball vowing I would never get on a boat again. On the contrary, I can’t wait for the next time I can grip a rod and feel the exhilaration of a tug on the line and the anticipation of leaning over to see what it is I have brought up from the deep.
MORE ABOUT ALGOMA & SAULT STE. MARIE
Bruce Bay Cottages & Lighthouse
Address: 82 French Island Road, Bruce Mines, ON
Cottage Rates: Nightly prices start at $109 (based on double occupancy).
Lighthouse Rates: Nightly rate is $149; weekly rate is $1,008. The lighthouse has three bedrooms and can accommodate six guests. Rate is based on double occupancy ($10 for each additional guest).
Rates: Half-Day Trip – $350 for 1-2 people
$100 additional per head
Full-Day Trip – $500 for 1-2 people
$150 additional per head
Fishing guides in Sault Ste. Marie: Click here
Algoma District Fishing: www.algomacountry.com/fish-hunt
Tourism Sault Ste. Marie: saulttourism.com