It has been nearly five and a half years since I have been into the North Tea Lake area of the Park. I am returning to familiar territory, and I am reminded that this is my favourite region of Algonquin Park. Every nuance of the shoreline, right from Round Lake, along the Amable du Fond River, into the vast North Tea Lake itself and beyond into Hornbeam and Biggar Lakes, seem to be like an old friend calling out
'Hey, Daniel, how are ya? Where have you been these 5 years?'
Okay, that is pretty cheesy, but that is what it felt like. It seemed like I knew every step of every portage, and where every rocky shoal was, (which is true, except for the one that Nathan and I forgot about and grounded upon in North Tea, fortunately without damage. Oops!)
We camped at the Narrows on North Tea, halfway along the 10km long lake, and decided to make a day trip into our favourite trout lake, Biggar, the next day. With a fabulous beach and amazing sunset the night before, we set off for Biggar in fog so thick that once we crossed to the south shore we could not see the islands in the south end of the North arm of North Tea, only a few hundred meters away. It was a really interesting sensation.
Finally, we arrived at the portage out of North Tea, but before setting off, Nathan beat me to the pool below the little river, and says that he lost a really nice speckled trout on a small spinner. I believe him. At Hornbeam Lake there is a little waterfalls. Again, Nathan caught one or two little specks, which I never did see, and then he started screaming for me to bring the net because he had a great fish. I scrambled over, and sure enough the rod was bent double! However, to Nate's dissappointment, it was not a 14" speckled trout, but a 10" smallmouth bass, which are not native to the Park, but are excellent fighters and terrific to eat!
At last, we could see Biggar Lake from the pond above Hornbeam. Neither of us had been there for over five long years, and we wondered why. Over a 5 year period, from our first spring trout fishing trip ten years ago, we went into Biggar Lake, and she always delivered a few beautiful, delicious lake trout. Then, we started exploring other lakes in the spring, often with our unsuspecting families in tow. Lake Louisa is the only other lake that we found that lives up to the hype.
So it was with eager anticipation that we paddled out onto Biggar, running deep-diving Rattlin Raps. What a wonderful day! The fall colours were at their absolute peak, the day warm and sunny, the scenery typically beautiful NW Algonquin: rolling hills, deer-clipped cedars along the shore, a point with a big pine tree on it, a sandy beach at the far end of the lake. And calm water, always a good thing when canoeing in the spring or fall shoulder seasons.
Lunch on that point with the big pine, casting into a bay where ten years ago we heard a wolf pack howling under a full moon, a good time for a nap. Then we realized that time was moving and we weren't, and we wanted to camp west of the Narrows on North Tea. With a last ditch effort to get deep for the lake trout, we paddled back to Hornbeam, and on into North Tea, making excellent time, but still with no fish to show for our efforts.
Out of the East Arm of North Tea we did not pay as much attention as we should have and ran aground on a rocky shoal along the south shore near the Narrows. Fortunately, I was able to hop out onto the submerged rocks and gently get the vessel floating again. A good scratch on the bottom, but that was it, thankfully. Our situation could have turned out much worse than it did.
The wind picked up slightly, just enough to remind us that we were on a big lake in Algonquin, and Nathan moved from a sitting legs out position to a kneeling position (the proper canoeing position) in the stern and noted that felt 'a million times more stable.' A few more minutes, and we were out of the wind and stretching our legs on the same site at the Narrows that we left that morning. I spotted an American Bittern in the reeds, and shot some good photos of him. His camoflage is ingenious: vertical stripes right up to the long bill, and when he wants to hide he just sticks his bill straight up, and very nearly disappears among the vegetation.
We moved on, and camped on the north shore of the West Arm, startling a pair of ruffed grouse with our arrival. I went swimming for twenty minutes in cold but quite tolerable water, which explained why we hadn't caught any lake trout-the fall turnover had not yet occured and so the fish were still in deep water.
On Monday morning the wind was with us, blowing from the east, and we made terrific time across the big West Arm of North Tea and into the Amable and Kawawaymog Lake. Leaving North Tea, we were decidedly glad not to be paddling into the wind! We had three days of Algonquin tripping with excellent weather and at the peak of the fall colours. Some more fish would have been a bonus.
Biggar Lake and the return trip through North Tea are a story for another day.
Get out there!
Uncle Travelling Dan