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 Post subject: Esnagami River July 2015
PostPosted: February 29th, 2016, 10:47 pm 
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Joined: January 3rd, 2010, 5:59 pm
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Location: Kanata
This is pretty long-sorry

We chose this river for several reasons – seldom paddled, remoteness, potential for decent whitewater and fishing-walleye, pike and brook trout. We knew we were pushing the season a bit for high water levels and the trout, but we were hoping for the best.
All distances are measured from the put in on Stinger Lake.

Day 1 – Leave after work on Friday. Three of us on road around 6pm. Fourth member of the team will meet us in Macleod, just south of Geraldton on highway 11 after flying to Thunder Bay and having a buddy drive him to meet us. Plan is for us to drive until we are tired, then pull off somewhere for a sleep. We are planning to meet Tom at 9am in Macleod. Everything goes smoothly until we arrive in Sudbury. Shit…we aren’t supposed to be in Sudbury, we’re supposed to be heading north to Cochrane. Stunned and speechless, we pull over for coffee at a Tim Horton’s to figure out what we should do. To our credit, we don’t start blaming each other for the driving /navigational error, though we are all taken aback by the mistake and the extra hours of driving it will take us to get back to where we want to be. Without a decent road map, we decide to head back to the 575 and head north to Field and then take the 64 to where it meets up with highway 11, just north of Marten River. By the time we get to Marten River we are several hours behind schedule, and somewhere along the way it is decided that we will drive through the night so we can meet up with Tom at the arranged time.

Day 2 – Many hours of driving and several driver switches later we stop for an early breakfast in Hearst, it’s about 5:30am. At this point we send our first message, via the Inreach, to Tom to make sure he is still meeting us at 9, he should be up and moving now to make it to the pick-up on time. As we get closer to Macleod we finally get a message from Tom, they still haven’t left T-Bay yet-his buddy isn’t really in a rush. The three of us are a little disappointed, we drove all night to meet him on time and his friend is letting us down. We arrive in Macleod around 9:30, Tom texts soon after to say he is leaving in about 30 minutes. What the heck are we going to do here for the next 3+ hours? The lady at Dan’s General Store, the arranged meeting place, tells us about a lake nearby where we can go fishing for walleye. The day was sunny and warm, so off we go. Can’t remember the name of the lake, but it was a little west of town and a short drive north on a gravel road. We fished for a couple of hours, caught a few small pike and some walleye. The walleye ended up being lunch – 1st shore lunch of the trip.
We met Tom around 1 at Dan’s General Store. The team was together at last, and wasted no time heading north to Nakina, though we first stopped in Geraldton for a few more supplies(beer). We had arranged with Nakina Air to shuttle us to the put in location, they were also going to pick us up at the end of the trip on the Little Current River. So after figuring out where we were going to meet the plane in six days we set off for the put in.
When looking at Esnagami Lake on Google maps you can see many logging roads in the area, one would think that you could actually drive to the lake, but you aren’t allowed. This seems crazy, but I think it’s a good thing as it protects the fishing on the lake. There is a fly-in fishing lodge on the west end of Esnagami and they have been doing a good job of maintaining the fishing on the lake and ensuring that the larger fish are all thrown back, at least by their clients. I would have to imagine that most of the people that fish on the lake, aside from locals, must use the lodge.
The drive to the put in on Stinger Lake might have taken 45 minutes. On the drive in Greg informed us that he wasn’t sure how much water would be in the river and told us that the river can be quite challenging, but he thought that we looked and sounded like we knew what we were doing. We assured him that we’d be OK and would not be calling him to arrange a helicopter pick-up somewhere on the river.
While parked there, getting our gear organized and battling the ever present mosquitoes, a conservation officer showed up. First time in my life I’ve ever had contact with one and it was really the last place I expected to see one, in the middle of friggin’ no-where. We chatted for a while and it turns out he was headed to Esnagami Lake also, though he didn’t go in through Stinger Lake. I’m guessing he had his own direct access and actually drove to the lake and didn’t have to portage all his gear in. We finally set off in the canoes around 4pm. We’re all quite tired, but excited to be starting the trip.
The paddle across Stinger Lake was uneventful. Nice enough lake, can’t recall if we trolled while crossing the lake or not, we likely did, but didn’t catch anything. There is a 400m portage from Stinger to Esnagami. It was easy to find and well maintained. Locals must use it fairly often as access to Esnagami.
Esnagami, is a big lake and we had very little info regarding places to camp. Seeing as it was later in the day and we’d driven all night, we agreed to take the first place that looked decent. About 20 minutes later we found a site on the first island we paddled up to. The site hadn’t been used recently, we had to move some trees from the tent pads and there was grass growing in the fire pit. Now I had high fishing hopes for Lake Esnagami – big walleye and big pike live in this lake, so I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t caught any fish in the 20 minutes we’d been on the lake.
After getting camp set up and having the traditional 1st meal, of Taco Salad, we hit the lake for some more fishing-bring on the monsters. Wes and I covered a lot of ground, trying to find a honey hole. We caught a few fish, all good eating sized, but threw them all back. By about 10:30pm we decided that it was time to head back, as the bugs were now finding us on the lake. We had heard a little motor boat zipping about and later learned it was our friendly conservation officer, he had come over to see Tom and Sean and hung out with them for about an hour just chatting. I have nothing against conservation officers, but was pleased he had left us alone none-the-less.

Day 3 – Paddled 22km and portaged 3 or 4 times around unrunable rapids.

Long day on the water, not really due to the distance traveled, but rather our leisurely pace and the amount of fishing done throughout the day. The day dawned with some mist on the water and lots of blue sky over-head. We left camp around 9am and fished our way towards the river. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time on the lake trying to find some monster fish, but we didn’t have the time. As we paddled out we did manage to find a few walleye. We really weren’t in much of a hurry and it took us several hours to get off the lake. We stopped for a fish fry on an island about 7-8km from camp, enjoyed a two beer lunch and the sun.
After lunch we headed towards the river proper. My memory of this section is fairly poor. The rapids that we ran were all fairly small. We had to do a couple of portages because the rapids were too snarly and had many downed trees blocking the way. This led us to feel a bit nervous about what the rest of the river might be like.
At some point in the afternoon a motorboat passed us going upstream. The fishing lodge offers their clients a guided day trip down the river to fish for trout. These were the only people we saw all trip. We passed a beautiful campsite at about km19, just after a little rapid. If I ever go back I will stay there for sure, but our plan was to go to Trident Lake, still 7 or 8 km away.
At the entrance to Trident is a 150m rapid that can’t be paddled. All the portages we did today were fairly short, less the 400m, and well maintained. The fishing lodge must keep them maintained for their clients. Trident lake is nothing special, mostly low lying with very few agreeable places to camp. When looking around the lake we could only see one area that appeared to have some exposed rock making it down to the shore line on the right side of the lake before you turn down the right trident towards the lake’s exit. That was going to be our camp. Turns out others have felt the same as there was a fire pit there. Again the site needed a bit of maintenance as some trees had fallen across the prime tent spots. Luckily the days were long, as we didn’t have dinner until the sun was setting, about 10:30pm. Our first full day on the water was a long one, but a great one.
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night 2 (640x427).jpg


Day 4 – About 25km of paddling and 3 or 4 short portages.

Today dawned slightly overcast. It rained off and on throughout the day and the temperature dropped considerably as the day progressed. After a slow breakfast we made it on to the river around 9:30. The rain started shortly after leaving camp. There was nothing special to note about the river from Trident to Merkley Lake and the fishing wasn’t particularly good either. We did make note of a nice camp on Merkley on the left, just after you go through the narrows. Merkley also has a fishing lodge on it, owned by the Esnagami Lodge folks, but no one was around when we went by. After Merkely the river narrows quite a bit and the current picks up. We ran a couple of short rapids and did a couple of short portages. These required a bit of maintenance as the fishermen didn’t make it down this far. Camp was made around 3pm on the upstream end of a small island around km51. It was facing the wind and was the first bit of rock we’d seen in a while. This site we hacked out of the bush. Many trees had been knocked over by wind and high water. Many needed to be cleared in order to make room for the tents. This was ok as we had time and it kept us warm.
Attachment:
night 3 (640x427) - Copy.jpg

Even though the temperature had dropped and there was a breeze the mosquitoes were still buzzing. Day 2 on the river was ok, we saw a mink at one of the portages and the fishing was not as good as yesterday’s, maybe this means we are getting into trout waters?

Day 5 – 30km of paddling - couple of short portages.
We were up early today and the blue sky returned once again, bringing with it more mosquitoes. We were on the water around 8:30. This stretch of water had the best whitewater of the trip. Several of the falls/chutes that the other trip report had mentioned as portages, we were able to run.
Sometimes we took the gear out, other times we didn’t. The rapids in this section we mostly short, pool and drop and for the most part the river had an ok current in the flat sections to help us along. We stopped for lunch between km 65 and 70. In this section we also caught a 15-20 trout between the four of us, the largest about 15 or 16 inches long. Not huge, but fun to catch. We had now caught some pike(small and few), walleye (many, mostly under 20inches) and trout.
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brook trout (640x427) - Copy.jpg

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Brook trout - hard to hang onto (640x427) - Copy.jpg

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another one gets away (640x427) - Copy.jpg

Camp was made at a great spot around km82, likely the best spot on the river. (says camp 5 but was actually camp 4)
Attachment:
camp #5 (640x427).jpg

Between lunch and camp we mostly drifted and fished our brains out trying to find more trout and stopping every so often when we thought we’d found a cold spring coming into the river. We didn’t ever find one of these cold pools where the trout hang out, but we did find more mosquitoes. At one point, just before camp, Wes and I hiked up a creek hoping to find trout. We didn’t find any but found billions of mosquitoes, we named the creek, No-bugagami Creek.
From lunch to camp we didn’t do any portages, though at higher water there would certainly be a portage at the rapid around km75. None of the portages on the river are marked and for many of the portages it was not obvious which side of the river they were on. Caution was definitely required as we approached the larger sounding rapids so that we could locate the portages.

Day 6 – 18km paddling 0 portages.

Another fantastic day on the water and weather wise. Stopped for lunch at a chute/falls near km91. At high water this would likely be a portage, but it made for a fun run that these levels. Good fishing here also, last of the walleye we would catch on the Esnagami. Many of the walleye we caught on the river had small greenish leaches on their tail fins and stomachs. Never seen so many fish with leaches on them before.
Attachment:
lunchtime rapid (640x427).jpg

Last 10km of river slows down until reaching the Little Current River, but there was still a bit of current in it. At one point Wes and I stopped to wait for the other canoe. About 100m downstream I noticed something in the water, but couldn’t be sure what it was. Turns out it was a big bull moose, getting some relief from the bugs, sitting in the water with its head facing away from us. After we watched it for a bit and drifted closer it reluctantly got up and walked away. An awesome site. Also on this stretch of river we saw a pair of sandhill cranes.
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Moose looking over shoulder at us (640x427) - Copy.jpg

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Guess I have to get up (640x427) - Copy.jpg

We arrived at the confluence of Esnagami and Little Current fairly early in the afternoon and had a choice, try and head upstream to Louella Falls, or head down stream and camp at a site that Greg told us about where the Squaw river comes in to the LC. We opted to try and head up stream to the falls, feeling that we might have better luck fishing. The river is called Little Current, but the name is misleading, this is a wide river with lots of current. It took us about 45 minutes to paddle and line the boats up to the pool at the base of Louella Falls. To be honest they are more of a chute, but they are impressive, spanning the entire width of the river and being about 500m long. The fishing here for walleye was as good as good as it gets. Lots of fish, and some good sized ones also – the largest being 28 inches. We fished for a while. Hiked up the chute to view the rest of the chute, had a snooze on the rocks in the sun and generally enjoyed our last full day away from it all. A good campsite is not really available at the base of the falls, though this is where we cooked and hung out, to stay away from the bugs. There is a portage trail, not heavily used, on the river right side of the falls and part way up is a clearing where we could put our tents. Again, it looked as if no one had camped here in ages.

Day 7 – 26km of paddling/drifting, 1- 300m portage.

We woke early today. I didn’t want to be late for the plane. Left camp shortly after 6am, some folks not happy with the early departure. For our early departure we were rewarded with several wildlife sightings – 5 moose and 1 bear.
Attachment:
early morning moose (640x360) - Copy.jpg

Cool morning on the water, but it promised to be another stellar day. We had to a portage around a large set of rapids on the LC, portage was on the left. It had not been used in a long time, many trees down. The current on the river was quick, we were making fast progress and at this rate we would be hours early for the plane, battling the bugs on the side of the river. We pulled off on a rock mid-stream to avoid the bugs. Used the in-reach to contact Nakina Air and arranged an earlier pick-up. We still had time to kill so we stayed perched on the rock for about an hour and caught several fish to pass the time. There are fish everywhere up here. Our plane arrived on schedule, though we didn’t hear it land and weren’t really sure where it had gone. We were in the wrong place, but after communicating with the Nakina office we figured out we were still a little upstream from where the plane landed.
The flight back was uneventful and took about an hour to get back to Nakina. As we flew it took a while until we started to see forestry roads and clear cutting, but it’s there and getting closer to the Little Current every year. Why do we have to cut down all that pristine forest?
After getting changed and filling up our water bottles we got back in the truck for the long drive home. Saw two different bears on the drive to Hearst. We stopped for Chinese dinner in Hearst, poor decision. Stopped for the night at a rest stop about two hours north of North Bay.
Day 8 – Poor sleep. Too many trucks going by. Breakfast in North Bay, lunch in Cobden. Arrived back in Ottawa in the early afternoon.
As I write this, some of the finer details from the trip I’ve forgotten already, I really should get back into the habit of keeping a journal on trip. I had sat down to write this last fall, but decided against it. For some reason now I think it would be good to make record of the trip, so others might go and do it. It is a great trip for those looking to get off the beaten path. Not sure if it comes across in my writing, but the mosquitoes were insane throughout the ENTIRE trip. Looking back on it now though, I never think about the unrelenting mosquitoes, I just remember the great time had by those that were there. I will definitely be back to the Esnagami, though likely a few weeks earlier in order to catch more trout and higher water.


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PostPosted: March 1st, 2016, 1:01 pm 
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Hey Rab,

That was a great report and some beautiful pictures taken. It sounds rugged, and scenic up that way...one day I will have to do a trip there.

Thank you for sharing :)

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PostPosted: March 1st, 2016, 2:14 pm 
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Location: Manitoba
Great reading and story telling.

You are not the first person to drive the wrong way...

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PostPosted: March 1st, 2016, 2:20 pm 
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Joined: April 6th, 2007, 8:42 pm
Posts: 432
Good reporting. Nice specks! I'm glad to learn I'm not the only one taking wrong turns and driving two sides of a triangle.


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PostPosted: March 2nd, 2016, 9:13 am 
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Joined: January 3rd, 2010, 5:59 pm
Posts: 218
Location: Kanata
@Sam82 - Yeah, I'd like to get back up there and paddle some of the rivers a bit further north of the Little Current - but they are expensive to get into and out of. Need more time!

@Paddle Power and martin2007 - glad to hear we aren't to only idiots to take a wrong turn!


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PostPosted: April 9th, 2021, 10:04 am 
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Not sure why I'm just reading this now, great trip report TL. I loved every km of this trip. Can't wait to be back up there again this year.


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