Canadian Canoe Routes

Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation
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Author:  vdewit [ September 3rd, 2014, 3:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation

Last week I took my 13 year old son on his first wilderness canoe trip. Originally I was planning something a bit longer, considering the long drive from Calgary to Missinipe, but I decided it was more important to have excellent fishing and a good overall experience to get him addicted than for me to just get a wilderness experience out of it.

It was a great decision! :)

My full trip report is up on my web site, but I'll put enough detail in here for it to stand on it's own here too.

Ric suggested French / Ducker with variation when I told him my son wanted to catch lots of fish. We drove the 11 hours to Missinipe over a Friday afternoon and Thursday morning (Canada is HUGE!!) and by noon we were putting in at the CRCO's boat dock. I bought Ric's map of the area and it was very handy to use on our trip.

I was a bit disappointed to realize how busy Otter Lake can be, but with two settlements, a fishing lodge and an airdome you can't expect perfect wilderness quiet! It still felt remote and peaceful when we got into the back of Grandmother Bay and started our first portage into French Lake. My son's goal was 5 fish for the entire trip. He caught 6 in Grandmother's Bay already. :lol:

BTW - Otter Lake is pretty big. Trip #30 is recommended for beginners but they'd better be 'smart' beginners because I wouldn't want to be caught on the lake in a storm of any kind... There are camp sites all over the place that you could hole up on if required - but you need to have the canoe sense that a beginner wouldn't necessarily have. But I digress. :-?

The 400m portage into French Lake is a highway. French Lake is a very nice lake and we camped on the point separating Mason and Allen Bay. Something that surprised me about all the campsites we looked at on this route, was that most of them weren't very level. I have a tiny 1.5 person tent and finding level ground was tough. I can't imagine 3 2-man tents all being comfortable on any of the site we saw. But other than that this site was great. It even had two fire pits, one was more protected than the other. Since we had ZERO bugs (!!) on this trip we chose the more protected fire ring. We caught even more fish in Allen Bay, including Walleye, before settling in for the evening.

On Saturday we went exploring, intending to portage into Fair Lake through an unnamed lake to do some fishing which was rumored to be excellent there. We emptied the canoe at the first unofficial portage into the unnamed lake and just carried lunch, fishing gear and the boat through. The wind was already stiff but we paddled against it and portaged towards Fair Lake. The launch area into Fair Lake was choked with deadfall and getting large waves so we didn't feel comfortable doing it. We could have gotten our feet wet but frankly, it wasn't that hot and we weren't THAT desperate. The fishing was good everywhere anyway! 8) We went back to the unnamed lake and caught a TON of pike there. They were bigger than I was expecting from such a small lake. My son loved it. He was getting hooked. My plan was working!

After we tired of fishing we portaged back to French Lake, packed up our gear and continued to the finger bay leading to the next portage and Ducker Lake. This portage was also easy to find and navigate. Our next camp site was at the end of the portage and is very heavily used. There is hardly any firewood to be found! We fished for walleye at the bottom of the rapids nearby and managed to catch quite a few, including a very large Northern Pike.

Sunday dawned cold and foggy. We paddled out of Ducker and portaged into the Stewart River over the roughest portage of the trip. This one is still in great shape, there's a good sized hill to negotiate over though! My son did a great job helping carry the canoe over it.

After this portage we spent quite a while viewing excellent pictographs alongside the river. My son really enjoyed this - so did I! Amazing preservation of culture / history here. I hope it lasts. I was pleasantly surprised by how vivid they still were.

The wind was picking up so we pushed on across Rattler and Norris bays on Otter Lake. Here's where I wish I did a bit more research into the area. Originally I thought (for some reason) that the camps marked on the map beside Robertson Falls were on the bottom of the falls and we could just enjoy and fish the falls from camp, like on Ducker lake. As we approached the falls, after a long day of paddling (remember, this is my sons first canoe trip) we realized we were on the uphill side of the falls.

My son was tired and didn't want to bother paddling to close to the raging torrent of water so we abandoned the plan to camp by the falls and turned around, choosing instead to take a side channel and camp on the southern tip of Naheyow Island.

If I'd done more research I'd have taken an extra day or two, paddled less distance and done a route over the North Falls, down around and up Twin and Robertson Falls and back into Otter Lake. This was at least 4 more portages and included more paddling and negotiating around some fast water and Niko just wasn't prepared mentally for it so I abandoned my urge to explore and saved this for another time. :-?

Our third camp was by far the best one, other than human pollution. I wasn't too impressed with all the toilet paper and other hygiene products scattered in the forest near the water right by camp... :tsk: The bullet casings located all over the camp site were a bit disturbing too. :roll:

We fished around the bay at night and Niko was getting close to his 50th fish for the trip. He was very happy about that. Monday morning we decided to try to beat the wind and got up early to paddle all the way up Otter Lake and back to Missinipe. This worked out great. Niko managed another 6 fish to bring his total to 55. (I caught at least 3 times that many - so there's a LOT of fish around Otter Lake!) We pushed against a stiffening wind to the CCRO dock and made it there before noon.

Overall I was very impressed with this area. Compared to Woodland Caribou in Ontario or Atikaki in Manitoba it felt a bit like we were in someone else's back yard, but to be fair we chose a route that is located around settlements and businesses. Next time I will drive another 50km up 102 and try something a little more remote. French / Ducker was the perfect way to get my 13 y.o. addicted to canoe trips and by doing the trip in late summer we avoided bugs, heat, humidity and storms.

For images of the trip see my web site.

Author:  jmc [ September 3rd, 2014, 4:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation

Beautiful photos on the website.

You were probably on one of the most travelled routes in northern Saskatchewan. A portage or two away from the Churchill, you will find a very different atmosphere.

I'm heading up to Missinipe on the 14th for a 6 day trip from Brabant lake back to Missinipe. Your photos have me counting the days.



Author:  vdewit [ September 3rd, 2014, 4:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation

jmc wrote:
Beautiful photos on the website.

You were probably on one of the most travelled routes in northern Saskatchewan. A portage or two away from the Churchill, you will find a very different atmosphere.

I'm heading up to Missinipe on the 14th for a 6 day trip from Brabant lake back to Missinipe. Your photos have me counting the days.



Thx! And yes, I realize this is a heavily used route. Even so, we were essentially alone the whole time and really enjoyed it. It has me wanting to do many more trips in the area.

Author:  pawistik [ September 3rd, 2014, 4:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation

Thanks for the report, I enjoyed the photos. I'm just back from 4 days on the Churchill in the other direction from you and we saw 4 other people the whole time (excluding Garry in his jet boat). The route you chose is a great introduction to the region. We look forward to seeing you on the water!

Author:  Ralph [ September 5th, 2014, 10:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Trip #30 (French Ducker) with Variation

Great pictures on your website. I hope that your son is hooked.
I'm hoping to get up to that area in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for posting.

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