Riege: The French River Era

Published 9:06 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011


If you repeat the title of this article quickly you will be talking about the French Riviera. Your mind may even envision white sand beaches, crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or maybe the prince and princess of Monaco. Just like traveling to the south of France, we wouldn’t think of leaving here without a travel agency helping us. So therefore, we contacted our good friend Jim Grayston from www.gofishinontario.com and www.ontariotravel.net to steer us to a great destination on the French River. In turn Jim had us contact Donna MacLeod, Executive Director, Rainbow Country Travel Association, 2726 Whippoorwill Ave., Sudbury, ON P3G 1E9 donna@rainbowcountry.com tel – 705•522•0104 fax – 705•522•3132 toll free – 1•800•465•6655.

Donna and her excellent staff made some contacts and within a short period of time we were put in contact with Art and Brenda Barefoot from Bear’s Den Lodge on the French River. Art and Brenda’s contact information is www.bearsdenlodge.com or e-mail at: bearsden@bedford.net. They have both winter and summer addresses so the website and e-mails are the best way to contact them is at 705-857-2757 (summer) or 814-839-2443 (winter).

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Bear’s Den Lodge is a “drive to” lodge which makes it nice because you will not be limited in weight and if you chose a housekeeping cottage or an American plan you will be able to have all your “very own necessities” with you. Bear’s Den Lodge provides transportation to and from Hartley Bay Marina, or if you want to bring your own boat you can park your vehicle and trailer at the Marina and motor to the Lodge in just a few minutes.

We were fortunate to have a housekeeping cottage at the waters edge and we also decided to opt for the American plan package. With the American plan you can receive the “fully pampered” plan, including your lodging and three excellent home cooked meals per day, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages with boat, motor, gas and worms. This also includes daily boat and maid service and meals are served family style in the Lodge.

Art Barefoot, not only is a legendary guide for the French River, but he is also the chef for all the meals. His culinary delights are without a doubt, the best food we have had the opportunity to eat at any 5 star lodge in Canada.

The entire lodge is owned and operated by the Barefoot family and everyone that has the pleasure of staying at Bear’s Den Lodge are made to feel like family. Whether you are interested in fishing, scenery, or just sitting by a cozy fire on a rainy day, the Barefoot family will assist you.

The French River is an ancient river system surrounded by dramatic landscape sculpted by ice age glaciers. These glaciers left behind cliffs, ridges, shoals and thousands of islands, which give this vast water system its unique typography.

Located approximately 200 miles north of Toronto, The French River is best described as a 80 mile long series of island dotted lakes connected by rapids and falls that gently lower the river a total of 60 feet as it flows from Lake Nipissing it’s headwaters, to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. With this much water, the French River is considered a boating and canoeing paradise with and excellent selection of experiences to suit every taste.

For over 50 years, the French River has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for its quality of fishing experiences. Ontario’s most sought after game fish can be found in these waters. Walleye, northern pike, large and smallmouth bass are present along with a large population of panfish ranging from crappies, sunfish, perch and rock bass.

Fishing any river in mid summer is bound to put a bend in your pole. River fish seem to go on a feeding frenzy about this time of year that usually lasts well into the fall. River levels mid summer become much more stable, sometimes even a little on the low side which make the fish that much more predictable on their location. Catching river fish at this time of the year isn’t the problem. The problem is deciding whether you want to catch a bunch of river fish, or go after big river fish.

Live-bait or artificial are the two factors that will most likely dictate the outcome of your catch.

Live-bait presentations are fish catching machines. Tipping a jig with a minnow, leech, or crawler is like opening a candy jar in front of a dirty-faced kid. Live bait rigs like the Northland Rainbow Spinner crawler rig dressed with a plump crawler will trigger a fish strike even if the fish is full to the gills.

During the summer, live-bait rigs are one of my preferred methods of presentation. Sure, you can still take old marble eyes on jigs, and crankbaits will produce big results in some conditions, but much of the time, live-bait rigs will fool fish when nothing else will.

Live-bait rigs are effective for several reasons. One of those is that they allow an angler to present bait to the walleyes in a very natural-like manner. The bare-bones rig is nothing more than a hook, snell, and sinker. In some circumstances a colored bead can be added like a Roach Rig, with an adjustable sinker, or a spinner, like the Northland spinners, or a float like a Gum Drop Floater makes the bait ride higher off the bottom. Simple yet effective.

Snell length is an important consideration when employing a live-bait rig. Sometimes the walleyes will be tight on the bottom; sometimes they’ll be up three or four feet. The snell should be long enough or short enough to get the bait up to the fish or directly above the fish. The secret to this type of presentation is knowing that the walleyes usually won’t move very far to take a bait, so you got to keep it within their strike zone if you want to catch them.

To determine proper snell length, keep a close eye on your sonar unit. If the fish are detected three feet off the bottom, try a snell length of 4 1/2 or 5 feet. If the fish are detected just a foot or so up, drop down to an 18 or 20 inch snell. Some sonar units won’t separate these bottom hugging walleyes, but the Bottom Line unit that I use does as good a job as any at showing these low-riders.

Walleyes will change the level at which they’re running from day to day and even hour to hour. That’s why we use Roach Rigs almost exclusively for live-bait rigging. Snell length can be changed in a matter of seconds, whereas most rigs must be cut and re-tied to lengthen or shorten the snell.

I like to use nightcrawlers when the walleyes suspended off the bottom. Crawlers have more natural buoyancy than either minnows or leeches, and by injecting them with a shot of air, they have even more lift.

Floating jigs and attractors aren’t always for suspended fish. In dirty water, walleyes will most often be close to the bottom. At times, I’ll use an attractor or Phelp’s Floater on a short snell in water where the walleye’s vision is limited due to water color. That added spot of color could be what it takes to get the fish’s attention and get it to bite.

Minnows will work in the summer on live-bait rigs, but I generally use either a leech or crawler. Remember, the population of baitfish is at a high in the summer due to all the fish that were spawned in the spring. It will be tough to get a walleye’s attention with a minnow when there are already millions of minnows swimming around down there. Therefore, the different bait that isn’t as abundant will be more attractive.

Don’t get me wrong live-bait is the way to go if you want to catch a lot of fish in the river. If your fishing with kids, live-bait will insure that action is almost guaranteed, and this is a sure fired bet that your young fishing companion will come back for more. If I’m in the mood for chasing only big river fish, I’ll leave the live-bait in the cooler. Various crankbaits for different circumstances and species of fish will decorate the gunnels of my boat. Long stick-baits like a #11 floating Rapala or a jointed version will be used if I’m trolling for walleyes. Most compact crankbaits like a Rattlin’ Rapala will be used to pitch shoreline structure.

Fishing a crankbait for big fish correctly in the river is an art, which can be mastered with lots of time on the water. Aggressive fish will hit a crankbait, which is trolled upstream. Non-aggressive fish have a tendency to strike more often when you troll downstream with the current.

Casting a crankbait for big fish will be more affective when you cast and retrieve at a 45 degree upstream towards shore. This pattern seems to work best because it imitates most naturally the way a fish sees its food tumble downstream with the current. It also makes sense because fish tend to keep their noses pointed upstream against the current.

The reason artificial tends to be more productive for big fish is their overall size. Many smaller fish might chase the bait but won’t hookup because of the size of the bait.

If you are planning a trip with your spouse, family or friends you really should look into the French River area. Contact Donna MacLeod at Rainbow Country, or Art and Brenda Barefoot at Bear’s Den Lodge. You may not see the prince and princess of Monaco, but you will be treated like Royalty in the French River Era.