Downstream from Ottawa
By Ari Vineberg
Photo by Mark Krupa
Most rivers change character to some extent throughout their courses; the
great ones, such as the Ottawa River, make many changes. The headwater
streams flow with youthful exuberance, cold and tannic water cascading over
waterfalls and through riffles and pools. Long before it reaches Ottawa, it
has become a mighty river, but still youthful with brawling rapids which draw
whitewater rafters by the thousands. But downstream from Ottawa, the river
matures, slowing down, deepening and spreading into numerous bays and inlets.
Upstream from the Capital, the fishing is predominantly for smallmouths, with
a few big brown trout thrown in for good measure. A few miles downstream
though, close to the towns of Rockland and Thurso, the fishing changes dramatically.
There are no trout here and the smallmouth although still present, yield precedence
to largemouth—not to mention large pike and muskie. The inlets and back bays in
this area provide perfect habitat for these species and their names are
legendary—Pentecote, Noir, Arcand, and Lochaby, especially, are superlative hotspots.
There are several public boat launches that make the river easily accessible
from either the Quebec or Ontario side. Along highway #17 on the Ontario
side there are public docks at Orleans, Cumberland, Rockland, Clarence,
and Wendover. On the Quebec side, a short drive from Hull down the 148
will bring the angler through the towns of Angers, Masson, Thurso, Papineauville,
and Montebello, not to mention the two provincial parks which all have public
launches. There are really no shortages of access points from either side of this river.
The sector between Montebello and Ottawa is perhaps the most productive
area of the entire river. Some of the major bays in this sector are important
spawning grounds for bass, pike, and muskie. These generally hold fish all
summer until falling water temperatures in the fall push them into the main river.
While Arcand, Pentecote, Baie Noire, and Lochaby bays all hold huge pike
and muskie as well as large numbers of largemouths, in summer, Bay Noire
is my choice location. While the largemouth bass predominate, there are
smallmouth as well. This massive back bay is a fly rodder's paradise. On the
Quebec side it can be reached through the provincial park, or from Wendover
on the Ontario side. From there it is a five-minute ride across the river to the
mouth of the bay. The average size of the largemouth in this sector is quite
impressive and it is not uncommon to catch 20-30 fish per day.
Most flies work well here—deerhair and foam poppers, Sneaky Petes, mouse
patterns, and streamers such as the Dahlberg divers are extremely effective.
One thing I've found more important than fly colour on this water is the sound
or vibration—the commotion it makes—perhaps because the water is stained here.
Most of these back bays can be fished reasonably well from a larger boat, but
a small zodiac, a pontoon boat, or a canoe is preferable. In the early summer,
some of the fish are in so tight that you can catch them in six inches of
water—no place for a twenty-thousand-dollar bass boat!
The best fishing periods are immediately after season opening, around June 16,
up until around the end of July. In the middle of summer, the dog days of July,
the best fishing is from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. and in the last hours before sunset.
~ Ari Vineberg