A wilderness experience but with the comfort of beds, running water, and more. And gorgeous plentiful Rainbow Trout!
By Ian Scott
Looking for a "wilderness" experience with lots of great fly fishing opportunities, but also enjoy the comforts of home? Looking for a place that you could drive to - within two hours of a major city, but still "want to get away from it all?" Fairmont Kenauk, near Montibello, Quebec might be a place to think about.
In May of 2007, I along with two friends - Ernie Kalwa and Ivo Balinov, spent a couple of days in close quarters at the Fairmont Kenauk Reserve, about two hours drive from downtown Ottawa, Ontario. The three of us, members of "Team Osprey" for the upcoming Canadian Fly Fishing Championships thought a couple of days at Kenauk would be a good team building experience as well as some practice - and an introduction for me - to "Loch Style" fly fishing.
Ernie Kalwa with a nice Mills Lake, Kenauk, Brown Trout
Unfortunately for me, my schedule didn't permit me to arrive early on the Tuesday morning that the other two were able to arrive - and commence fishing. This meant that I missed out on some of the best fishing - as well as an extra little "mini-adventure" for me in getting to the cabin that we had rented.
Fairmont Kenauk, located north of Montibello, Quebec, Canada is wilderness but also offers comfort as well. The cabin that we had rented was located on Mills Lake, and accessible by boat only from Lake Papineau. Originally, I hadn't realized just how "wilderness" the particular cabin we had rented was - and my schedule meant that I couldn't arrive at the Kenauk gatehouse until late in the day - one of the staff agreed to stay late just to accomodate my arrival after the normal 8PM closing time.
By the time I did arrive and met up with Ernie and Ivo, I was subjected to their stories of what amounted to about a 60 fish day on the Tuesday. Sixty fish! Two brown trout and the remainder gorgeous, fighting rainbows between Ernie and Ivo during the day. Naturally, I was pretty keen to discover the fish of Mills Lake! But when I arrived, it was dark and dinner time - so I settled for the great "Bar-B-Que Chef" work of Ivo, which included one of the rainbows as well as chicken that Ivo had brought with him.
A Cabin's Reflection In the Early AM Water
But the next morning, I was able to experience some great Rainbow Trout action.
Again, unfortunately for me, a warm front moved in over night - a VERY warm front - which changed conditions in the area dramatically. On the Tuesday that Ivo and Ernie had fished, the weather was brilliant - sunny and continuing mild/moderate conditions. On Wednesday, it continued sunny, but the warm front meant temperatures up in the low 90's Fahrenheit or upper 20's low 30's Celcius. This meant that the equipment I had brought - all floating lines - would be practically useless.
"Loch-style" fishing is not something I've ever done much of. Yes, I've sat in a canoe and cast to smallmouth bass and pike on occassion, and have had a tremendous time doing so - but to think about rules and regulations of international competition, while adjusting to conditions with the purpose of catching fish to get points in a competition - it just wasn't something I was used to the idea of. Well, my friend Ivo to the rescue!
After some discussion, it was decided that my heavy 10' 8 wt. Loomis IM6 that I custom built about 15 years ago for large steelhead and salmon would probably be the best rod to use. No sinking tip or intermediate lines? Ivo had a solution handy for that as well: A nine foot sinking leader with an additional 13 or 14 foot to play around with for one point and one dropper fly. To say I was a little concerned about my ability to handle this set up would be an understatement - a guy more used to fishing an 8' 5wt, casting nymphs and often dries on a river - to this huge long monstrosity which included heavily weighted flies - I had the creeps about taking my own ear off or lodging a fly in my boat partner's ear while casting.
The author with a pretty Rainbow, caught on the Maltser Fly
I shouldn't have worried so much. Although heavy, that old Loomis IM6 did a great job of doing most of the work for me. To be honest, I'm thinking now that the rod is under-rated as far as line weight. With the heavy sinking leader attached to 8 wt floating weight forward line, the rod cast out excellent distances, and I was able to control the flies and leader quite well. It loaded better, after I got used to using such a long leader, than using a regular mono leader attached to the line.
But what about the fish catching?
As mentioned above, Wednesday came in with a warm front hitting us - a warm front that increased the daily temperature from the day before by more than twenty degrees Fahrenheit. But during the cooler part of the day, early morning - the fish could still be had. I begand the day fishing in a row boat with Ivo - and had the first fish too. Using one of Ernie's leech patterns, and fishing on a very slow strip - in fact, just letting the fly sit in the water, I brought a 14 incher that put up a great fight even on my 8 wt rod.
Subsequently, Ernie and Ivo started to catch Rainbows as well. I lost a few fish - one memorable moment was hooking into a pretty Rainbow... and finding it accelerating towards our boat faster than I could strip in line. I watched it as it approached the surface with the fly in it's mouth, and then leaped out of the water and by mere inches, missed the bow of the boat and threw the hook. If it had torpedo leaped from the water just a degree or two to it's left, it would have jumped right into the boat.
All in all, in the first four and half hour session we fished Wednesday, between the three of us we caught about ten nice Rainbows. All were released - and I'm told that it was nothing like the day before when it was a constant "fish on!" before I arrived.
Ernie with another nice Rainbow
The afternoon got even hotter - and the fishing was tougher as the fish went deeper. But we still managed to entice hard fighting rainbows and bring them to the boat. Bear in mind that while we were fishing, we were also practicing against competition rules; it's probable that if we had simply been recreational fishing, more would have been caught. But it was our intention to fish and get used to using a drogue, drifting while fishing in front of our drift, and not letting our fly ever be "trolled" by the boat's drift that kept us probably from enjoying the thrill of even more of the Rainbows and Browns in Mills Lake.
As far as the "experience" goes, hanging out together after dark, eating food that Ivo had bought and prepared on the barbque, and sipping some fine whiskey, brandy and wine that Ernie brought along was also memorable. Watching Ernie and Ivo tie flies, and then learn some great little "short cuts" as far as knots - well, it was a terrific experience for me. Because this was a "team practice," I'm not at liberty to disclose what flies exactly worked - but if you're thinking you'd like to enjoy a wilderness experience and enjoy some great Rainbow Trout fishing, let me just say that you should think "big" and think "leech." And if it's really hot and the fish are deep, think "flashy."
I will say though that during the evening session on Wednesday, when the fishing was slow, my "Malteser" fly saved the day for me - and managed to entice a very nice 'bow to try to eat it. Some say to use dark patterns during the evening... I say... "hmmm... well, maybe... maybe not."
After all was said and done for time in Kenauk, there are probably a few things I can say:
Ivo Balinov is a fantastic angler and who has a great way of thinking about how and what to fish in order to catch fish. Ivo could catch fish when both Ernie and I were thinking that the fish were uncatchable.
Ernie Kalwa makes for a great team captain! Inspiring and motivating at the same time as making sure that we all know any extra little competitive advantages - while maintaining a very good sense of humour - all I can say is that I feel very privilidged that Ernie invited me to continue with The Ospreys this year.
When fly fishing for Rainbows, think outside the box - and don't merely go by what you've been told - although what you've been told is probably pretty good advice - spend 15 minutes trying something different. You might surprise yourself.
My Mini Adventure:
I had no idea about how remote fishing at Kenauk could be. When I finally arrived at the gatehouse, between 8:30 and 9:00PM, I was met by a great staffer named Celine. She was worried about my safety in getting to the cabin that had been booked but gave me great instructions as well as a large flashlight and an extra life preserver. From the gate, I had to drive another 13 KM (about 8 miles) along a sand and gravel road to a marina. From the marina, I had to find a boat that wasn't locked up - and navigate my way to the Mills Cabin dock on Lake Papineau. During the light of day, this trip is about a three minute trip.
A view of Mills Lake
After dark, when you don't know where the heck you are supposed to be going, and get lost - it took me close to an hour to find the dock at the cabin that had been rented. But I made it. If the wind and lake conditions had not been so calm, I likly would have just slept the night in my van and waited until the morning.
Comfort In The Wilderness
Fishing at Kenauk really is wilderness fishing! Cell phones don't work. There is no electricity. You might even see a bear. Getting to your cabin requires a long drive from the gatehouse to the marina - and then a boat ride to your cabin. Yet, it's only two hours from downtown Ottawa.
The facilities though are fantastic. The cabin we stayed in was capable of sleeping 8 people (although personally, I'm not sure if I could personally handle 8 people at that location) and had full running water, a washroom with a shower, a gas stove and oven, and even a full sized refridgerator - using gas as energy. For Ernie and Ivo's fly tying sessions at night, it would have been nice to have more lighting - but there was substantial gas powered lighting in the cabin. Outside of the cabin was a large barbque as well.
Although the cabin was accessible by navigating a boat through Lake Papineau, behind the cabin was Lake Mills, and several rowboats at our disposal. Mills Lake is stocked by the staff at Kenauk, which also boasts it's own very large hatchery. There are also lakes which have native bass and pike for sport fishing opportunities too. My gang was thinking about fishing a lake with natural brookies - but simply didn't have time to do so.
One caution - even though there is running water at the cabins, it is not certified as potable. It's ok for showering and brushing teeth, or boiling food in - but taking along your own bottled drinking water might be a good idea.
Ernie, Tying Flies In The Evening
For further information, see the Fairmont Kenauk website. And yes - they speak English too.