Backcountry fishing at Quetico

Backcountry fishing in Quetico

For today’s post, we chatted with Trevor Gibb, Superintendent of Quetico Provincial Park (and longtime angling addict!).

You’ve spent the day on the water. It rained all morning, and you spent the afternoon paddling against that strange weather phenomenon, best described as the multi-directional headwind.

Time to make camp, kindle a fire, and relax listening to the crackling logs and sizzling frying pan.

For backcountry campers at Quetico Provincial Park, the tantalizing aroma wafting from that frying pan is the smell of fresh-caught fish.

Quetico fish fry
Picture yourself here: frying up your fresh-caught walleye as the sun sets…

Catching your own fish for supper while intimately exploring the shoreline of a lake adds so much to a wilderness canoeing experience. Quetico’s exceptional fishing opportunities complement its reputation as a world-class wilderness canoeing destination.

Water, water all around…

The park itself, located in northwestern Ontario south of Hwy 11 and the town of Atikokan along the Canadian border with Minnesota, protects an immense swath of rugged Canadian Shield. It has an area of over 450,000 hectares and protects 2943 lakes and rivers.

That’s a lot of water.

misty Quetico lake
Saganaga Lake, shrouded in mist

In fact, 21% or 101,000 hectares of Quetico is either a lake or a river, most of which are interconnected or joined by short portages, making for an ideal canoeing landscape.

And, if you’re the type to bring your fishing rod on your canoe trip, you’ll find an ideal fishing landscape as well.

A Quetico canoeist with a walleye
Walleye live throughout the park and are easiest to catch in the evening as it gets dark. Photo: Shannon Walsh.

An angler’s paradise

Quetico is in a part of Ontario where populations of lake trout and walleye are often found in the same lake. Throughout the park, there are many lakes where it is possible for anglers to catch walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, and northern pike in the SAME DAY on the SAME LAKE.

Quetico has been protected for over 100 years, and motorboats are prohibited. As a result, the lakes and rivers in the park receive very little angling pressure. Aquatic research and monitoring in the park has shown that fish populations in the park have structures comparable to what you would expect for a completely natural population.

This means that, in general, Quetico has healthy populations of fish of all ages and sizes. So healthy, in fact, that there is a lake in Quetico that is known to have the highest biomass of lake trout of any lake in Ontario.

That’s a lot of fish.

Backcountry fishing at Quetico
Smallmouth bass were introduced to Quetico and have now established themselves throughout the park. They are excellent eating and easy to catch during paddling season.

Sustainable fishing

Quetico doesn’t take its healthy fish populations for granted though. Lakes in the park are regularly monitored by Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and special fishing regulations apply in the park prohibiting the use of organic bait and barbed hooks.

Organic fishing baits (or the water they’re stored in) can introduce harmful aquatic invasive species, so if you visit Quetico to fish, plan accordingly and pack artificial fishing baits only.

When you arrive at a park entry station to pick up your permits, you can also take the time to read education materials and learn more about aquatic invasive species threatening the park and how you can help prevent their spread during your canoe trip.

MNRF research with fish
A Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry researcher holds a large lake trout during monitoring activities in the park.

Where and when to find the fish

Fishing in the park is usually best in early summer after walleye season opens, but fish remain easy to catch throughout the summer.

That said, they won’t just jump into the canoe.

Quetico canoe tripLuckily, Lac La Croix First Nation, an Anishinaabe community adjacent to the southwest corner of Quetico, is home to many experienced fishing guides who know Quetico’s lakes better that anyone.

There are also over 30 outfitters on the Canadian and American sides of the border who can help to gear you up for a Quetico trip, and provide camping and fishing advice.

The park itself also has an information line that you can call for assistance planning your trip to the park at 1-807-597-2753 and a webpage with helpful trip-planning information.

Here are some suggested backcountry routes to get you started.

Why not give Quetico’s fishing a try this year? You won’t be disappointed.