Row boat bassin’ in the Muskokas

by Gord Ellis | July 14, 2015

rowboatGord EllisMy family recently spent five days at a lovely cottage in Muskoka country. We were on a lake located about 20 minutes from Parry Sound. It was a classic shield lake with large pines and rocky outcrops. I’d done some intel via the internet before we went and learned the lake had pike, sunfish and bass. That was enough information to make me pack some fishing gear.

The cabin was one we had rented online and a picture of the place showed a canoe on shore. Since it was 13 hours from my home in Thunder Bay, there would be no trailering my rig. I was going to use what was there and a canoe would work. On arrival, however, a trip to the dock revealed a 12-foot tin boat with oars. A look around the shed uncovered an older, rather large 9.9 outboard and a trolling motor with no battery. The decision was made then and there to fish old school and row my boat.

On the first morning, as my family slumbered, I grabbed my rods and tackle, tip-toed out the door and hustled down to the dock. The row boat had a little water in it, and so some bailing was required. That chore over, I loaded in the gear, clipped on my PFD and got comfortable. It had been years since I’d been in a 12-foot boat, never mind one without a motor.

The oarlocks were pretty squeaky and made a sound not unlike a cat might make walking on hot pavement.

Yet it felt good and familiar. Once the ropes were freed from the dock, it was time to negotiate the actual rowing. It felt a bit odd to be sitting with my back to the bow, but that’s how you row a boat. The oars felt good in my hand and I pulled away from the dock with some deep pulls. The oarlocks were pretty squeaky and made a sound not unlike a cat might make walking on hot pavement.

The screech was a little annoying at first, but soon became part of the whole experience. It felt good to be propelling a boat with muscle power. It was not too long before I reached a small pile of rocks that looked like bass country. I quietly put the oars up and grabbed a spinning rod. On the end was a favourite bass-coloured Chug Bug. The flat calm of the morning was perfect for topwater fishing.

The lure went out toward the point, hit the water and with just one pop, disappeared in a boil. Bass! The fish jumped once, then ran deep, swimming right under the boat. It was not a monster, maybe 16 inches, but the whole experience was taking me back to my teens, when canoes and row boats where how we got it done bass fishing. I had no net, so when the bass came close I carefully lipped it. After a quick fish selfie the smallmouth was unhooked and sent back to the depths. A good start.
All in all, it was a fun morning, and a pretty good workout.
The action was not hot and heavy, and I had to move around a fair bit to get bites. As the wind came up, it became more challenging not only to row the boat, but to fish. I got pretty good at casting, then making a minor oar adjustment, before reeling in.

All in all, it was a fun morning, and a pretty good workout.

Over the next few days, I rediscovered the good and not so good of rowboat fishing. The quiet and exercise were a welcome thing, especially on early mornings. but run and gun fishing the lake was out of the question. I fished maybe a fifth of the lake in five days – not very much really. Yet the water I did fish was thoroughly probed, and being limited in reach forced me to fish with patience.

On the last day, I found a spot that coughed up a couple mid-sized bass on topwater. I drifted down the shore but got no more bites. So I rowed back up to the rock-pile, switched to a smoke tube and dropped it into the same spot the other fish had come from. Immediately a bass engulfed the tube and ran deep. It felt like a good one and when it finally raced to the top and broke the surface, a solid fish of 18 inches showed itself.

That bass fought with determination, and when it finally was in hand, there was a real sense of satisfaction. I’m not sure I’ll be retiring my outboard motors just yet, but rowboating for bass was the kind of reset we all can use from time to time.