The Wonders of Our Canadian Shield Lakes

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Love a Day at the Lake
Gerry Cariou
By Gerry Cariou

Gerry Cariou is the Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country.

Last Updated: October 29, 2018

A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of their own nature. ~Henry David Thoreau~

More Lakes Than People...

When you count the number of people that live in the Sunset Country Travel Region and then the number of lakes that are here, there really are more lakes than people, about 25,000 more in fact. Not many other regions in Canada (or the world for that matter) can boast something like that. The sheer number of lakes, the vast spaces they cover and the life they support is truly amazing. Lakes are part of who we are up here, and we'd love to share them with you!

While the majority of our visitors come here to go fishing, they often leave with something much more than memories of big fish. It is the time out on the water, the scenic vistas, the conversations in the boat with friends and family, and the natural beauty of the shorelines that really stick with you, and make you want to come back again, and again.

I want to encourage everyone who reads this article to visit Ontario's Sunset Country in 2018 - or whenever you can

Here is my top 10 list of reasons why I love a day on the lake:

Reason # 1: The Shoreline

The saying goes that every picture tells a story and the same can be said about the shoreline on our wilderness lakes. Whether it's boulder-studded, a sandy beach, a weed line or a high cliff, each stretch of shoreline offers a different visual. My personal favorites are those shorelines with giant protruding outcrops - stone shelves a billion or more years old exposed at the surface for all to see. Some are covered in extraordinary colors of lichen such as orange or visible lines showing the various water levels over the years - a story in itself of the ever-changing ebbs and flows of nature. 

Some shorelines are memorable to me because of the fish I came across like the one pictured below at Eagle Lake. On either side of those two boulders is a very large muskie that likes to follow top-water baits - but not to bite them - the experience of many a muskie angler. I initially took the picture so I would remember the spot when I return this year. But in the late evening light, those boulders shone like diamonds above the water and even though I was frustrated about an uncooperative muskie, it was like heaven on earth being there. Just sitting alone and listening to a loon off in the distance. For a while, I even forgot about the uncooperative muskie, but only for a while...

Take a gander at a shoreline, every one has it's own story to tell...this one of a big muskie that just wouldn't commit to biting my top-raider!

Reason # 2: Reflections

Early morning is a wonderful time of day as the wind is often calm and the water's surface like glass. It's at this time, or just before sunset when the reflections off the lake are truly awe-inspiring. The fishing is usually pretty good at this time of the day so as long as they aren't biting, you have the opportunity to see mirror images of the land on the surface of the lake. It's an even better experience if you are paddling in a canoe or kayak as not only can you see reflections, the calm water often reveals what's under the surface as well. I've seen some interesting things at this time of day, probably the most interesting was watching a common loon chase down small bait fish. It was pretty cool and the fish never stood a chance of escaping. 

Paddling is a great way to explore our lakes. 

Still calm water means incredible reflections.

Reason # 3: Swimming

Sure, it's Canada and yes we have our share of cold weather. But by mid-June of each year, the lakes in Sunset Country are warm enough to swim in and as someone who lives here year-round, I strongly encourage you to go swimming on your summer vacation. From wilderness beaches to jumping off sheer cliffs to swimming in the middle of the lake, on a hot day a refreshing dip is just what the doctor ordered. If you try jumping off a cliff just make sure the "landing area" is deep enough and free of any underwater boulders before you take the plunge! 

Cliff-jumping into one of our freshwater lakes is an exhilarating experience - just make sure the landing area is safe before you jump!

Reason # 4: History

While it may seem odd that history makes the list let me tell you why I included it. Just by observation, you can tell a lot about our lakes' natural and human history. For example, you can see the high water mark on the shoreline rocks or look at the forest succession along ridges and outcrops that may have been affected by naturally occurring forest fires. From there you can guess when the fire occurred and actually see the rate of forest regeneration through the types and size of the new plant growth.

But it's human history, specifically that of this region's indigenous peoples, that make our lakes a historical treasure trove. Ancient rock paintings, some many centuries old tell the story of a time long ago. After all this time, these paintings still tell the story of what food they had, animals they saw or other people they came across. Hunting and trading went on in these parts centuries before the arrival of Europeans and that history is depicted in rock art on the cliff walls surrounding some lakes. Respect is the operative word here as these truly are cultural treasures so you can look but never touch.

Indigenous rock paintings on Lake of the Woods.

Reason # 5: Autumn

The color change is fast and fleeting in these parts and usually starts around the second week of Septemeber. With our mixed deciduous and conifer forest cover, the contrasting colors are really something to see. Yellow predominates but the occasional maple or shrub provides that red, purple or orange burst that can really stand out, especially when viewed from a boat. Trees, in general, are another highlight of a trip to the lake - some grow out horizontally from a rock face roots in the small cracks holding on in a battle with gravity.  You'll scratch your head figuring out how they manage to grow out of solid rock cliffs.

With the arrival of Autumn, the colour palette changes to yellows, reds and conifer green! Photo Credit: Kevin Palmer

Reason # 6: Beaches

When I'm plying the lakes in Sunset Country I love to search out new wilderness beaches. I have a son with special needs and he and I fish together all the time. But a day on the lake with Matthew involves more than just fishing. His calling is swimming and for him, it is about finding a new beach to swim at. These beaches are ideal places to go ashore and have a rest, get out of the sun for a while and have your lunch. It's an awesome feeling discovering a beach you know you'll have all to yourself. 

Reason # 7: Wildlife

The Boreal Forest in Ontario's Sunset Country covers an area close to 60,000 square miles. The Boreal and the lakes within it are home to exceptional wildlife populations. Hundreds of songbirds nest here each summer and we're famous for bald eagles, white pelicans, and loons. There are big animals too, moose, whitetail deer, black bear, timber wolves, and lynx to name a few.  When you in a boat on the lake, you have a better chance of seeing wildlife so always look around you to see what may be walking on the shoreline or flying above your head.

Seeing wildlife is part of the experience. This nice looking bear was seen eating greens on the edge of a marshy area in a back bay.

Reason # 8: Waterfalls

Just about everybody loves the sound of cascading water and when you're in a boat, there's few things prettier than seeing a waterfall flow into the lake. Our 70,000 lakes are one big system of interconnected waterways and many lakes have small creeks or even small rivers that drain into them and connect them with other lakes.  The waterfalls range from huge - for example Kakabeka Falls - to tiny, a small creek flowing into the lake. What they all have in common is their beauty and in many cases, their ability to produce fish for the anglers that fish in front of them. 

Water flowing between lakes

Reason # 9: Fishing

Since I have fishing listed at # 9 you can probably figure out that this list is NOT in order of preference. Because, like many of you, a day at the lake to me means fishing and it's the part I love the most. When you live up here like I do, it's easy to go fishing since there are so many lakes. I can pick lakes by the species I feel like catching that day - so there are good trout lakes, walleye lakes, bass lakes and yes, muskie lakes. Every lake is good for pike lol!  Some of our lakes have 8 species in them, so you can catch a crappie in the morning and move to different water and go walleye or bass fishing in the afternoon. How fun is that?

Learn more about fishing in Sunset Country.

The author with a decent-sized pike

Reason # 10: Family

Last and certainly not least, I love spending a day at the lake with my family almost as much as I like fishing - but please, don't tell my wife I said that. Seriously though, any time you get to spend with family is a good time. When that time spent is at the lake, well, it's the best of times. My family takes an extended trip every summer to a campground on Lake of the Woods. Our time together is often spent around the campfire, at a beach out on the lake, or fishing in the boat. These times together have generated great memories for me over the years and they'll do the same for you!

The family having fun swimming at the lake

Any Day at the Lake is a Good Day!

So there you have it, my top 10 reasons why I love a day at the lake. I could have added several more but maybe we'll save that for another article.

Our member lodges and retailers have everything you need to get out on the water.

We have a free Travel Guide & Fishing Map you can request and we'll mail it to you. This guide lists all our members and has information on things to do, places to stay and much more.