Noganosh Lake

Total Distance: 42 km (from Ess Narrows to the south end of Noganosh and back to Ess Narrows)

Duration:  3 days (more can be added if visiting Last Lake, Mud Lake, John Lake and the Magnetawan R.)

Number of Portages:

Total Portage Distance: 1022 m 

Level of Difficulty: Novice (though wind can be an issue on the Pickerel River and at the north end of Noganosh)

Maps provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red.  

Noganosh Lake seems to be one of those routes that is now on everyone's bucket list. It's only about an hour north of Parry Sound, doesn't have long portages en route, has great bass and pike fishing, and best of all, it's free to camp there...for now. The problem is that the word is out. I arrived there on a weekday in mid-July, 2020, and it was busy for a non-operating park.


Day 1 - Ess Narrows to Noganosh Lake

Having to take care of a few things on departure day, I left Peterborough a couple of hours later than originally planned. For this reason, I wasn't able to shove off from my put-in at Ess Narrows until after 2:30 pm. It had been raining on and off for the day and it didn't appear that it wanted to let up any time soon. It was going to be a damp paddle. 

On the bright side, the wind was non-existent and the river would have been like glass if it were not for the sporadic showers that kept reappearing. I had expected a lot more activity and boat traffic on this tributary of the Pickerel River that connected to Dollars Lake to the north, but I had the entire river to myself from Highway 522 to Kawigamog Lake. It must have been the crappy weather; even all the cottages that dotted the western shoreline near the lake seemed to be empty on this rainy weekday. 

There were a couple of campsites on the east side of the river that were occupied by fishermen with aluminum fishing boats tied ashore. These were the only people I saw on the entire way into Smokey Lake.


I made my way to "The Elbow" at Kawimagog Lake where I passed some pretty, rocky islands in the narrow channel north of Cincinnati Island as I paddled east. There, I was away from any potential boats in the main part of the river.  Besides, this narrow channel was quite scenic. There were large cliffs and rock formations on its northern shore.

The channel got very narrow and a bit swampy at its eastern end, but it was still very easy to get through in a canoe. After emerging back out into the river, I made my way across to the southern shore and eventually found the portage into Smoky Creek next to a hunting camp, which looked abandoned in light of a pandemic lockdown.


The portage was short, well-used and fairly easy. I was entering the provincial park at that point. There was a wooden box near the start of the walk that contained an old guest book for visitors to record their presence in the park.  The put-in had a bit of a drop to it, but it was still easily manageable to load the canoe. At that point, I took a photo of the lovely wetlands I was about to paddle through.

I meandered through the creek for a bit and was enjoying the silence and solitude as I made my way south. I turned around to snap a shot of the landscape.  

Eventually, the creek narrowed and came to a very large beaver dam. The short 40m portage to the left of it climbed up a steep bluff and had a rather steep rocky descent back down to the creek. From there, it is another 15-minute paddle to the longer 318m portage into Smoky Lake. Again, I took a photo of the creek behind me from the take-out. 

The portage from Smoky Creek to Smoky Lake is easy and wide. After the put-in, the creek headed in an easterly direction for a bit and then veered right to the southwest as it widened and entered Smoky Lake proper. The first things I saw as I entered the lake were the islands and the cabins of the fly-in Tornado fishing lodge. 

Past the lodge, the lake opened up as I paddled south. Getting through the narrows about halfway down the lake, I entered the southern portion of Smoky, which had more of a wild feel to it with the absence of any cabins or structures on the lake. I made note of a nice-looking campsite on the southeastern shore. At the south end of Smoky lake, there was a very narrow channel leading to a large swampy pond area. I was able to pass through it without getting out of the canoe but nearly ran over a humongous snapping turtle that was poking his nose out of the water.


After a short paddle and through another narrow channel, the swamp disappeared and I was into Noganosh Lake. There were a couple of islands filling the narrow channel. One sported an occupied, sweet-looking campsite across from a cabin on the western shore. 

Making my way into the large bay at the north end of Noganosh, I aimed for the island site at the southern part of the bay but quickly saw that it, too, was occupied. On the northern shore, just to the west of the channel from Smoky were two sites. One was occupied by a young family that were out fishing in their canoe. I waved as I paddled past them to investigate the other site that appeared to be vacant.


Arriving at the site, I was dismayed by what I found. The site was a disaster. There was garbage and broken glass everywhere. The firepit alone was littered with wrappers, uneaten food and large, half-charred, uncut logs. What a shame, because the site would have been nice otherwise, on a large rocky point, overlooking the bay.


In the photo below, it doesn't seem that bad; but in reality, it was much worse. I was angry and disgusted at the thoughtlessness of others and didn't bother to take any more shots. I would have stayed and tried to do some work to clean up the site, but it was already 7 pm and I wouldn't have had time to do it all and set up camp before dark. Besides, I didn't fancy staying at a site that had a ton of food scraps strewn all over it. The area is known for its bear population.

So, I hopped back in the canoe and paddled south across the big bay, waved to the fellow occupying the small island site and through the narrows next to the large island that dominated this bay. The weather seemed to be clearing up and was just hoping to find an empty site in decent condition before dark.  


It was a nice paddle moving between islands and around rocky points. The sun was getting low and began to peek from under the cloud ceiling. The weather was clearing up! I was using a map posted by Jon Kelly from Backcountry Angling Ontario (now called Lost Lakes) and Jon had some campsite locations posted at the south end on Noganosh. Upon arriving at these locations though, as I previously mentioned, I found the ministry "No Camping" signs. So, I paddled back up the western side of the large island in the middle of this large southern bay of the lake and found a nice, vacant site in a back bay. There, I set up camp, including the No Bug Zone net. All the rain of the day had brought the mosquitoes out in droves. 


By the time I set up camp, the sun was going down. It was too buggy to hang out by a fire, so I ate dinner in the bug shelter, climbed into the hammock, read my book for a bit and drifted off to sleep. I had paddled over 25kms alone and was bushed. 


Day 2 - Noganosh Lake to Smoky Lake

I woke up to sunshine. It was a beautiful morning! Yes! I quickly got a coffee going and snapped a quick photo of the site. The fire pit was on a nice rocky bluff overlooking the back bay. The site was spacious with a lot of spots for tents amongst the pines. The only issue was that it was in a heavily wooded area and because it was in a back bay, the site was protected from the wind; the mosquitoes were thick. 

After a bit of oatmeal, I thought I would see what this back bay had to offer in terms of fish. For the better part of an hour, I paddled the shoreline adjacent to my site. I managed to pull a few bass in, only one of any size, but to be honest, I was not getting as many hits as I had expected. Noganosh is known for its good fishing.  

Despite the marginal fishing success, I was thoroughly enjoying being out on the water in the sunshine, especially considering how dire the weather had been the day prior.  

The wind was starting to gust a bit, and I knew that if it was starting at this early hour, it would most likely be fairly strong by the afternoon. I decided to break camp and head back up to that sweet site that I had spotted at the southeast end of Smoky. There, I would have better views of the lake, be in a place where the wind can whisk away the mosquitoes, AND I knew that it was vacant. 

I was back on the water again by 10 am with my canoe fully loaded and heading north. By the time I reached the bay with the big cross channel that leads into Last Lake, the wind had come up from the west. I was glad that I had gotten up and out early. 


Getting back up to the swampy area between Noganosh and Smoky, I was better able to take a few photos without fear of rain ruining the shots like the day before.

By the time I reached the site and set up camp, the wind was howling. Originally, I had planned to paddle into the Last Lake and John Lake areas to do some fishing, but I didn't fancy a solo battle against the wind upon returning. So, I tried a bit of fishing near my site and spent a couple of hours napping in my hammock. It was glorious. 

I was awoken from my mid-day slumber by the floatplane taking off from the Tornado Resort. It circled above my site and headed in a northeasterly direction. I wondered if they were picking up any customers -- unlikely, given the pandemic.


By that time, there were whitecaps on the lake, so I just hung around camp for the rest of the day. I tried fishing from shore but didn't have any luck. It was nice just hanging out, reading, swimming and relaxing. 


I gathered a bunch of firewood and had myself a great fire that evening. The wind got calmer as it got closer to dusk, as it often does. 

Just before sundown, the wind all but disappeared and the lake got relatively calm. There wasn't a cloud in the sky; it was a beautiful moment after two days of rain and wind.  

I was so happy enjoying the moment that I even took a rare selfie, covid hair included.

Day 3 - Smoky Lake to Ess Narrows

I woke up feeling a little tired. At about 2:30 in the morning, I had had a visitor to my campsite. My friend, Barry the Barred Owl, decided to hang out on a branch right above my hammock. He then proceeded to have a conversation with his mate across the lake. For what seemed like ages, I was serenaded by the trademark and rather loud, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for yoooooouuuu?" hoot of the Barred Owl -- right above my head. It was quite amazing. If you are not familiar with the hoot of the barred owl, click on the link below.  

This went on for the better part of a half-hour despite my eventual responses of, "No one is @#$%ing cooking for anyone! It's three o'clock in the morning!"  (I didn't really say that...I mean, who talks to owls alone in the forest!? I might have been thinking it, though.)


Eventually, Barry got the hint and flew away. I soon heard him calling out a little further away. I drifted off back to sleep, but for some reason, dreamt of the TV show Hell's Kitchen.


I (re)awoke to a cloudy day. At the outset, I had planned on a 4-day trip where I would have time to explore more lakes to the east, but on that morning I could smell rain in the forecast. Taking advantage of only a light breeze, I got on the water before breakfast and paddled around parts of Smoky Lake in the hope of landing a monster bass. I only managed to hook a couple of little ones. 


The weather seemed to be getting gloomier, and while I was fishing fairly close to the Tornado Lodge, I spotted someone on the dock. I paddled over and politely asked the lady if she would mind sharing access to her wifi to check out the weather forecast. (I didn't have any service on the lake.) She graciously shared the password with me and my nose for sniffing out a storm was, unfortunately, working well. Indeed, there was a special weather alert calling for thunderstorms on the way all that evening and continuing into the following day. It wasn't looking great. 


I was a little bummed because I wanted to have one more day to explore the lakes east of Noganosh, but it just wasn't in the cards on this trip. There was no point in staying a third night just to hunker down in a storm and paddle out the following day in possible lightning. 


I decided I would fish for a few more hours, eat lunch and paddle back to the car that afternoon before the storm set in. Seeing that I had very little luck on Smoky (Tornado Lodge guests fished it out, perhaps?), I decided to once again revisit Noganosh and try my luck there. 


So, after breakfast I found myself paddling through the swampy narrows between Smoky and Noganosh for the third time. I spent a couple of hours fishing among the islands and a couple of back bays at the top end of Noganosh. I had bass lures on but wasn't getting any luck whatsoever. Hearing that there was also pike in these waters, I switched to a pike spoon and got a nice eating-sized pike on my second cast just off a weed bed. He put up a good fight for a pike; it was great to have a bit of a battle after a couple of hours of nothing.  As I was removing the lure from his mouth, he lurched, popped right out of the net and into my boat. Ughh..pike slime all over the bottom of the canoe. The nickname "snot rocket" came back to mind.

Soon after, I heard a thunderclap in the distance. Yikes. I beast-paddled back to Smoky Lake to get out of dodge. It looked like the storm would be coming earlier than expected. 


It didn't take long to pack up; I was heading back through Smoky Creek by mid-afternoon. Thunder could continue to be heard in the distance. On the longer portage, I had passed a group of party paddlers heading into the park with coolers of beer in tow. I asked them if they were aware of the weather forecast, and they just shrugged.


I certainly hope they were fine because it got ugly that night and for most of the following day. It was one of the bigger storms of the summer. Everything south of Sudbury got slammed. There were also tornado warnings.

The rest of the paddle back to the car was uneventful, if not a little stressful. I could feel the heaviness in the air and knew it was just a matter of time before hell would be unleashed. There wasn't any wind, or sounds of birds chirping -- just still, heavy, humid air. I paddled hard to beat the storm. By the time I was heading back up the channel toward Dollars Lake, the thunder was getting closer and louder. I was just pulling up to Ess narrows when a lightning bolt flashed nearby and a huge clap rocked the area.


Whew! I had made it back just in the nick of time. I got drenched loading the car and fastening the canoe. Had I been just 10-minutes later, I would have been stuck on the water in the middle of a violent storm, every canoeist's nightmare.


I silently thanked my lucky stars and the kind lady at Tornado for allowing me the use of her wifi to check the weather.


In terms of weather, it was an eventful little 3-day trip in a beautiful area. Though mother nature didn't allow me to see more of the lakes in the area, it did provide me with an excellent excuse to return!