Total Distance: 15 km
Duration: 3 days
Number of Portages: 8 (both ways)
Total Portage Distance: approx. 2400 m
Level of Difficulty: Novice
Map is copyrighted by and is courtesy of unlostify.com. It is available for purchase online -- my route is marked in blue.
In the winter of 2017-18, I decided to get more serious about canoe tripping. By the end of the winter, I had read most of Kevin Callan's and Hap Wilson's guidebooks and watched a ton of online videos from the Happy Camper Kevin Callan, Backcountry Angling Ontario, Northern Scavengers and Explore The Backcountry. Look up these YouTubers to get your fix of backcountry video reports.
I also bought a food dehydrator and began dehydrating my meals to go on more extended trips and to lighten the load on longer ones. I was also ready for my first solo trip.
My brother had mentioned how good the bass fishing was on Shark Lake at the south end of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and how nice the beach sites were on the lake, so I decided to give it a try. Besides, the Coon Lake access point was only about a 25-minute drive north of my house. Logging on to the Ontario Parks website, I discovered that site 453 was still available, the one right next to the put-in from the southern ponds, so I hopped on it. I was eager to get out and fish on the opening day of bass season.
Day 1 - Racoon Lake to Shark Lake
So, on the Friday of the fourth weekend of June, I left work, stopped off at the house to get my canoe and gear, and was pulling into the Racoon Lake access point by 5:00 pm.
Paddling the length of Racoon was fine as the conditions were good. It was a crowded cottage lake that was busy with people coming to the cottage for the weekend. At the northern end, I found the portage into Little Turtle. It had a very steep ascent right from the outset for about 100m and then it came to a cottage road that serviced the properties on the north end of the lake. Crossing it, I made my way along the remainder of the portage, which thankfully levelled off to the put-in on Little Turtle.
After putting in, it was just a short paddle to the north end of the lake to the very short portage into Adams. A couple of young men occupied site 470 across the small bay from the portage. The site was high on a steep rock face and looked bushy. These guys had a raging fire going in the fire ring.
The paddle through Adams was even faster as it moved left around a bend and then over a short lift-over next to a small swift into Sawmill Lake, which was more of a pond than a lake, though there were some pretty rock faces on the western shore.
The portage from Sawmill into the south end of Shark was fairly easy though it does ascend a rock face right at the take-out, which was a little tricky to negotiate without bouncing the ends of the canoe on the rocks. It rises a little more and then passes to the right of a waterfall.
There was a little trail that led down to the falls for a view. It was a bit cloudy on that evening and the trail was in the trees, so when I tried to capture a photo, it came out dark and grainy. It was a very pretty spot though and is worth a look if on this portage. I tend to investigate things like this on the return trip of a double carry.
The put-in on Shark Lake was in a weedy back bay and my booking, Site 453, was on the rock slab to the right of the narrows that led into Shark Lake proper.
I took out on the site and started bringing my gear up to the tent pad and picnic table. One nice thing about Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is that every site comes equipped with a picnic table and a thunderbox. One is positively glamping in this park.
On the way up to the site, upon spotting the fellow you see in the picture here, I thought I would be sharing the site with a friend, but alas, it was only the shell. The animal within had long been ravaged by a predator earlier.
After setting up that evening, I got a fire going, cooked up some steak on the grill and enjoyed some beautiful colours as the sunset. The mosquitoes were surprisingly not overbearing given that it was prime mozzy time at the end of June.
Day 2 - Shark Lake
I woke up tired on Saturday morning. Evidently, I chose to camp under a Whip-poor-will concert venue.
First Nations legend has it that the call of the Whip-poor-will is an omen of death. For me, on this evening, it was an omen of insomnia. Lying there, listening to this fellow incessantly calling to his friends across the lake for the entire night made me think that perhaps these cacophonous creatures are now on the threatened species list due to red-eyed, sleep-deprived canoe trippers going postal in the backcountry with their paddles, but then I reminded myself what thoughts a middle-aged man might have on only a few hours of sleep.
In reality, it could have been much worse. The sound of the Whip-poor-will holds some value of nostalgia for me. I spent several summers at my dad's family camp outside of Sudbury and these birds were common there at that time. The sound of the whip-poor-will always reminds me of those awesome times as a kid. Tired as I was, I'd rather hear that than the night-time chorus of honking horns that I experienced in nearly two decades of living in sprawling Asian cities.
That day, I spent the entire day fishing and exploring the lake. I was loving the freedom that going solo was allowing me. Though it was weird to not have anyone to talk to and believe me, by the end of the weekend I was having entire conversations with myself, it was great doing what I wanted, when I wanted.
The weather was cloudy and fairly cool, which made it a nice day to paddle and explore. It kept the bugs at bay. It was a tad windy at times, which made solo fishing from a canoe a bit difficult. I simply trolled the perimeter of the lake. Shark Lake is stocked with Splake, but I wasn't going after them. That day was the opening day of bass season, and boy, did I catch a lot. I stopped counting after 20, though the vast majority of them were a pound or under.
Sites 450 and 451 at the eastern end of the lake are the beach sites. Some argue that they are the best sites on the lake, but I tend to prefer sites that have a deep rocky entry -- better for swimming. They are on a nice beach though, and the tent pads/fire ring are nestled in a lovely canopy of pine. 450 was occupied by a family with two young children and they looked like they were having a blast.
I love seeing young children out exploring the backcountry with their parents. Hopefully, we can get some of the next generations away from their Playstations and phones and out in the wilderness. Without an appreciation for the wilderness, who will be left to protect it?
Site 451 was empty though it was booked. I stopped in to have a quick poke around (below). It was a nice site though the beach on 450 looked much nicer. Tucked in the forest, it was also a bit buggy.
On the way to the beach sites, I passed site 452 on the south end of the lake as the two young fellows in their 20s who were staying there were loading up their canoes. Greeting them, they told me they were heading for the portage into Vixen and were doing a northern route from the southern ponds to Long Lake. They were having a good time.
Getting back to my site for lunch, I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon relaxing with a novel in the hammock. I fished again a bit in the late afternoon and called it an early night.
Day 3 - Shark Lake to Racoon Lake
I slept much better than the previous night and was awoken by a couple of early morning paddlers casting in the narrow bay in front of my site. They had just portaged in from Sawmill and were hauling in bass on some scented rubber worms. I got up, took my time puttering around camp and eventually got the canoe loaded and back to the portage into Sawmill (below) by late morning.
I took my time paddling back out and spent the entire day fishing the perimeters of both Adams and Little Turtle Lakes. I caught a 2lb bass on each and decided to keep them. I kept them on a stringer and brought them back across Racoon Lake and put them in a bag to take back home, where I filleted them and put them on the barbecue for the family that evening.
It was a great little adventure and a good introduction to solo canoe tripping; it was far enough into the backcountry where I felt like I was in the wilderness. Shark Lake is a fantastic weekend get-a-way with nice sites and great bass fishing.
Toward the end of August in 2020, a little over two years after the trip reported above, I went into Shark Lake for a quick one-night solo trip. It was mid-week and I wanted a cheeky little get-a-way for one night to do a bit of fishing. I was able to book the beach site #450.
While it was wonderful to book this sought-after site, I was a little dismayed to discover the horrible carnage on the beach. Some very thoughtless people seemed to think it would be okay to catch a poop-load of bass, clean the fish on the beach and leave the bones all over the place. Here is a photo of the beach when I landed there.
And that was just a small section of it. There were bones and scales all up the beach. This site is popular with families with small children. In addition to being unsightly, dirty and an animal attractant, no one can now enjoy the wonderful feeling of walking on this beach bare-footed for fear of cutting one's foot open on a fish bone.
Also, this lake is not that large. After seeing how many bones were left lying around I wondered how many fish were these people taking out of the lake! Did they keep every single little bass that they pulled out? If everyone did that, in a very short time, there would be no fish left for anyone else to experience the thrill of reeling in a smallmouth bass. Indeed, on this trip, I caught far fewer fish than I did two years earlier.
Fellow campers...use your brains and be considerate. If you practice Leave-no-trace camping, other people will be able to enjoy the same area after you are finished with it. If you are cleaning fish, please do so away from the campsites and dispose of the fish carcasses properly.