THE REPORT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES OF THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO 1900
PRINTED BY ORDER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY L. K. CAMERON,
PRINTER TO THE KING’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY
THE RIVER NEPIGON
The River Nepigon, which connects Lakes Nepigon and Superior some sixty miles east of Port Arthur, and which is said to be the head waters of the St. Lawrence, is our most noted fishing river, and is admitted by those who have whipped its waters, to be the finest trout “stream” in America, if not the world.
“Stream”, however, conveys a very erroneous and vague idea of the magnitude of the river, unless one were in the habit of so speaking of the great Niagara, for the Nepigon possesses in but a slightly lesser degree the “ whirling and tumbling water, and the eddies and currents leaping and charging from side to side in eternal confusion” of that river.
Here is the virgin home of the speckled trout , specimens having been taken weighing five, seven and even ten pounds; and here is the angler’s paradise.
When they are rising well, the fun is fast and furious, for the trout of this region are uneaqualled for vigor and activity.
No more delightful outing could be imagined, desired or experienced than is afforded by a fortnight spent on the glorious Nepigon. The scenery alone would well repay a visit, not to speak of the angling. In its sinuous windings it recalls the famous Saguenay, and it is a matter of constant wonder what splendor the next turn will reveal. In some places the shores are banked with foliage to the water’s edge, while in others bold cliffs rear themselves majestically to dizzy heights, and many islands add charm to the view.
Immediately one begins the ascent, he feels that he has been transported to another world. Dull care is left behind, the anxieties of life cease to oppress, the very atmosphere seems to be intoxicating, and he gladly yields to the fascination of his surroundings.
After leaving Lake Helen and passing the little Indian Village at the mouth of the river, the prospect is unbroken by settlement or habitation, and is one delightful expanse of nature’s most exquisite handiwork. Six miles more and the first camping place – Camp Alexander – is reached, and this initial portage has to be made. Here tents are pitched, and preparations begun for spending the night. Some of the guides repair to the forest, and in a few moments return heavily laden with large bundles of fragrant spruce boughs, which they adeptly convert into restful couches. Others have meantime been preparing the evening meal; the call to “wee-sin” is a welcome sound, and soon the camp is lulled to rest by the never ceasing song of the river.
No reliable fishing is to be obtained below Camp Alexander, though the impatient angler has occasionally been rewarded with a rise where a fly has been cast in the eddies along the way.
The river falls in its course of 20 miles between Lake Nepigon and Camp Alexander some three hundred feet; so that for this distance falls and rapids follow in quick succession, and good fishing is to be had almost anywhere between these points.
The guides are either Indians or half-breeds, and as a rule, are most attentive and trustworthy. To be properly equipped, two guides are required for each canoe, unless one is himself an adept canoe man, and has a fondness for hard work, for it requires a strong arm, a skilful hand, an unerring eye, and an active brain to safely pilot a craft through these turbulent waters into coveted haunts. Indeed, as the struggle against the rushing waters becomes fiercer, the muscles and veins of the swarthy guides stand out like cables. The guides are anxious that the tourist should have good fishing and the rivalry is keen as to which boat shall bring in the largest trout; and (when )a fish is struck their exclamations of delight are second only to the uproar (created) by the swift running waters. In places where the current is too strong for paddling, and not angry enough to necessitate a portage, the guides pole the canoe along; and, as inch by inch headway is made, it seems a battle of the weak against the strong, wonder prevails as to which will ultimately triumph, and speculation arises as to what consequence would follow the snapping of the trusted spruce or the capsizing of the canoe. Occasionally such a contingency arises as the snapping of a pole , but the skilful bowman has never yet proven unequal to the emergency.
Near the head of the river is Virgin Falls – a miniature Niagara. At the foot of the falls may at any time be seen, deporting in the foam, hundreds of whitefish and speckled trout; and the former takes the fly as to the “manner born.” A few miles above the falls is Lake Nepigon itself, a most beautiful sheet of waer, measuring some 70 miles long by 50 miles wide, with a coast line of about 600 miles. The lake is thickly studded with islands – it is estimated some one thousand in all.
The descent of the river is not the least enjoyable part of the trip, and is of course accomplished in a much shorter time, as most of the rapids are “run” in the downward journey. Frequently canoes of several parties may be seen descending a rapid in quick succession – a most thrilling sight.
As the Nepigon is the source of considerable revenue to the Department, and as the number of visitors to it is increasing annually, it had from time to time been suggested by parties who had visited the river that certain improvements should be made which would render a visit thereto more enjoyable and attended with less hardship and inconvenience – such, for instance, as the construction of (landing) places , the improvement of the portages, the making of trails to desirable pools now almost inaccessible, and better sanitary arrangements.
A question had also arisen as to whether certain privileges applied for to the Crown Lands Department would or would not militate to the detriment of these world-renowned fishing grounds. That the Department might be in possession of the special personal knowledge necessary to deal with these matters, and with others as they may arise, a visit of inspection was made by the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner during the month of July.
As an additional outcome of the visit, the undersigned would most strongly urge the desirability of reserving a strip of land on each side of the river, in addition to the one chain (66 feet) already reserved, that the scenery may be properly protected and preserved for all time in its pristine beauty.
Overseer Wm. McKirdy, Nepigon, reports:
“That this year 1900 just closed, from a revenue point of view, has been the most successful in its history, and although this increase of revenue has been secured by riaising the price of fishing permits, visitors are well pleased with the results.”
“The river has been patrolled by Charles de Laronde, overseer, and the provisions of the law maintained, particular attention being given to the sanitary conditions of the camping grounds, on which the pleasure of the trip depends in a great measure.”
“I estimate the amount spent by the tourists at Nepigon at $9,000; this does not include railway, steamboat or hotel expenses.”