Walleye French River Fishing

Walleyes (a.k.a. Pickerel) are known to be a finicky fish. Some anglers describe walleye feeding habits as something of a constant “tap-tap” feeling or a bump, but there are occasions when they are less weary and strike out of instinct; sometimes greedily as they pursue lures ment for large Pike and Musky. While those instances are not unheard of, especially during the early spring and fall months, more often than naught walleye have to be tempted and teased using live bait presentations which account for the vast majority caught.

Walleyes, like perch, are a schooling fish and cluster around structural elements like rock humps, inside turns, breakline transitions, shoals, sunken logs, fallen trees, and docks on the French River Delta. Depending on the time of the season, they will migrate and follow schools of baitfish while other times they will lay in wait near different bottlenecks and flowing current where other fish are migrating. Hunting and catching walleye requires a firm understanding of the river structure and conditions, good boat control, plus an understanding of their feeding habits. These key points are an important part of walleye fishing; whether it be while working a jig and minnow suspended off the bottom, working your rig at a consistent depth, or trolling with harnesses and spinner rigs. 

Various popular techniques and tactics are used for walleye in the French River Delta and Georgian Bay Biosphere Area to catch one of our most popular species.

Live Bait :

Fishing with live bait for walleye is a tried and true tactic for many enthusiasts as it offers wide range of options and various presentations for your potential trophy. Some options that an angler might consider is presenting with a slip sinker or a slip bobber rig, pulled behind a spinner, tipped on a jig, or simply fished with a plain hook and split shot. Minnows, leeches and worms are the three most common live baits used for these picky river and bay fish. Nightcrawlers often match molting crayfish and become the bait of choice.

Below, is a basic seasonal guideline to follow in preparing to fish with live bait for walleyes:

 

Spring: Minnows, Emerald Shiner, Lake Chub, Northern Redbelly Dace, and Fathead Minnows are some of the legal baitfish to use during cooler spring water temperatures.
When Walleyes are feeding on Yellow Perch during the season, perchy patterns are the choice.

 

Summer: Leeches and Nightcrawlers work well during increased water temperatures of the season.

 

Fall: Minnows, Longnose Dace, Emerald Shiner, Blackchin Shiner, Bluntnose Minnow, Fathead Minnow, Blacknose Dace are relatively hardy species and Small Suckers. When Northern Cisco or Tullibee move into the French River, sliver and purple patterns work well.

Always check to make sure you are using legal bait for Ontario to fish for walleye.  The Baitfish Primer is a good reference to determine your bait from local French River bait shops. Nightcrawlers are available at the Bear’s Den Tackle Shop along with rigs, jigs and lures. Nightcrawlers often match the scent of molting crayfish and become the bait of choice.

 

Fishing with Jigs:

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Variety of floating jigs, photo by walleye411.com

Jigs are the most popular lure used for walleye. The angler using this rig can reach the depths where walleyes inhabit. Depending on the depth and season, colour may not be relevant as most walleye anglers tip their jigs with live bait for added attraction and scent for the dark depths.

 

How to work and present your jig depends on the time of year:

When the waters are cold, walleyes are sluggish and require a slow presentation with short gentle taps on the retrieve the best opportunities to catch them. It is not uncommon during this portion of the season to sometimes feel as if you snagged into something or have a sense of them not biting as they may hold onto your bait at a slightly higher depth.

For warmer water, they become more active and may require an intense jigging retrieve.

In both scenarios, however, you must lightly cast your rig or simply drop it off the side of the boat and let your bait sink to the bottom. Then retrieve with a series of twitches and pauses based on the time of year. After each twitch maintain a taut line while the jig sinks back to the bottom. Walleyes usually hit while the jig is sinking due to the appeal of a weakened prey. If your line is not taut you won’t feel a strike, sometimes you will feel a distinctive tap, other times you will feel light pressure as if the jig is hung up. Whenever you feel anything different set the hook. When fishing with jigs a must have is a fast action sensitive rod so you can feel even the lightest taps, the fast action gives the power for an immediate hookset.

 

Bottom Bouncer Slip Sinker Rigs:

bottombouncingwalleyerig2Walleye are abundant in our area and are known for picking up live bait and dropping it as soon as they feel any type of resistance. The slip-sinker rig eliminates the resistance, as a walleye strikes the bait the angler free spools the line allowing the walleye to swim away to eat the bait for a hookset. The slip sinker rig is made up of three components, a hook, sliding weight and a stop. They can be purchased pre-tied at most sport shops or you can make your own. Fishing the slip sinker rig is quite easy, after a cast allow the rig to sink. When you pull the rig the stop catches the sinker as it moves along the bottom allowing the bait to look natural for an easy meal. The sinker is the most important component, it must be heavy enough to get the rig to the bottom. A rule of thumb is 1/8 oz. for every 10 feet of depth. Most anglers use an egg or walking type of sinker, but in vegetation a bullet type sinker works best allowing the rig to slide through the weeds. For hooks the smaller the better, size 6-8 octopus to maintain a natural look. The stops can be a barrel swivel, to make it adjustable a bobber stop or a very small split shot can be used. Most often walleyes relate to bottom structure, leader lengths of 18 to 36 inches works the best. Bottom Bouncer or Loten Floating Jig Walleye Rig are effective for trolling slowly for deep water techniques too.

 

Slip Bobber Rigs:

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Photo Courtesy of walleye411.com

When walleyes suspend at a certain depth on a piece of structure (rockpile, crib, or submerged hump) the slip bobber rig is highly effective by presenting the live bait at a pre set depth, putting the bait right in their face. You can make slip bobber rigs rather easy or buy them at sport shops. To make a slip bobber rig simply start with your stop attached to the fishing line, you can use a piece of string or a rubber band knotted on the line thread on a small bead then the bobber. Add a small split shot below the bobber for balance then tie on a hook size 4-6-8 and bait with a minnow leech or nightcrawler. Remember to hook the head of the worm allowing it to dangle and entice. 

 

Walleye Spinner Rigs:

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Fishing with spinner rigs for walleyes can be used to present minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers for scent and taste with a combination of presenting attracting flash with vibrating motion. You can change your speed according to the conditions. As weeds are emerging, ‘eyes will school around the fresh growth so spin your lure through the area quickly to see if one will attack. Spinner rigs require approximately 2 oz. weighted options of slit shot or mixing and matching sinker weights to get to the depths of 20 feet by adding the weight a few feet ahead of the spinner rig for drifting  or trolling. Most anglers prefer using a bottom bouncer or a three way rig to keep the spinner in contact with the bottom. Shallower areas may only require the weight of a small split shot. Try different depths, breaklines to match your different spinner depths and styles to locate the walleye patterns. 

Trolling:

Allows anglers to cover more water, especially in unfamiliar waters with less time to locate walleye schools. Prior to the introduction of downriggers, side planning boards and diving planes, our grandfathers would cast a spinner rig or a diving crankbait off the back end of the boat in the prop wash as a technique referred to as flat lining.  In high winds, a back troll into the wind may be needed to control your speed. With the new trolling tools offered now fisherman can choose more options to present their baits.  

Downriggers:

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Illustration by hookline-fishing.com

A fishing technique that precisely places lures vertically in large bodies of water. Extremely difficult to do on the French River Delta with changing depths and occasional trenches or other natural obstructions. Certain larger bay sections of the river allow for this method, but be prepared for loss of lures and rigs snagged in underwater structures.

 

Side Planers:

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Highly detailed image from in-fisherman.com and their indepth article.

Similar to a downrigger, this technique spreads fishing lines horizontally on the sides of the boat so you can reach greater depths.

Diving Planes:

A diving device attached to the fishing line that dives on a plane downward and outward. They work well for deep trolling, but the water resistance can force your hook set not to reach the fish unless rigging with a swivel and extra monofilament through another swivel  fastened to a leader and your lure. This allows the planner to slide on your line like a slip sinker and you can set the hook directly against the fish.

Maximizing your walleye catches on the French River in the end hinges on utilizing the right lure, right bait, right presentation and being in the right place to hit the hottest combinations. Enjoy spinning up more French River walleyes on your next trip!

 

Article by Joe Barefoot, M.B.

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Our Logo

After 31 years of ownership for the Bear’s Den Lodge, Art, Brenda, & I thought it would be best to make some revisions and follow through with a New Year’s Resolution of revitalizing ourselves. We are still in the process of working on our project but some brief history of the old logo (left):

When Art Barefoot decided to move to Canada, chasing after his dream, Brenda Barefoot decided the Lodge needed to have a logo that represented the spirit of operation. The original logo started as a doodle by Art when he was inspired by his cocker spaniel playing in the yard. After many different renditions of the dog, this one was modeled into a the familiar Black Bear (with brown tones) that many have come to recognize in magazines and TV shows. Art left his mark with his first name hidden in the front left claw, closest to the grass.

While this logo will still be seen, the newer and modernized logo on the right better represents who we are today. The blue and green are carried over from the original logo, along with the trees and bear. It represents our primary passion for the outdoors and the big game trophy fishing and hunting, along with the natural beauty, scenery, and experiences that many of you expect and love of the French River!

Our passion continues for the protection of the environment, the cultural rich history and culinary experiences all wrapped into who Bear’s Den Lodge has evolved today.

Authored by Joe Barefoot

The Cozy Main Lodge

bearsdenreversed1948Bear’s Den Lodge, a “historical” museum, was built in 1925 for a New York Banker, H. Martin. Mr. Martin hired Bud West, local tourist lodge operator, to build a lodge on the property were an old logging camp used to stand. Bud hired Sandy Mower, Sylvester Ritchie and some of the Thompson family to help with the project.  Photos indicated that 1924 construction started on site. Two years after the lodge was finished, Mr. Martin was unable to continue to visit the lodge due to his involvement in some financial and legal problems.  According to Bill Maxwell, a previous owner of Bear’s Den Lodge, shared that Mr. Martin used the C.N.R. Railroads’ supplies, equipment, and employees that lead to being jailed.

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His wife, Elizabeth, and her sister turned the property into a commercial resort catering mostly to New York clients who arrived by train wearing “fancy dresses, top-hats and many were accompanied by servants.” Mrs. Elizabeth Martin loved the “Bear’s Den” and lower French; so much so, requested in her will that she’d be cremated and her ashes scattered over the rock formation surrounding Bear’s Den Bay.

Since 1986, we have been restoring and maintaining the lodge to its finer days. The maple floor is maintained with the original birch bark railing to allow for the character and charm of days gone by. Above the massive white quartz fireplace in the main lodge, built by Sylvester Ritchie from the quartz blaze in the front yard, is the 59 lb. 11 oz. muskie on display along with other fish replicas, skin, and fur mounts. Fish photos, scenic photos, and bear hunting photos are displayed throughout the camp along with historical documents and photo albums.

We celebrated the 90th year of the lodge last year along with our 30th year operating the Bear’s Den Lodge. We encourage you to step back 90 years in time, breathe the fresh air, listen to the birds singing, watch the bears play, or stop to smell the lilies and flowers in the flower and rock gardens throughout the grounds. Join us in the nature and great outdoors in Ontario! Breathe-taking outdoor experiences await you during your next Canadian fishing adventures. Share your old photos, stories and history of Bear’s Den and the French River.

Spring Peaks & Zika Seeks

Are you planning for a camping trip this year? Already shopping at your favourite retailers and outdoor suppliers? Are you prepared?

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Mosquito Photo Credit: Care2.com

Something that I’m sure has been bothering many, or at least gaining interest, is the rising concern for the Zika Virus. We have been hearing about it on TV, in newspapers, and even the various social networks. Various media outlets are bringing to light different advisory warnings for those traveling to countries with the outbreaks. While various regions all over the world are still in their winter seasons the virus will have a harder time spreading until spring peaks with the mosquito population.

Do not fret! This short article will detail import things you should know about the virus and ways you can stay healthy in the great outdoors!

The most common way to contract the virus is from mosquito bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website those who are infected may experience symptoms such as: fever, headaches, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, and/or conjunctivitis (a.k.a. pink eyes or red eyes as seen below).

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Image provided by CDC

While there are currently no cures or vaccines for the Zika Virus; we have to be as a scout and “be prepared”. Some of the best and most common ways to help prevent being a mosquito’s meal is to use bug spray with DEET as the active ingredient to repel those pesky insects.

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Example of one popular brand with DEET

For those with kids (three and younger) or wanting to add another layer of protection from not only mosquitoes, but also things such as fleas and ticks; is to wear clothing with Permethrin. Both the US and Canadian military have used Permethrin in their uniforms for over the last 30 years. While it may be more expensive than regular clothing there are alternatives to spray your clothing and camping gear at a fraction of the cost. While Bear’s Den Lodge does not promote any particular brand of Permethrin products, this short five-minute YouTube video from Sawyer goes into greater detail of how to use and safely apply Permethrin sprays.

 

 

 

There are also other great options for those seeking alternatives for their traveling individual needs.

Remember, stay safe and be prepared this season!

 

Authored by Joe Barefoot

Fishing – The Job that Hooked My Heart

“Ever since I was a young boy I always had fond memories heading north and fishing with my brother in Ontario,” says Art Barefoot (Co-Owner of Bear’s Den Lodge). “From the people, the sights, and even the thrill hearing the reel squeal from another fight with a fish. It was paradise and I wanted to be part of it.”  BDLcollection 263.JPG

“Life wasn’t always easy growing up in a humble Pennsylvanian farmstead, but I knew after my first voyage north that I wanted to be an outfitter.”

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Owner & Executive Chef Art Barefoot providing laugher and warm meals.
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Line Class World Record Muskie Holder Art Barefoot explains the Muskie fishery and structure of how to fish the French River to Bill Hamblin (center) and long time guests Chris and Harry.

“Through high school I worked several odd jobs from pumping gas, being a lifeguard to even working at the local meat market as an apprenticing butcher. During my free time I went hunting, fishing, and even competed in archery, rifle, shotgun, pistol, and handgun shooting competitions.

After I graduated, I then attended the University of Georgia where I wanted to become a marine biologist.  Like a fish taking to water, I only thought it was natural to begin furthering my understanding and curiosity of aquatic life. In order to help pay for my education, I learned scuba diving. Once I was licensed, I not only instructed others at the University of Georgia, but also worked for Florida’s Department of Fish and Game.

As I was working for the Florida Department, I had to learn how to do underwater mapping with a small dive team as we explored the various underwater caves and springs, while measuring the water’s flow. At the time we had no idea why the Department wanted such detailed maps until sometime after we finished our last expedition and saw construction clearing the lands and bogs for Disney’s new theme park.”

 

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Aerial photo of the Bear’s Den Lodge

Art Barefoot, brings his culinary skills from, the Fire Team and Scuba Search & Rescue Team that he later worked for and would prepare the meals for the teams awaiting the next call. Later when he returned to Pennsylvania, he owned and operated a retail/wholesale meat market and catering business after being co-owner of a gun shop. There he found his love, Brenda Barefoot, after surviving a terrible auto accident.

He brushed himself off and later found another opportunity working in a bank as a teller and later became a loan officer, assisting businesses and people in advancing their dreams. With each promotion he got further away from home and each office had no windows until one morning he was seen carrying his gun over his three piece suit to be prepared to jump out of the truck, go into the woods, and go deer hunting when the opportunity presented. That was when his now wife, Brenda, realized it was time to follow his childhood dream.

After searching for a place to purchase, Art wrote across his desk “Gone Fishing” and left for the great Canadian wilderness and has never looked back.

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Owner Art Barefoot guiding

Pike Fall for this Hook, Line and Sinker…

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Know Your Cast, Fall Pattern Fishing

Northern Pike are an aggressive freshwater fish with an attitude of its own. These predators chase, attack lures and are very territorial. As fall approaches, weeds tend to die causing these fish to establish new habitats and hunting grounds during the cooler waters of autumn.

During this period, they hang over hard bottom with green weeds until vegetation wanes and depletes oxygen necessary for aquatic life. This puts strain on pike in the noxious environment, causing northerns to seek new cover habitats over saddles, points, rocky reefs or shelves that descend into deeper water.

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Catching Pike on the Cast

Weed edges over muddy bottoms normally die faster than solid bottoms. Cast for pike on weed edges of green vegetation. Often times in the fall, trolling spoons or crankbaits are necessary to locate the movement of fish. Once you pop several predators, take note of your surroundings; especially of the structure that produced the pike to locate additional pike producing areas in the French River.

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Ferocious Appetite

Spinnerbaits are a favourite dinner of these audacious fish along with bass. Their fall preferred (colour) palette is autumn colours of chartreuse, orange, yellow and a splash of white. To further entice the ferocious northern pike’s appetite, your presentation is also a factor.

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Being in the (Strike) Zone

When casting in fall, water temperatures are dropping and presenting properly in the strike zone is important. Your retrieve is as important as your cast placement. Prior to the retrieval of your bait, you should always change the direction of the moving lure (side-to-side) with an occasional jerk to further entice the fish. This will allow you to see if the pike is following and since they are cousins of the muskie, using the popular “figure eight” will also work on this species for those wary in the hunt.

*Another method suggested by Art Barefoot, 14# Line Class World Record Muskie Holder, Retired Guide and Owner of Bear’s Den Lodge, highly recommends keeping your rod tip down and making a large circular pattern beside the boat before the final retrieval.*

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Taking the Hook, Line and Sinker

Positive aspects of autumn fishing are the larger game fish, less competition on the water, and a ravenous hunger to take the fall hook, line and sinker fishing the French River Delta.

Authored by Joe Barefoot

The French River Salmon Run Wild

Salmon on the French River Delta, Ontario Canada

A Pink Salmon Ends the Fall Season

Fishing on the French River Delta is home to some the most diverse freshwater species of game fish, known most predominantly for its muskie, walleye, pike, large and smallmouth bass fishing.  However, these waters and fishery are also a home to the pinks, chinook, and coho as they migrate from Lake Huron to Georgian Bay and into the French River Delta to lay their eggs.  The salmon make their journey into the system as early as July, but are very rarely seen before September through November.

Often times anglers snag salmon while fishing for walleye or even muskie.  Fisherman are surprised and often do not recognize their catch and confuse it for a different species, such as trout.  Trout normally are not .

Average pink salmon weighs 3-5 lbs at maturity and can reach as high as 10 lbs.  The fins have large oval black spots on the caudal fin (tail fin) and reach maturity in 2 years.  A prominent hump helps to distinguish between a male from the female pink salmon.  The above pink salmon is pre-spawn that was photographed and then released.

Chinook is the largest of the three species of salmon in the French River and can tip the scale at 126 lbs, but rarely do the top the scale at 60 lbs with averages of 18 lbs.  They exhibit irregular black spots on their back dorsal fin and both lobes of the caudal fin.  Approximately in one year, a male chinook can reach maturity and they can begin to spawn.  Life and spawn expectancy is up to 8 years.  A male salmon, in the sandy-gravel spawning beds will become progressively blacker while the female becomes a brassy color.

Coho salmon, also known as hooknose or silver salmon, since 1967 have provided an immense fishery for the Great Lakes, of which the French River is a part of.  Silvery in color with black spots located only at the top of the caudal fin and the coho has a ‘white gum line’ at the needle like teeth bases.  Some cohos weigh up to 33 lbs, but most weigh an average of 6-12 lbs at maturity.  Spawning occurs from October until February and normally in gravel beds.  These fish can live up to 4 years and do not travel far from their birthplace.

The French River ended its fishing season at Bear’s Den Lodge with a guest catching his first pink salmon. What a great ending to a great season with this fisherman delighted!

Bear’s Den Lodge Inspired by Nature for 90 Years – A Diamond in the Wilderness

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French River Delta landscape of granite rock, pine trees and more to appreciate.

Does nature inspire you? If yes, Bear’s Den Lodge would like to share an inspiring “place” some call a “special place”, a “simple life” and to others, it is a “bit of heaven on earth” for the past 90 years. This diamond, or jewel in the North provides you the opportunity to become a part of a significant part of Canadian history some 400 years ago during Champlain’s journey through the French River.

Imagine journeying these corridors 400 years ago in a canoe with Champlain. New and adventurous waters lay ahead; not knowing what nature had in store. Between these magnificent granite rocks with white quartz blazes were sparkling diamonds in the blue water reflecting the magnificent sky and landscape it enjoyed. Today, being a protected and the first Canadian Heritage Provincial Park it remains much unchanged. Nature and wildlife have been an important treasure to protect in our French River Provincial Park and waterways.

Magnificent scenery and landscape on the French River inspired a New York banker, Mr. Martin and his wife in 1925 to build their summer home, Bear’s Den Lodge. Having most likely arrived by train, they traveled to what today is Bear’s Den Bay to build their elaborate home. It sits majestically overlooking this bountiful bay, a finger off Hartley Bay, French River. A panoramic view of nature exists from this high point with snowshoe rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, an occasional deer or bear wandering by. Inside a local resident created a masterpiece from nature using white quartz and nuggets of gold to create the massive fireplace.

Nature comes in all sizes and shapes. The dotted islands with scrubby trees add character and share the results of harsh and worn years of glaciers, extreme weathering and harsh winters with leaning pine swept tree to the artist’s palette. Water trickles after the rain from rocky cliffs and streams meander around boulders to areas of whitewater.

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Great Blue Heron soaring over the French River.

Wildlife abounds. Great blue herons, osprey, red tailed hawks, or the magnificent bald eagle calling to their mates or territory from overhead, loons dancing on the water or hidden in the birch and coniferous trees are the bulging of the elk.

Strolling the wildlife trails leads to rays of sun bursting through the trees lighting the ground cover of a variety of wild mushrooms, berries, moss, boulders, and hidden lakes to explore.

Do you appreciate nature, outdoor adventures, or capturing nature though a lens? If so, join us in celebrating the nature adventures that inspired Mr. and Mrs. Martin to create 90 year ago, Bear’s Den Lodge – truly a diamond in the wilderness.



Gone Were the Days of Wooden Boats, a Labor of Love , But Not Forgotten

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Looking at some old photographs, I remember the pride in purchasing the very first wooden boat for Bear’s Den Lodge some thirty years ago, it was the brightest pride and smoothest, fastest ride in the French River Delta. Wooden boats were a labor of love.
Pictured here are the memories of those who passed through the history before us.  As the memory projects, the previous owners tired of the hours of labor and love to maintain these wooden boats. The old fleet currently rests not on the bank where we sadly found them beyond restoration, but in the cove to be a reminder of the days gone by,  but not forgotten.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

French River, Ontario History 1600 to Current – 400th Year Anniversary of Champlain

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French River History: reveals early explorers were looking for a shorter route to the West. Hence, the French River was the main “Water Highway to the West in Canada, from 1600 to the mid 1800’s.” Historical data indicated Champlain traveled the French River in 1615. French River has been a producer of furs and trading over the years. Logging was a major industry along with fishing in the area. Steam boats navigated the Dallas Falls carrying supplies past the French River Village which developed in the late 1880’s from the logging industry. “Alligator” tugs were used and can be still seen abandoned along the shorelines at the Dallas Falls and the French River.

Timber cutting, logging and lumber mills sprang up in the area in 1873 and boomed till the 1930’s. A major boom of logging occurred after the Chicago, Illinois fire and the logs were floated down the French River and the Wahnipitae River to be taken to rebuild the city. Today, many of the sunken logs still dot the rivers and remind of us days gone by. We refer to these sunken logs as “dead heads”. Caution is advised when boating in these known areas of our preserved surfacing history. In the 40’s the French River area was closed to further commercial and private development, preserving this wilderness area much as it was during the days of Champlain and fur trading.

In the early 1960’s, the Ontario Government closed the area for further development making it part of the North Georgian Bay Recreation Reserve. Then in 1985, French River became part of the French River Heritage Park System – Ontario’s First Canadian Heritage River, a historical area.

Swimming, boating, canoeing, wildlife viewing, photography, landscape artists’ paradise, hunting, hiking, or just relaxing on the French, along with the lunkers for the fishermen to chase and release has been a world class paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and fun. Adventure tours in Canada and fishing trips await you.

Keep following,  more history, stories, and pictures to follow about the French River – French River Delta!

An excerpt I originally authored  in 2001 – “History French River, French River, Area Information”; I felt history was worth repeating and have noted others have felt it worthy too. The original text and more history can be found at http://bit.ly/1DDmKsj