Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ELK LAKE, Ontario ó The fish in the lakes of northern Ontario are big and feisty, but they’re nothing compared to the mosquitoes that patrol the shores.
Those are a couple of things I learned during a trip to Canada a couple of weeks ago.
Seven of us ó myself and six Canadians ó spent the better part of a week fishing and riding all-terrain vehicles through the wilds of northern Ontario.
On the way back to the United States, Andy Morrissey, my traveling companion, and I stopped in Toronto for a Blue Jays game.
It was like summer camp for big boys. Testosterone galore.
Andy is a native of southwestern Ontario, not far from Detroit. His wife is a nurse in Winston-Salem, where they live. I met Andy at the High Point Enterprise where we worked for several years.
Andy has a friend who owns a cottage in Elk Lake, about a seven-hour drive north of Toronto. It’s way up in moose country, or so the signs by the side of the highway warn motorists.
It took us two days to drive the 1,100 miles to Elk Lake, a town that reminded me of the village that was the setting for “Northern Exposure,” one of the better shows to ever grace prime-time television.
Like I said, the area is incredibly beautiful.
I was most impressed by northern Ontario’s pristine lakes. They’re absolutely gorgeous. And desolate.
Not once did we see anyone on the water who wasn’t a member of our party.
One evening, on our way back to the cottage after a day of fishing, we drove more than 30 miles without passing another vehicle. Try to do the same on a return from High Rock Lake.
Walleye, small-mouth bass, perch and pike make up most of the fish we pulled from the lakes. I’m not much of a fisherman, but if I visited the area often, I’d become one.
For dinner ó it stayed light until 10:30 p.m., so we often didn’t eat until almost midnight ó we ate the fish we’d caught.
We saw loons ó one called out for us, which Andy says is a rare experience ó beavers and ducks.
As long as we were on a lake, the mosquitoes weren’t a problem. But once we returned to shore, they were absolutely vicious, swarming around us and chewing any exposed skin regardless of how much Off! was applied.The Indians, the locals told us, used to coat themselves in mud to try and fight the mosquitoes. After battling the varmints for 30 minutes, it’s easy to see why.
They’re relentless.
One day, we rode all-terrain vehicles 25 miles into the woods, following old logging trails that hadn’t been used in years.
We took a break at a silver mine camp that had been abandoned for the better part of a century.
The locals said that around 1900, when silver was discovered in the area, a tent city emerged that housed thousands. It was, they said, at the time the largest tent city in North America.
When the silver played out, the campers left.
I discovered that Canadians are big drinkers. Beer and wine in Canada is terribly expensive, by the way. A beer at the Blue Jays game cost $10, and a pint at a neighborhood pub is almost as costly.
Canadians also enjoy joking with those who live south of the border. “Steve,” one of my companions asked one night after quaffing a couple of beers, “explain to us what you Americans are doing in Iraq.”But it was generally good-natured kidding.
And as much as they like to joke about Americans, my hosts admitted that Canada desperately misses their tourist dollars.
For reasons that no one has quite figured out, Americans all but quit traveling north of the border following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Couple that with the fact that the American dollar isn’t doing well against the Canadian dollar these days and it’s easy to see that tourism in Canada has fallen off considerably.
But I’d highly recommend northern Ontario. If only they could do something about those darn mosquitoes …nnn
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@