Rathbun Lake - 3 Days

Total Distance: 10 km

Duration: 1 - 3 days

No. of Portages: 2 (both ways)

Total Port. Distance: approx. 320 m

Level of Difficulty: A perfect first-time trip 


Map is copyrighted by and is courtesy of unlostify.com. It is available for purchase online -- my route is marked in blue.

The first 4 months of 2019 were awful in terms of the weather. The Ontario school boards had a record amount of bus cancellations due to inclement weather. One day it would be -20 degrees Celcius and the next day it would be 0 degrees with freezing rain. It continued to snow and carry on for the entire month of April. The lakes around Peterborough were still frozen in the last week of April! Then, like someone had flipped a switch, we had a couple of nice warm days on the last couple days of April and we finally had our ice out. 


Having got a swanky new fishing rod for Christmas from my lovely daughters, I wanted to get out and get some trout with it. So, working the old Google machine, I found out on Ontario Fish On-line that Rathbun Lake in Kawartha Highlands is stocked with Lake Trout every year and two adjacent ponds are stocked with Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout. So on Thursday May 2nd, 2019 I quickly booked a site on Rathbun for the following weekend. Apparently, I wasn't alone in this thinking because the only site left available was site 204 near the base of the waterfall and the portage to Copper Lake.


Day 1 I packed up the car, loaded the canoe and left right from work on Friday evening for a short weekend solo jaunt. It was cloudy and cold on the Friday but not too windy. Having paddled these waters numerous times, I quickly made it through Anstruther, passing the waterfall which was gushing on the steep portage to Rathbun, and to the site only to discover that it was very muddy and wet and not all that great. I felt better after getting the tent set up on a dry patch, and getting a fire going, though the area around the fire pit was very mucky. After some steak and Ceasar salad, I had a couple of beers, made popcorn and went to bed. The temperature went down to -4 that night and it was snowing when I got up in the middle of the night for some beer release. Brrrr. Thankfully, the snow was gone by the morning and it was sunny and looking to warm up. 

Day 2 After some bacon and eggs, I headed north on Rathbun (or Rathburn, as it is known to the locals) and paddled into the shallow northeastern bay of the lake. I was trying to find a way up to the two smaller ponds that they call Little Copper immediately east of this bay. I found a creek and tried bushwhacking my way alongside it but it seemed to be heading a bit more south than I wanted to go. I paddled back out and when I looked at vacant site 203 a little more closely, I saw a path leading out of the back of it. Aha -- a portage! It wasn't marked on any Kawartha Highlands Canoe Route map but there it was -- wide and clear! It's straight uphill and I would say about 400m long. 


They were actually pretty little lakes, especially the first one, but apparently the eastern one had been stocked with Brookies. As I did the liftover to get into that one, I was welcomed by a turtle sunning himself next to the creek and a couple of local lads fishing out of a canoe. Apparently this secret portage was not so secretive, after all.

I got the rod ready and began casting here and there throughout the lake but didn't get so much as a nibble. The two guys in the canoe, meanwhile, were stationary near the creek where I came in and had pulled in a few in the first twenty minutes of me being there. Not wanting to cramp their space too much, I got a little closer to them, but not right next to them, and tried my luck. I noticed that they were using worms on the end of a bobber and were plonking their lines down and waiting for the brookies to take the worm. I continued casting out my spoons and lures, trying all I had in my arsenal, but to no avail. They informed me that were also unsuccessful in using lures earlier, and had switched to worms.


After some time, one of the lads, in an act of great pity, offered me some worms to use. I am against the use of live worms as bait since I found out that they are an invasive species. Yep, that's right. All earthworms that were originally native to North America were eradicated during the last ice age by retreating glaciers and our current eco-system developed without the earthworm's effect on our soil. Some native flora are unable to survive under these changing conditions. In fact, Algonquin Park caretakers are fighting a losing battle against the earthworm issue in the park and are finding that earthworms are spreading in Algonquin mostly due to anglers bringing them in and not disposing of live ones properly. Of course, I didn't get into it with my fellow anglers on that day in May, but I did politely refuse their offer. Not to disparage anyone's fishing ability of those who use worms or live bait, I personally kind of feel like it's cheating. I find it more sporting to use lures. I even pinch the barbs. Maybe this is why I am not so successful!


After another half-hour or so, they caught another one. They must have really felt bad for me because they offered me the fish! As nice as it would have been to have a fresh brookie to eat that evening, I politely declined once more. My pride just couldn't let me! Discouraged and hanging my head in shame, I paddled out in the mid-afternoon. I did see some cool-looking, meat-eating pitcher plants on my way out though! 

After portaging back down to Rathbun and paddling to my site, I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon at camp. The sun was out and it was warm. After a long and brutal winter it was fantastic just being outside. I read for a bit in the hammock, got a nice fire going and just enjoyed the solitude. There wasn't anyone else around on this end of the lake. I went for a little walk up the hill behind my site, made my dinner and enjoyed the pretty sunset that evening. 

Day 3 Waking up on Sunday morning I was blessed again with a beautiful sunny, spring day. After breakfast I explored the bay east of my site and tried my luck in the pool at the base of the waterfall next to the portage leading to Copper Lake. With my polarized sunglasses, I could actually see the lake trout swimming past my lures, but they just weren't biting. I think with a combination of the bright sun and the fact that it maybe was just a bit early in the season, before bugs were out, the fish just weren't agressive. Basking in the sun and listening to the waterfall was wonderful though.  

Directly across from my campsite was a cliff and on top of that was the small pond known as Mountain Lake. Apparently, it, too, had been stocked by the ministry, but this time with Rainbow Trout. While I was trying to land a disinterested lake trout, a couple of lads (not the same two from the previous day) landed their canoe at the base of the cliff and portaged up it. 

I decided to follow suit, but just took my fishing gear to try a bit of shore fishing and left my canoe at the base of the cliff. I forgot my phone in the canoe, so was unable to take a photo of Mountain Lake, but it is really tiny. The boys in their canoe didn't seem to have much luck and neither did I. When they paddled past me they did say that they hooked into one but lost it on the way in. Had they said that they were bringing them in I would have gone back down for my canoe, but at this point, I was resigned to the idea that I would be going home skunked. Despite that fact, I had a fantastic weekend outside after a truly awful winter and was at least able to go home with the memory of this view from top of the cliff leading into Mountain Lake. 

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