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A Grand Float - With Heron & Small-mouth Bass

© By Gene Chambers
  Calm Water Our canoe silently glides downstream, the flat calm broken by an occasional ripple hinting at rocks underneath. Stillness is interrupted by an occasional trill of bird song. The sky fills with blue herons in flight. I'm in a canoe on the Grand River in southern Ontario, floating downstream from Paris to Brantford. My companion and guide, Dwayne Brown, is a teacher at the local outdoor education centre near Brantford.
     I meet Dwayne and our outfitter, Adam Fernley of Heritage River Canoe & Kayak Company at the Brant Conservation Area. They offer float trips with either kayaks, canoes or rafts from Cambridge to Paris or from Paris to Brantford. I select the latter. Adam drives us north to a launch site on the southern outskirts of Paris, straddling the Grand. Several restaurants offer back patios overlooking the river where diners enjoy the aquatic scenery with meals.
     As we glide downstream, for much of its course, this stretch of river is bounded by virtually untouched Carolinian forest, in Canada unique to a small part of Southern Ontario. The only major sign of human encroachment before the Brant Conservation area, is the highway 403 bridge that spans the river.
     This stretch of the river played a critical role in the historical development of Brantford, Paris and communities further upstream. Brantford was founded at a river crossing, and Paris takes its name from plaster of paris, taken from gypsum mines along the river. The river itself was a source of transportation to settlers and a source of power for their mills and other industries.

Rafting The Grand  River Island  River Trippers  Overhanging Tree

     Canoeing, kayaking and rafting are popular on this stretch of the Grand River, which is known for its gentle currents and beautiful vistas. It's also great for observing wildlife. Dwayne and I spot many snapping turtles sunning on rocks, several varieties of birds, and even a deer feeding along the bank. I'm amazed by the number of blue herons. Once, I count 13 herons in flight while another four roost in a dead tree. I missed more in the foliage.
     I'm keen to fish this stretch of river particularly for small-mouth bass, pickerel and rainbow trout. The section of the Grand River from Paris to Brantford has a unique collection of characteristics that make it "Exceptional Waters." It was proposed as an area for special study and consideration by the Grand River Fisheries Management Plan Implementation Committee to provide unique or exceptional outdoor experiences while promoting environmental sustainability and health. A portion has special fishing regulations directed at improving fishing opportunities and protecting the fish population. It's a barbless hook, artificial lure and catch and release zone. For complete rules, check the Ministry of Natural Resources fishing regulations, zone 16.
     I try casting small lures in hopes of catching a bass, but they don't seem hungry. About ½ mile below the launch ramp, I spot a 23 -24" pickerel swimming under the nose of the canoe. Just below a small rapid, Dwayne suggests we pull into shore and fish the deeper water below the rapid. On my second cast I latch on to a small bass. It stays deep underwater, without any aerial acrobatics I'm used to, and has me fooled into thinking it's a pickerel until I bring him close to shore. A quick photo and I gently release him back into the river, and we continue downstream.
     Later, ashore just below where Whitman's Creek empties into the Grand, Dwayne explains that an old grist mill dam was recently removed from the creek to improve trout habitat. This small cold water stream is popular with fly fishermen, and is noted for its rainbow, brown and brook trout. Further downstream, we spot the entrance to an old gypsum mine in the high bank of the river, one of many that lined the river banks.

A Fine Catch  Blue Heron In Trees  Blue Heron In Water  Old Gypsum Mine

     I see a footbridge over the river and camper trailers along the right bank, a signal that we're at Brant Conservation Area, the end of our trip. It seems that the journey ended too soon. I wish we'd paddled slower. However, my wife said she wants to try the trip, so I know I'll be back again to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of this peaceful river.

Gene Chambers is an author of three secondary school textbooks on computer studies in data processing, and a travel writer.

Photo Credits
Heritage River Canoe & Kayak Company

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