My Favorite Spot for Big Ontario Walleyes

Last month, the Ol’ River Rat Dan wrote an article about the hottest spot he knew in Ontario for nice, big walleyes. This month, it’s my turn. I’ll admit my spot doesn’t produce as fat of a fish, but there’s plenty of 4- to 8-pounders. Plus, this spot has easy fly-in access and good accommodations.

Where is this?

Harrogate and Esser lakes on the Ogoki river system.

This location is serviced by Leuenberger Air Service out of Nakina, Ont. For around $800, you can get a propane-heated cabin with lights and a boat with a gas motor. Harrogate has two bedrooms, a bath, a spacious front room and screened porch. Walleyes and sturgeon can be caught off the dock.

The sturgeon run occurs in mid-August and lasts through late September. Here, the big walleyes are easily caught where the river enters and exits the lake. My buddy Dan has written many times about this lake. This is where he and his dog Thumper will have their ashes put, later.

We’ve had some wonderful waterfowl hunts here. The area is endowed with many species such as moose and wolves so bring your camera. This region of Ontario is part of the Eastern Flyway, so waterfowl, including black ducks, whistlers (goldeneyes) and honkers, are plentiful. If you like to chase waterfowl, you should book a trip when that season opens up there in the fall. If the ducks have been eating in the blueberry patches too, they make excellent table fare.

The last time Dan, Thumper and myself were into Harrogate we picked mid-September, just when the bird season opened. In one day we caught over 60 walleyes with some at 8 1/2 pounds, a 28-pound sturgeon, a limit of mallards and goldeneyes and three honkers. All of the walleyes and sturgeon were released. By that time we were testing our new Spin Bee lure. We even caught the sturgeon on this lure—a 1/4-ounce bumble bee-pattern model tipped with a piece of nightcrawler. If it’s sturgeon you’re after, bring lots of nightcrawlers.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention northern pike. Let me tell you a story:

A few years back, he and I were working the rapids entering the lake. He had been reeling on a big walleye when it was T-boned by an 18-pound pike. In the end, I netted both of them because the pike wouldn’t give up its grip. The walleye, though, was kept for supper and the pike was released.

Below the fast-water exit out of Harrogate you’ll find better pike structure, such as weedy backwaters and lagoons. Five miles later down the river you’ll come to the fastest water of this stretch. Here, the Ogoki cascades out of a rock-infested bay. This is the spot both Dan and I have taken our biggest walleyes. Off to the left you’ll find a marshy lagoon where many of this river’s pike spawn.

But navigating this stretch of water can be sketchy at best. Whitewater is present with dozens of rocks just below the surface. Sometimes, paddling or poling is the better option. Or, it’s just better to avoid this crazy water altogether.

Just a couple miles down from Harrogate there’s a series of islands where pike hang out after spawn. One such is where the river divides and creates a one-half-mile-long island—you’ll see a narrow channel to the east that reaches deep into a wide, shallow lake, then another beyond that. Both are good pike areas throughout midsummer, as both are shallow with mud bottoms. They also make excellent waterfowl staging areas in the fall.

Esser Lake
If you traverse a few more miles you’ll be at Esser, which is a widening of the Ogoki, about the size of Harrogate. Below Esser it becomes brook trout water. This lake is also full of good-sized walleyes, pike and sturgeon. I’ve only been on it once, but as luck would have it, I managed to catch a 28-pound northern pike and numerous walleyes between 4 and 7 pounds.

In the rapids departing Esser, I was able to catch a couple of brookies for supper, both just around the 2-pound mark. They had rich orange flesh, almost like salmon’s meat. I also hooked into a huge sturgeon but it got away.

The Ol’ River Rat has run the Ogoki by canoe several times, and some trips below the 35 miles down from Esser. His reports of her roaring rapids, colorful walleyes, brook trout and big pike can be read about in his books available from the Gapen Company or on his website at He’s 84, but we are hoping to go back there at some point. Maybe we’ll see you there later this year.