An impressive 13,000 hectares of the Thirty Thousand Islands and the eastern shore of Georgian Bay are protected by Massasauga Provincial Park, between Moon River and Parry Sound.
The Thirty Thousand Islands are the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, a 200km chain of pink rocky islands from Port Severn to the French River.
Anyone who has visited the area will say that it is simply beautiful.
An amazing place
With an undulating coastline of bays, inlets, coves and river mouths, the fishing opportunities are limitless. The park also contains several inland lakes surrounded by pine-dominated forests.
But there are no roads or camping areas.
The park, a prime area for canoeing on the inland lakes and a great area for kayaking and boating on the bay, is named for the Massasauga rattlesnake, an at-risk species that has found refuge in this park and other protected areas along the coast.
The park is part of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s special places and one of Georgian Bay’s “Amazing Places”.
In summer, the park’s inland lakes and coastal waters are a popular spot for backcountry and paddling enthusiasts. Inland lakes are non-motorized, so canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards predominate.
Kayakers are most common in large open waters. There are no shuttles and kayaks are better suited for larger bodies of water.
Powerboats, sailboats and powerboats can be found roaming open waters, mooring in sheltered coves or fishing for a variety of species.
In spring these waters are much calmer.
Georgian Bay has long been known as a fantastic fishing spot.
Samuel de Champlain’s map of 1632: He was amazed by the size of Georgian Bay and called it “Mer douce” or “Freshwater Sea.”
Samuel de Champlain, French explorer, geographer and founder of New France, traveled these waters in 1615, guided by the Wendat peoples (called “Ferret”by the French).
He noticed: “It abounds in many excellent kinds of fish… chiefly in trout, which are of enormous size… I have seen some that reach four and a half feet in length, and the smallest ones seen are two and a half feet in length. …Also the pike. of similar size, and a certain kind of sturgeon, a very large fish and wonderfully good to eat.”
Elusive muskies (cousins of the northern pike) are found in these waters, although their fishing season begins later. Walleye can be plentiful, but they like deeper, darker water. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass make the park their home.
Whatever your favorite species to fish for, the area is rich in diversity for all anglers to enjoy. While summer is obviously a great time to get out on the water, spring is a perfect time to visit the park and fish.
Remember, Northern Pike is open year-round for fishing in the waters of Georgian Bay.
Advice from a superintendent
Sean Smith, the park’s assistant superintendent, has been paddling, boating and fishing in Massasauga waters for years. He has some tips for anglers looking to catch big northern pike:
Location and season
- The first few weeks of the season are great in Georgian Bay. The big fish are shallow and can often be caught by sight because they are so close.
- Most anglers overlook the very shallow waters of the spring. Large pike can be found in these extremely shallow waters.
- Larger outer islands and channels are ideal habitat for large pike to ambush prey in the deep “cabbage beds” and return to the shallower waters to recover.
- Warm, stable water and a soft bottom are two key features. Shallow, isolated bays are common places early in the year because the water warms up sooner and maintains that temperature. Fish often find warmer waters after a cold winter.
- find sand in shallow water. Big pike will be on the sand on sunny days. On cloudy days they will be near these areas, on points and other structures close to the sand.
- To catch these big Georgian Bay fish, jerk baits, spinner baits, and soft plastic lures are excellent lures for stubborn pike.
- Medium to heavy weight gear is recommended for larger fish – 20lb test line is a good weight.
- It is important to get a good leader who can withstand a lot of abuse.
- Year after year, floating and suspending minnow baits are the ideal lure. Between five and eight inches is the best size range.
- Remember to pack your broken fishing line and tackle as they can pose a significant risk to local wildlife. Make sure lunch fires and shoreline campfires are extinguished.
Large pike, like any mature fish, is a special resource. Watching them shoot in great shape after a clean throw is as satisfying as catching them.
Catch and release preserves local species and populations, and keeps the area a great place to fish.
Get into the water
Access to the campsites on the Massasauga Islands and Channels is through an access point we call “Pete’s Place” at the south end of the park.
The Pete’s Place access point is located approx. 17 km along Healey Lake Road off Highway 612, near the town of Mactier. There are two boat launches available at Pete’s Place, one for motor boats and one for canoes and kayaks.
Camping in Massasauga
There are 135 backcountry campsites available at The Massasauga, all with water-only access.
These sites can be reserved through the Ontario Parks reservation service or through self-service registration at the park.
Campsites are numbered and reservations are for specific campsites. Camp only in designated sites.
Each site has a picnic table, a grated fire pit (remember, build your fire pits only in designated fire pits), and a private bathroom.
These backcountry sites are suitable for boats of most sizes. Large cruise ships have access to seven mooring/anchor bays within park waters.
Black bears frequent the park. To protect your food, half of the campgrounds in backcountry Massasauga have bear-proof lockers.
Most of them are located in campgrounds accessible from Georgian Bay (Blackstone Harbor area, Captain Allen Sound), plus a few inland lakes.
Remember to store food (and trash) out of the reach of bears and other animals.
If you camp at a site without a bear-proof storage locker, hang your food package from a tree at the site. Take all trash with you at the end of your trip.
Lunch on land
Everyone loves a shoreline lunch with fresh fish during a fishing trip.
However, at The Massasauga there are few shoreline lunch opportunities, so we encourage anglers to return to their own campsite with their catch.
Maps and navigation
The coast of Massasauga Georgian Bay is a labyrinth of islands, channels and peninsulas. It’s easy to get lost.
In the water, the islands and the mainland blend together, making navigation without a park map and compass something only those very familiar with these waters can do.
Maps are extremely important for navigating Massasauga.
Purchase one of the Federal 2202 series nautical charts as they are the number one requirement for navigation in the park. Take it with you and familiarize yourself with it before your trip.
Federal navigation maps for the Great Lakes and other waters can be found here. They will help you navigate the many channels.
Remember to bring a compass that you are familiar with.
Park maps are necessary for the location and number of campsites, park information, regulations, and topographical details that navigation maps do not have.
If you’re not a backcountry camper…
Just because you’re not staying overnight doesn’t mean you can’t experience the Massasauga wilderness!
There are several trails available to hike during your stay.
The parking areas at Pete’s Place and Three-legged Lake are only large enough to accommodate the number of vehicles driven by backcountry campers, therefore day-use parking is not permitted at any of the access points.
That being said, there are trails like the Shipwreck Island Trail which can be accessed by visitors entering the park by boat, canoe or kayak during the day.
Calhoun Cabin in Blackstone Harbor (just north of Pete’s Place) is an example of the area’s early farmhouses, retaining a cluster of log buildings built in the 1930s.
A trail connects Calhoun Lodge with the baker’s farma farm established in the Massasauga woods in the early 20th century.
For RVers looking to spend some time in Georgian Bay, Killbear Provincial Park has several campgrounds accessible by road.
Killbear provides access to the shores of Georgian Bay and Parry Sound via trails and access points at Blind Bay and Lighthouse Point (small boats under 7m/20ft).
Oastler Lake Provincial Park is located on a small inland lake southeast of Parry Sound. Campers at Oastler Lake can still access Georgian Bay through Killbear with their Oastler camping permit at no additional cost.
Management zones and fishing regulations.
The park covers two fishery management zones: 14 and 15.
See the MNRF Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary for up-to-date information on fishing regulations and species limits for waters in and around The Massasauga:
What are you waiting for?