White Lake, ON - Matt Flowers

My Watermark is White Lake, Ontario.

For ten years of my life I lived on a fish hatchery just west of Sharbot Lake, Ontario. Known now as the White Lake Fish Culture Station, my dad was a fisheries biologist there and we rented a home on the property. It was an amazing place to grow up for a kid, what with fish ponds and forests all around to explore.

On the property, at the top of a huge hill, sat White Lake itself, accessible only by a private gravel road. White Lake is a designated fish sanctuary, primarily used as a source of water for holding tanks and ponds.

Because it’s a fish sanctuary, fishing is prohibited. Motorized boats are not even allowed on the lake. Apart from a few cottages on the far side of the lake, this sanctuary truly lived up to its name - no boats, no swimmers, no cottagers, just a private lake away from civilization.

I say private because on weekends and evenings, the lake was all ours. I still get excited thinking about taking our bikes up that massive hill to get to the lake, just for the sight of what was awaiting us. A sight I’m sure cannot be seen anywhere else.

Go to the edge of a short concrete dock, look down in the water, and you are greeted by dozens upon dozens of fish that swim up to the surface. Perch, rock bass, sunfish, and best of all, monster smallmouth bass. You don’t think of fish as being so social, but these fish - free from fishing or boat pressure - love to see people approach.

Instead of dropping a line, we were allowed to throw bread to the fish. Nothing was as exciting as throwing a big chunk of bread in the water and seeing three different six-pound bass fight to the surface for a chance to grab the bread. Sit down and dip your feet in the water and all the little sunfish will come up and nibble on your toes. My braver siblings did that more than I did, I always thought one of those big bass would come and eat my leg off. In reality, they never seemed too interested.

To top off the experience, we got to swim alongside the fish. Diving off the dock and into fish is an unreal experience. Somehow the fish instinctively moved away just enough that you never actually hit any, but you can feel them on the side of your arms and legs as you dive past them. I must have jumped in countless times, and never once did I directly hit any fish. I still don’t know the science behind that, something to do with water displacement I suppose.

I can go on with my memories of that place, but I’ll diverge and talk about why I chose this lake for my first watermark. I love to swim, I love to fish, and I love to paddle. I have this lake to thank for these three passions, especially swimming.

Fishing is a more complicated connection. While this lake was off limits to fishing - and for good reason - it kindled within me a profound sense of our connection with our fisheries. It is a privilege to be able to fish, it’s an honour to be able to take home a fish to eat, and it’s truly humbling how lucky we are as Canadians to have so much access to fishing waters. I learned from a very young age the importance of protecting our fisheries. I take it very personal when laws are not followed, and when fish habitats are not being protected.

I love to catch fish, I love to eat fish, and I am excited to take my one-and-a-half year old son fishing someday. I just hope that protecting our fisheries continue to be a priority. Not every lake can be a sanctuary, nor should they be. But every lake deserves to have a healthy fish population.

White Lake, ON
Claire Lawson
Matt Flowers

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