I recently posted about all of the different types of fishing trips I have done along with pros and cons of each. Once you have made that decision, it’s onto the next phase - choosing an outfitter.
For the sake of this exercise I am going to focus on our research efforts which are Ontario centric. We have looked at trips in Quebec and Manitoba but so far, we haven’t ventured out of my home province.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, if not tens of thousands (including private cottage rentals) of outfitters in Ontario that offer fishing centric trips. The choices can be overwhelming, like choosing the type of trip I would recommend you know the following key decision points prior to diving in:
What is your budget? How much per person can you afford?
How far are you willing to travel?
What species of f fish do you want to target?
What type of service and amenities are you looking for?
How long are you going for? A week, A weekend?
Let’s create an example and walk through how my group has then worked to narrow this down:
We are interested in a drive-in trip at a full-service lodge
We don’t want to drive more than 7 hours (from the Greater Toronto area)
We want to fish for walleye and pike (bass is a plus)
Budget is $1500 or less per person.
My goal in this search is to get to a short list of 3 – 5 lodges that fit within our requirements that I can present to my group for review. After landing on party preferences, the research can begin in earnest. I look at it as a fun part of the process, take you time and browse! There’s lots of resources to help you out and you’ll get to read some great articles and stories as well!
Head to a few of the more popular fishing forums out there and post your preferences and ask for input. I like to do this first as it can be a bit of waiting game. People are eager to help and will offer up suggestions and usually within your criteria. I have had great success on Walleye Central (Canada section), OFN Community and Mike Borger’s Canadian Fishing Guide. For maps and tips I also like Adam Dempsey site Fishing Outposts as well.
Google (or Byng or whatever search tool you prefer)
While you are eagerly refreshing your browser to see if anyone has answered your post yet on the forums (no bumping your thread!) head over to google and start searching. Try Ontario fishing lodge 7 hours from Toronto or Ontario walleye drive to fishing lodges or Ontario full-service drive to fishing lodges. Click a few links, open a word document (or if your old school like me have a pen and notebook handy) and start jotting down lodges that look interesting.
A great resource is the Ontario Tourism Site. They break the outfitters down by region, species of fish and travel mode. Quebec and Manitoba also have great sites to check out if those provinces fit better with your preferred travel distance. Generally, each of the major regional area’s also have sites which list outfitters and provide some high-level details. I have used Algoma Country and Sunset Country sites before when looking for an outfitter.
I have attended the Toronto Spring Fishing Show and the Toronto Sportsmen Show in the past to expand my research. The pros of these shows are you get to talk to people familiar with the lodge, its all in one spot. Personally, though I have avoided these shows for the last few year – IMO there just isn’t enough value to justify the cost and the terrible parking facilities.
Grinding the Web
After completing the above, I usually have about 10 or 15 lodges that I want to research in greater detail. Its time to hit the web and grind it down. I say grind because as a rule I would say that many outfitter websites are not an easy read. Many are not mobile optimized, many include pictures that are circa 1970, many don’t include interior shots of cabins or recent shots of boats. Usually though I can find what I need to assess against my list.
Putting it Together
Once I have the list narrowed down, I do a little backwards digging – searching forums again for reports on the various lakes/outfitters. Using a search engine to see if I can find other reviews, checking Tripadvisor or Google reviews. If I am struggling to find anything current, I may jump on a Forum and ask specifically about a lodge. (Vet tip: always better to join the forum and highlight that personal messages are cool – a lot of times I have found people do not want to put a negative review into a thread).
With a good amount of data, I now create a spreadsheet (screenshot below) which I can share with the group – as you can see, I bucket reference points and if I have found reviews or been given information include a link. This may seem excessive and maybe it is but while some trips the fishing hasn’t been as great as we wanted, I believe that we have never had a nasty surprise waiting for us. These trips aren’t cheap and taking some time and effort to plan gives you the best chance at success. Some good solid research can help. Honestly this isn’t even our last step – but that’s another story for a future post! LOL
P.S. I am more than happy to help people, feel free to register and send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as I can
P.P.S. Pay it forward if you get great help from one of the forums loop back after your trip and post a report!