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Crackin' The Code

Fishing patterns are reliable, from one day to the next, as long as the water and weather conditions remain consistent.

How to pattern fish at key depths when fishing in Northern Ontario



Whether you're an angler visiting Northern Ontario for the very first time or a seasoned veteran with years of experience under your belt, the key to success most days is cracking the code and finding the primary pattern.

By this I mean determining the key depth, or zone, of the water column that the fish are using, and then experimenting with a variety of lures and baits to find the most consistent way to catch them. When you piece together all of the clues, it is amazing how you can look at a map, or the shoreline, and identify all of the spots where you're likely to catch fish.

And the species don't particularly matter, because you can "pattern" walleye, bass, northern pike, muskies, and trout all the same way.

Indeed, for the past few weeks, I have been having a ball catching lake trout that have been cruising close to bottom in moderately deep water (30 to 40 feet), off rocky points and boulder-strewn shoals.


When you find the key depth the fish are using and experiment with a variety of presentations, you can put together a pattern that will work around the lake. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The trout have been using the Volkswagen-size stones to ambush the wandering schools of ciscoes that have been riding the crest of the thermocline the cold/warm water interfaceand wrecking havoc on the silvery baitfish.

I wish I could say that I have spent hours refining the pattern, but the fact of the matter is, it hasn't been a difficult task. From past experience, I knew I'd find the trout much shallower than most anglers suspect. For certain, the air temperature has been gloriously warm and the bluebird days splendidly sunny, but it takes a lot of solar energy to penetrate the deep, clear water column, to warm it up sufficiently to drive the cold water-loving lake trout down deep.

So, once I found the trout's preferred 52° to 54° F band of water in the 40-foot depth range, it was a simple matter of pinpointing all the boulder and rock-strewn points that sloped out into this zone.

As a matter of fact, I could look along shore and predict with uncanny accuracy that we'd catch them... there, there and there.


As Gord Pyzer explains, when you fish a pattern, you can look at a map or the shoreline and identify all of the spots where you're likely to catch fish. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Knowing the trout were dining on four- to six-inch long silvery ciscoesone trout even coughed out a recently eaten piece of sushi for me to inspectmade the lure selection part of the pattern puzzle easy to decipher, too.

I always like to start the day trolling around the key structures, while I look for fish with my electronics. So, I pulled a half-silver, half-gold Nu-wrinkle Williams Nipigon spoon with a single siwash hook on which I had treaded a white curly tail grub.

Normally, I prefer the bigger Williams Whitefish spoon, but on the small backcountry lakes north and east of Kenora that I have been fishing, the trout are modest in size and the 2 1/2-inch long Nipigon spoon perfectly matches the size, shape and colour of the native ciscoes.

This is the refining part of pattern fishing that I most enjoy.

It is worth noting, too, that after I had caught a few trolling the spoon on a lead core outfit, I stopped and fan-casted a 3/4-ounce Freedom Lure Hydra jig on which I had attached either a white/silver or ciscoe-coloured 5-inch Bass Magnet Shift'R Shad or Angler's Choice Sniper Shad swimbait.

The spoon and swimbait combination is always a deadly one-two lake trout punch, but I was able to refine the pattern even further.

For example, when it was flat calm, hot and sunny I noticed that the trout were almost always positioned on the dark, shady side of a structure. It was uncanny how the fish would shift their position throughout the day, moving around the point, keeping themselves hidden in the moving shadow.

When it was breezy, on the other hand, I enjoyed my best success keying in on the points and structures that were fully exposed to the wind. In fact, most days, I caught twice as many trout fishing around the wind-exposed points as I did the ones protected from the breeze.


Gord Pyzer and his grandson, Liam, have been enjoying superb lake trout action by fishing the shady side of structures and windy points. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And get this: when the wind shifted direction, the previously protected points "turned on," while the prior wind exposed points "shut down."

It was a clear indication that patterns are often only reliable from one day to the next, as long as the water and weather conditions remain consistent. When they change, the pattern usually changes correspondingly.

Having said this, however, most days you only need to tweak or fine-tune the relationship in order to get back onto the fish. Other times a more dramatic shift is in the offing, like all of the mayflies that have been hatching and collecting on the store windows and houses along the waterfront here in town.


When you find the key depth the fish are using and experiment with a variety of presentations, you can put together a pattern that will work around the lake. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

It is a sure sign that the trout will shift away from the hard-bottomed, rocky structures and re-position themselves on the clay and mud-bottomed basins where the insects are now emerging by the millions.

And as the fish transition, we'll need to scrap the old pattern and move with them, likely pitching vibrating, lipless crankbaits to match the new mayfly hatch and crack the code anew.

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