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Winter Brook Trout Bonanza

Trophy-sized brook trout like this one caught by the author’s son Jake Romanack represent one of the least known ice fisheries across the snowbelt. This fish came from a lake only a short snow machine ride away from the town of Wawa, Ontario. • Credit: Mark Romanack
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Winter Brook Trout Bonanza

Learn what makes Wawa's brook trout ice fishing so good and some tips too



Wawa, Ontario is located just three hours north of Sault Ste. Marie on Highway 17. The drive north to Wawa is worth the price of admission alone. It's one of the most scenic drives in all of Ontario; the natural beauty of this region is hard to describe in words.

Rugged hillsides forested with spruce, birch and maple are covered with a thick blanket of lake effect snow from January through April. Travelling along Highway 17 visitors are treated to stunning vistas overlooking the rugged and historic Lake Superior shoreline.

In the winter months, Wawa is a quiet bush community, made up mostly of locals and a few Americans who travel here for ice fishing and snowmobiling adventures. In the spring and summer, Wawa transforms into a bustling trade center and kickoff point for countless anglers seeking wilderness fishing adventures. Some of Ontario's most popular fishing lodges are located in this region, and many can only be accessed via float plane bases located near Wawa.

Wawa also has an airport and taxi service that enables travellers from all around the globe to zero in on the world-class fishing this area offers. To the travelling angler, Wawa offers all the amenities one could ask for. A host of small businesses including motels, campgrounds, cafes, fast food stops, gas stations, bait shops, hardware stores and grocery stores welcome visiting anglers.

STOCKING EFFORTS

The brook trout fishing in this region is legendary thanks to an ongoing Ministry of Natural Resources "put and take" stocking program that occurs each winter. Trout about five inches long are stocked into select lakes to augment the naturally reproducing populations.

A slot limit enables anglers to harvest up to five brook trout 12 inches long or shorter as "eaters." Anglers after trophy brook trout can keep two fish 16 inches and over as part of the five-fish limit.

Young Brett Robinson poses proudly over a "limit catch" of brook trout. The supplemental stocking program the Ministry of Natural Resources maintains with brook trout in the Wawa area insures that anglers can have their cake and eat it too! (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

The special harvest regulations enforced on brook trout allow anglers to have their cake and eat it too! Trout as big as five or six pounds are frequent catches, and the average brook trout is about 15 inches long!

Some of the trout-stocked lakes near Wawa are so remote and located in such rugged country they are only accessible during the winter months when anglers using wide-track snow machines and track-equipped Argo ATVs gain access to brook trout fishing second to none. The brook trout season opens on January 1 and closes in most areas across Ontario in early September.

icefishing argo wawa3Track vehicles like the Argo or wide track snow machines are needed to access the remote brook trout fisheries in the Wawa, Ontario area. (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

WINTER FISHING TIPS

Ice fishermen target brook trout in two common ways. Tip-ups baited with live minnows are a trout fishing staple in this region of Ontario. The traditional way to target winter trout is to set out two tip-ups per angler and then to build a campfire where everyone gathers to stay warm while waiting for the fish to bite.

icefishing wawa2The best winter brook trout strategy is to mix in a combination of tip-ups and jigging tactics. (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

Other anglers favor the pro-active approach and set out one tip-up and then jig for brook trout with a second line. Small jigging spoons like the popular Little Cleo produced by Acme Tackle work well on brook trout. Other jigging lures to consider include lead head jigs tipped with minnows and jigging/swimming baits like the Jigging Rapala, Moonshine Shiver Minnow and the Northland Puppet Minnow.

Jamie Robinson is a Wawa-based tournament angler who spends lots of time targeting winter brook trout with his family. "The opening day of brook trout fishing on January 1 is like a holiday for my family," says Robinson. "Instead of partying in the New Year, we get to bed early on December 31, so we can hit the ice at the crack of dawn on New Year's Day to fish for brook trout!"

Jamie Robinson of Wawa enjoys winter brook trout fishing with his whole family. The entire Robinson clan considers the January 1 opening day of trout fishing season to be a holiday. (Photo credit: Mark Romanack)

One of Robinson's favorite tricks for tip-up fishing is to use a No. 2 colored single beak style hook at the terminal end. "My favorite color hooks are chartreuse and orange," says Robinson. "Single hooks make it easier to unhook and release brook trout. Using colored hooks is a subtle thing, but they definitely catch more trout than traditional bronzed hooks.

When jigging, Robinson favors a small lead head jig known as the Maxi Jig produced by Yakima Bait. The Maxi Jig is dressed with a touch of Maribou and Flashabou that gives these jigs a little fish-attracting color and flash. Designed for trout, steelhead and salmon fishing, the Maxi Jig comes in 1/32-, 1/16-, 1/8- and 1/4-ounce sizes.

"I tip the Maxi Jig with a small dace minnow," says Robinson. "Usually the best way to catch brook trout on a jig is to drill a series of holes and then to fish each one for a few minutes."

FISH THE STRUCTURE

Brook trout are structure-loving creatures. The best ice fishing action typically takes place near rocky shorelines and points in water 10 feet deep or less! Set tip-up lines so the bait is suspended about one or two feet off bottom. For jig fishing, it's best to pound the bottom and then pause the jig a few inches off bottom.

SUMMING IT UP

The winter brook trout fishing action available in Wawa, Ontario is something not only unique but very special.

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