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Chasing Away the Mid-Winter Blues

Gord Pyzer and Doug Stange with one of the many whitefish landed while filming the In-Fisherman Television episode in Northern Ontario. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Chasing Away the Mid-Winter Blues

Chase away the mid-winter blues with a Northern Ontario ice fishing trip

Focusing your ice fishing adventures on cold water-loving fish species to avoid the February doldrums.

You know it has been a good day ice fishing in Northern Ontario when, after spending ten or twelve hours on the ice, you just can't wait to go back out and do it all over again.

That is how I was feeling the other day, after filming two In-Fisherman Television adventures in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country with my good friend and show host, Doug Stange. We were shooting upcoming television episodes and had spent a day chasing lake trout and another day pursuing whitefish. And the action was glorious!

Indeed, many ice anglers will tell you they experience a noticeable slump in mid-winter fishing success, referring to it as the "February doldrums". But you can avoid it completely by focusing on two things. First, center your ice fishing adventures in Northern Ontario, where a normal day during the "mid-winter doldrums" is as good as it gets anywhere else.

Christian Hoffman with his first-ever smallmouth bass caught while ice fishing in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Secondly, concentrate on cold water-loving species like lake trout, speckled trout, rainbow trout, splake, whitefish, ciscoes and burbot. It's not that the warmer water-loving walleye, sauger, yellow perch, crappie and pike won't bite in mid-winter, it is just that the cold water-adoring boys and girls kick it up a notch.

Case in point, when I got home from spending the first day on the ice with Doug, I noticed the message light flashing on my phone. When I listened to the recording it was from my buddy, Mark Olford, who lives in central Ontario. Mark had hooked into a giant speckled trout while ice fishing on a small lake not far from Ontario's magnificent Algonquin Provincial Park and the trout was so big, he couldn't wedge it up through the hole.

And, lest you think this another fish story, Mark has caught several gorgeous Northern Ontario speckled trout -- magnificent trophies in the four-, five- and six-pound class -- but this one was considerably bigger. Indeed, he plunged his arm all the way down the hole, grabbed the fish behind the gill flap and still couldn't pull it up.

So, in a last ditched effort to land the record class trout, Mark jabbed the butt of his rod into the snow, while he attempted to widen the hole by carefully cutting a second one beside it. Alas, he nicked his line in the excitement and the fish swam away.

Still, you can expect this kind of stellar action, on any one of the tens of thousands of lakes across Northern Ontario, during the mid-winter ice fishing season, if you focus at least part of your attention on the cold water species.

As a matter of fact, when Doug and I were filming the In-Fisherman whitefish episode last week, the first fish I hooked, less than ten minutes into the morning was a monster whitefish in the 6- or 7-pound class.

It completely inhaled the small Rapala Snap Rap, tipped with a one-inch Gulp! minnow, that I was jigging by lifting it up, pausing, letting it fall, pausing again and then repeating the motion. I was a hero, however, for all of about two minutes, when Doug quickly bettered my fish with an even bigger Sunset Country lunker.

And get this: the action remained so consistently good that we recorded the entire television show in less than three hours. That, in itself, may have been a new record.

All in a day's work, ice fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Coincidentally, it was at this point that In-Fisherman cameraman Christian Hoffman, who had been staring through the other end of the camera, noted that Doug and I appeared to be having far too much fun. Christian took pains to point out, too, that he had never caught a whitefish through the ice.

So, after Christian carefully packed up the television equipment, I gave him my sonar unit and jigging rod and sat on the ice beside him, enjoying the excitement.

Indeed, if there is anything I get pleasure from more than catching fish myself, it is watching someone else experience the fun for the very first time.

Now, make no mistake about it, Christian is a superb angler in his own right, putting fly fishing for humongous, 30-pound-plus carp at the top of his list of favourite things to do. But, watching him get excited when he spotted whitefish after whitefish streaking onto the sonar screen, chasing his bait, and then inhaling his lure, I think those giant fly rod carp are going to have to make some room for their winter cousins.

More thrilling still, as Christian was working his jig a foot or two above the bottom, he spotted a fish on the sonar screen slowly rising up to intercept his bait. But it was uncharacteristic of a whitefish, which typically rushes in frantically and demolishes a lure once it makes the decision to strike. So, Christian waited patiently until he felt a nudge, set the hook aggressively and reeled up a gorgeous smallmouth bass which he quickly released.

It was another first for Christian -- his second of the day -- which is characteristic of the good things that come when you chase away the mid-winter blues, ice fishing in Ontario.

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