First Steps on the Ice

Author Gord Pyzer, says...let the ice fishing games begin. (Photo credit: Liam Whetter)

Ice Fishing Season has started in Ontario

Learn what fish species you can catch and what baits ice anglers are using.



Ready, set, let's go!

Ice anglers have already stepped out onto the first good ice of the season in Northern Ontario, while their friends in the southern and central parts of the province have their rods rigged and are raring to go.

So, what species and lakes are at the top of the list, and what baits will be the first to flutter down the holes of some of Ontario's top hard water anglers?

ice angler holding ontario black crappie
Pete Garnier says a favourite early ice tactic is to focus on bluegills during the day and crappies when the sun goes down (Photo credit: Pete Garnier)

"Without a doubt, it will be a mixed deal of bluegills and crappies," says buddy Pete Garnier, who just may be the finest winter panfish angler in Ontario. "I'll focus on gillers throughout the day, but once the sun disappears, it's all about slab crappies.”

"I've had tremendous first ice success targeting the smaller, shallower lakes in South-Central Ontario and my very first drop will be a Northern Lights colour, 1.3-inch Angler's Choice Wiggle Fry. I'll rig it on a 1/32-ounce orange tungsten jighead tied to 3- or 4-pound test fluorocarbon line."

wiggle fry
Pete Garnier relies on a Northern Lights colour Wiggle Fry to wrestle bull bluegills to the surface (Photo credit: Pete Garnier)

Over on Lake Simcoe, ice fishing top gun Justin Girard says that stepping onto the ice for the first time each season is like Christmas morning. And whitefish will be the fishy present that he unwraps first.

"I love targeting the early season, shallow water whitefish bite," says Girard. "The fish haven't been pressured for months and they are coming up onto the shoals to feed. If you play it safe, you are guaranteed to have success."

ice angler holding ontario whitefish
Justin Girard says that stepping onto the ice for the first time each season is like Christmas morning. (Photo credit: Justin Girard)

And what will Girard tie on to the end of his line?

"I always drop down a Meegs jig," he says. "It out-produces every other lure on Lake Simcoe, for lake trout as well as whitefish. Given Simcoe's huge goby population, the Meegs jig imitates them perfectly. I use a medium light Fenwick Aetos ice rod spooled with 10-pound test Power Pro, tipped with an 8-pound test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.”

meegs jig
Lake Simcoe's Justin Girard says the secret to catching whitefish is tapping a Meegs Jig gently on the bottom, then pause it for at least ten seconds (Photo credit: Justin Girard)

"Lake Simcoe is a clear body of water, so using a fluorocarbon leader is essential. I also tie directly to the Meegs jig so I can optimize its action. I'll tap the bottom gently and then pause the jig for at least ten seconds. I also can't stress enough, the importance of good electronics. I use a Lowrance X67 ice machine, but any good flasher will do the trick."

While Garnier and Girard pine for the hard water season to begin, up in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country, Tom Batiuk started ice fishing two weeks ago.

"I found 6 inches of black ice on an unnamed crappie lake that I discovered last winter," says Batiuk. "Of course, I had to try a few new lures, so I used a Clam Small Pea Slab Spoon tipped with a Maki Plastic and it was awesome. If I spotted a fish that wouldn’t commit, I dropped down one of the new Clam Dropper Spoons. Bouncing this smaller, enticing presentation really grabbed their attention."

ice angler holding ontario lake trout
Fort Frances ice angler Tom Batiuk looks forward every New Years Day to the traditional snowmachine trip that he makes for lake trout (Photo credit: Tom Batiuk)

While crappies will keep Batiuk busy for the next few weeks, he says he is really looking forward to the traditional snowmachine trip he makes every New Year’s Day to greet the opening of the lake trout season.

"There’s a ton of lake trout lakes in the area," says Batiuk, who adds, "I start on steep structure, adjacent to a deep basin. My holes are only 20 feet apart, but I often have a depth change of up to 60 feet. Lake trout use the areas like highways to ambush bait. Find the bait and you find the trout."

ice angler with lake trout
(Photo credit: Liam Whetter)

Like Batiuk, Girard, also has a soft spot for lake trout once he can get out over deeper water.

"I am looking for shoals on top of shoals," says the hot winter stick. "I will start fishing on top of a shoal as the sun is coming up and the trout are feeding heavily. Then, as the fish drop down to the next level I will continue looking for them, until I reach the basin. In the afternoon, I won't hesitate to venture a mile away from a hot morning shoal, because big Simcoe lake trout love to roam the flats looking for easy meals."

Garnier, on the other hand, is drooling for winter gold, as he looks forward to the walleye bite on the Bay of Quinte.

"I live only minutes away from arguably the best trophy walleye fishery in the country," says the Prince Edward Country native, "so I am looking forward to putting down the light lines and fairy wands that we use for panfish and getting reacquainted with some Quinte greenbacks."

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