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Fishing small with big results in Northern Ontario

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Fishing small with big results in Northern Ontario

When fishing from a modest size aluminum boat and shore lunch beckons, finding the ideal spot to eat is as simple as pulling up on the nearest island. • Credit: Gord Pyzer



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I was being interviewed by Winnipeg, Manitoba CJOB radio show host, Kathy Kennedy (Catchin' Em With KK) the other morning and during our "fish talk", it suddenly occurred to me that I've landed a disproportionate number of the biggest fish that I've ever caught in Northern Ontario, while fishing from my "modest size" aluminum boat.

Like a lot of anglers, I own a big boat (2025 Kingfisher with a 225 HP Mercury Verado) for big waters, such as my home Lake of the Woods. But I also keep a smaller 16-foot Alumacraft jon boat pushed along by a modest 20 HP tiller handle Mercury outboard in the driveway for the tens of thousands of small and medium size backcountry lakes that are scattered across the immense northern part of the province.


The nice thing about fishing small to moderate size Northern Ontario lakes from a safe, sound and reliable aluminum boat is that you can access hidden hot spots overlooked by the crowds. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And while, on a ratio basis, I probably fish from the Kingfisher five times more than the Alumacraft, I've almost certainly caught twice as many "personal best" fish from the more modest size boat.

Indeed, I landed the three biggest muskies I've ever caught, including two Ontario Molson Big Fish Contest winners and my personal best King Kong critter -- a humongous fish that, after we let her swim free, converted from a length/girth basis to 57 1/2-pounds. That is a toothy critter less than 8-pounds off the current world record.

By the way, I hooked the big girl during the last week of November, after I'd put the big boat to bed, and my buddy and I had shoveled out the foot of snow that had fallen overnight. We also had to break through more than 100-feet of ice that had formed between the shore and open water.

But it was worth it.


Twelve year old Liam Whetter is all smiles as he holds up a gorgeous lake trout that he caught on his own, fishing from a small boat in one of Northern Ontario’s many fish-filled pristine small lakes. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

I also couldn't tell you the number of double-digit walleye we've caught over the years from "the little boat that could", nor the scores of black crappies, smallmouth bass, northern pike and lake trout.

The reason it is so important, as Kathy and I discussed, is two fold. On the one hand, far too many folks who would dearly love to take up the sport of fishing, mistakenly believe there is some unwritten prerequisite that says you can only do it from a powerful boat throwing a ten-foot rooster tail into the air.

Indeed, the very best boat you could begin your life as a budding angler fishing from is a safe, sturdy, modest size tin can like my 16-foot Alumacraft jon boat. As a matter of fact, it is the boat I am using right now to teach my 12-year old grandson, Liam, the ropes.

He can hop into it, zip up his PFD, attach the kill switch and take off, guiding me around whatever lake we are fishing. And get this: in the last few weeks we've downrigged for lake trout, caught a score of walleye and northern pike, Liam has tied his personal best smallmouth record landing close to a 5-pound bronze beauty and we have yet to see another boat on any one of the picture postcard, drop-dead gorgeous, Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country lakes we've been fishing.


Twelve-year old Liam Whetter nabbed this trophy five-pound smallmouth bass recently, while fishing from a 16-foot jon boat powered by a 20 hp outboard. Who says you need a big boat to the catch the fish of a lifetime in Northern Ontario? (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

So, do you really believe you need a monster outboard to get started fishing?

There is also another large group of folks who own small and medium size aluminum boats - like my beloved "Johnnie" -- who mistakenly believe they can't trailer it on a vacation to a Northern Ontario lodge, resort, campground or park because the boat is too small.

Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

The biggest lake Liam and I have fished the last few times we've "headed north" from Kenora was 6,000 acres, while the smallest was 600 acres. And not one of the water bodies had an access point.

And there is the irony.

Not only did we not fret about the lack of improved launching facilities, it was one of the reasons that led us to choose the lake in the first place. Because the folks who own the big boats, motors and trailers need decent facilities to launch their fancy boats, they're excluded from many of the finest fisheries that Northern Ontario has to offer.


When you fish from a modest size aluminum boat and shorelunch beckons, finding the ideal spot to eat is as simple as pulling up on the nearest island. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

How cool is that?

The big boat boys and girls are, by default, barred from fishing many of the very best waters, which means they're the exclusive preserve of the small boat owner, as Liam and I discovered the other day when we backed the trailer over a tiny sand beach and took pleasure in sampling some of the greatest fishing on the planet.

Indeed, I am going to get myself into trouble for saying this, but many of Northern Ontario's big marquee lakes and rivers -- like Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Lac Seul, Lake Nipigon, Lake Nipissing and Lake Temagami hog the limelight and steal the thunder.

Don't get me wrong, these magnificent big waters are rightly famous for their outstanding quality fisheries. But, they unfortunately overshadow the tens of thousands -- dare I say, hundreds of thousands -- of small and medium size lakes from one end of Northern Ontario to the other, that offer fishing opportunities the likes of which you cannot imagine.


When you fish from a modest size boat and you spot a lake that needs to be “discovered”, it is as simple as pulling over to the side of the road and launching it. No access point’s required! (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

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