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How to Locate Lake Trout in the Wintertime

Northern Ontario lake trout lakes are located in picture postcard winter wonderlands with water so clear you often see your lure swimming 25 feet beneath your boots. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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How to Locate Lake Trout in the Wintertime

Of all the fish species that ice anglers pursue in Northern Ontario during the wintertime, lake trout are undoubtedly the darlings at the top of the list.

Part of the attraction is the fact that Ontario is home to fully two-thirds of all the lake trout lakes on Earth, so no matter where in the massive, fish-filled province you choose to drill a hole and drop down a lure, you're bound to be close to superb water.

Another draw is where the lake trout lakes are located. In picture postcard winter wonderlands epitomized by centuries-old red, white and jack pine forests, gorgeous granite cliffs and water so crystal clear you can often watch your lure dance and swim as you jig it 25 feet below your boots.

Still, as good as the trout fishing is most days, you don't just walk or ride your snowmachine out onto the ice, drill a couple of holes and start catching fish. You need to carefully look for the locations that lake trout favour. And one of the prime places to set up, especially when you're ice fishing on a new Northern Ontario lake for the very first time, is off the end of a point.

The reason trout find points so appealing is because they typically jut out into the lake and function like roundabouts on busy downtown streets and highways. Pelagic baitfish like ciscoes, smelts and emerald shiners often travel in large schools following specific routes, depths and contour lines. When they arrive at a point it blocks their path, interrupts their journey, and forces the fish to pause and take a break for lunch while they figure out their bearings before travelling on.

One of the prime places to set up for lake trout, especially when you’re ice fishing on a new lake for the very first time, is off the end of a point. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And while they are doing all of this, the lake trout, patrolling the point like school crossing guards, are taking advantage of the delicious confusion.

Mainland and island points are also ideal for another reason. In a relatively small confined area, they offer you plenty of alternative depths over which to drill holes and explore.

Indeed, early in the morning, late in the afternoon and during snowy and overcast periods, I often enjoy my best trout success fishing in the holes that I've augered over shallow water, often in depths of less than 30 feet.

In the middle of the day, on the other hand, especially when it is sunny, I'll concentrate my winter trout fishing in holes drilled over deeper water, sometimes as deep as 150 or more feet.

When you set up on a point, however, you can easily drill multiple holes - twenty or more depending on the number of anglers in your party and thickness of the ice - and walk back forth between them while you fish a variety of depths. When you systematically do this, it's uncanny how the trout will typically tell you what they're doing at any point in time because you'll see the vast majority of bites and fish are caught from a select number of holes over a narrowly defined depth range.

As a matter of fact, I can't tell you the number of times a disproportionate number of trout have been caught from a single hole surrounded by dozens more seemingly just like it.

It is the power of points.

Many days when ice fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario, like this 20-pound trophy caught by Scott Gardner, you will notice that a disproportionate number of fish will be hooked in a single hole. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

High rock walls, cliffs and bluffs are another favourite form of structure that I am always on the lookout for during my winter lake trout ice fishing travels. The best cliffs and walls have no shoreline, whatsoever, plummeting straight down into water that is often 80 to 100 feet deep within a matter of inches.

Lake trout love these spots because the big piscatorial predators can patrol the hard rock ledges, edges and craggy outcroppings, constantly looking for pods of prey. And when they spot a school of ciscoes, smelt or shiners, 3, 4, even half-a-dozen or more trout will work together, pack-like, to surround the baitfish, herding, corralling and pushing them into the wall creating confusion, while they ambush and dine on the tasty bite-size bits of dinner.

Finally, let me leave you with an important presentation piece of advice that you need to stuff into your lake trout fishing quiver. Just because the water may be deep where you're fishing, doesn't mean that you have to be fishing near the bottom. As a matter of fact, most days you'll discover the lake trout are suspended well up in the water column, at the same depth or close to the same depth, that you see the majority of the baitfish swimming on your sonar unit.

It is an extremely important detail that good friend and In-Fisherman Television host, Doug Stange and I discuss in the following short video clip that we recorded while ice fishing for lake trout in Northwestern Ontario's stunningly beautiful Sunset Country.

Watch it and you'll see why I am so passionate about ice fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario in the winter.

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