Last week I reported on how the ice fishing conditions are shaping up to be epic across Northwestern Ontario, from the Manitoba border across to Nipigon. This week, let's look how things are developing in Algoma, Northeastern and Central Ontario.
"I’ve already been out for panfish," says Sault Ste. Marie friend, Kevin King, who notes that most area lakes are now ice covered, with the majority of smaller lakes and bays offering safe conditions. "We're definitely on time this year, maybe even a little early, which is always a great thing. We should have good safe ice everywhere come January 1st when the season for most species opens up."
As for his early ice panfish exploits the other day, King says he found the bluegills super finicky and biting lightly. "I had to hop around," he said, "and drill a substantial number of holes to find the bigger schools to get them competing for my bait. I also talked to a several friends who did well ice fishing for splake. I am really looking forward to the big opener on January 1st, though, I am an absolute lake trout addict when it comes to hard water fishing."
Algoma area guide, Adam Vallee of Angling Algoma is also chomping at the bit to get the ice fishing season underway and reports that the inland lakes now have six inches of solid ice. "But it not consistent," he says, "so early ice anglers should be vigilant and carry the proper safety equipment, including ropes, spud bars and ice picks."
With Lake Huron and Lake Superior to the immediate south of his fishing area, Vallee notes how the big lakes can impact local weather and ice conditions.
"When substantial portions of the big lakes lock up early," he says, "it reduces the amount of lake effect snow that we receive. If we get large amounts of snow before the ice is thick enough, it can make for sketchy conditions due to the insulation and weight. Fortunately, looking at the long term forecast, I see minimal flurries with cold days and nights ahead, so I'm anticipating good ice conditions this season."
Running a guide service that aims to educate as well as put his guests on fish, Vallee says he is looking forward to accessing the large number of trout lakes for which the Algoma Region is justifiably famous. "I am definitely going to be focusing on bringing my guests into new lakes this winter," he says with a wide smile crossing his face.
Heading further east, the good news continues into the North Bay area where buddy, Matt Koprash says he is seeing more ice at this time of the year, than he has seen for quite some time.
"I have been out in my boat in early December in the past," says Koprash, "but we are currently sitting on 7-inches of quality ice on the eastern basin of Lake Nipissing. And the inland lakes are as good or better. The cold nights and below freezing temperatures are proving to be perfect for making ice. And the long-term forecast is holding steady. To put it mildly, these are the best conditions I have seen for ice fishing in at least five years."
Celebrating the arrival of a new baby has cramped Koprash 's opportunity to hit the hard water early this year, but he says he will be on the ice fishing for walleye and yellow perch over the upcoming holidays.
"I've re-spooled all of my Abu Garcia and Fenwick ice combos with Berkley Ultra 8 Carrier Braid," he says, "and added more Sebile Vibratos, Berkley Snap Jigs and Johnson Spoons to my tackle bags. And I've replaced any rusted hooks I've found with Berkley Fusion 19 trebles. Those things are seriously sharp."
After looking good a week ago, the ice formation has come to a halt on Muskoka area lakes, slowing down noticeably with a resurgence of warmer weather.
"The season was shaping up to be great," says local hard water angler, Wayne Barlow. "We had a cold snap and the smaller lakes and bays started freezing over and tightening up, but we’ve had a couple warm weeks of weather that has delayed the bigger waterbodies. A few small lakes are fishable with 4 to 6 inches of ice."
Even further south still, in the southern Ontario's banana-belt, many lakes are still ice free. That is very different from the conditions I used to encounter as a kid, when it was tradition for our fathers to drive us out onto Lake Simcoe's Cooks Bay where we would fish for jumbo yellow perch.
"I have heard of a few brave and possibly misguided souls in the Kawartha Lakes region venturing out onto shallow back bays atop two- to three-inches of ice," says good friend and H.T. Pro Staffer, Wil Wegman."Other than that, Lake Simcoe, our primary destination in Fisheries Management Zone 16, is still wide open.
"Very seldom, any more, do we ever have safe ice before late December. With the anticipated El Nino winter, however, I am hopeful that by New Years, the Kawarthas and Lake Couchiching, and the shallower protected areas of Lake Simcoe, like Cook’s Bay will be ready. Hopefully, too, the shallows between Georgina Island and the mainland and the area around Pefferlaw and Duclos Point."
With a slower start to the hard water season in the most southern extremes of the province, Wegman says he eagerly is awaiting his annual ice fishing adventure to Gogama, between Christmas and New Year's.
"I go up with a buddy and stay at his camp," says Wegman who is regarded as one of Ontario premier ice anglers. "We snowmachine into several wilderness lakes and ice fish for big brookies, splake and hopefully this year, walleye.
In the renown Kawartha Lakes region of southern Ontario, Shimano pro staffer, Chris Giles confirms that ice has skimmed across many local lakes, but despite appearances, it is generally not safe to venture out on them.
"There is a sketchy two to four inches on a few lakes," says Giles, "that some of the brave (or foolish) have ventured out on, but I would recommend caution at this point.
"The ice is setting up early for us this year, and with the cool nights there is no need to rush it. I haven’t ventured out myself, yet, but I plan to give it go this weekend. I like targeting crappies and perch in the Kawarthas and stocked trout in the lakes around Bancroft and Minden.
"For me, it’s about getting out and enjoying our four seasons. I especially like fishing off the graph, playing video games with the fish. I love seeing them chase your bait. I am really excited, too, to try the new Freedom Tackle Hammered Minnow with the new line of Shimano ice rods and reels. It is going to be a winning combination this winter."
And the last word goes to long time friend, "Big Jim" McLaughlin, publisher of the hugely popular and free Just Fishing!.
"It is looking very promising here in Eastern Ontario," says McLaughlin, "with some of the earliest fishable ice I have seen in a decade.
"We are ahead, for sure, but we’ve had a bit of a warm up that has slowed things down. Some anglers have reported six inches of nice black ice. I have only ice fished in my dreams, so far, but friends have had great multi-species days with lots of crappie, bluegill, and pike showing up - even the odd walleye."
Like Giles, McLaughlin says he is keen to test the new Freedom Hammered Minnow spoon on the giant walleyes that roam the Bay of Quinte. And what would winter be, the gentle giant asks rhetorically, if he couldn't ice fish his favourite Big Rideau Lake?