Oh, what a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time, I was reporting on the spectacular black crappie fishing I was enjoying in Northwestern Ontario while trolling in the boat, wearing a hoodie and light sweater. This year, I've already put the Kingfisher to bed and I am trudging through more snow in the bush than we had on New Year's Day. I even took the snowmobiles out for a short run on Halloween, just to say I was driving in the white stuff in October.
The kid never leaves you.
The kid never leaves you.
Oh, yes, and the lake where I was crappie fishing in the boat this time last November is now completely frozen.
"The ice fishing season is shaping up like a winter from my childhood," says Fort Frances ice fishing guru Tom Batiuk. "We have seen cold temperatures since Halloween, which is exciting and encouraging."
What appears to have sped up the ice-making process is that the snow that fell over the last few weeks has super-chilled the water and brought it down to temperatures conducive to making good early ice. So good, so early, and so conducive, in fact, that Batiuk says he could be ice fishing in seven to 10 days' time, on some of his favourite small-to medium-size lakes. The key to this playing out the way ice anglers hope it will is a continuation of the cold temperatures, and none of the rain that plagued us last winter.
"Ice fishing conditions were a challenge last season," says Batiuk, who is a Pro-staff member for Clam Outdoors and Vexilar, two ice fishing industry heavyweights. "The unseasonably warm fall saw ice forming late on many bodies of water, and the warm winter brought lots of rain. On Rainy Lake, there were open water areas that had never before developed. It was dangerous to travel the lake in many areas."
Buddy John Monteith, however, confirms with hard data the turn around that Batiuk and I are seeing this November. Monteith runs FishHunters Guide Service on Lake of the Woods, and for over 40 years has maintained a detailed daily outdoor diary. He can tell you the hour the first snow flake fell, as well as when ice formed and melted on local lakes.
"Last year," says Monteith, "Rabbit Lake, Round Lake, and Laurenson's Lake [three lakes within the Kenora city boundary], froze over on November 27. This year they were completely ice covered on November 8."
The much anticipated early start to the ice fishing season isn't confined only to Sunset Country, either, according to Thunder Bay's Davis Viehbeck.
"We had rain in every month of the winter last year," says the hard water fishing enthusiast. "The rain and lack of snow in the latter part of the season made for glare ice conditions. We also had rough ice due to the many freeze-thaw events that we experienced. I've never considered the need for a studded track on my snowmobile, but I sure would have loved one last winter."
"The good news this year, however, is that we've already had a hard cold snap in the Thunder Bay area that has resulted in a number of lakes getting a good layer of ice. Shallower walleye lakes will be fishable in no time, and the region's smaller inland trout lakes should be safe to walk on soon as well. I plan on checking out Whitefish Lake and a few of the stocked speckle trout lakes over the weekend, now that the freezer is full of venison."
With so many ice anglers seeing their weather dream come true this autumn, it is natural to want to rush out and get an early start to the season. But a word of caution is in order.
"As marvelous as the early ice conditions are right now," says HSM Outdoors Pro-staffer Batiuk, "I’m always cautious in the early season. As a general rule I don’t go near swamps, running water, or beaver lodges. These areas take a long time to freeze properly, due to warmth and water movement.”
"My personal limit for early ice fishing is 5 to 6 inches to walk on and 8 to 10 inches to ride my ATV and snowmobile. I also stop frequently to check the thickness of the ice and wear ice picks around my neck. I carry an axe and a small saw, two ways to make a fire, and always wear a PFD. I may look stupid, but I am coming home to my family after an outing."
Be sure to check in next week, when Gord Pyzer reviews how the ice fishing conditions are shaping up in the Northeastern and southern parts of the province.