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Northern Ontario March Madness

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Northern Ontario March Madness

Rashid Lucas with a March Break walleye that he caught on a long underwater point in Northwestern Ontario's, Lake of the Woods. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

This time of year is a symbol of the peak ice fishing season in Northern Ontario

March Break is trophy time for some of the biggest walleye of the season.

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This week marks March break in Ontario when students get a much needed week-long pardon from school and studies. Although, I suspect whoever originally lobbied for the holiday was an ice angler, as "March Break" typically symbols the peak of the ice fishing season in Northern Ontario.

Indeed, I always tell my American friends, if they've never ice fished before, this is the time to plan their inaugural winter vacation to Northern Ontario. And I remind my Canadian brothers and sisters that instead of setting their sights on some distant southern clime, there is no better time than March Break to head north for some of the finest late winter / early spring fishing they will ever experience.

Here's a good bet, too: next week when everyone returns to school and work, they'll be sporting suntans that rival anything they could get in the Caribbean. I was painfully reminded of that the other day when I got a head start on March madness, while ice fishing for walleye near Eagle Lake, in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country.

The air temperature was hovering around the freezing mark, but the temperature in the sun was at least 70° F. I kid you not, I wore only a fleece lined hoody and did not don my jacket or gloves all day. But, I also forgot to splash on sunscreen and when I arrived back home in the evening I looked like a cooked lobster.

Ryan Haines Ryan Haines with a typical "shirtsleeve" walleye he caught in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Fortunately, the walleyes eased the pain. As is typically the case this time of year, they were snapping at everything I dropped down the hole. I say, "typically" because a lot of folks don't realized that all of the spring spawning species -- walleyes, saugers, yellow perch, black crappies and northern pike -- achieve the bulk of their egg development during the previous summer and fall.

walleye Tom VanLeuuwen with a gorgeous March Break walleye caught in Rainy Lake, Northwestern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Once winter sets in, they enter a stage that biologists refer to as "maintenance feeding". In other words, they eat just enough to keep the fires burning within their bellies, but winter isn't a time when most fish species in the North Country gain significant weight.

The Whetter family The Whetter family -- Jay, Liam and Campbell -- enjoy a March Break day catching walleye in Northwestern Ontario's, Lake of the Woods. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

That all changes, however, with March Madness.

With the spring spawning season only a few weeks away, the fish are starting to feed aggressively to finish off the egg maturation process as well as to gain nourishment to carry them through the rigors of reproduction.

Indeed, if there is a key to locating walleyes at this stage of the season it is to set up and drill your holes around large structural elements. Underwater points, rocky reefs and boulder strewn shoals that lie immediately adjacent to the spawning areas the fish will shortly be visiting.

If you're unsure where the spawning grounds are, check your lake contour map for any creeks, streams and / or rivers that flow into the lake and then highlight the closest primary fish concentrating structures.

Something else to keep in mind: I find walleyes at this time of the year, for some strange reason, don't like to swim above steeply sloping bottoms. Instead, they much prefer roaming on and around the much flatter parts of the points and shoals.

And while you can catch the fish from first light in the morning until last light in the late afternoon, there is no question that the bite peaks at the same time the sun slips over the horizon.

It is the reason you want to have several holes drilled, over varying depths of water, from deep to shallow, in advance of the fish flooding the area.

Indeed, it is how I had set up the other night, with my second line -- you're allowed two lines and holes when you're ice fishing in Northern Ontario -- a jig and lively minnow lightly hooked under the skin near the dorsal fin, acting as the canary in the coal mine.

Liam Whetter Liam Whetter with a gorgeous mid-day March Break walleye that he caught in Northwestern Ontario's, Lake of the Woods. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

While the sun was still high, I set the second line out slightly deeper, while I jigged for walleyes in 24-feet of water. I was catching some nice fish, too, including a herd of bonus jumbo yellow perch. Then, as the sun nudged the horizon, the perch activity dropped noticeably -- they're sight feeding fish that don't see well in the darkness -- and the florescent flag on the tip up popped up, signalling a gorgeous fat, 24-inch walleye that I quickly admired and then released.

Sensing the school of walleyes was now arriving, I re-positioned the tip up in one of the shallower holes, and jigged the ones immediately adjacent to the hole from which I'd just caught the fish.

The action was frantic for forty-five minutes, with three more beautiful 24- to 27-inch walleyes coming up the holes and going back down, while a trio of 14- to 16-inch "eaters" remained on the ice with me. Then, with the sun out of sight and twilight falling quickly, the action started slowing down.

Fortunately, the "canary" chirped once again and the flag on my tip up, set in the shallowest hole, flew overhead. It signaled the school had moved up on top of the structure, giving me the opportunity to follow them along for another 45 minutes of rock 'em, sock 'em, Northern Ontario March Madness.

walleye March Break is trophy time for some of the biggest walleye of the season. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

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