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Ontario Speck-tacular

Trophy size 3.5-lb plus speckled trout caught while ice fishing in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Ontario Speck-tacular

Learn tips for fishing speckled trout at first ice

You'll find a skiff of snow across much of the North country now, as nighttime temperatures are dipping well below the freezing mark. And we're into the start of the holiday season.

This can only mean one thing: the hundreds of small speckled trout lakes strung out across Northern Ontario, like gems on a string of pearls, are freezing up solidly and we're only a few days away from the best ice fishing of the season.

Indeed, fishing at first ice is nothing short of speck-tacular, especially when you're on one of the pristine palaces these gorgeous fish call home. Indeed, Northern Ontario has probably more of these easily accessed, picture-postcard lakes than anywhere else in the world.

Most anglers have their favourite Ontario-speckled trout waters, but if you're a visitor to the province and unsure where to begin your quest, a quick call to any one of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources District Offices will net you a plethora of information.

As a matter of fact, where to go is rarely the issue for ice anglers who have never before fished for speckled trout. Instead, where to drill your holes once you arrive at the lake, and what to use for bait are more topical issues.

That is where we come in.

angler ice fishing speckled trout

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

In truth, it is a relatively easy task to target speckled trout in the winter so long as you remember one thing. While the fish have been stocked and are flourishing in these small lake environs, they haven't forgotten their "roots".

By that I mean, that speckled trout are first and foremost river fish. Even when they are planted in a lake, they relate to cover and structure as though they were still in moving water.

Knowing this information allows you to step onto the hard, frozen surface of a speckled trout lake and pretty well size it up like a pro, just by using your eyes and looking around the shoreline.

What I like to concentrate on are the sections of shoreline that are generally flat to moderately sloping, rather than on the steep portions that feature plunging deep water immediately close to the bank.

The two other things that always raise my blood pressure and kick my heartbeat up a notch are flat shorelines with points that jut out into the lake, as well as sections with flooded tree stumps and reeds poking through the ice.

Speckled trout will cruise and follow along a shoreline until they find these highly desirable sections and then mill about the sunken branches, wood, stumps and boulders.

Once you spot one of these potential speckle trout hotspots, drill your holes close to shore, as a general rule, in water no deeper than 10- to 12 feet deep. Indeed, I regularly set my tip-ups in depths half that deep.

If it all sounds a bit too easy, well, that is what makes ice fishing for speckled trout so much fun. Hey, it is ice fishing we're talking about, not quantum physics.

Continuing on our theme of simplicity, I like to match the strength of my leader to the size of the fish I expect to catch. In other words, if smaller pan-size trout prevail in the lake, I'll go with a 12- to 14-inch long, 3- to 4-pound test leader attached to the end of my tip-up line.

On the other hand, if I think I am more likely to catch huskier trout, I'll tie on a 6-pound test leader, opting for the 8-pound line when I am gunning for 'gators.

By the way, I rely almost exclusively on fluorocarbon line for my ice fishing leaders, favouring the material's low stretch, superior strength, abrasion resistance and almost total invisibility in the crystal clear waters that typically epitomize these icy trout temples.

Now, a little secret.

2 anglers holding string of trout

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Speckled trout are cool dudes. Not only do they dress the part like hip hop stars -- have you ever seen a male speck in his outrageous spawning finery -- they are drawn to the bright lights as well.

That is why I always slide a colourful bead on my line, before tying on a small but brightly coloured #2, 4, 6 or 8 octopus hook -- reserving the bigger ones for the heavier line and the smaller ones for the lighter line -- painted fluorescent orange, red or chartreuse.

By the way, you can shade your own hooks if you prefer, but my favourites are the amazingly sharp Gamakatsu walleye hooks you can purchase that have the colours baked right on.


When most anglers bait their hooks with a lively minnow, they tend to put it through the lips, but doing it that way restricts the baitfish's movements. Instead, try this arrangement. Hold the minnow between your fingers with its back exposed and then run the hook ever so lightly under the skin right around the dorsal fin, making sure you come from the tail end toward the front, so that the point of your hook is facing the head of your minnow.

It is a deadly method. . .which brings us to speckle trout tip number three.

Carefully squeeze two or three split shots onto your line approximately three feet above your hook. When you do this, it creates a pivot point, so your minnow can freely swim away and attract the trout, tire itself out, and be tugged back - like a pendulum -- below your hole.

But enough talk.

young angler holding string of trout

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if that is the case, you'll love this short video piece that In-Fisherman Editor-in-Chief, Doug Stange and I shot a couple of seasons back when Doug visited me to go speckled trout fishing here in Northern Ontario.

For sure, pay attention to our rigging techniques, but don't forget to look around as well at the stunning early winter scenery and the magnificent speckled trout.

And then tell me, is there anywhere else you'd rather be?!

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