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Ice Fishing the Chapleau River

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Ice Fishing the Chapleau River

Jeff Hamill and Nick Orton hoist a fine brook trout from one of the many trout lakes found around the Northern Ontario town of Chapleau. • Credit: James Smedley

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"It's a pretty late spring," says Nick Orton as he slides a 15-inch walleye back into the stained waters of Northern Ontario's Chapleau River. Although it's late March it looks more like February with deep powder snow covering a generous layer of slush above three feet of solid ice. The action has been steady since we joined local anglers and Nick Orton and Jeff Hamill at a widening of the river, a stone's throw from the town of Chapleau.

The procession of small pike continues but now we are drawing the occasional walleye from the shallow water. "The biggest I've caught here is about eight pounds but generally the walleye run up to about 23 inches," says Jeff between twitches of the jigging rod. "And so close to home," I say. Jeff and Nick nod knowingly.

With the Chapleau River flowing right through town and myriad lakes and rivers in the region, Chapleau is a great base for an ice fishing adventure. My dad, Gordon, and I drove up earlier in the day with snowmobiles in tow and checked in at Aux Trois Moulins Motel. After a quick dinner we snowmobiled through the snow-covered streets to the river and headed five minutes downstream to meet Jeff and Nick. The evening fish is a great hors d'oeuvre to a few days of winter angling, and as a growing darkness ushers in a few more decent-sized walleye, we formulate plans for tomorrow's brook trout adventure.

Chapleau’s Aux Trois Moulins Motel is a great base for ice fishing operations in northeastern Ontario. (Photo credit: James Smedley)

Next morning, after stuffing ourselves at Aux Trois Moulin's breakfast bar, we snowmobile down a narrow trail leading to a kilometre-long lake. Power augers break the stillness as we sink a series of holes ranging in depth from seven down to about 15 feet. Before I'm even rigged Nick has a fat 16-inch brook trout flopping on the ice. "Promising," I think to myself as I settle into the seat of my portable ice hut and clip on a Mepps Little Wolf and start jigging. Within a minute I see something flash by on my Vexilar screen. I brace myself for the hit, which comes within the next second, and eventually ice a colourful 18-inch fish.

Jigging small flashy spoons is key here, eliciting savage strikes from aggressive trout. Nick and Jeff seem to be perpetually wielding a bent jigging rods and just before the bite starts to die my dad jigs up a beefy brook trout pushing 19 inches, probably the biggest of the morning.

We've all been too preoccupied to consider eating but I'm starting to feel the pangs of hunger. As if on cue Nick calls from a shoreline fire, "Sausage are up." We gather round the flame and eat venison sausage complete with mustard and toasted buns. Thermoses are cracked and we fortify ourselves while contemplating our next move. This is one of approximately 40 lakes in the Chapleau District stocked with brook trout, splake, or rainbow.

Too bad we're only here for one more night.

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