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The ice-fishing debate

Gord Pyzer confesses a love for constantly moving throughout the day. "Two moving targets have a much better chance of colliding”. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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The ice-fishing debate

run and gun or sit and stay?

Try these ice fishing tips to catch more walleye, perch, black crappie, lake trout and northern pike in Ontario.

It often surprises anglers to learn that fishing is as much a mental game as it is one of employing technical and physical skills. And of all the head-scratching questions that ice anglers face when we fish on hard water across Northern Ontario is whether the best strategy is to run and gun or to sit and stay.

In other words, are you likely to catch more walleyes, yellow perch, black crappies, lake trout and northern pike if you drill several holes in one or two key areas and then stay there for the rest of the day in anticipation that the fish will come to you, or is it better to run and gun and keep moving around the lake spending no more than 20 or 30 minutes at any one location if the fish aren't biting?

It is the $64,000 question and the one that I wrestle with every time I drive the snowmachine off the trailer and head down the lake.

Case in point: good friend and In-Fisherman Television host Doug Stange was up in Sunset Country with me recently, filming a lake trout adventure which is scheduled to air next season.  It has become a tradition of sorts, as Doug and I have filmed numerous winter escapades together over the years.

And we always run and gun, spending no more than 20 or 30 minutes at any one spot if we're not catching fish with consistency. As a result, many days we'll snowmachine 15, 20, sometimes 30 or more miles, fish seven, eight or nine disparate locations, and drill 80, 90 even 100 or more holes.

Our theory is that two moving objects have a much greater chance of hitting each other. Especially when you consider that lake trout are cold water-loving, top predators that are prone to harassing schools of open water pelagic forage fish like ciscoes, smelts and shiners.

In-Fisherman television host, Doug Stange lands a beautiful Northern Ontario lake trout -- the product of being mobile. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Indeed, at one of the spots where Doug and I stopped when we were filming recently, I noticed a large school of baitfish suddenly flicker across my sonar screen about 25-feet above my lure. I quickly retrieved line as fast as I could reel it in, swimming the lipless crankbait right through the pod of baitfish, imitating a panicking shiner exiting and fleeing the school.  That is when I spotted a bright crimson arch on my Humminbird sonar screen chasing after my lure, and then POW!, my rod buckled over under the weight of a beautiful lake trout.

Giving equal time to the opposing position, however, I have two friends -- Ryan Knutson, who travels over from Winnipeg to ice fish for Sunset Country lake trout every chance he can get and John Jakobs who lives and fishes near Dryden - and they've both been icing plenty of nice Northern Ontario lake trout this winter while staying put on one or two key spots.

The operative word in their strategy, of course, is "key spot".

When you decide to roll the dice and put all of your eggs into one basket, it is vitally important to spend the necessary time examining bottom contour charts in order to identify high traffic fish locations through which you suspect the trout are staging or filtering.

Winnipeg angler Ryan Knutson says he can’t enough of the fabulous lake trout fishing that Northern Ontario has to offer. Knutson specializes in pinpointing lake trout travel areas where he sets up and waits for the trout to arrive. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Indeed, John, who is one of the top guides on Eagle Lake, has accumulated a number of waypoints over the years -- underwater points, ledges with sharp break lines and shoals -- where he knows the lake trout like to mill about and rest.

Ryan, on the other hand, opts for the high traffic areas where he knows that bait fish like to congregate and spots where the trout are wedged in -- like a deep trough between two islands -- and forced to swim through a constricted highway.

Proving that you can be extremely successful when you pick your spots carefully, Ryan one day caught and released 23 lake trout.

Southern Ontario lake trout specialist Michael McNaught prefers to run and gun in order to contact lake trout in the winter. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

I should mention, too, that the same principles apply to all of the other species that we love to ice fish for in Northern Ontario, including walleye, yellow perch, black crappies, whitefish and northern pike.

Which brings us full circle and back to our original question: is it best to run and gun or wiser to sit and stay?

When you're ice fishing in any one of the hundreds of thousands of lakes and rivers in Northern Ontario, the best answer appears to be a resounding, whatever suits your fancy.

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