Have you ever noticed how remarkably different the fishing often is from one year to the next? The conditions seem to favour one or two species over all the rest.
This year across Northern Ontario it is trout -- and not just lake trout, either -- but speckled trout, rainbow trout and splake as well. It seems no matter where grandson Liam and I are going these days, the trout bite is outstanding.
And it got underway with a bang, right out of the gate, in early December when we found hordes of husky speckled trout cruising the shallows and biting like crazy. A couple of weeks later, we unleashed the snowmachines and rode them into one of our favourite Sunset Country backwaters and the lake trout fishing was outrageous.
As a matter of fact, I caught back-to-back fish within seconds of my lure clearing the bottom of the hole in the ice. Usually, you watch your lure fall on the sonar screen, stop it at the level or depth you want to fish and then start jigging. Not this time. I opened the bail on my reel, dropped the lure into the water, watched a huge red mark appear immediately on the sonar screen and felt my rod being removed from my hands.
It was as though the trout were looking up the hole, waiting for my lure to fall, and it happened twice in rapid succession.
Shortly after that exceptional day on the ice, Liam had his mid-term exams. That was the bad news. The good news was that when he finished his last test at noon on Friday, he phoned and suggested we celebrate by catching the last light walleye and perch bite.
So, I picked him up and we headed to one of my favourite local walleye and perch lakes. And I swear my lure did not make it to the bottom on the first three or four drops as a horde of gorgeous, greedy 12- to 14-inch perch screamed up from the bottom, en mass, and fought for the right to eat it.
It was crazy, frenetic, non-stop action until in short order, I counted 14 gorgeous perch lying on the ice. But then something strange happened. As fast and furious as the perch had greeted our falling baits when we dropped them down the holes, the action stopped.
I don't mean it slowed down. It stopped cold turkey. One minute we had half-a-dozen famished, piranha-like perch on our sonar screens chasing after our lures and the next minute nothing.
Then Liam spotted a huge red mark on his Humminbird Ice 55 unit -- he said it covered two or three inches of the screen -- come screaming up like a guided missile locked onto his lure.
It was clearly not a perch.
So, instead of gently jigging the Rapala Snap Rap he had tied on, as he had been doing for perch, Liam picked up the pace considerably, played cat-and-mouse with the phantom fish for at least a minute and then pulled the lure away from it. It was more than the giant could stand, so it slammed its foot down on the gas pedal, overtook his lure and devoured it.
"Oh, my gawd, Grandpa," was all I needed to hear.
When I looked over to where he was fishing, I saw his medium action ice rod bent over like a wet noodle and his line -- only 8-pound test because we were targeting walleye and perch -- was screaming under constant drag.
We had the mystery fish beneath the hole at least six or seven times, but each time Liam tried to turn its head to bring it up, the fish touched off another booster rocket and blasted away. By keeping steady pressure on his gel spun, however, he was finally able to get the fish's head into the eight-inch hole and up popped the snout, beautiful eyes and head of a colossal lake trout. The biggest I have ever seen come through a hole in the ice.
It was easily 30-pounds plus -- the trophy trout of a lifetime -- and after a quick kiss-and-tell photo, he slid the giant back into the water.
But we're not through, yet.
One week later, Liam and I are on another favourite backcountry lake that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources stocks with splake. The fishing is fun, but nothing exceptional, until I happen to look at my watch and notice it is the same time that Liam hooked his magnificent lake trout a few days earlier.
No sooner are the words of coincidence out of my mouth, than I feel my line go tight and the tip of my rod double over. Then I feel my hand being pulled dangerously close to the water in the hole I am fishing, and my first thoughts are that I have snagged a snapping turtle. Or the back of a runaway snowmachine.
But this is no turtle…or snowmobile.
Instead, after the most exciting fight, I've had with a fish in many years, my eyes almost pop out of their sockets, as I watch Liam grab behind the gills, and haul onto the ice, the biggest splake I have ever seen.
And it is only early February, we still have the best of the Northern Ontario ice fishing season to come. How can it possibly get any better -- in the Year of the Trout.