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Winter Walleye Wonders

Low snow falls and perfect night time temperatures, make ice conditions ideal in many parts of Ontario for catching walleye like this beauty Liam Whetter caught in Lake of the Woods. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Winter Walleye Wonders

Ice fishing in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country



I come bearing great news, and that is that winter is setting up perfectly across Northern Ontario. With the low snowfalls we've generally enjoyed, combined with perfect nighttime temperatures, ice conditions are already ideal in many parts of the province.

Indeed, here in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country, I've already been ice fishing a trio of times for walleye and have found 8 to 10 inches of solid blue ice. You always need to be careful early in the season and heed local advice, but if current conditions are any indication, the upcoming season is going to be one of the best ever.

And with walleye sitting at the top of many ice anglers' list of popular winter species, let’s take a look at some of the best places to ice fish for them in Northwestern Ontario.

Starting with giant border water Rainy Lake which, in my opinion, maybe the best "drive-to" walleye fishery in Ontario and which offers ice anglers the chance to catch both numbers of fish and trophies. Fort Frances provides a host of great places to stay and eat, but for a real winter walleye adventure check out one of the lakeside resorts like Dale LaBelle's Birch Point Camp.

Dale has groomed snow machine trails leading directly from the resort out onto the lake and some of the best fishing - including spectacular action for black crappies and pike -- is right in front of the resort.

Of course, winter walleye and Lake of the Woods go together like sparkling champagne and fine caviar. With more than a million acres of hard water to explore, you could ice fish on Lake of the Woods for the rest of your life and still only scratch the surface.

The towns of Morson, Nestor Falls and Sioux Narrows along the southern and eastern sides of the lake offer a host of great accommodation options, with the city of Kenora, at the north end, providing the widest array of choices.

What I especially like about Lake of the Woods in the winter is the huge system of eight-lane-wide ploughed ice roads and well-marked snowmobile trails that take you to almost anywhere on the lake.

Professional guide Colin Gosse, shown here with a Lake Minnitaki walleye, will lead you via groomed snowmachine trail to a modern heated portable ice shelter, help you caught walleyes all day long, and then bring you back to your warm cozy cabin at Moosehorn Lodge
Professional guide Colin Gosse, shown here with a Lake Minnitaki walleye, will lead you via groomed snowmachine trail to a modern heated portable ice shelter, help you catch walleyes all day long, and then bring you back to your warm cozy cabin at Moosehorn Lodge. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Moving a little eastward, Eagle Lake and Dinorwick Lake are ideally suited for ice anglers using either the town of Vermilion Bay or Dryden as their home away from home. One reason I like this option is that when you tire from catching scores of walleye, the west end of Eagle Lake offers spectacular winter fishing for lake trout and whitefish, while Dinorwic Lake may be the hottest emerging black crappie fishery in the province.

If you're feeling a little more adventuresome, look northward and scope out the unlimited walleye ice fishing options around Sioux Lookout. Lac Seul is the most obvious hot spot being world-renown for its walleye fishing, especially the numbers and average size of the fish. Hit the right spot on this winter wonderland and it is not uncommon to ice 20 to 30 walleyes a person. And many days it is harder to catch a fish less than two feet longer than it is one more than that length.

By the way, if there is a "problem" with Lac Seul, it is that the walleye fishing can be so good, it hogs the limelight and steals the thunder from equally superb nearby waters like Lake Minnitaki. By the way, you'd think lying in the heart of the northern Ontario wilderness that this kind of ice fishing would be only for the most dedicated winter angler, but it is not the case at all.  Seasoned guides like Colin Gosse pamper their clients with modern heated portable ice shelters accessed via groomed snowmobile trails. And at the end of the day, he'll take you back to your warm cozy cabin at Moosehorn Lodge where you can store your snowmachine inside a heated garage.

Now that's my idea of primitive.

Many of the large lakes in Sunset Country feature plowed winter road systems that allow you to drive down the lake and then walk – or for the fun of it, snowshoe – over to your favourite walleye hot spot
Many of the large lakes in Sunset Country feature plowed winter road systems that allow you to drive down the lake and then walk -- or for the fun of it, snowshoe -- over to your favourite walleye hot spot. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Red Lake and the neighbouring town that shares its name with the lake -- is best known as the gold mining capital of the world, but the gold that draws me to the bustling town of 5,000 is the glittery stuff on the flanks of the giant lake's walleye.

The people in Red Lake and neighbouring Ear Falls take winter seriously so you'll find a plethora of groomed snowmobile trails you can use to access hundreds of phenomenal wilderness waters. Indeed, you can ride trail systems that will take you deep into the heart of the boreal forest where I guarantee you will not see another angler. In fact, you have a much better chance of spotting a moose, woodland caribou, wolverine or lynx.

Heading back southward, Lac des Milles Lac, is conveniently located just a stone's throw off the Trans Canada Highway, only 100 km (60 miles) west of Thunder Bay and it's loaded with walleyes. Buddy Wayne Smith has already been fishing here this winter and reports that ice conditions are shaping up beautifully. By the way, Wayne landed a gorgeous 28-inch winter walleye on his initial trip, along with a slew of slightly smaller fish.

Finally, returning full circle, Barry and Carolle Brown's Clearwater West Lodge located on the Clearwater West / White Otter Lake system near Atikokan is made to order for the winter walleye enthusiast. That is if you can pull yourself away from the nearby lake trout, whitefish, northern pike, speckled trout and splake lakes. Barry was a conservation officer many years ago with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and he knows the local area like the back of his hand. So it is no surprise that the intricate system of snowmachine trails leading from the resort takes you directly to some of the finest walleye fishing in all of Northwestern Ontario's spectacular Sunset Country.

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