Although I love winter, I always had a hard time sitting still, which made my admiration for ice fishing accumulate slower than snow does in the north. That being said, since I’ve moved to the edge of the Boreal, my interest in ice fishing has officially spiked.
In the few shorts weeks of ice fishing we’ve had here, I’ve managed to have success during every outing—and if not me, someone in the group has.
Walleye and Pike
For the first adventure, myself, and my co-worker, Tracey, set off on the ice road over Lake of the Woods with no previous knowledge of that particular area aside from a few depth charts. Using the charts I found us a point, and a deep trough that looked promising.
Drilling holes intermittently from 8 feet out to 24 feet from the point to the deepest area, we began fishing.
Without the use of sonar, we estimated the amount of line that was out and worked from bottom to halfway up the water column, to bottom again. Within 20 minutes, Tracey had a heavy pull on her line; seconds later a pike came torpedoing through the hole with so much gusto it launched itself onto the ice.
Using only quarter-ounce jigs and medium-sized minnows, we continued to fish the area, hoping some walleye would be amongst the ranks below the ice before we would move to another spot.
Tracey’s rod had doubled over once more, revealing a gold-flecked walleye. Sixteen feet of water seemed to be Tracey’s ticket to success. Without a measuring tape, we couldn’t say for sure the walleye was within slot limits, so we set them free to swim another day.
Lake trout are a totally different beast when it comes to ice fishing. Even myself, the slow convert to ice fishing, will admit to having a riot targeting them. They may even be to blame for my spike in interest of ice fishing. They definitely are.
If you’re going to go for lakers, I strongly suggest you bring a sonar with you to read depths and see fish in real time. Boost the sensitivity enough you can see your jig on the screen.
Making long high jigs, work the entire water column right up to the hole in the ice. Lake trout are notorious, ferocious predators that typically only want something if it’s trying to get away from them.
On my last outing for them I learned the hard way it’s important to use proper lake trout gear. A medium light rod won’t set the hook through their touch jaws, and 8-pound test is just a bit too light and scary for me.
After losing two, I had to accept I missed my chances, but friend and fellow angler Chris Zilinski got it done with a beautiful laker in the middle of the afternoon.
Often overlooked because of their accessibility and common knowledge, stocked fisheries are still a lot of fun for new anglers and experienced alike.
Not all are created equal, and it’s worth the extra effort to get into the lesser known of them. It will provide yourself and comrades a “backcountry” adventure of sorts, and typically a lot of success fishing if you know where to look.
Brook trout, for instance, like anything with a flat bottom, shallow shoreline with lots of deadfall, and if you’re lucky enough, the odd rock pile. Don’t clear away too much snow from your hole when targeting brook trout. These trout can spook easily, and they’ll respond better to lures when their environment has been changed as little as possible. I suggest a Swedish pimple tipped with wax worms, or GULP wax worms if you can't find the real thing.
Rainbow trout and splake are much the same, and can be found in anywhere from 4 to 30 feet. Give yourself an opportunity to study the lake ahead of time for possible structure and of course be aware of current. Ground water, or springs, are the secret to trout’s success, so be wary: the lakes they’ve been stocked in likely have moving water at one end or both.
Getting on the Ice
Most towns in Sunset Country have access points to common lakes, whether for fishing, snowmobile trails, or ice roads. Be sure you check conditions and ask around about known hazards in the area before you venture out walking or with any motorized vehicle.
There is a lot of ice up here in the winter, but there can always be open water nearby. Use caution and you’ll have nothing to fear!
No Denying it
At one point in my life I may have tried to claim to have despised ice fishing, but nowadays there is no denying I love every minute of it. The mornings that aren’t too early because the sun doesn’t rise until later, wearing lots of layers only to end up fishing in a sweater, magical sunsets, and even packing everything up at twilight have become highlights in the last few weeks.
It may just be the gratification you feel when winter hasn’t won. You don’t feel like hibernating anymore, in fact you are thrilled to be outside in the crisp air and dread the stuffiness of the indoors
Yes, it is clear, I do indeed admire ice fishing in Ontario’s Sunset Country.