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Take on Winter

Anglers soak up the last few minutes of daylight near Kenora, Ontario. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd • Credit: Alyssa Lloyd
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Take on Winter

Multi-species ice fishing in Ontario's Sunset Country

In just a few short weeks of ice fishing, I've had the opportunity to fish for multiple species of fish in multiple places around Sunset Country

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 short weeks of ice fishing we’ve had here, I’ve managed to have success during every outing. The multiple species this area has to offer gives you the chance to fish a different species each day you're here or see how many you can catch in a single day. It's truly unlike anything I've been used to before living here! 

Walleye and Pike 

For the first adventure, I went with my co-worker, Tracey, and 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 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. 

Tracey Chartrand of Sunset Country watches her pike launch itself into the air. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

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 the 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 the ticket to Tracey’s 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. 

Tracey of Ontario's Sunset Country releases a walleye back to the waters of Lake of the Woods 

Lake Trout 

Lake trout are a totally different beast when it comes to ice fishing. Even I, 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 in ice fishing. Actually, 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 that you can see your jig on the screen. 

Considered a "moderate-sized one" I was still blown away by this laker! Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

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 tough jaws, and an 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 thankfully a friend got it done with a beautiful laker in the middle of the afternoon. 

Stocked Fisheries 

Often overlooked because of their accessibility and common knowledge, stocked fisheries are still a lot of fun for new and experienced anglers alike. 

Not all are created equal, and it’s worth the extra effort to get into the lesser known of them. It will provide you and your comrades a “backcountry” adventure of sorts, and typically a lot of success fishing if you know where to look. 

Brook trout, for instance, is like anything along the lakeshore that looks different or sticks out. Deadfall, beaver dams, or rock piles. 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 25 feet for the most part! 

Getting on the Ice 

Most towns in Sunset Country have access points to common lakes, whether for fishing, snowmobile trails, or ion the 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. 

An angler watches his sonar intently for lake trout. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

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 

The winter sun hangs tight to the horizon on a lake north of Kenora, Ontario. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

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 and walking out with a headlamp 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.

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