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Fish, Flurries, and Fresh Air

Al and Mac Smith of Smith Camps observe the ice forming along the shore • Credit: Alyssa Lloyd
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Fish, Flurries, and Fresh Air

The snow may be falling, but fish are still biting

Winter made its way to northwestern Ontario early this year; thankfully I wasn't the only one holding onto the open water fishing season

Those who know me know it could be -40°C with a windchill of -50 and I'd still rather be outside. Late season fishing is my favourite time of the year for a multitude of reasons. 

For one, late season plucks out the fair-weather anglers you'll never be able to convince to go out in anything below zero. For another, you have the entire lake to yourself save for the company on the boat you happen to be in. 

Company is important this time of year and not only for safety. Fishing techniques switch up to trolling and jigging which makes for a lot of conversation time. Thankfully, I had some of the best conversationists in Kenora out with  me. 

A Classic Canadian fishing buddy

Enter Al Smith, owner of Smith Camps for 40 years. Al is the quintessential Canadian. As I was stomping my boots free of snow at the lodge door, Al came out of the back where he was sanitizing traps for the upcoming busy season. After a sturdy handshake he showed me around the lodge that held trophies and collectibles, leaving me in awe. 

We could have easily swapped outdoor adventure stories for the rest of the afternoon, but we decided it was time to suit up and head out on the water. The soft crunch of snow echoed our footsteps off the rock walls on either side of Smith Camps waterfront as we walked onto the remaining dock. 

The docks at Smith Camps at dusk 

A Stroke of Luck 

When I moved to Kenora, I arrived in a snowstorm at the end of October. Leaving my boat at home until spring turned out to be a good move, but I had sacrificed any hope of getting out on open water for the rest of the season. Typically I fish into December, so when open water came to a halt in October, I was at a loss. 

Kenora was hit hard by a snowstorm in late October, little did we know the snow was here to stay

Little did I know, three weeks after I thought I was marooned on dry land until spring, Al would come along asking the folks at Sunset Country if they’d like to go out. Call me lucky. 

Al leaves his personal boat in the water far longer than his lodge boats, and even longer than most other lodges. Late season fishing for him is more about filling the fridge and freezer with fish until hardwater season begins. 

“If the weather's okay I usually come out for the last hour of the day, catch my limit or a little less, then head back in," Al told me. 

Late Season Walleye and Pike 

Fortunately enough for me, Al was willing to go out for a few hours. Navigating around windswept shorelines and the odd ice floe, we began trolling large flat-stick baits for pike and muskie. It wasn't long before Al's son, Mac, had a fish on his line. 

Mac Smith with a Lake of the Woods pike 

The line was out a ways, so we waited in anticipation to see what it was, watching the fight we thought it may have even been a lake trout. A hefty pike broke the surface and gave us a fantastic display of strength right at the boat. 

Crosswinds would appear out of nowhere taking the breath right out of you as you tried to breathe in and the shoreline was covered in ice formations from waves crashing against the frozen rust coloured rocks. A beautiful yet stark reminder of how cold it was.

A few more shorelines trolled later, we decided the 40KPH winds were a cold enough reason to retreat to a quiet inlet and jig for walleye. 

Al admires the cliffs just outside of Smith Camps waterfront 

Though I’m not much of a fish eater (Am I allowed to admit that in this part of the province?), I do enjoy jigging for walleye on a body of water that holds lots of them. A few jigs in, Al hooks into what we think is a fair-size walleye until telltale yellow bars of a pike break the surface. 

After a few more surprise species, we get into the walleye enough to fill Al’s cooler for a small fish fry. I have been fishing in northwestern Ontario plenty of times, but I’d never quite made it to Lake of the Woods. On my first trip out, I landed my very first fish on the lake, followed by several more. 

Al holds up a walleye jigged up on a minnow 

Open water will eventually come to an end and hard water won’t be far behind. I was fortunate enough to meet two new people who are keen enough to go out in sub-zero temperatures, therefore I predict my 2019 hard water season will be full of more great Canadian conversation. 

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