I have written columns like this one in the past, explaining why Northwestern Ontario is such a great place to go ice fishing. Here I’ll state it again, because I truly believe we have the best easily accessible ice fishing opportunities in North America. Few places offer the top-notch, hard-water fishing for the multi-species that we do in Sunset Country.
The best testament to the fishing is the number of media people who visit our region year after year for photo shoots or to film TV shows. Just about every TV fishing program that has filmed an ice fishing show has visited Northwest Ontario in recent years. From In-Fisherman to MidWest Outdoors, Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing to Lindner’s Angling Edge, they have all filmed many shows in our part of the world, and the reason is simple. Great fishing, beautiful scenery, and good places to stay. It’s a reliable place for them to come to catch fish and have the scenic backdrop that we do.
When it comes to ice fishing, walleyes are the king, much like they are during the summer months but we also have excellent fishing for lake trout, crappie, northern pike, whitefish, stocked trout, burbot, and perch.
In between the bass tournaments that I fish, I do quite a few guided trips every year on the ice. On most days, we mix it up and spend time fishing for lake trout, crappies, and pike during the day, then have fun with walleye during the evening “prime time” just before dark. Not only do we catch good numbers of fish, we catch trophies of all of the above mentioned species. Consistently.
Across the region, there are plenty of hidden gems. Read further to learn a few of my favourite tricks for catching each species and check out just some of my recommendations on waters to visit.
On many of these smaller, coloured water lakes, walleyes roam throughout the winter in the main basins. Fishing around points or corners seem to be high percentage spots.
On the larger lakes, fishing main lake structure is the best way to catch a bunch of fish throughout the winter. Humps, points, and flats are all good bets.
On all of these lakes, the fishing really heats up in March as walleyes make predictable migrations towards shallower spawning—creeks and rivers or shallow bays—where they will spawn shortly after the ice goes out. This is the best time to catch a big walleye.
Walleye can be found in most lakes around Sunset Country, so when you find walleyes, catching them is usually easy with small spoons or jigs tipped with minnows.
Lake trout lakes exist across the region and are unique because they are deep, clear and often remote. Lake trout waters fall into two categories for me as well. Bigger lakes typically offer the best shot at trophy fish in the 20-pound-plus category, while many of the smaller, inland lakes can offer great action with numbers of fish in the 2- to 8-pound range.
Many of the best lakes offer a mix of trout of all sizes. Since they like the cold water so much, they are aggressive during the winter months and will often eat a lure if it somewhat resembles a baitfish that trout are foraging on.
I seldom vary from using a soft plastic tube jig or fluke-style minnow bait on a jig, but spoons and vibrating baits will work as well. Keep in mind that many of the best waters have special restrictions during the winter, banning the use of fish parts for bait and requiring barbs to be pinched.
Across the southern part of the Sunset Country Region, crappies are plentiful and exist in most of the larger bodies of water as well as dozens of smaller lakes.
In the winter, crappies congregate in deeper holes in the main basin areas of the lakes or the bays that they live in. Once you find a good spot, it’s usually good year after year. Many of the resort owners will be able to point you in the right direction for where to look for crappies.
They almost always hang a few feet above the bottom, so they are easy to spot on your electronics, and once you find them they are easy to catch with small spoons and soft plastics.
Out of the 10 largest pike I have ever had my hands on, at least eight of them come up through a hole in the ice. While we have excellent open water pike fishing here in Ontario, the real giants show up most often during the winter—particularly late in the season, when they stage in front of the shallow bays where they will spawn shortly after ice out.
They can be caught jigging aggressive lures like rattle baits and large soft plastics, but the best way to catch a monster is to use a large dead bait, like a cisco rigged up on a quick-strike rig beneath a tip-up.
Around many of the larger communities, there are several stocked trout lakes that offer great ice fishing. Most are easy to access with good numbers of fish. Brook trout are the most common, but some lakes are stocked with rainbow trout and splake as well.
These fish are aggressive in the winter and can be caught in shallow water, close to shore on most days. Jigging small spoons or fishing set lines with live minnows have been the top tactics for me.
For a complete listing of stocked trout waters across the Sunset Country Region, visit the Ontario Fish ON-Line website.
Ice fishing for whitefish has grown in popularity over the past decade, as more anglers have experienced how fun they are to catch and how good they are to eat.
Aggressive during the winter, whitefish often suspend and act like lake trout. Their small mouths requires that anglers use smaller baits (I like small spoons tipped with a minnow head).
Fish main lake areas in 40 to 70 feet of water, and if they are around you’ll find them quickly.
Most of the deeper lakes across the region have plenty of burbot; we just never see these cold water lovers during the open water months. Burbot are the only fish in our lakes that spawn under the ice, and when they do in February and March, the fishing can be fantastic.
Concentrate your effort around rocky humps in 30 to 50 feet of water, shallower on some lakes. On good lakes you can catch them during the day, but on nearly all waters, they bite really well at night. My best bait is a rattling spoon tipped with some frozen shiners blobbed up on the hook. Shake the spoon on the bottom to create a muddy spot to attract fish.
Perch are plentiful in most lakes around the region, but the big ones are usually found in the larger mid-depth lakes. We most often run into them while we’re looking for walleyes and when I do find them, I get excited. Perch are great eating and easy to catch.
Usually they are shallower than walleyes, and they seem to school by size more than any other fish I know. So if you’re only catching babies, keep hunting. Small spoons tipped with a minnow head are a proven bait.
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